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Mantras: Let's Get This Under Control!

As tools, mantras can no more control our thoughts or our children than our iPhones can control the person with whom we are speaking. But they can facilitate communication and understanding. And they certainly make our lives easier.
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Many people find my blog every day searching for "mantras." What intrigues me is the kinds of mantras people are looking for, and what they believe the mantras will do: "mantras to control children," "mantras for stress," "parenting mantras," "mantras to control anger," or the very creepy "mantra to control wife."

Over and over, the searches are for mantras to control something, whether it's children or anxiety or thoughts. I guess it makes perfect sense that people searching for control would wind up on Left Brain Buddha. But mantras are not about control. If anything, they are about recognizing and accepting how much we do not control. We cannot control our thoughts or our children (and certainly not our spouses!). What we can control is our awareness and our responses.

Perhaps it's because the word mantra, with its associations with meditation and chanting, makes us think of hypnosis or mind control, a la The Manchurian Candidate. But mantras are simply tools, the navigational instruments we use to sail upon the stormy seas of living, working, and parenting.

Mantra = a formula, word, incantation or prayer, often repeated as an object of concentration; a truism

In Sanskrit, the word "mantra" literally means "instrument of thought," derived from manyate ("to think").

As tools, mantras can no more control our thoughts or our children than our iPhones can control the person with whom we are speaking. But they can facilitate communication and understanding. And they certainly make our lives easier.

I understand the desire to have mantras for particular purposes -- for calming down or dealing with angry children. So now that we've got the definition and purpose of mantras under control, I've created an organized, left-brain friendly list of my favorite mantras for a variety of life situations.


Mantras for Dealing with Anger
"Let it go."
There's a reason we all love the song. Letting go is powerful. How much anger and resentment do we hang on to even though it doesn't serve us or help us? This isn't resignation -- if there's something bothering you that can be fixed, then fix it. If not, release the anger.

"Within me is a peacefulness that cannot be disturbed."
This is one of my favorite mantras from Bethany Casarjian and Diane Dillon's Mommy Mantras. The deep calm and stillness we experience in meditation is always within us. Breathe.

Mantras for Dealing with Stress or Anxiety
"Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile."
This is my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh meditation. He describes it as feeling like he's drinking a refreshing glass of lemonade on a summer day. Even one deep breath helps us relax. Putting a smile on your face -- not a "say cheese!" smile, but a subtle Buddha smile -- can dramatically improve your mood.

"It is what it is."
Many times, the source of our stress is something outside of our control -- perhaps another snow-day schedule disruption, or the behavior of another person. Think of this one as part of the serenity prayer, accepting the things we cannot change.

Mantras to Cultivate Patience
If just one deep breath felt good before, try three!

"This too shall pass," and "I can stand this."
The crying will stop. The annoying coworker will eventually go away. Children will get potty-trained. Casarjian and Dillon write, "If you believe you can stand it, you can."

Mantra for Dealing with Frustration with Others
This greeting, and the traditional end for yoga classes, means, "The light (or divinity) in me honors the light (or divinity) in you." When I am getting frustrated with another person, I repeat this to myself. I remember we are all stardust and light, even this person who is driving me crazy. The Buddha taught that unkindness is due to ignorance of our true nature, of how we are all connected. This isn't about feeling superior to the other person, but acknowledging that they likely need our compassion far more than they deserve our condescension or condemnation.

Mantras for Parents
"Surrender to the goat."
I love this one from Mommy Mantras. It comes from a new mother who needed to get out of the house each day, so she would take her 10-month-old to the zoo. The baby loved feeding and watching the goat every time, for what felt like hours. The mom didn't think she could take much more.

We all have the goats we need to surrender to -- another viewing of Frozen, another tower of blocks to build only to watch it topple over, another reading of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. We tire of monotony, but our children thrive on repetition and routine. "Surrender to the goat" reminds us to embrace the present moment as if it contained exactly what we had chosen. Casarjian and Dillon counsel, "The more we accept the mundane, the less aversive it becomes. Sometimes it even becomes joyful."

You can find more of my mindful parenting mantras here.

And though this probably goes without saying, I have NO mantras for controlling your wife.


This post originally appeared on Sarah's blog, Left Brain Buddha. You can follow Sarah on Facebook and Google+.