Tuesday, September 28, 2010


As a sat down with my bowl of cereal this morning the other morning, I was flipping through a magazine and came across an article on mantras. The author (do you call them an author? Maybe editor, writer?) Well, the lady that wrote the article was a very accomplished athlete who competed in rowing and ran marathons. At first, I was all, "oh she's one of those crazy overachieving types." I met a few of those nuts at Saint Olaf. The ones that track genetic inheritance, run 15 miles, perform symphonies and then volunteer at the hospital all on Wednesday before intramural kickball. Then she went on to discuss how during some of the most challenging moments in her life, she found herself using mantras to push her to complete or focus on the tasks at hand. The act of reciting a phrase over and over again, would give her the focus and determination she needed to overcome fear, push through "the wall," or keep it together when life became chaotic. It has been proven that by focusing on a mantra, you can divert your thoughts enough to become significantly less aware of the factors that might otherwise hold you back. 

Duh, right? Pretty sure I learned the same thing in Shrek when Donkey was crossing the bridge from the castle. 

"Don't look down, don't look down..." 

Then before you know it, he has made it all the way to the other side. All he had to do was focus on the words instead of on the fear. This is like life strategies for first graders here. Apparently, however, we are not giving this practice enough credit though. A mantra or repeated phrase can help you overcome pain, fear, frustration and can even help get you butt to the gym. 

"No more noodle arms, no more noodle arms..." 

...and BAM before I've had a chance to talk myself out of it, I'm pumping iron at the Y. Now, I realize that I might be using this term too loosely. In reality a mantra is a very spiritual tradition practiced in many religions. Guys, I don't actually know much about this at all. I'd love to learn though, so let me know if you've got the inside scoop. I have shared a few "Om's" in yoga a few times, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that's it's really not the same thing. For now, I am just focusing on the power of the spoken word and the ability to refocus one's thoughts by simply repeating a "mantra."

I think this will be a really good tool for me. I have been struggling lately with too many goals and I am finding myself falling victim to the inevitable burnout that comes with trying to do too much at once. There's school, work, getting to the YMCA 12 times a month, trying to eat healthier, staying organized at home, spending less money, planning meals better, reading all those books before they are due back at the library, using fewer paper towels, those pants that need hemming, coaching skiing this winter, and then the endless list of projects that I would love to get done. Yeesh! Not sure why I have this overwhelming desire to try to to do everything well. I obviously can't to everything well. I can work at a few things and that's it, and yet I set the bar high for everything. Dumb. Maybe it's a symptom of a quarter life crisis? I've been doing all this questioning of my purpose and so on and so forth, so I can see that maybe being the root of all this. Either way, I need a tool to help me prioritize and focus. I need to start utilizing the mantra. I can see this working really well with the way my brain works. I am so easily distracted and tend to become completely fixated on something if it sparks my interest. If that something happens to be reorganizing my closet on a night when my Physics homework is due, my brain is very good at rationalizing the closet over the homework. In that moment before I decide to reorganize the closet, when I still have self-control, I am going to break out the mantra...

"School comes first, school comes first..."

I may or may not regress into one of those crazy people that is always talking to themselves. Just a warning.

And so I come to Desiderata. My Dad gave me a framed print of this poem as a gift when I graduated from college. My Dad always seems to know what I need well before I do. When I look at it, I always think about how perfect the words are. It was something that I had intended to read on a regular basis, but of course, in my quest to do everything, I end up looking at it very infrequently. No more. This can be my mantra. Maybe if I actually take Dad's advice and try reading and even reciting this poem on a more regular basis, it will help me refocus on what is important. Let go of the noise and haste and just focus on what I can do right instead of what I should be improving. 

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful words Kate. I like your reflective posts lately. Keep on balancing your life and enjoy the ride, keeping in mind that it won't always be this tumultuous. Once you are done being a student your time will free up to do more of those things you want to do. At least that is the hope that I hold onto that keeps me going... :)