Unless you have been living in a hole in the ground…a very deep hole, or, like a busyraisingkidsandkeepingupthehustle hole…you’re probably aware of the movement of choosing a word for the year. I’m not talking about the American Dialect Society’s choice for 2013 (“lean in”) or the Oxford Dictionary’s choice (“selfie”). sigh. I’m talking about the individual “this is the word I’m going to use as my mantra for the year” word to steer you, guide your choices, and help you feel more conscious.
Depending on the word and how it relates to the complex web of your own life, your word may invite you to rest, to take better care of your body, to connect, to set boundaries, to play. Awesome. Remembering good stuff is good stuff.
But, man. I’m just having a hard time jumping on the word wagon this year! Not that I’ve ever really fully embraced the practice of word choosing. I did it a couple of times and it was fun but it’s not like I always remembered it when stuff got hard. I mean, dang…there are way too many good words to pick just one that may feel like a perfect fit right now but that, in six months or even tomorrow morning, might not fit at all.
I have so much respect for folks who can identify a single word that resonates with them so deeply and applies so directly most of their days to their thought processes and the challenges they are facing. This is no small feat. It requires an intense amount of introspection and, if shared publicly, vulnerability. Our languages are so confining and limiting (when we can’t find the right words) and complex and liberating (when we can find the right words).
I also honor those who extend the invitation to choose a word because I know some of those people personally and they (you) are deeply compassionate, highly creative, eternally open to possibilitiy, wholehearted people who want others to feel totally at peace and on purpose. I salute and admire your valiant and loving invitation and want to be more like you - bold and open about getting clear and being kinder to oneself.
I’ll admit that occasionally I feel a slight twinge of benign envy when someone declares they have found their word (or even more envy inducing, that their word found them). I don’t mean the kind of envy that directs any kind of ill will towards the word finder, but more like the kind that sneaks up every now and then with that voice of “what’s wrong with you, self, that you can’t just pick a word and stick with it already?!?!” or “are you really that emotionally deaf that you don’t hear your word screaming ‘pick me, pick me!!!’?”
This is the point at which someone might suggest I embrace the word “gentle” as a mantra. But you know what? Gentle isn’t always what I need. Sometimes I need a little kick in the pants, a little wake-up slap on the cheek. Gentle is kind. And so is the hard work, the sometimes very ungentle work, of waking up. And I want to be very awake.
So then perhaps awake is the word that could be stitched on my heart. I want to be awake at all times. I want to see where and how I can help. But sometimes being awake is confused with hyper focus on “reality” and the parts of reality that don’t leave much room for imagination and new creation. Sometimes “awake” looks like hyper vigilant assessment of the warning signs that say the other shoe is about to drop. I want to be awake to all the good stuff but not give all my waking energy to the cruddy stuff in life. But I DO want to be awake enough to the crud to know it has something to teach me. There’s something about being awake that is so susceptible to being tossed around on the sea of individual interpretation. Even to all the various parts of myself.
So my inner rebel is speaking up here. She’s kindly resisting the timeline of choosing anything right now to declare. She wants to declare a word for the year in the middle of June if she feels so inclined and only if she wants to choose one at all. But I’m really totally cool with YOU choosing a word. If it feels good to you, I’m totally cheering you on!
Here’s the thing, I kinda think that if you’re going to choose a word in the most kind-to-self way, it would be good to be open to you changing your mind a day, a week, a month or six months in. (What a bout a word for the week?) Life might throw you a curve ball and you’re going to have to adapt in big ways. I learned this this past summer when my sweet man injured his back and was laid up + out of work for darn near three months. (bed to couch to toilet to bed. Repeat with no variation in pattern and no relief of the excruciating pain.) This time required adjustments not just in our day to day life (bills wait for no injury to heal) but also in our thinking, how we talked to each other as a family, how much more being outside under the canopy of the trees meant to him and us. How many chores around the land became worth of neglect with total peace of mind.
But I digress.
If you feel called to choose a word, if it feels good to, I say go for it. Seriously, I’m all for the game! I love (and often need) a place to zero my focus in on when things start to feel a bit like the tornado scene in the Wizard of Oz – internally or externally. I need to get my bearings to navigate the storm and if that’s what choosing a word does for you, then do it. For yourself, your body, your heart, your beloveds, your beautifully unfolding life.
But if it feels like a struggle (and even if it doesn’t) I propose an alternative:
Choose a feeling. A feeling. What do you want to FEEL? Heck, choose a few. I have five that keep surfacing and distilling that are printed on small paper and taped to my computer, my car dashboard, the bookmark I use for whatever current book I’m feeling. They are:
And they mean what they mean to me, which may not be what they would mean for you. And I do not recite them in front of the mirror or chant them while frantically wringing my hands or use them as affirmations for something not real. I only relate to them as truths.
The truth is that no matter what is going on in my life, no matter what internal or external challenge I’m facing, focusing on one or all of the feelings for a few minutes and how I can feel them RIGHT THEN, always applies. Always.
I’ve turned to my attention for an instant to “at ease” and “connected” many times when I have the opportunity to engage in an emotional food fight with my daughters and want a more loving alternative. I’ve also used them when assessing my to-do lists for the day. “Productive” has included both blowing through emails like a beast and taking a nap. “Abundant” sometimes has to do with money (and not spending it unnecessarily) but more so with counting my blessings and keeping my house clean (because very little feels like a fancy house replacement to me like an organized, unfancy house). “Inspired” sometimes looks like remembering to pray or meditate or go for a walk. Sometimes it looks like honoring the split-second inclination to turn the car radio off and have a light conversation with those I’m in the car with. Sometimes it looks like crying or painting or being in a funk for a while or doing whatever I need to do to keep the portal open to being emotionally “awake” (or letting myself go to sleep for a while too).
The things that I’ve found to be the most beautiful part of choosing to focus on these feelings is that a) there is no situation in which one or all doesn’t give me clear and solid guidance and b) they all play up and off each other.
They are always true for me in some way if I’m willing to ask them to show me how.
When I’m noticing and honoring the inclinations of inspiration, I feel connected, I feel clearer about how to spend my energy to feel more productive. When I step into gratitude and honor the abundance already in my life, I feel at ease with the knowns and unknowns in my life and even when things are unpleasant, the guideposts are always there and I don't have to beat myself up for forgetting a word.
So, choose a word.
If it feels good.
Choose it now, if it feels good.
Choose it later if that feels better.
Don’t choose one at all if that feels even better.
Wear it around your neck or tattoo it on your arm or stitch it on a pillow or paint it on your wall. Just do whatever feels good to you when you close your eyes, get off line, inquire within and unplug from what you might be believing makes you fit in. If you do what feels good, truly + deeply, you’ll automatically claim your right as belonging to a member of the beautiful tribe of those who want to be awake to feeling what they want to feel...whether or not we have words to define it.