Formation II: Mantras & Their Sources


I have several phrases or mantras (a Hindu and Buddhist term referring to a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation) that I repeat often to myself and to others. It’s really only in the last year that I’ve noticed how these phrases keep me grounded and remind me that I’m part of something greater than myself.

Given the number of times I’ve repeated myself in the last few years, I thought I’d write my top phrases down and share them, their sources, and the ways they influence my everyday. If you have any that you live by, please share! I’d love to read them. 

We don’t live for this world.

My dad loves to quote this when I go to him for advice. It’s his way of gently reminding me that it may feel like the world is crumbling but one day, our understanding of everything will make our current understanding of the world seem ridiculous.

I don’t know if I believe necessarily in a heavenly paradise after life anymore. However, after studying world religions in college, I came to a conclusion that perhaps, what’s after death is a oneness with a being greater than all of us. Whether that’s heaven with golden gates, reincarnation, or our souls lit up in some dark space, who knows. Those are all particulars. I do believe that we don’t live for this world because this world breaks us. And I’d like to think that I came into this world feeling very whole. And that circles are real. Infinity is real. There has to be something beyond this world or else present day struggles would be for nothing. It’s my father’s and my reminder to stay hopeful.

It’s a “both and.”

I first learned of “both and”s from my favorite theology teacher in high school. He explained how people tend to see the world in binaries: good and bad, heaven and hell, east and west, left and right, man and woman, etcetera. And then he gave examples of two seemingly contradictory things could both exist and have something beautiful grow out of recognizing the merits of both. It was a very revolutionary idea—I just didn’t recognize it at the time.

The phrase took on greater depth last year when I was facing a lot of interpersonal conflict. Folks around me engaged in verbal fights often. I began to see how often conflict was unnecessary because both parties could be right.

Everyday, I see how choosing to live in black and white causes deep division. There’s a lot of “this” or “that” and no in between, no ability to work in spectrums. The more humans I encounter, the more diversity of nuances, complexities, and processes I witness. And every human being is different. I still believe in objective truths and I think that every human also lives by subjective truths that bring us closer or further away from objectivity. There’s something about this phrase that better articulates my belief that all is interconnected.

Everything happens for a reason.

Ah, a cliche that everyone hates hearing. The story behind this is really in the conversations I have with friends when I say it. Most friends cringe. The idea that there is a preconceived reason for what is happening in our lives sounds ridiculous to folks because of the way it seems to discount free will. A lot of my friends have an issue with the idea of some watch keeper in the sky who just sets time forward.

Then there’s me, again with the “both and’s.” I know and believe I have free will. I also think there’s some loving divine being out there that knows me more than I know myself. I, as a human being, am finite in my understanding of life (even of myself). Knowing how the two interplay is for me to reflect on, to struggle with, to live through. I’ve learned to be content with the fact that I won’t know everything ever.

Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything. 

On my first day of college, the dean read Pedro Arrupe S.J.’s “Fall in Love” poem. She told us it would guide us through our four years and beyond. And she was right.

I fell in love in college… with a boy. For a long time, he made me excited to get up in the morning, to go to class, to work and to live my life. The idea of having a future with him decided everything for a long time.

Unfortunately, we didn’t stay in love as most long distance college relationships are. We fell apart and suddenly, I felt out of touch with love and with myself. I confronted myself and the decisions I was making and realized that I hadn’t been loving myself. So I re-evaluated my studies, my extra-curricular commitments, my jobs at the time, and my friendships to determine what was giving me life and what was not. I cut people and activities that felt toxic. It’s been a process. I’m thankful for the time to discover love again on a variety of levels. Because what and who I choose to love really decides everything.

We’re all in process; life’s a process.

When I was going through the aftermath of my college break-up, I decided to see a counselor. For months, my whole being was heavy. It seemed impossible just to get through a day despite the blessings in my life. Having gone through depression before, I knew that I couldn’t let myself fall into old habits: I needed help.

Perhaps the greatest idea that I got from my counselor was that I am always in process. She’d listen to me as I described how I felt stuck and lacked the motivation to move forward. I also shared with her previous moments of resiliency I had. So when she said that, it occurred to me that I am in a process and my life didn’t have to end because of the break-up.

Change is inevitable but personal growth is a choice.

One of my favorite professors in college wrote this on his syllabus. When I read this on my first day of class, I cried. It had been a quarter since my break-up but I still carried the weight of loss on my heart. This phrase helped me to acknowledge that changes were happening in my life and that instead of letting them weigh me down, I could grow from them.

So I did. And I continue to. I’ve learned how to roll with changes around me, take a moment to breathe and reflect and then grow. It’s not easy. I’d like to pride myself in working to be dynamic and to learn from my experiences. It just takes time.

Where there is uncertainty, there is hope

With the recent election results, the increase of hate crimes, my personal struggle of navigating what I’m doing with my life, and the emotional weight I carry by supporting friends, there’s been a lot of feelings of despair lately.

And then I read Grace Lee Bogg’s The Next American Revolution and developed a new hope. The book is written in the midst of the somewhat hopeful two terms of Obama. After describing the current reality of our country: a people who suffer from spiritual decay, she mentions this phrase. It continues to remind me that even though I have no idea where I or the people of this world are going, there is hope for goodness.

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