Mind Hacking With Mantras

I’ve always found it interesting that not only is the placebo effect real, but it works even if you know you’re taking a placebo.

Sometimes I ask myself if the things I’m doing are having any real effect on my life — those little rituals we play out, for comfort and security perhaps. To feel as if we possess some modicum of control over the chaotic world around us. I know that words do not shape reality in a literal sense, but as a writer, my life is tied up in the premise that words can and do shape our subjective realities, both in the way we feel and in how we choose to approach the world.

Reality is objective, but how we choose to approach it is malleable. And we are in control of the maxims we choose to mold our lives by.

To that end, I’ve gotten in the habit of using phrases as stress-breaks.

Anyone familiar with programming should recognize a break statement as an instruction to terminate a loop when a certain condition is met — this stops a program from wasting resources on running code that isn’t necessary.

Applied to a pattern of spiraling negative thoughts, a well-crafted break statement can keep you from dwelling on an issue that your mind can’t seem to break free from.

I am very prone to anxiety, so it’s one of the habits I find most helpful in my life. To provide some examples of how to apply this, here are some of the mantras I’ve had on my mind recently, and what they mean for me.

Our world is in a rough way right now, as has frequently been the case for pretty much all of human history. Like many folks, I worry about how to contribute toward meaningful solutions and how to build resilient systems to carry us and future generations forward.

And, as is often the case, when one person is looking at the whole world, the scope of the problem quickly becomes overwhelming. Changing one system causes a chain reaction of consequences both good and bad rippling out into other interrelated ones. Arguments erupt and soon we’re picking teams instead of resolving conflict.

It doesn’t take long to become so crushed under the volume of information as to give up on subtleties and complexities, and just buy into dichotomies of black-and-white, one-or-the-other, good-team-versus-bad-team.

When my mind starts to run off-track on things far beyond my control, I try to stop myself — take a deep breath, and remember, “beauty will save the world.”

Books. Film. Art. Story. I imagine ancient ancestors sitting around cavefires and telling the stories that will shape the beliefs and lives of the children listening — stories that sing wonder and strength into the human soul. Beauty reminds us what sort of world is possible when we allow ourselves to dream. Beauty changes lives.

So, take a breath. Center yourself. Don’t pile more weight on, trying to save the world. Just make it beautiful. Spread it to others. Better things will follow.

Now, this shifts the question — what sort of beauty can I create? What is the sort of beauty I am best suited to create?

If you’re an artist, a writer, a creator, then I suspect you already know in your heart what you must do.

Beyond that — volunteer, donate, make someone smile. Commit yourself to at least one micro-kindness a day. Give someone a hand picking up something they dropped. Buy a coffee for the person in line behind you. Give something to someone you’ll never see again. Look for god in the eyes of a stranger.

Joseph Campbell remains one of my favorite writers and in my opinion is perhaps one of the truly great individuals of the 20th century.

I meditate on these words and try to recall them when my mind is threatening to rebel.

In the midst of despair, “What will I do? How will I get through this?”

“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power…”

Ah, yes. That is it. I must face it head on. This is not an obstacle; this is a puzzle, a test of endurance. I can deconstruct it, and study it, and learn to wield it. And once I understand how to wield that power, that demon no longer has any advantage that I don’t also have access to, and it cannot scare me anymore. I know all its tricks.

My natural, instinctual reaction is to keep it from crushing me, but instead I must remember to see that it’s not set in stone. I can win. And if I do, I’ll have proved greater than the thing I once thought greater than I. This isn’t an obstacle; this is an opportunity.

The more insurmountable it seems, the more power won from conquering it.

This one’s a bit long, so I boil it down the words ‘invincible summer’.

I ask myself to find the invincible summer that’s living in my heart. I imagine open meadows of tall grass and blue skies, and the warmth of sunlight on my eyelids. I retreat into the woodlands of my youth and live again amongst the forest with the gentle breeze that makes the leaves on trees sing through quiet sighs. And it is home. It is both the place I come from and that to which I shall eventually return. It is peace.

I have that. No matter what. I will always have that place to go when all else is lost, and still understand what it means to be at peace. To have had and lost it is painful, but also joyous, because I can hold onto it in my mind’s eye, and it can never truly be taken from me again.

And moreover, it is itself a blessing to be able to recognize how wonderful it was, for many never even realize it. So many haven’t even the luxury of good memories, and so for that I feel lucky.

In trying times, I remember that my memories carry all the treasures of my life. That perseverance in the face of adversity is perhaps the most heroic trait a human being can possess. That we win through perseverance.

It’s natural to avoid pain. … But I’ve found that those of us who’ve had great pains thrust upon us from an early age tend to get used to it, in some sense.

My soul is troubled. I don’t think that’s unusual, though we don’t like to discuss it much. I have found, though, that so many of the sore spots I have loathed prodding, have been caused by mistaken ideas and conflicts of logic. It is only through examining those things and setting them straight that I have done away with those sore spots and become free from their power.

It never becomes pleasant, per se, but it can be turned into a sort of yardstick to measure how deeply one delves into their own soul. If it doesn’t hurt, then I haven’t gone deep enough; haven’t found some new, unexamined corner of my heart to shore up.

Through great effort, I have taught myself to love the tears. To associate them with having made something real; something that truly touches the heart. I have cried as I have written some of this piece, and so I know that I have said something from my soul.

I think of these words often when I am thinking about those I have lost — my late father, in particular.

This pain is Campbell’s demon.

Swallowing that pain, learning to live beside it and accept its permanence in my life, has, oddly enough, been the deepest and most enduring source of my power.

However intense the pain is just shows me how deeply I loved him and how fathomless that love runs.

What he gave to my life was so full and so great that his absence is sometimes nearly unbearable, even still. I understand now that this will always be the case, precisely because he was so great. That to not have this pain in my life would mean to have not have had him ever, even for that short time.

The things I’m working on in my life aren’t necessarily the same things everyone’s going through, or the words might connect in a different way; make a list of stress-break quotes that calm and focus your mind.

Above all else, do not forget, “beauty will save the world.”

Mind Hacking With Mantras

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