Breath in: I am Special.
Breath out: I am Strong
Breath in: I am Special
Breath out: I am Strong
Repeated for about 5 minutes daily for meditation and mindfulness.
I did this for years and this particular mantra always felt really exciting and energizing to me. Until I realized I was poisoning my brain with these words. As nice as it sounds to think "I'm special" it's a completely toxic mentality that implies that I'm somehow better than someone else. And by repeating to myself "I'm strong" I was inadvertently reminding myself that weakness is to be avoided. I was shocked to one day realize that my mantra had been making me sicker. More disconnected, less willing to display vulnerability and less able to allow myself the human experience.
I have a friend who is also a recovering binge eater and we were talking one day about how helpful mindfulness and meditation is for the process of overcoming toxic emotions. We were comparing notes on how we practice mindfulness and I suggested that having a mantra while meditating is a great way to bring the mind to the present and unattach from stray thoughts that may pass through the consciousness. I mentioned that I used to have a mantra but was now looking for a new one since the old one no longer served me. She asked what the old one was and I explained how "special" and "strong" didn't fit my new life view. "But Hollywood, of COURSE you're special" she exclaimed with horror. No. I'm not. Special implies that I'm inherently better than someone else. Special implies that there's something about me that I didn't have to earn. That there's something "unusual" about me when the truth is, there is no usual. There is no such thing as a "regular" person. And to really think I was special was the most pompous, self-serving mentality a person could have.
I will never forget the morning after I realized I wasn't special. My initial reaction was one of shock. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that I was just a skin-bag. Walking sawdust. Nothing divine or elect about my existence. I sobbed for hours and let myself grieve my specialness. I looked in at my children, still sleeping in their beds. Their soft bodies flushed from sleep and chests slowing rising and falling with breath. I felt more daggers in my heart when I realized that they were no longer special either. Just another metamorphosis of biology that could come and go through this world as their compositions infinitely changed into other forms. I could barely bring myself to look at them in my shock. But reality was impossible to deny. It had been a long night of questions and tears and so that morning I went to Starbucks for a stiff shot of caffeine to get through the day. I remember walking into the cafe, there was a long line of women in front of me in all shapes and sizes, all ages and races and this is when I realized the real implication of my discovery. At the moment I walked in the most incredible feeling washed over me. I wasn't special. I was a part of this. We were all connected. We were all equally capable of accomplishing incredible things. It hit me that the gift of this life isn't in our uniqueness, but in our ability to relate and connect to those around us. I stood in that line and a huge smile broke out on my face. A few of the women noticed my grin and smiled back. My being began to brim with excitement at the realization that I didn't need to be special anymore, I could just be.
Realizing my non-specialiness was a burst of relief. I'm a part of the human experience which is pretty incredible but on my own I'm nothing. People may choose to do exceptional things, but it is because nobody is special that makes all of human accomplishment that much more grand. If we were all superheros it wouldn't be surprising at all when amazing feats were accomplished or courage displayed. But as soft-bodies organisms who the mere act of getting out of bed in the morning can be seen as courageous in some instances, it becomes truly spectacular the things we can accomplish as a whole.
Giving up strength took less tears. My whole life I've tried to live independently of others to secure happiness, health and success. And my whole life I've known deep down this quest for independence was making me harder to be around, less able to empathize and less able to relate to others who didn't value strength as I did. But whenever I would try and use others or work as a team or rely on others for validation I would become increasingly frustrated. I didn't understand that more valuable than being "strong" is being accepting. When people failed to hold up their end of the bargin, rather than emotionally shutting them off and having the "I just have to do everything myself" I could just observe the situation, observe my feelings and accept that if I expect to be able to feel joy, I'd have to open myself up to pain. Giving up strength also meant that I could be able to share my failures. Once I stopped pretending to my clients that I was perfect and made only amazing health choices, I became so much more valuable as a health coach. I started hearing clients say things like, "phew! I was worried that you wouldn't understand!" The discovery that my weakness and vulnerability actually made me more helpful to people was powerful. The real gift I could give people wasn't strength, success or power, but understanding, and openness.
It took almost 6 months for me to find my new mantra. But today's mantra fits my new life-outlook very well and I hope is a more healthy mentality to help me stay focused and calm.
Breath In: I am here
Breath Out: I am now
I am here: I had spent so much of my time worrying about what had happened in the past or what I wanted to have happen in the future that I'd often overlooked that perfectness of the moment. At any given moment, when I stop and think about it, life is pretty amazing. When I can take my brain and remind myself that I'm not in my past or in my present, most worries and fears simply vanish. The present is a place of power and action. A place of decision. I want to live in each moment that I can control, not the times that I will never have control over and can drive my brain into fits of anxiety. I am here.
I am now: This is my call to action and life. If there is something that I'd like to accomplish, now is the only time it will ever happen. I am not the person I was yesterday, last year or even 10 seconds ago. I can detach from anything that happened then and know that yesterdays outcomes in no way determine today's. And when I realize that I am not someone a week from now, or a year from now, it's helpful to me to stop procrastinating creating the life I want to live or the person I want to be. The only time I can ever be that person is now. The anxiety and expectation that used to fill my days has decreased dramatically. I'm more able to be present in conversations. To enjoy the moments with my children. I really stop and listen to a friend in need. I've been practicing clearing my head of responses and thoughts when listening to someone speak and just try and understand their words instead of formulating my reactions or responses. From this practice it has seemed like life has slowed quite a bit. The moments sweeter and longer. I am now.
I have no doubt as I continue experiencing and learning my mantra may change to suit new realizations and I welcome such change. But today I don't worry thinking about what that might be. Today I choose life, action and connection.