“What we think, we become.” – Buddha
It’s likely you’ve heard the word “mantra” before, but have you ever given the time to think about what a mantra is, what it truly is?
I’m a HUGE language nerd. I am so enthralled with the history of words and where they come from – entomology, or the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.
The word “mantra” has its roots in ancient Sanskrit, an Indo-European language that is to India what Latin is to much of Europe.
The history of the word mantra, at least according to Wikipedia, is derived from the root man- “to think.” Literally translated is means “instrument of thought.” Another translation and it means “sacred utterance.”
And while there is some debate on the exact meaning of the word, the dictionary defines it as “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation,” and/or “a statement or slogan repeated frequently.”
Regardless of the word’s origin, there’s something special about a mantra – it calls one to sit and take notice, to pay attention, because a phrase or word has something to teach us.
And the science can back that up! In an article titled The Science Behind Finding Your Mantra and How to Practice It Daily, states:
“Neuroscientists, equipped with advanced brain-imaging tools, are beginning to quantify and confirm some of the health benefits of this ancient practice, such as its ability to help free your mind of background chatter and calm your nervous system. In one study recently published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, researchers from Linköping University, in Sweden, measured activity in a region of the brain called the default mode network—the area that’s active during self-reflection and mind wandering—to determine how practicing mantra meditation affects the brain. From a mental health perspective, an overactive default mode network can mean that the brain is distracted—not calmed or centered.”
This spoke to me.
Mantras have helped play a huge part in my life personally. As someone who has been working through various mental health challenges, mantras are a reminder to center oneself. They remind one to focus on the only thing that matters, the here and the now – the only time and place that truly exists. There is no past. There is no future. There is only the present.
Over the past several years, I’ve taken a philosophical approach to my work, in case you couldn’t tell by the name of the blog, and mantras have been a huge part of this for me. Being a professional of any kind is hard work. Being an HR professional (especially over the past year and a half) has been crushing to many.
I wanted to share mantras that have helped guide me, remind me, center me, and challenge me. My hope is that you have your mantas that do the same. If so, please share them! A simple phrase or word can help someone through the most confusing of messes. Who knows that better than you!? So, here are the top mantras that have helped me through the fog.
The Stoic Mantras:
- The obstacle is the way.
The phrase that changed my entire life. It teaches you the only way to overcome your problems is to face them, to go through them, to use them as your advantage rather than as your downfall. Obstacles teach us lessons, and until you learn that lesson by embracing the obstacle, it won’t go away.
- Memento mori.
Latin for “remember you will die.” It’s not to be taken as a gloomy warning, but as an encouraging thought! Our lives are short, so don’t waste time. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back, so use what you have every single day. Do what needs to be done before it’s over.
- Ego is the enemy.
The one thing that will keep us from obtaining true peace and happiness is that little voice inside us that says “you deserve more,” “you are more important than this,” and “you deserve to be comfortable.” Truly, ego is the beast that many cannot tame and has brought down giants. Concur your innate tendencies to think you’re more important than you are, or else you won’t get to where you want to be.
The Eastern Mantras:
- Be water.
I wrote an entire post about why this phrase is so important.
- No mud, no lotus.
Thich Naht Hanh is one of my favorite philosophers to read. His ability to take complex Buddhist traditions and turn them into simple, beautiful prose has helped millions. The simple phrase means without the gross disgusting mud, a beautiful lotus flower cannot bloom. Without challenges, you will not grow or develop.
The Yoda Mantras:
- You must unlearn what you have learned.
Yoda is the wisest Muppet this side of Degobah. I have learned much from him. By this mantra, what he is teaching us is similar to an old Buddhist story. A Zen master fills her student’s cup with water until it overflows causing the student to exclaim in surprise. The master tells the student, I cannot fill your cup when it is full. Like the mind, a cup must be empty to be filled. Don’t hold too fast to beliefs. They cause one’s cup to runneth over.
- Do, or do not. There is no try.
Harder said than done, but essential to grow, to learn, to become a better version of oneself.
- Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
This one it tied to ego. Fear, anger, hate all come from ego. These emotions all come from us wanting something to be different than what is. Sometimes, what is is unavoidable. Sometimes what is is changeable. It’s not passive acceptance, but an acknowledgement that some things are outside our control. Focus on what is in our control to build the world that we all deserve. In the end, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
The Daily Grind Mantras:
- There is no movement without friction.
A scientific fact, objects require friction to move. So why do we complain when presented with situations that cause us friction? To move forward requires heat. So, if you can’t stand it, then call Isaac Newton, or Albert Einstein, or Sheldon Cooper. Prepare yourself for the friction if you want to make progress.
One of my favorite lyrics from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. It’s a constant reminder that mental health is to be taken seriously. Work can wait. It will always be there. Your health cannot, nor is it guaranteed to be there. The philosophy behind this statement can also be applied to anything. “This too shall pass.” The good. The bad. The ugly. Nothing is permanent. Enjoy the moment.
What are some of your mantras? What helps you get through your days, weeks, months, years? I’d love if you shared.