A Motto to Live By

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m someone who believes in the power of mantras, words to focus on to redirect one’s thoughts. In fact, all the chapter headings in my book are the actual words I repeated to myself as I went through each stage of my divorce (and all the subsequent life crises), and starting putting myself and my sense of the world back together again. I am alone, but I am not totally alone. When the world gets too big, think small. When I accept I cannot be safe, I can be safe.

In recent months, my mind has drifted toward terrible, dark noise instead of words of strength and wisdom. I’m still not quite sure why I’ve been so brought to my knees with such definitiveness now, so many months and months after all the crises started (well, actually, I have some ideas, but they’re still not quite clear enough to articulate), but whatever the reason, it’s been jarring to see that so many of my familiar coping devices are eluding me. And instead, I’ve been reinforcing my gloom and my sense of disconnection from any forward motion, by doing the mental equivalent of throwing up my hands in despair and crawling under the covers and waiting for some kind of flames to engulf me.

I give up. (And at the darkest times I can’t decide what’s worse: that I feel that defeated, or the fact that there aren’t any flames.) There’s a canyon of difference between wanting to be dead and wanting simply not to Be Here, but the latter is bad enough even still.

I have been searching for a mantra that would encompass that feeling of submission, of being flat-out exhausted by the hard and harder that can pile up in life. I asked my shrink to tell me what words I could replace the dark words with, and she, of course, asked me to speak aloud what they were, what they could be for me. I had a blank. No idea. And I’m not a person who generally experiences a lack of words.

Unimaginable things happen in life. Families who’ve lost one child, lose a second. Or a family decides to let their son walk home from camp, and on the very first day he’s abducted and killed in a grisly, ghastly manner. Angry ex-boyfriends strangle their high school girlfriends for breaking up with them, destroying innumerable lives in an instant. And there are the lesser agonies that are no easier to bear: years of underemployment tearing at a family’s foundation; a friendship tossed aside over a bungled misunderstanding; a much-loved plan for a business that fails; the echoing, simple heartbreak of life not turning out the way you hoped it would.

Finally I came up with this, weakly: “I am living it, it is unfolding.” I’m not actually stuck. Everything hasn’t come to a grinding halt. I am continuing to find my way, even though I haven’t found my way yet, even though it doesn’t feel like I’m finding my way. Life happens.

She nodded, my sage, wise friend, who guides me to my own wisdom somehow.

I had this stunning and blessedly simple insight in my book, too. Which goes to show that you can live and learn life’s lessons and have to learn them again. (Annoying, that!)

So today I was scrolling around on my desktop, as I was looking for files for an article I’m working on, and I stumbled across this, and I gasped. Oh, how I need this! And I needed it today, right now. (Actually I needed it a couple of weeks ago, but why quibble?)

Divine wisdom, in the most beautiful grafitti ever.

“Trust Your Struggle.” That’s even better than “I am living it.” I am going to choose to Trust My Struggle, because I know I’m paying attention, I know I’m trying to find my way with open eyes and not hide from whatever I have to feel, I know I’m not looking for some instant answer. I’m not looking for help; I’m looking for peace.

And if I Trust My Struggle, I’ll get there. And so will you, if you Trust Your Struggle, whatever it may be. Now close your eyes and repeat.


About stacy

I am a writer, author, mother, former magazine editor (last at Redbook), optimist, and, above all, a searcher. I'm still searching for whom I'm really meant to be, after a series of very jarring losses. Since then I've been trying to figure out what's next. Or, in other words, how to fill in the blanks.
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30 Responses to A Motto to Live By

  1. A fabulous post & a beautiful image for inspiration. The past year, I’ve been going through a constant state of flux, with very little foundation under my feet. Slowly but surely, things are starting to come together, yet somehow, it still feels like I’m not making any progress. “Trust Your Struggle” – that’s exactly the motto I need right now 🙂

  2. stacy says:

    Here’s to flux, and trying not to give in to the flummox. And thanks for being such a speedy reader/commenter, Victoria! Makes a writer’s day.

