Roses are Red; Violets are Blue; This Little Mantra will Do Nothing for You.
A simple statement presented in a catchy poem intrigues; but the vagueness is often grossly misinterpreted; the listener customizes the catchy phrase to fit pre-established beliefs. I still love quotes, easily remembered and motivating. Geniuses from history, gifted in soliloquy, condense giant ideas into succinct sentences. We borrow their thoughts and create beliefs. But quotes—by themselves, are limiting. A mental health mantra, sweet in sound, may miss lead if it doesn’t motivate the correct action necessary for growth. A quote, missing the context, becomes hollow, without guiding substance, susceptible to misinterpretations, failing to challenge our deep biases and possibly the cause of many of our disappointments with life.
Lasting change occurs after the budding motivation of a quote is enacted and integrated into new thoughts behaviors and eventually emotions. Lasting change requires much more than a phrase or a mental health mantra. The newness of change is temperamental. The tender new actions are conditional. Slight changes in the environment and the old rusty responses jump back into action. We must confront the patient demons that wait in the shadows, seeking for our moment of vulnerability. In confidence of our new-found strength, we slip from strict patterns and open up to temptations that we are ill prepared to resist.
Francis Bacon proclaimed, “fame is like a river that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid.” Only if Bacon could see America now!
What are Mantras?
The practice of reciting mantras originated in Eastern religious traditions. A Mantra is “a sacred Sanskrit syllable or phrase which is repeated to powerful effect.” The theory is the soothing rhythm and vibration of repeated sounds has a calming effect on our bodies and minds. “When you chant a mantra with intention, the idea and power behind the mantra permeates your subconscious and brings you closer to understanding the unified whole of existence” (Himalayan Yoga Institute).
Similar to mantras is catchy phrases that create familiarity. They have the power to unite a crowd in purpose. Sometimes, the phrase overpowers logic and crowds unite in terrible destructiveness and hatred. We must skeptically examine words and their power to motivate.
Dangers of Simplicity
Simple thoughts are easily manipulated, made agreeable to many by the varying way listeners interpret the vagueness. The bearer of the over-simplified mental health mantra, without detailed qualifications, easily wiggles around future consequences, because the mantra’s lack of specificity doesn’t demand commitment or healthy action.
We naturally want clarity, so we translate the ambiguousness into our own belief system. When things go awry, we easily externalize blame to outside sources. No commitment to soundness in the beginning and no acceptance of responsibility in the end.
In politics we see this endlessly skirting of responsibility. If the stock market goes up its my policies; if it goes down, its someone else’s fault. With this simplicity, and manipulation, no matter how good or how bad, our behaviors remains beyond reproach.
Social Media and Mantras
The influence of social media magnifies the use of mental health mantras. Key words, catchy phrases, and enjoyable poems go viral. Common sense and personal responsibility fall flat. A man recently posted that he left his toxic ex, his toxic job, and separated himself from his toxic parents that support his ex. The internet response was overwhelmingly supportive. Everyone passing judgment on these own known people labelled with the buzz word “toxic.”
Most narcissist see every situation and person that doesn’t bow to their needs as toxic. In most cases, a person that quits their job, abandons their family, and rants about how terrible everyone in their life is doesn’t need commendation for being courageous. They need therapy and a lesson in personal responsibility. Unless, of course, they can define their motivation for their maladaptive behavior with a few popular mental health mantras.
We must wisely investigate. Our mental health mantras may motivate healthy behavior or excuse dastardly self destruction.
Complexity of Human Behavior
Human behavior is complex—consequences seldom arise from a single cause. We must gather wisdom from connections uncovered from the shadowy floors of complexity, examining consequences as a result many known (and unknown) factors. Because the lack of exactness, we easily manipulate evidence to fit personal (or political) needs—biases.
Real choice and real actions affect our lives, shaping futures. Bending, trimming and ignoring proven best practices to fit individual beliefs devalue effectiveness.
We believe we change but don’t.
When we fail to integrate proven practices into tangible choices, we remain unchanged, wasting the crumbs of knowledge, and still subject to reoccurring hurts.
“When we fail to integrate proven practices into tangible choices, we remain unchanged, wasting the crumbs of knowledge, and still subject to reoccurring hurts.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Proven Behaviors Necessary for Success
Victims of addiction provide poignant examples of this. They follow proven paths only long enough to enjoy the beginnings of recovery, but once they obtain the slightest improvements, the proven path no longer appears necessary. Holding to positive mantras, “one day at a time,” but ignoring the more substantive techniques, the sufferer justifies altering treatments and starts towards relapse.
Sarah Wilson made a comment about meditation that resonated with me. She wrote, “after years of meditating, I’ve realized words and thoughts can only point to the experience. They are not the experience itself” (2018, Kindle location 930). Her wisdom extends far beyond the practice of meditation into the realms of real life. Words are just words until they translate into healthy, growth promoting experience.
We do the same thing but often much subtler, we fall into patterns of stagnation without realizing the relapse. Our return to frivolous spending, harsh comments, or missing workouts, doesn’t devastate our lives the same as shoving a needle into our collapsing veins but the lapse in motivation and return to the past prevents recovery and sustained growth.
A saying may be dandy inspiring thought and soothing a struggling soul. But if the poem is vague about concrete actions, the wisdom is malleable to be used in only convenient ways.~T. Franklin Murphy
A Few Remarks from Psychology Fanatic
A quote, no matter how great, is not enough. Once the joyous positivity drags us off the floor of discouragement, we easily intellectualize and skirt the real work necessary for change.
We blindly sing our little ditty and dupe ourselves into false security. Simplified philosophies of life—although soothing, fail to create a promising future. If we constantly confront the same demons, skeptically look deeper into the patterns—real tangible behaviors. Hidden through biases, self-protecting explanations, the real causes, buried deep in the psyche, remain resistant to change. We often need assistance to expose these patterns, giving gentle encouragement to buoy our resolve to continue with difficult programs, even after we erroneously believe we have achieved our goal.
We don’t need a sugar pill to cure definable ills; we don’t need a rhyme to give life meaning. The complexity of life needs more. Real problems need real answers. We discover riches only when we dig a little deeper. The weighty and solid aspects only surface through widening of perspectives, allowing for unknowns, and trusting proven remedies. By embracing complexity, we see ourselves as a piece of a much larger evolving universe. Courageously dig a little deeper.
Wilson, Sarah (2018). First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety. Dey Street Books.
The Transformational Power of Mantra. The Himalayan Yoga Institute.