A mantra is a phrase or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. Some of us may have them and not even realize we use them. I’ve adopted a few over the years to help ease my anxiety, re-focus my energy and come back to my moment. However, though they’ve proven themselves true time and again, I often doubt my mantras. I become fearful that I am using them as excuses. You see, I tend to over-rationalize difficult situations in an attempt to make sense of them. In my past, this has led to toxic relationships being drawn out for years and unhappy work environments being tolerated for too long. Life’s uncertainty leaves me anxious about how to make the distinction between what I can and can’t control.
The truth is, there is a balance that must be reached. While we must act with intention and take responsibility for those actions, we must also recognize that some circumstances in our life will be out of our control. That is a difficult thing for me to accept. And in order to make sense of it, I attempt to manipulate reasoning because I ache to understand the process. But what I’m realizing is that sometimes we won’t understand why until the reason is ready to present itself. So, we must practice the virtue of patience. With patience we can cherish our moments, good and bad, for the lessons they are, for the steps they take us toward our future. We’ll never be able to control all that life throws at us, but we will always be able to control how we react to it.
If you’re anything like me, this patience can be excruciating at times. It causes anxiety and fear of the unknown. It breeds self-doubt, causing us to forget all we’ve accomplished because we’re too busy looking ahead. Those emotions are real and they demand attention. Here are some ways I have found to stabilize them.
Identifying an emotion and exploring where it’s coming from is the first step toward understanding it. For example, I become anxious because I can’t control every aspect of my life. I become frantic, grasping at straws attempting to piece together reasoning as to why things are happening the way they are. The simple act of putting words to these issues has been a good first step to understanding the effect they’ve been having on my life. Giving a name to whatever it is that’s causing us distress allows us to face it more easily because we can take ownership of the issue, rather than the other way around.
I have been managing my anxiety for most of my life. I’m learning what works and what doesn’t, what’s healthy and what’s not. We all have our own coping mechanisms to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Some feed them with food while others may mask them with sarcasm. I took to trying to control my anxiety through purging. I felt if I could control what went in and out of my body I could in turn control my life and thus relieve myself from anxiety. I’ve since recovered from that particular habit, but it’s taken time to get to a place where I know how to manage it. And the process is only beginning, because healthy mechanisms, like yoga, meditation and therapy, only work when we dedicate ourselves to their practice. Through this practice, we can prepare ourselves to react to these emotions in healthier ways.
It’s important to learn our triggers. They will change over time, but they tend to stay within the same realm. One of my triggers is lack of control. Where others may become anxious when faced with decisions or having to speak in front of a group, I’m rendered catatonic when I’m not in control of what is happening around me. It does take constant effort to remind myself that I can’t control everything, but the effort put in has begun to prove its reward. I’ve learned it’s easier to embrace the chaos rather than attempt to control it out of fear. Emotional triggers can be sneaky, so putting the energy into remaining vigilantly aware is the best way to stay ahead of them.
Above all else, accepting the fact that we can’t solve all of our problems, and that some our problems aren’t really problems at all, will bring the most relief. One of the biggest epiphanies I’ve encountered in this process may be an obvious one, but it wasn’t until I articulated it to myself, in my own words, did it truly have meaning. “The future will never exist”. That has become my new mantra. Accepting that tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, therefore it doesn’t exist. It will never exist. It will never be visible or tangible, it is a figment of our imaginations. So it’s worthless to pretend we have any control over it. All we have is our moment, and it is our responsibility to do all we can with it in order to even attempt to guarantee ourselves the tomorrow we want.
We all have our own crosses and find different ways to bear them. But in general, we all share one thing: The present. It is something we all share, collectively, and tend to frivolously waste. I encourage us all to attempt to savor it. Life is much more fleeting than we care to admit, which is why we find ways to avoid or escape the present moment. We fear its elusivity. We hate that it slips through our fingers. But as soon as we embrace it for what it is, a beautiful gift we are all given, we will be able to relish in it rather than run from it. So, be here now.