Mantras to Live By


It was a little lullaby; a simple, flighty song to welcome the end of the day.  I remember hearing my mother sing it and imagined her mother singing it as well.  But though the rise and fall of the melody was perfectly written to ease a little mind to rest, it was the lyrics that I wanted my boys to hear.

 “I love you.  I love you.  A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck.  And a barrel and a heap, a barrel and a heap.  And I’m talking in my sleep about you.”

Every night as I leaned over their beds next to their warm little ears, I sang it.  In the day, every moment I was able to capture their fast moving frames, pull them into my lap, and slow them down enough to listen, I sang it.  When the pavement reached up and scratched their little knees, I sang it.  When they were huddled in a corner trying to get over an angry outburst, I sang it.

In the beginning, they hated it.  Mowgli would kick and thrash his arms, pushing away from me.  “No, you don’t!  I’m a bad boy!” he’d yell out trying to scratch my face.  Another would insert rude words into the song, transforming the message into something far less appropriate.  Often their thin bodies would go rigid and they would turn their face away, averted eyes filling up with confused and angry tears.

Still, I sang.

On good days, on bad days, when they were sleepy, when they were wild; it became my mantra.

Finally, almost a year later, they heard it.  Another two years later, they accepted it.

As time went on, it became clear that I would need another mantra for my boys; one for a very different circumstance and time.  When memories weaseled their way to the surface, when fear gripped them in the dark, when worry blanketed their minds, I’d pull out this mantra and begin to say it over them.

It was simple and easy to remember, addressed their past, present and future, and was no more than three little lines; but those three thoughts had the potential to change the atmosphere.

“Yes, what you experienced was wrong and not fair.  But, you are a survivor; strong and brave.  Now, you are in a safe place and you can make your world a better place.”

It took almost two years before they heard this one; before it’s meaning became part of their fiber.  And then, like the song of love, it took hold.  Today, when times get rough and angst begins to well up, I hear them whisper these powerful words to themselves and each other.

A while back, one of my boys had an extended stay in a hospital.  The circumstances were very scary and leaving him alone was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.  We couldn’t see him for the first 24 hours, and when we finally were allowed 30 minutes all he could do was weep.  Beginning as a slow, quiet whimper, soon his body began to quiver.  Then, waves of tears raged through him as his shoulders shook and his breath became ragged.

My own tears blinded my vision and I buried his little frame into my side.  Words refused to come as my throat closed up.  All I could manage was to slowly hum my little song.  “Hum hum hum…”

A new set of tears billowed out of his little body, but these were tears were of recognition, of hope, and of the love that the song declared.  He knew the tune.  He knew the words. He believed the mantra.

Slowly, his breath calmed and his body grew still.  By the time we left, tears still flowed, but as he was escorted out of the room he was humming the mantra that had become his own.

We all need positive mantras in our lives; simple, easy to recall, powerful and life giving.  These words focus us, define who we are, steady the crazy, and align us with hope.

For some, it is a scripture that speaks to us.  For others, it is a quote that captures our heart.  For many, it is something once spoken to us.

Do you have a mantra?  Is there something that helps you refocus and see things clearly?


  1. Christina says

    I love this. I’d many mantras in my life – usually negative ones that roll around in my head, over and over. I need positive ones to inspire me. I’ll have to think of what they should be.

  2. Sean says

    In my head. I hear the little Cajun coach from Waterboy say, “You cahn dew eht!” seriously! But it gets me through rough parts of life.

  3. says

    Christina – I completely understand! For years I’ve had negative mantras in my head; things people said and beliefs I had about myself. It takes a lot of persistent work, but finally they are beginning to shift.

    Sean – That is one of my favorite lines! It’s definitely a keeper.

  4. Toby says

    This was an excellent series of verbal snapshots of our family. Thank you Ellie Mae. And thank you for writing again.

  5. Amy Curns says

    It is truly amazing how a mantra has the power to get you through even the hardest moments of your life. They really give us the focus and clarity we need in times we need it the most. Thanks for reminding me of that.

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