Thursday, February 9, 2012

Unexpected Inspiration

This morning I was in Pretty Neighbor's basement and we were starting our workout. She said, "I saw your sister's new blog post but I haven't had a chance to read it yet." I paused in mid lunge--or for the purposes of this story, let's say I paused in the middle of a one-handed pushup, yeah--and said, "Wait, Amy has a new post? I just checked it and nothing!" Then I realized I've been clicking through to the post I linked in my last post instead of refreshing her page. Oh, duh.

So Amy has a new post with a bit of good news, though as she says, one's definition of "good news" can be radically reshaped in a short time.  She's also very funny. She's doing it again, being funny when I'm trying to stay mad.

On a related note, I was thinking the other day that I have these little mantras that I repeat to myself in certain situations, and they actually help me. Naturally I'm sharing them:

It is what it is. 

I know, terrible, right? Terribly overused and supposedly drained of all meaning and what does it mean anyway?

My personal history with this phrase is that, several years ago when I was taking the qualifying exams for my doctoral program, I sat for hours in a room in the Literature department office and typed answers to two or three long essay questions. They were questions designed to both draw out my ideas for future dissertation writing and to test my knowledge of the field. If I succeeded in this part, I would get to take a multi-hour oral exam given by four smart professors. So it was a big deal. I wrote and wrote. Then my time was up, and the sweet, hippie, department assistant came to get me. She printed out my work and took it, telling me that she had placed magical crystals (!) around the doorway of my exam room to help channel energy or something. I thanked her, but I kept babbling a little bit about how I wasn't sure I said enough about X or I wasn't convincing on Y. She listened to me and she said, "Well, now it is what it is." And I thought, "Yes. It is. That is finished and I need to stop worrying about it."

And when this news about Amy having breast cancer arose, I was so lodged on the terrible coincidental unfairness of it. That feeling was like a rock in my shoe. And then I thought, "It is what it is." There's no need in striving for it to have been different, that thing in the past that is now fact. It just is. What it is. It was calming to me.

Do the thing and get the power.

Matt and I say this to each other sometimes. Usually it's when we're talking over something that is hard to do or that we need to do and don't necessarily want to. Its meaning is likewise vague. I don't think it will be engraved on a monument anytime soon, but somehow it resonates with me. I think I heard this from an eccentric professor I had who is renowned for his koan-like pronouncements. Seriously, his facebook status updates are OUTLANDISH. But he said, offhandedly of some grad-school obstacle, "Do the thing and get the power." I dunno, maybe these things can't be held up to strong light. But still. Just do the thing. That thing? Do it.

Let your body hurt.

This one I heard from Laura. She says her swim coach says it to them during practice. She takes it to mean, don't stop because you're uncomfortable, just keep swimming. I often think of it during my workouts--feeling strain and discomfort will not kill me, in fact it is necessary. But I kinda go deep with it sometimes. Like, pain is not alien to human life or unnatural. It's part of living and it's part of the world. Let your body hurt and see what happens after that.

Have I taken you to a weird place? I don't know. I'm going to collect up my magic crystals and go unload the dishwasher now.

Do you have any personal mantras? Things that help you out?


Kate said...

Yes, I do have 2 mantras. One I am not sharing because it is the one I use when I am running or in a running race or something of that sort. The second one is one I draw on daily when faced with seemingly overwhelming chores/duties/obligations. I repeat Anne Lammott's words, "Bird By Bird." Take It Bird by Bird was what her Dad told her brother when he was writing a book report on birds and was stressed out. In other words, do one thing at a time. I need to remind myself constantly to focus and do one thing at a time. And do it well, if possible. So that's what Amy needs to do--go through each step of this cancer treatment one hurdle at a time.

Anonymous said...

When you posed this question, I didn't think I had any mantras, but as it turns out, I do and I say them both fairly often to myself:

What you resist will persist and then my most favorite southern saying of all time, Shit or get off the pot (which, for the record has taken on a new lever of literal meaning with a potty-using toddler in the house.)

Someone told me the resist one when I was preparing for labor and I found it to be surprisingly helpful. The second of the two...well, it satisfies my impatient nature and when I say it to myself encourages me to move on. Who knew I had mantras?

Marsha said...

"Feel the fear and do it anyway."

I don't think the origins of this one are all that deep, but that doesn't stop its helpfulness. Kind of like letting your body hurt, sometimes we're just afraid and that's o.k. I'm inclined to manage my life so that I don't feel fear and, really, that's not much of a life. I need to remind myself of that sometimes.

Beth said...
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Beth said...

