I’m not an early bird. However, even the morning larks among us would agree that 2020 was a good year to sleep through. Sleep is magic. Sleep is healing. Sleep feels delicious. Sleep is good for almost anything that ails us. But for me in 2020, I spent a lot of time turning away from the world outside, retreating, trying to shut out the feelings caused by what was happening. I just wanted to go to bed and wake up in 2021.
And now it’s here. 2021. Time to be awake, alert, engaged, curious. Time for sensing, feeling, thinking, processing, inquiring, musing.
It’s sunflower time.
A sunflower (girasole in Italian, meaning “turn to the sun”) seeks the light, turning to follow the brightness of the day.
I’m not sure I can manage quite that degree of exposure this year. Luckily, there are modifications available.
With or without sunglasses, sunscreen, and big floppy hat, I want 2020 to be a year in which I keep my eyes open to take in what’s around me and in me, even if it’s a bit much. I have dreams and plans and goals: for movement, for creativity, for connection. They can’t be done (or done well) in the dark. I need light and space and energy and warmth (or bracing cold) to be fully involved, aware. And awake. That’s it.
Dear readers: do you have a word of the year? What would you like it to be? What do you need to inhabit your word? I have extra sunglasses, if you want to borrow some.
I think it’s interesting to consider what motivates people to choose their words of the year and even whether they choose a noun (as most do) or a verb (as Anne did in 2020, and also, if you read her post, in 2018 and 2019, with “believe” and “bloom”).
My word for 2021 is “mindfulness.” Sometimes it happens that words that seem trendy or like platitudes take on new and profound meaning. Such is the case with me and the word “mindfulness” right now. I’ve seized onto it this year because I have found myself doing all sorts of distracted things since the pandemic started. Distracted eating. Distracted doom scrolling. Distracted television watching. Multi-tasking (I hate multi-tasking). It never feels good when I do things that I don’t feel present for — that’s how I think of mindlessness. And mindfulness, or being present to what’s in front of me, is the best way for me to reverse that habit of distraction.
My commitment to mindfulness grew out of the September meditation challenge using Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness. Catherine gathered a bunch of us to commit to it as a blog book group. Daily meditation is a great way to be mindful, at least for 10-20 minutes or however long you’re on your meditation cushion. When I’m not doing anything else it’s easy for me to be immersed in the task at hand (even if that task is just to sit quietly).
Since I’ve adopted “mindfulness” as my word of the year (two weeks ago!) I can’t say I have been practicing it consistently. Indeed, this week has flown by in a blur so fast I can’t believe it’s already Friday. When that happens, it usually means I haven’t been paying attention.
We have just begun a new stay-at-home order here in Ontario. I do not want to come up for air at the end of this 28 days (is it a 28-day thing? I don’t even know) and wonder what happened, having spent a month in a distracted state of auto-pilot. So I’m committing to being mindful, paying attention, appreciating the details, tasting my food, showing up for my meditation, my yoga, my workouts, my walks and runs, and focusing on one thing at a time.
Last year my word of the year was FOCUS. That didn’t play out as I had hoped. (HA!)
Way back when, in the Before Times, I wrote, “This year I need to focus. I have one goal in mind which is getting ready for total knee replacement surgery next year. It’s not going to be easy. I have to keep up the physio, stay active, and do everything with knee health in mind. There’s no wandering off in pursuit of other goals. Everything has to be about my knee.
I need to practice saying things like, “that’s not the best thing for my knee and right now I need to give priority to my knee.” Focus. I need to not do things, like certain yoga poses, that I can do but that hurt my knee. Focus. I need to walk the right amount to help the joint but not enough to hurt it. Focus.”
Instead this turns out to be the year that we all have the attention spans of guppies because of pandemic stress and for me, some of the time, even reading novels and watching some TV shows turns out to be too challenging. Focus? Really?
My knee surgery is delayed because our hospitals are in crisis. I don’t know when it will happen.
An awful lot of things feel up in the air.
There is so much celebration about seeing the back of 2020 but frankly I’m very worried about the future and not feeling that the right attitude is simply “boo hiss 2020” and “yay yay 2021.”
2020 wasn’t a bad year by chance. Impending climate disaster and political turmoil make me nervous and apprehensive about what’s to come next.
I keeping thinking about this quote.
In light of Big Change and the recognition that life as we knew it may be no more, I was considering some options–flexibility, resilience, adapt–for my 2021 word of the year. For me, the year to come is all about growing with and responding to change, and doing that in a way that’s grounded in the things I value, not just in a reactive way. I want to be flexible but not driven hither and which way by the winds of change. I want to use the feeling of change and the potential of the energy around me to move towards things I care about.