  3. heather says:

    Mine these days was a reminder from a friend… “this IS temporary” The more I think about what you’ve written, it is these tiny phrases that mean so much, especially when friends don’t quite no what to say. Recently someone told me that I’d look back on this as the HARD PART and somehow, without making the details of the current sitch any easier, it did give some needed perspective.

  4. Lindsey says:

    Yes … that is perfection. Trust my struggle. Trust being a word with tremendous meaning for me right now, and struggle being … well, every single day. Lovely. (as an aside: I love the calligraphy).

  5. Al Bacon says:

    I don’t know that I agree with trust your struggle as much as trust that you will wade through it and come out the other side. Just remember to laugh now and then. A friend some years ago was going through a divorce and told me something I said gave her laughter when she needed it so I will share it again:
    I see that you will not divorce
    The one who was your mate.
    It would have come eventually
    But this is a little late.
    Now if you start to have your doubts
    And think the marriage had been right
    Remember this, its very true,
    You never were too bright.
    Of course, this can’t apply to you, Stacy! 🙂

  6. Martha says:

    Great post and replies. I liked Al’s poem. I needed to read this today. It’s my 19th wedding anniversary and my husband is moving out in two weeks. Needless to say, it was a sad and unacknowledged day. Hopefully I can live through the struggle with calmness and kindness. My two words, lately.

    • Debbie says:

      Martha dear … I know exactly how you feel … I had a few of those anniversaries while we lived “separate under the same roof”. Sending you big squishy hugs … it will get better … be patient with yourself … it takes time. xoxo deb

    • stacy says:

      Big, warm hugs to you, Martha. I remember that feeling of empty, and ohhh, it was hard. And remember the anniversary will someday give you fond memories of years-ago times and not recall this day. Much love to you.

  7. Debbie says:

    Just read your post … and am in a puddle of tears. EVERY SINGLE WORD RESONATED!! How is it possible that you can touch my soul, touch my heart, touch my ‘struggle’? This is what I am experiencing … and it is getting better. Daily. I described this phase as being akin to Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder. We fought a war (our divorce). We were strong and brave and courageous during the war. There is a truce. We remain strong for while. Then we go ‘home’ after the war and nothing is the same. And after years of being brave, we collapse. We are tired, drained, wounded, and scarred from the war. It takes time to heal. Time for the memories of the war to fade. It will. Trust your struggle … I adore it. I am repeating it. I am trusting it. Until I will struggle no more. I love you Stacy xoxo ♥

  8. A beautiful post and I think you captured the feeling of being numbed and inundated simultaneously, and just too damn long.

    Trusting your struggle makes a lot of sense, and I like it in part because you aren’t yielding your ability to be keenly aware of what is happening (at least at points), and to control – what you can.

    I might add that while I don’t have mantras per se, I have turned to a particular poem by Pablo Neruda many times in my life, through all manner of hardship and journey. For more a good dozen years, I would say.

    “Emerging,” by Pablo Neruda. Part and parcel of the poem is the weight of our human connections, and the constancy of our struggle with them.

  9. Ann says:

    I love this “trust your struggle.” I read about someone who has “downstream” tattooed on her arm–to remind her that life is so much easier when you stop fighting against the current.

    I’m not the tattoo type, but am having a necklace made with that inscription: Downstream.

  10. sizzle says:

    As much as you needed to find “Trust Your Struggle”, I needed to find this blog post. Thank you! I love a good mantra.

  11. Laurie says:

    I’m trying to do this too, have been trying too hard, I think, actually. I quoted Rilke’s bit about “living your way into the answers” to my sister a number of years ago, and I wish I hadn’t, because she reminds me of that sometimes and now I say “WHY in the world did you listen to me when I quoted that tripe at you? Living my way into the answers blows!”

    It also makes me very articulate, obviously, but I’m thinking you may know what I mean. That is some pretty graffiti, though.

