A mantra is something one repeats to oneself in order to gain tranquility and perspective, or to be reminded to think or act in a certain way. Recently, I've adopted a few words and phrases that do just that. To wit:
- Physics. We've all had days where everything goes wrong. After struggling to open a jar, you splatter pasta sauce onto your nice white shirt. You get a paper cut while tearing through junk mail. The bottom falls out of the garbage bag while you're taking out the trash. It's easy to feel like the universe is conspiring against you. But I've experienced a great reduction in the "Why me?"s by reminding myself that simple physics is behind so many accidents. Gravity, mostly, but also velocity, mass, pressure, friction... In short, you can't take science personally. So now, after a blunder, I'll shout out "Physics!" instead of the F-word, and it diffuses the frustration.
- Consolidate. This year, with my father moving house and my mother-in-law passing away, I've been thinking about all the stuff we accumulate, and how to stop it from getting out of hand. I'm not a hoarder, so tossing junk has never been a problem. But consolidating – here, the act of corralling things into the same location, e.g., paperwork, bank accounts, things I rarely use but can't part with – has become a higher priority. It's satisfying and weirdly fun.
- Edit. This word carries great weight with me, as both a writer and a person. It doesn't just mean "don't over-explain things or prattle on", even if that's the main gist. It also encourages me to communicate more interestingly, taking a moment to step around trite expressions and employ more colorful phrasing. Telling myself to "edit" before I open my big yap has not yet been a decision I've regretted.
- Wait. Yes, it means patience, and it means giving someone else a turn (to talk, to play, to be the center of attention). These are both important. But in my case, it also means not vocalizing each thought as it comes to my head. It's best to let the thought simmer a little first.
- Why not now? I say this to keep from psyching myself out of doing something. Gee, it would be nice to visit my friends in Chicago. Well, why not now? More to the point: instead of delaying the decision, why not pick a date now, buy a plane ticket for that date, and lock myself into the commitment? I've found this to be the very best way to get anything done: stop dithering and get to it immediately. As a lifelong procrastinator, I admit that it is a challenge.
- Generosity. Prudence may be a virtue, but I've been a real cheapskate. I once justified it by saying, "Well, I'm generous with my time," but people know a tightwad when they see one. My change of heart came after being on the begging end of crowdfunding, when I saw firsthand how two dollars – literally, two dollars – can mean so much to the person asking for support, and so little to the person giving it. But you should have heard the excuses I got from acquaintances who clearly had the means to help: "I'm not a millionaire!" "No one would help me if I asked for money!" "If I gave to you, then I'd have to give to all my other friends who are funding a project or raising money for charity!" (And what's wrong with that?) If there's one thing I've learned, it's that one's generosity is not at all proportionate to one's financial situation. In any event, I am constantly aspiring to be more giving.
- Apologize. These days, it seems like people are incapable of apologizing: not when they step on your toe, not when they break your heart. Not when they interrupt you, misunderstand you, hurt your feelings, or let you down. I guess humility is perceived by many as a weakness. And so my willingness to say I'm sorry – for whatever situation demands it – has an old-fashioned, even obsolescent quality. I don't care. It feels good.
- Attention. Paying attention and giving attention are slightly different things, but both are welcome gifts. My mind can wander, even when a loved one is sharing something personal or important. I need to give others more of my focus, though I hope I am improving.
- This too shall pass. This familiar saying has been a mantra of mine for a while. Not just when life is tough, but also when things are going well: whatever's happening right now won't last. This simple adage gives me the strength to endure painful experiences while also inspiring me to cherish the good times.