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Stand By Your Mantra for a New Attitude

By: Kate Hanley

I got a great email from a reader named Mia the other day. Here’s what she wrote:

“I’ve really been trying to ‘choose sanity’ lately. Usually, my tendency is to get as much done as I can, no matter what the price in terms of stress or crunched time. But I’m realizing the price I pay for being overcommitted, and I am learning to accept that someone may be disappointed, or I may not appear perfect, or live up to my own expectations.”

Mia has been discovering the power of using a mantra — in this case, “Choose Sanity” (which, I must say, is brilliant!). The word mantra is a combination of the Sanskrit root “manas,” which means the mind, and “tra,” a suffix that means tool. A mantra is like a barbell for the mind — by using one regularly it helps you become stronger in making the right choices and gets you engaged in doing something good for yourself.

How to choose a mantra

I’ve been living by a particular mantra lately too. I got it from the book Eat, Pray, Love. In it, author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses how her spiritual teacher in India always says “Fear — who cares?” I loved the phrase as soon as I read it and I’ve been repeating it over and over to myself whenever I am about to call an editor to pitch a story idea, send out a mass email inviting people to subscribe to my newsletter, or try a challenging pose in yoga class. And it works! It’s the equivalent of a little angel sitting on my shoulder and encouraging me to put myself out there more than I might if I relied on my old habits and ways of thinking.

A mantra can be any syllable (such as “Om,” which is considered by yogis to be the first and most powerful mantra), word, or phrase that lights you up in some way. You can borrow a mantra from something you see or hear, or you can make up your very own.

A good way to begin selecting a mantra is figure out what you’re currently struggling with, and choose something that makes that particular problem moot. For example, when I was working full-time and getting my master’s degree, I never felt I had enough time to get everything I needed to do done. So I made my mantra “Every day is a lifetime.” It helped me feel that my days were spacious instead of crammed with obligations, and reminded me that even though I was busy, each day was a gift.

5 ways to make the most of your mantra

  • Write your mantra on sticky notes and put them on anything that stands still – your computer monitor, bathroom mirror, refrigerator, daily calendar, the front door.
  • Make your mantra the greeting on your cell phone.
  • Change your screensaver to say the mantra itself or show an image that represents the mantra to you.
  • In the shower, on the bus or train, or anywhere you can sit quietly without being disturbed, close your eyes and silently repeat your mantra with every breath.
  • Or, just say it to yourself whenever you need a kick in the pants.

Although you don’t need fancy equipment to start a mantra meditation practice, it can be helpful to commit a few of your dollars to purchasing a meditation cushion. By doing so, you create a physical home for your practice and reserve a little space in your crowded life for quiet time.

Also check out Walking Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tick-not-hahn), a revered Buddhist teacher and peace activist and one of my all-time favorites. The book includes a DVD that shows you several different styles of walking meditation as well as a CD you can listen to as you walk that guides you through a series of specific meditations.