I have a friend whose mother passed away quite a few years ago. I remember her telling me this story about going to the hospital to see her mother-- it was during some kind of crisis in her mother's health-- and my friend was frantic with the nurse about giving her information or letting her in or some such. And the nurse just looked at her and said, "Honey, there are other things going on." Sometimes I think about that when I'm losing perspective. It helps me to remember that my life is charmed on so many levels.

Susan/WhyMommy, from Toddler Planet, who recently passed away, also had a mantra that she kind of lived by, which I find focuses me, too:

"All that survives after our death are publications and people.

So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others. For these are the only things that will remain."

annie said...
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annie said...

I love them all. Mine (from a Catholic mystic Julian or Norwich) "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Also, did the thing yesterday and checked overdue mammogram off my list. Keeping Amy in my chants....

Veronica said...

First of all, ha! She put those crystals out for me, too. Then one of my examiners offered me salt and vinegar chips right before the start of my orals, at 9am. Those were weird, weird days.

My high school AP English teacher used to say that Rule of Life #4 is: don't take yourself too seriously. You have to figure out how many rules there are, and what they are, yourself, but remember #4. That helps me out often - makes me remember not to sweat the small stuff (which is another one, I guess).

Aimee said...

I love your mantras.

Mine are trite, and they all kind of mean the same thing:

This, too, shall pass.
This is happening for a reason.
It could always be worse.
Choose happiness.

Different ones for different days, but they all help me.

Lisa Lilienthal said...

I'm a Bird by Bird girl as well. I am glad your mantras are bringing you comfort!

kathy said...

Of course being a Christian, mine are often scripture-based. Some of my go to mantras are: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" and "Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I have memorized these two scriptures and speak them often when facing tough situations.

M said...

One of my best and most versatile mantras is my son's 3rd grade interpretation of 1st Corinthians which he printed on a red heart-shaped doily with ballloons drawn around the text: Love never gives up.

He's in college now and I can't remember the occasion for this school project/gift, but that simple message has propelled me through some darker hours.

Justine said...

Great mantras! My father-in-law says two things about luck:
-You make your own luck, and...
-The harder I work, the luckier I get.

I'm from Georgia, and I love southern expressions I heard growing up. Sometimes I'm not quite sure what they mean, but I think you're right that you can derive your own meaning. Some of my favorites...
-If you can't run with the big dogs, stay under the porch.
-In your life, you're gonna eat a peck of dirt.

When I was a rower, the sport was full of quotes, like...
-To increase your success rate, double your failure rate.
-Pain is weakness leaving your body.

Thanks! These were fun to recall. I'm sending good thoughts to Amy.

Amy said...

"Do the thing and get the power." I like that, too. Can you also please post some of that guys' FB statuses? I'm curious. :)

I use "it is what it is" as well--it reminds me to just accept and start looking for a solution instead of wringing my hands about what's happened.

Also, "you can't fix the crazy". I apply this a lot on Facebook! Like, when I feel tempted to wade into a political debate or someone's TOTALLY KOOKY line of thinking. That sort of thing never ends well. Of course, I try to help people that are hurting and looking for help--that isn't what this one means to me. It's more like, you can't fix everything and everything isn't dependent on YOU for a solution. So don't tie yourself up in knots about it. Alternatively I say "Step away from the crazy."

Also, like Kathy there are some scriptures I like: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)

But wow! There are some great ones here I'm adding to my repertoire. I have a feeling they're gonna come in handy.

The crystals! Awesome. Everyone needs a caring hippie in their life.

Elizabeth said...

I'm a big "it is what it is" fan -- it's served me well in the nearly seventeen years that I've been taking care of my daughter. I'm also partial to "Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile" -- a mantra I learned from the great Tibetan monk Thict Naht Hanh. It, too, has served me well for lo these many years. Equanimity is an attractive word to me, too.

I think you sound instinctively mindful, Becky. It's a beautiful thing.

jo said...

I keep managing to read your posts before I read Amy's so am going over there next to get an update. Those are some good mantras, I like the 'let your body hurt', I tend to give up in training instead of pushing on, I'm gonna try pushing on from now on

My Kids' Mom said...

"Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming" (Dora, in Nemo)

"Just walk away. Walk away." (Alton Brown)

and when it has to do with my kids, "I'm not raising children, I'm raising adults"

But I like some of these a lot. I will hang onto "You can't fix the crazy"

Molly @thewaffler said...

"THis too shall pass" A mantra taught to me by my own sister when I was having major baby blues after my daughter was born.

Allison said...

We are currently deep into "we are where we are", which is a derivative of it is what it is. I am also embracing "the Tao of the Cow" wherein I ruminate, gaze placidly at the horizon, and quit fuming about stuff I can't control. There has been much of that lately. All the best to you and yours.

Camp Papa said...

That which doesn't kill you sometimes just hurts like He'll.

Becky said...