    • stacy says:

      That Rilke quote is the epigram of my book! Actually, a different part of it: “The point is to live everything.” But I love that quote, and gave it to my husband when he was ending our marriage. Yeah, it’s not a comforting thought, but I think it might be the truth!

  12. I LOVE that “Trust Your Struggle”! Thank you for finding and sharing that.

    Today I found this graffiti on a bathroom wall: Earth without “art” is just “eh”

    And I must say, I agree! (and yes, I took a picture)

    Sometimes it’s hard to find those words to live by. At last year’s BlogHer the wonderful Karen Walrond was painting words on people’s arms, and when it was my turn I was really stumped. It was supposed to be some sort of affirmation, but I was in a strange place, still reeling from my father’s recent passing, very unsettled. So what I came up with, the most positive thing I felt I could rightfully claim: “Evolving”

  13. Alice says:

    The mantra thing — and I am still enjoying rereading the book, stretching it over time to savor it — does have a mysterious power! I love the serendipitous way these manifested themselves to you. When I was in the immediate shock of my desertion, my mind in a fit of “vain strivings tied” (Thoreau), out of nowhere one day the thought popped into focus: “(he’s a) man on a mission.” Whenever I felt acute emotion welling up after that point, I’d repeat that to myself under my breath — partly hearkening back to Ackyroyd’s line in Blues Brothers and part a speculative answer to the question of “Why” — and though it still made little sense it had the effect of calming me down. I guess also because it lifted me beyond the me toward the whatever-that’s-greater-than-ourselves, the sum that exceeds its parts… And reminded me of that old axiom, “Don’t let a good thing keep a great thing from happening.”

  14. @chefswife says:

    ‘Trust my struggle’ resonates with me. During these tough economic times trying to branch out-self employed and starting a business with a friend, doubting whether we will manage to get the product out leave on time etc..’trusting my struggle’ helps a great deal. Now breathe.

  15. MamaRobinJ says:

    I love that image – it’s on my inspiration board on Pinterest.

    I believe in it too. Everyone told me I’d come out of my struggle a different person – a better person. I didn’t believe them. And, frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t want any of that crap, no matter what I got out of it. But I was wrong. And I’m actually grateful for it now.

    I totally trust it will be the same for you, especially given what (admittedly little) I know of your ability to get through stuff and shine on the other side based on what I’ve read about your book.

  16. Cathy says:

    I am new here visiting from Lindsey’s A Design So Vast. I am a mantra person as well. I have two in particular – Believe in yourself and the magic will happen (I use this one a lot during competitions). The other is “put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking across the floor” which is actually part of a song from Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I use the one foot mantra daily. It keeps me moving forward.

    • stacy says:

      Hi, Cathy. Oh, how I love that song from Santa Claus is Coming To Town! I sang it to myself during some of the hardest parts of my divorce. : ) Thanks for sharing.

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  18. Anissa Berger says:

    Great post! I still have a horrible road ahead. I have a 5 yr old & a 6 year old, newly separated – divorce proceedings barely underway. Filled with more sadness, resentment and anger than I ever thought I was capable of. Sometimes I repeat to myself “you just gotta go through this”, which reminds me so much of “trust your struggle.” I know it’s all part of a journey but it’s basically impossible from this point to see how or why.

    • stacy says:

      Right. Sometimes you do just have to go through things. Winston Churchill famously said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” And I think that’s pretty smart. Wishing you the calmest passage you can possibly manage. Be gentle with yourself and the world, and it will smooth the way. xx

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  20. Dennis says:

    Stacy –

    RIGHT ON. I am a year into my separation-divorce-alone journey and I totally hear you when you say, “Live everything.” It is a journey and it is hard. But the truth (hard truth, bitter truth, cold truth) is better than living a lie. I embrace and own my struggle and trust that the Good Lord will walk with me as the journey continues. Today I am here…and here is WAY better then where I was a year ago. That’s the journey. Bless you all where you are right now.

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