A word for the year

I assume you are familiar with the concept of choosing a word for the year. It seems to be all over my Instagram. But then again, social media is an echo chamber so perhaps not?

Instead of making a long list of unachievable and intense goals and resolutions in January, you choose a word that will help you shape your year. You choose any word, and use it to help you think about where you are at in your life, and how you want to live going forward. It is more all-encompassing of daily life than resolutions. My purpose of having a word for the year is to change the focus of ‘doing’ to one of being.

I chose a word for the first time last year – CREATE – and used it to carve out the decisions I made last year. I took an online blogging course to help me think about how I would change this space so it worked better for me. I went on a food writing course to stimulate my writing, and to spend time focused on writing in a joyful and creative way (something that is often missing in the academic writing I am still doing). I knitted a lot. I made a few cakes. I spent the year trying to focus on developing my creativity, and making space to be creative. It turned out to be a pretty enjoyable way to think about my life and my year.

This year, unexpectedly, my word is DEVOTION. I am not yet quite sure why this word struck a chord, but I read it in a newsletter from Laura Jane Williams (whose book Becoming I read last year and rather loved), and it stuck, as did her definition: “attention given with deliberate reverence”.

Paying attention is a struggle, especially in our news-every-second, the-world-is-imminently-falling-apart, pass-me-the-salt kind of world. This year, I want to spend more time paying attention to the small things, making sense of my everyday life, and concentrating on the things that matter. I think if I think of this as a devotional practice, maybe I might have better luck than before?

In an interview on On Being (you may have noticed this already but I love On Being), Elizabeth Gilbert talked about her book Big Magic, and the work of creativity. She said: “…there’s the moment where you realize, “Oh, my God, this is a spark of creation that I’m working with, and this is magic, and this is life seen through new eyes.” And creativity is the same, where 90 percent of the work is quite tedious. And if you can stick through those parts — not rush through the experiences of life that have the most possibility of transforming you, but to stay with it until the moment of transformation comes and then through that, to the other side — then, very interesting things will start to happen within very boring frameworks“. It is easy to get distracted in this world, to not push through the boring parts, because there are so many other things you could be doing. I think that is why I chose devotion as my word. It implies sticking to a practice, giving the practice time and attention, and the possibility to be, or to work, or to change…

I took a course in yoga recently, and there was a lot of talk about developing a practice, about giving five or ten minutes to something that brings you calm, or joy, or steadiness, or ease. I understand that to be about devoting time to something you want to have in your life. Committing to something, whether it be a relationship, a yoga practice, writing, or even growing vegetables, includes committing to the boring, tedious, frustrating parts. I think it’s easy to ignore those parts, to consider only how amazing the end result will be. The problem is that focusing on the end result is sometimes not enough to pull you through the tough times. You might also miss the joyful middle.

Looking at life through the lens of devotion provides an opportunity to ask questions as I go about everyday living: how can I pay more attention to…? Can I devote time to this practice? Can I add something else into my life without detracting attention from all the other things I am already doing? Questions like this are useful for decision-making, and thinking about how I am living. Am I rushing from one place to another but not really connecting? Has my anxiety increased because I cannot pay attention to everything? Am I trying to do too much and not able to really focus on anything?

Having a word for the year worked like a mantra that I returned to often last year, and this year I want a guiding word again. Have you chosen yours?

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