I wish I may, I wish I might, have the mantra I wish tonight

“What’s my mantra?”

T looked up briefly from his dog-eared film festival program with a quizzical expression.  In a delayed reaction—as if trying to process if I had, in fact, asked him what my mantra was—he finally asked, “What?”

“My mantra.  What’s my mantra?”

His mouth opened and then snapped shut again—his jaw clearly thinking better of whatever it was his brain had considered saying.  We remained in silence for a few moments, engaged in some weird staring contest, me waiting expectantly for an answer.  Him, considering responses and discarding them based on an his astute risk analysis.

“Mantra?  I don’t know.  Does anyone have a mantra?” he mused aloud.

I had to admire his deflection.  It was a classic, safe move.  But I was undeterred.  “I should have one.  Well.  Actually, Izzie’s asked me what mine is.  She’s doing something mysterious and needs to know.”

T snorted.  ‘Mysterious?  You make it sound like some weird voodoo ritual.”

“Okay, Mr Funny Man, it’s not voodoo.  It’s a sincere question and I’m giving it sincere thought.  You know me.”

“Yeah, that I do,” T muttered.  He paused and scratched his head.  His eyes flicked longingly to the film program.  He closed it with a sigh and turned to me fully.  “Okay.  A mantra.  Your mantra.  Well … what about—” and then he stopped.  “Hang on.  Isn’t this supposed to be your mantra?”

“:Yes.”

“Well … I mean … it’s yours.  Don’t you think it’s—I mean—shouldn’t YOU be figuring it out?”

“Well, yes, but I thought you might be able to point me in the right direction.”

“For figuring out what you should be meditating on? How about, ‘Universe, help me be decisive,’” he said with a chuckle that, admittedly, got me chuckling too.

“It’s hard!” I said through the tittering.  “I mean, picking one phrase that sums up the essence of your being and is the kernel of truth that defines and guides your path?”

“Are you serious?  You’re serious.  Not everything has to be so serious, you know.  Oh!  There’s your mantra.  ‘Stop taking life so seriously!’”

And with that, T went back to studying the film festival program to see if he could squeeze in one more film to round out his list to 35.

The problem was, “Don’t take life so seriously” could have been my mantra.  T was right about that.  A dozen other phrases would have been good choices, too.  Ones like, “Take risks, but be prepared.”  Or, “Life is what you make it.” Or, in a nod to Sally Field, “They like me.  They really like me.”  So it was less of an issue of finding one, as it was picking among the many, many, many good choices.

That’s the thing about being profoundly neurotic.  You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to mantra shopping.

But I was serious when I said I was taking this task seriously (which—as T so pointedly said—is no shock to anyone who knows or has met me).  So, I approached the task as I would any new, confounding topic.  Research.

In a past life, I’m quite sure I was a research librarian.  For a long time, I wore librarian glasses.  I continue to have a penchant for wool skirts and twinsets.  I’m generally regarded as harmless, and while lively, never one to cause a stir.  And I love exploring new topics and figuring things out.  I was probably the only person in law school who wished it had been four years instead of three.

I began my research with my trusty friend, Google.  Google lead me to a number of interesting topics on mantras: what mantras are, what they’re meant to be, what you should be aiming for in a mantra.  Armed with the basics, I started consulting learned sources for ideas on what a good mantra should be.   Sources like “quotegarden.com” and “inspirationalquotes.com”.  It’s amazing the things people say.

About two weeks into this process, T came home one evening and asked what I was doing.

“Looking for a mantra.”

“On the Internet?”

“It could happen.  I found the world’s most perfect pair of shoes on the Internet.”

“But shouldn’t this be something that YOU think?  Not what someone else thinks?”

“Yes, but my mantra will be stronger if someone else said it first.  It gives it validity.  It’s like stare decisis.  You know, precedent.”

T rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath about bloody lawyers and bloody Latin and bloody mantras before turning on the sports news and going into a rugby-induced stupor.

I did eventually settle on a mantra, and yes, it did come from the Internet, and yes, someone else said it first.  But it really summed up so much in my life, and so much about the choices that I’ve made at times.  The guilt I’ve felt at putting myself first or the resentment when I didn’t.

So, my mantra is “Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”  Some French guy said it in 15somethingorother.  Precedent, indeed.

As for giving myself to myself, I almost never do that.  And I should.  I’m not comfortable saying, “This is what I want.”  I’m much more comfortable asking, “What do you want?  How can I give that to you?”

There’s a real freedom in deciding to put yourself first.  I’m not advocating that on a full-time basis, because then you tip dangerously toward becoming a self-absorbed narcissist.  But for people whose default is “What can I do for you?” it’s not a bad idea to occasionally ask (even of yourself), “What can you do for me?”

It almost feels naughty to ask that.  Shameful.  And I wonder how many of my girlfriends feel the same way.  Is it a gender issue?  A social issue?  A generational issue?  Or maybe, it’s just a Jenn issue.  I haven’t figured that part out yet, but I’m pleased to have at least solved the mantra puzzle.

Now.  To figure out why I have a profound but irrational dislike of eggplant….

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