At the end of 2014, I recalled my friend’s annual practice of selecting one word to frame the events of the coming new year.
I really like the idea: a word is open to interpretation, flexible and able to adapt to changing circumstances. Since our lives and bodies are in perpetual flux, our goals need to have the capacity to incorporate the whole of our experience.
This kind of intention-setting differs greatly from New Year’s resolutions, which are often very specific and narrow in scope. Resolutions also tend to be very ambitious — which seems like a good idea initially, thinking that you have the whole year to complete it, but can be intimidating and overwhelming in the real life, day-to-day experience.
I brainstormed and devised a solid list of twenty or so words, including abundance, practice, presence, and gratitude. I realized I couldn’t narrow it down to just one.
So I picked three:
To me, this word implies awareness, presence, authenticity, and action. As someone who habitually people-pleased and numbed, my actions primarily came from a place of fear and a desire to belong. The purpose of these coping mechanisms was to distance myself from scary emotions. The word intention encourages me to show up in this world as my real, true self.
A turning point in my life came a couple years ago when I stumbled across an idea that struck a chord deep in my being: When you numb the dark, you numb the light. As I processed and internalized this, I broke down into tears. I was aware of the things I did to distract myself from unpleasant emotions — I ate compulsively, I watched TV, I buried myself in work, and I recounted upsetting situations to anyone that would listen, never allowing myself to sit alone with the discomfort. I avoided the present moment, but never considered the ramifications of those habits. In that moment, I realized that you can’t selectively numb emotions, and avoiding one makes it difficult to access any. I continued to cry, knowing my life lacked joy because of my inability to face and lean into difficult emotions. That day changed me, and ever since I hold this word close to my heart.
There are a few people I’ve told about my three words for 2015. When I get to the last one, it’s usually met with a puzzled look. Yes, I continually break the rules and seek adventure. I did live abroad for nine months, followed by a (mostly solo) backpacking trip through Europe and Southeast Asia, hitchhiking along the way. But we each have our own fears. Pairing my insatiable desire to travel with precautionary measures and trust in my intuition and common sense, those things don’t scare me. For a very long time, I was afraid of feeling unwelcome and unloved. I have healed some deep scars, though there are still many to uncover and integrate. It is because of this healing that I am now able to dare to go to that dance class. I dare to pursue my passions. I dare to set healthy boundaries and maintain them. I dare to speak up when I feel wronged. I dare to simultaneously hold my strength and my tenderness in this complex, ever-changing world.
A thread that seems to run through some New Year’s resolutions is a desire to fundamentally change the resolution-maker. I don’t want to change myself. I want to grow deeper into the person I am, and I’ve found this exercise to be incredibly valuable in that effort.