Doing Hard Things

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Short read: A mantra that speaks specifically to you has uncanny power to hold you up and see you through. 
When Dan Harris -- the 10% Happier guy -- asked Gregory Boyle -- the Jesuit priest who built an empire of love* in the gangland heart of Los Angeles -- how he manages to continue to love so fiercely while regularly bearing witness to acts of heart stopping violence, Dan thought he knew the answer.
Father Boyle laughed. “No, it’s not day-by-day, not even hour-by-hour. Not even minute-by-minute! Sometimes it’s just breath-by-breath.”
When I heard “breath-by-breath” it stopped me cold, zapping my brain instantly back to the last 30 seconds in the shower the first morning I turned the handle all the way to cold. The icy water was such a shock it took my breath away. It was like being flash frozen, my breathing suspended. In the dumb-cold numbness, I suddenly realized I was the one who was going to have to get my frozen self to breathe again. With more deliberate intention than I think I have ever mustered, I gasped in a breath and then gasped it out. One. I gasped in another breath and gasped it out. Two. Like that, I went breath-by-breath all the way to 30. It was long and slow, the only way I could breathe with any coordination.
I was subjecting myself to 30 cold-therapy seconds in the shower every morning in order to cure all my ails, every last one of them (I’m ambitious in that way). While the jury is still out on the success of that goal, what cold therapy did do is teach me this: I can do hard things. I heard myself say it out loud one morning. It was an odd and elementary school kind of phrase I heard myself blurt out while squeezing the frigid water out of my hair. Not only is it silly sounding, it’s not like I haven’t done hard things before on occasion; I’d just never called it out so simply or even thought of it in such basic terms. When I have done hard things in the past it was usually a bigger, more drawn-out deal, and not one so compactly concentrated into a handful of seconds. The combination of such a concentrated bracing sensory experience and the simple, cut-to-the-chase truth of that declaration got through to me in a way that woke me up. I have since found myself regularly saying, “I can do hard things,” as I forge ahead and do something I ordinarily would put the brakes on. It’s a mantra that brings me right into truth of my untapped ability and into the challenge. And “Breath-by-breath…” that’s the mantra that tells me how.
This is where I start to think, “These are really important mantras! They’ve been so great for me! People should know about them!” And so I go write a column to spread the word. But even if you don’t connect with these, that’s okay because the greater point is about the uncanny power a mantra has when it does speak to you, its clarifying energy taking you right into the heart of your dilemma or mission with the resolve and strength to see it through in the way you want to be with it.
Other mantras I love (for what they remind me of, for how to do what I'm avoiding, for where I want my heart to be and for where I will find my depth):
  • It will be alright.
  • Run in screaming.
  • Love over judgment.
  • There is no growth without pain.
You wouldn’t think that a simple precise statement could take us so far, could take us anywhere at all. But it does.
I’d love to hear and share your mantras. They are a window of some sort.

*Homeboy Industries is the most successful gang rehabilitation and re-entry programs in the world.