I’ve written about my attempts at becoming a better person before – how I’m potentially the least mindful person alive; how I use self-help books as a nice thing to read while I’m drinking my morning coffee without ever actually delving into anything; how I tried meditation a few times and then realized that I was just using it as an excuse to lie down, because what I really needed was a damn nap…
Mantras are a word or a phrase repeated over and over again while you’re meditating, but it has occurred to me that it’s kind of hard to blurt out inspirational sayings when what you’re really doing is napping. Plus, the most common mantras (no offense to enlightened people) just don’t really speak to me on a personal level. And then one day, in 2014, I started saying, “I don’t compete with others. I don’t compare myself to others. I don’t owe anyone an explanation,” and so maybe it’s not technically a mantra; it’s more of a snazzy little catchphrase or a life lesson that actually got me through a couple of crappy months. I don’t really care what it is that works, as long as it works…the details don’t especially interest me. Since then, I occasionally decide on a little mantra/saying/catchphrase to help me deal with whatever shit the universe has decided to thrown my way. Here are my top five these days – maybe they will help you approach today with a little more grace, too:
- I see people as the age they really are. A few examples: He is not actually a 38-year old man; he is an 18-year old frat boy stuck in a 38-year old body. This explains so very much and now you won’t be angry or impatient with him; you will primarily feel bad for him. She is not a 55-year old woman; she is a 10-year old bully stuck in a 55-year old body. You won’t take it so personally when she lashes out at you; this is the only way that she’s ever known to interact with others. That woman is not a standoffish snob; she is a little girl who is terrified of rejection – maybe you should talk to her.
- I can’t judge, because I wasn’t there. Someone very wise once told me that it is absolutely impossible to understand anyone’s marriage. You inevitably only hear one half of the story. Even if you’re cursed enough to hear both halves of the story, you still don’t know the whole truth of what came before or after this particular story. You don’t get to see each person’s memories or the hurts that they might harbor that have impacted how they react today. Similarly, you can’t judge anyone based on what they choose to show you on their social media page or what carefully edited story they tell you in the break room. That’s not to say that someone is being purposefully deceitful – perception is a very tricky thing. What it does mean is that it’s not wise to judge or choose sides. Maybe everyone is right or maybe everyone is wrong; it’s not your job to decide. Bonus mantra: Not my monkeys, not my circus – all day, every day. Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we took the concern and energy that we expend on things that we can’t change and applied it to things that we can control instead?
- I don’t need to show them the error of their ways. I know, sometimes you just want to kick someone in the head and make them see the ugliest parts of themselves – that they are a narcissist, or use others, or are incapable of being a friend…but you’re just banging your head against a wall. It’s not going to happen. What will happen? You’ll lose sleep, you’ll be less productive, you’ll yell at people who don’t deserve it…nothing good will come of it. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that time waits for no man and at some point, we all have to come to terms with the not-so-awesome things that we’ve done.
- I only say things that are kind, true, and necessary. This mantra is so good that it’s actually a challenge, so try to live by it for one day. It is more difficult than you might think at first blush. If someone shows you something that they’ve done and you immediately find fault with it – is it kind to tell them about the mistakes that you see? It probably depends on where and how you’re going to call their attention to the problem. Is it true? If it’s a spelling or arithmetic mistake, that’s pretty easy to decide. If you maybe would have just worded something a little differently yourself, that’s a different story. Is it necessary? Only if not telling them could bring them harm – like a lost promotion or arrest for indecent exposure…
- I am not so arrogant that I think this is my fault. Is it somehow your fault if it rains or if your kid has a bad day at school? There are many people who are able to magically attribute any negative thing that happens to themselves. What is it about yourself that you think is so very powerful that all of this is under your control? You simply can’t take credit for everything. If the world stopped turning right now, it wouldn’t be your fault. You aren’t that awesome, and that is a blessing.