The New Year is an invitation to enliven your spirit and life rather than making another burdensome resolution that will quickly be consigned to dust. Choose a word as your guide or mantra for the year – a word that reflects your yearnings or takes you to the edge of your fears.
Your chosen word becomes your pathway for experiencing a new way to be in the year ahead.
My resolutions from years past filled a closet with wistful longings as easily abandoned as the cheap pronouncements with which I had made them.
Eventually I gave up on the obligatory ritual and enjoyed the peace that ensued from avoiding unrealistic self-inflicted pressure.
But something was missing. Like many who I have worked with over the years, the start of a new year kept presenting a nagging invitation to re-examine and recalibrate my life. Acknowledging the importance of ritual in our lives, I wondered if a different possibility existed to embrace a new year.
In conversation with a wise friend we discussed the importance of language and the inherent power revealed in the nuances and interpretations of a single word. In that moment I wondered about choosing a single word to focus on for a year. It was a liberating moment of almost giddy glee!
In the intervening years a few constant themes have emerged in my conversations with those who embrace this practice. People describe a desire to move beyond resignation about their life and choose pro-active steps that enliven their lives. The willingness to go to the edge of your fears because you know that is where the journey to the center of your heart and spirit is most often revealed. Appreciating that cultivating your imagination, playfulness and heart space is a journey of spiritual growth.
How to choose the word can be a predicament and a richness of blessings.
If the New Year is an invitation to new growth and a deeper appreciation of how we choose to be in the world the word chosen becomes your mantra, compass or theme by which to respond to the invitations of life.
Openness, balance, compassion, delight, creativity, expression, time, love, friends, goodness, gratitude are among the words that I and others have selected in years past.
Choosing the word is not unlike trying on shoes or gloves for the perfect fit. As you try on several words you instinctively know the one that appears to invite you into its presence.
This matters because choosing a word for a new way to be in the year ahead is not a passive activity. You will make daily choices to be present to the word and in the process it will become your truth-meter, challenger, comfort, friend and companion for twelve months.
Those who use this practice often put the chosen word on their refrigerator, nightstand, dashboard, vanity, desk, office door or even screensaver as a reminder of the choice that has been made. Many choose to speak their word out loud at the start of each day, perhaps over their first coffee, in the shower, on their commute, between appointments, at a store, exercising, cooking, readying themselves for sleep or in prayer and meditation.
In each of these ways you avoid enclosing the chosen word with your predictable understanding of it. Instead, you allow it to percolate and surprise you as your engagement with it reveals new insights and truths.
When I first embarked on this practice I wondered how steadfast a companion I would be to my chosen word. Like others, I have shared my word with a trusted friend or mentor, inviting them to hold me accountable to be present to how the word shapes my experience of choosing a new way to be.
The endless repetitions of old conversations and the negative energy that we unwittingly allow into our lives frequently derail the year long journey with the selected word. Awareness of these realities allows you to identify, name and detach from them in order to allow the spaciousness of life-giving energy to be present.
Appreciation and thankfulness are markers of the yearlong journey with your word. When you express daily or weekly gratitude for the insights of your word you begin to notice the seemingly small ways in which you embrace and make life-affirming choices.
Choosing a new way to be in the New Year with a specific word may not have the sweeping grandeur of a short-lived ephemeral resolution. It will be a choice of slowly revealed substance that deepens your appreciation of yourself and others.
It’s a choice I keep making with anticipation each year. As I prepare to greet my 2013 word – Awe – I expect it will be a source of surprise, renewal and new discoveries of how to be.
Robert V. Taylor is president of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York City which works to democratize peacemaking for a new generation of young leaders. He is the author of A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive (New Page Books 2012). He lives in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington.