Questioning My Mantras

or What’s in a Can’t Chant?

What are mantras? How do they work? Why would I want to do mantras? Who benefits from them?

A mantra is a statement or slogan repeated frequently – like a buzzword, catchphrase, or slogan – usually intended for personal change. Behind every mantra hides a reason for its use – a secret “why” that, when explored can reveal something useful about the one employing it.

Until recently, I had this thought that mantras must be carefully constructed, that they pertain only to positive change, and that they are always “good.” Then, I looked at the structure of mantras and realized they are simply self-talk. I often accompany self-talk with body sensations and movements – like sighs, eye casts, muscle activity, and etc.

Can’t Chants in Self-Talk

Until I recognized what I was doing to myself, I continued a program of belief-supportive self-talk – “Can’t Chants.” These mantras sound a lot like this:

  • I can’t even think about eating that – I’ll gain 10 pounds! (…so shame on me for even thinking!)
  • Sigh, I can’t do anything right. (…so I can’t have what I want.)
  • You know I can’t do math. (…so I can’t go to school, get the job, and whatever else I want.)
  • There’s always more month than money. (…so can’t support myself.)
  • See! I was right! (…and so can’t consider alternatives.)

You may have some more – great! Add them to the list. Maybe you, too, have codified these into “Can’t Chants” that have the format, I can’t:

  • Be (what I want to be)
  • Do (what I want to do)
  • Have (what I want to have)

Let’s challenge these cause-effect mantras with questions intended to stir the brain to work with us – to act.

Question Beliefs!

Unquestioned beliefs tend to continue as is (Newton’s First Law of Motion). When you notice something you want to change in your life, that something is a belief that is ripe for change.

Let’s investigate our beliefs with a series of HOW questions that challenge the doing part of our cause-effect relationship mantras. Simply ask the question and allow your body to do the answering – sensation and intensity.

  1. In what ways is my perception wrong about this?
  2. How does this provide feedback for my mind and heart?
  3. In what ways does this mantra serve me?
  4. How might I perceive myself differently?

When your old cause-effect relationship “can’t chants” change turn into consciously directed mantras, you’ll begin to feel like you’re sliding down hill instead of working to fight your way up.

After challenging our first example chant above (I can’t even think about eating that – I’ll gain 10 pounds!”), eating well and exercising may begin to feel more like they come NATURALLY and EASILY – as though on automatic. You may find that the foods that used to pack on the pounds take on a foul taste. You might experience a drop in appetite. Maybe the exercises you were doing become more enjoyable or somebody shows up in your life to make that exercise more motivational.

Remember – what, how, and why you speak to yourself as you do affects EVERYTHING because it affects WHO you are. With some conscious attention, you CAN choose your mantras.

“Everything is as it is because I believe it that way.”

Measuring Values Creates Polarity

In a First-Second Degree of Illumination bubble, values rule! Values and comparisons seem to work well together. I don’t think I would have the ability to choose without them.

Comparing values may be an ambiguous, non-standardized way for measuring what deserves my attention. To make a measurement, one needs a scale upon which to make a comparison. Scales involve polarity.

One type of scale requires polarities that define the outer limits or extent of the most extreme expected measurement. Another requires a balance point between two polarities. Each type of scale requires common content and context in which to make a measurement. Hence, the old saying, “You can’t compare apples to oranges…”

I seek what validates my preset values. The amount of attention I invest in a thing is the measurement of its value on that preset scale. In this way I can compare worthiness in terms of threats and benefits to my survival on a scale I understand.

Chronic value measuring keeps my mind occupied in creating and maintaining a standard, a quick reference guide to survival. At the top of my standards list is the greatest threat or benefit to my survival.

My need to be right creates polarity and a lifetime of measuring values

I believe I know how I should understand my reality. I have learned to trust my ability to measure values and accept them as accurate and true.

Polarity demands certitude

When I get close to certainty of my value judgments, I’m getting dangerously close to valuing myself at one end or pole of that scale. The closer my attention is to the poles of my value scale, the less likely I am to be fluid with my measurements, and the more likely I am to become certain and immovable. Certitude tends to lock down my scale – including its polarities.

To investigate this phenomenon, I like to get quiet and ask my inner wisdom:

  1. What do I value?
  2. How do I measure it?
  3. Why do I measure it?
  4. Who am I as I move towards polarity?

By asking these questions within, my deeper mind can search for its truths and help my conscious mind…

  • know and understand the real me.
  • reveal misunderstandings I’ve created that have supported a false me.
  • stop measuring myself, knowing I need no setting of values.

I Have a Question

Am I asking the right questions?

What questions might I ask at each level of illumination that are both appropriate to the level and motivational enough to propel me into the next level – like the Golden Question I use to investigate my presuppositions?

All questions presuppose the existence of an answer that I may already be aware of at a cognitive level other than the one I’m currently experiencing.

Read more I Have a Question

Repurposing Why

Although generally used to communicate my reasons for my objective behavior, the word  “Why” can also serve to indicate and link to an underlying, subjective purpose.

At levels one, two, and three of the Seven Degrees of Illumination, I use “why” and “why not” to elicit objective defense of my belief. Beyond level three, I use only “why” for an entirely different, subjective purpose. (see

This means I can use “why” to elicit my underlying subjective purpose – my reasons for being. Such an exploration may raise me out of defense and into the light of what is beyond it.

The key is to KEEP ASKING WHY!

A useful and meaningful “why” question tends to elicit a more mindful answer – encouraging even more provocative “why” questions. Courage will take me past my fear of what I may discover from my inquiries. It’s okay to ask for help from another in dealing with the fear factor.

“Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.” – Marilyn Ferguson

The rise in mindfulness is illustrated in the graph above, which clearly shows the increase in how often we collectively have asked the why questions over the past few decades. The graph tracks the use of the word “why” in books over the past couple centuries. Cool!

Repurposing Why

“Why” can be useful when it puts you onto a path toward more mindfulness and awareness of who you really are. When your “why” question leads you to an “ah ha” moment, DON’T STOP THERE – KEEP ASKING WHY!

It’s just a matter of asking the “why” questions… and asking and asking and asking… WHY!