The Tao of the Cow! I love it! Plus it rhymes, for extra mantra-ness.

Dad, you fell victim to the autocorrect's inability to allow even mild swear words. I can't seem to get it to learn that I'm saying "hell" much more than I ever say "he'll."

Meghan said...

One of my favorites, from my boss, Sam Wells..."if it can't be happy, make it beautiful."

melondonkey said...

'Feel the tension'- taken from Josh Waitzkin on the psychology of chess. Sometimes a situation is tense and complicated and our natural inclination is to simplify it in order to make things easier for ourselves psychologically (e.g. trading material in chess). However, this often brings less rewarding results.

lar said...

My own mantra for getting through yucky things like dentist appointments or childbirth is "This won't go on forever." I started using it before my daughter was born to remind myself that labor would have an ending point, the pain wouldn't last forever. Now I repeat it to myself and my kids when we're facing something we don't want to do. It kind of helps us grit our teeth and get through it.

gretchen said...

In the immortal words of Jeff Goldblum in "Annie Hall"..."I forgot my mantra."

That said, I have found nothing better than the good old AA Serenity Prayer, which my Daddy kept in a frame over his bed...

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

But then, "Just Do It" works too.

delaine said...

I actually have three. One I learned from my mother that has been in frequent use thru the years,"This too shall pass." I have used that in situations ranging from a dentist visit to illness to a bad day at work. Second is " Don't sweat the small stuff." kinda puts things in perspective , don't you think? Third is a gem from Amy," Build a bridge and get over it!". As I think about these, I realize they are all speaking to our need to keep in mind what is important and what is true and get about living your life. Maybe we all should ponder on that.

Jenni said...

Totally weird place.

"It is what it is," is also on of my mantras! Like you, it helps me just accept a situation and move on from it.

Becky said...

Feel the tension. I like that! It makes me realize that I have a similar thought about social situations sometimes, something like: Let the awkwardness happen.

I think we spend most of our young lives dreading awkwardness or a feeling of social disharmony. But having an awkward moment will not hurt us. Something good may come from it. Just stand there awkwardly in the awkwardness.

Then blog the shit out of it.

Anyhoo, I came in to say, Amy texted me tonight and said how much she and Jason were enjoying reading everyone's mantras. Me too. I think we should just take to greeting each other this way. Like, "hey girl, bird by bird." Or, breathe out and smile.

donna funk said...

Hey Becky. I sent loads of love to Amy! I'd love to send you some swear words, but being a good Christian gal and all, the best I can do is think them really hard! ( although one did "slip" out when Amy emailed me about the FreakingFracking cancer.....)

MANTRA: can't unscramble eggs . I know-- profound.

Ginny Marie said...

Ever since my mom died, my dad's mantra has been "and so we go on...." and I supposed that's what we're doing. I'll be praying for Amy and your family!

KristerT said...

I love "Do the thing and get the power."

Mine are stupid, but work for me. My number one is, "The work gets done by doing the work." It just reminds me, when I am overwhelmed by a huge project, that the way to finishing it is to just start working. It also gets me through dental appointments and other unpleasant life events.

"Done is better than Perfect" - I use this a lot, to get through perfection paralysis.

Becky said...

Krister I think our brains work the same--I leaned heavily on "Done is better than good" (such a high standard I have) and "Perfect is the enemy of good" while I was finishing my dissertation.

Or as the guru Leonard Cohen says, "Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering."

Hootie said...

I never did add my comments here, so here I am doing the thing and getting the power (which I have been reciting to myself ever since I read that.)

A few favorite song lyrics that stick with me and act as mantras: "All you need is love." Helps me re-contextualize a lot of situations, particularly parenting ones. Although I sometimes go to THIS concept (not a mantra, but a re-contextualization as well): Imagine the child is me, then ask myself what I need at that moment. Usually, this takes me back to "All you need is love."

Another lyric, from TMBG: "Memo to myself: do the dumb things I gotta do."

And one we quote to the children sometimes: "You can't always get what you want.... but you just might find that you get what you need."

I also do this exercise, especially when other humans are behaving in a particularly awful manner: I pretend that I can see each individual's potential, or that secretly I can see them doing something really kind or loving or selfless. Sort of like imagining the audience is in their underwear. It just helps me deal sometimes.

This also helps if I envision myself in the same way.

And finally here's a mantra I came up with: "Sometimes the right thing is exactly the opposite of what you feel like doing." Helps me keep my emotional responses in check. I used that one a lot when I was teaching high school.

Becky said...

Well Hoot, now the secret is out about your loving heart.

These are great. I especially like the compassionate equivalent of picturing people in their underwear. It reminds me of a sign in my third grade teacher's classroom: Catch 'em doin' good. Thirty years later, it makes sense.