Could the pandemic help us live more lightly on the earth? Might we start to think differently about non-human animals? Will we still fly around the world? What about economic and political inequalities? How could we structure our society differently so we can better respond in times of crisis? My grad class on pandemic ethics spent a week reading and talking about Basic Minimum Income. There’s nothing like a glocal pandemic to make you realize that we all truly are citizens of the world and that we need to care for one another.
With all of these thoughts swirling around, I started to think about some concepts that are key to Aikido.
I need a word that captures the feeling of going with the energy around you. It’s a year for Aikido words, I think. Going with the flow but taking it in the direction that you want to move, being centred and grounded but not like an unyielding block of cement. There’s an element of agency that’s involved. You don’t stand still and resist the attack. You don’t let it just blow you over either.
I posted the following question to Facebook, “Aikido friends,what’s the word or phrase in Aikido for going with the energy in an attack? Moving in that direction but using the energy to ultimately blend and get where you want to go. You know, that thing we all need in this awful, terrible, no good year! Not resisting all the time, that’s exhausting, but taking the energy and making it yours.”
An Aikido friend or two shared the obvious choice, the root word, “Aiki.”
The friend continued, “As a budo principle, aiki is a decent way of living with things as they happen.”
The blog’s Mina Samuels suggested “flow” not as an Aikido word but as one that captures that meaning. She wrote, “I like that way of repurposing the word. In the short time I did Aikido, that principle has always stuck with me. The surprise of the “yes” when you go with the person’s energy direction, instead of resisting, that gives your strength the boost it needs.”
My Aikido friend K wrote, “Aiki and blend are good; whatever you call it, it begins with acceptance and is facilitated by gratitude. All power is in the present moment…”
Another Aikido friend M wrote, “”Awase” is blending, but another term to consider is “Musubi”: this is a more advanced concepts regarding the deep connection one makes with their partner or the reach within their body that allows an aikidoka to guide the flow of energy.”
You can read more about connection in Aikido here:
I like the Japanese Aikido words but it’s not my language and I don’t feel I understand the concepts well enough to make them my word of the year. I want to read more and learn more even if I can’t kneel on the mat right now. Maybe after knee replacement surgery. Maybe?
So, I’m left stiling thinking about “flow.” I do like the way “flow” follows after “focus.”
So I think I’ll declare FLOW to be the word that guides me through 2021, with a side of remembering the role of agency in going with the flow. All of this has made me realize how much I miss Aikido. Even if what I can do is limited, I’d like to get back to basic movements and some sword work.
Here’s me with my sword a few years ago:
We’ll do a #WOTY wrap post at some point here at the blog. Have you considered a Word of the Year for 2021? What’s your word and what’s it mean to you?
Given the year so far, I’ll totally understand if it’s ARGHHHHH!
Recommended Soundtrack: Lay Me Down by Loretta Lynn featuring Willie Nelson
I thought about a lot of things I could focus on in 2021. While I thought restore, recover, re-emerging, recharge…what I really need is to rest.
For folks like me, who are privileged to work from home, there is a real problem of overwork. Even when I’m mindful of the hours I work it’s the pace & intensity that has really ramped up. No more casual coffee with colleagues after a meeting. They can be booked literally back to back.
There’s also the emotional work of supporting folks and it is exponentially more intense and frequent. Both in my paid work and social life. There seems to always be that one more thing I can do.
Many times in 2020 I would get to the weekend and sleep. Sometimes a whole day punctuated with 2-3 hour naps and a loss of interest in anything.
One thing that has drastically improved is my sleep schedule. Keeping the same routine regardless of the day has me now routinely getting 8 hours of sleep.
I fall asleep quickly & sleep soundly until the morning. I’m less groggy. No more 2 am wake ups. I sleep until 6. It’s marvelous.
So I want to keep this newfound bounty of sleep. More than that I want to honour the pace of my body, the need for rest, relaxation and not being productive.
When I rest I can meet the next challenge fresh. I can tap a reserve of energy for a big push.
My fitness plans are waking, yoga and cycling. Nothing epic, nothing impressive because I will need time to recoup from 2020 and be sure I don’t wring myself out in 2021.
I don’t need to justify my existence by being productive or impressive or inspiring. I need to take care of myself like a good friend would.
I’ve really enjoyed reading the other words folks have picked this year. Are you up for picking a word? What will it be?
A few years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of choosing a word to define my year. It’s a popular practice, with some using it to define their art practice, some to guide their planning for the year, and some others to explore the meaning and impact of that word in their daily life.
Mina and Cate have shared their thoughts on their word of the year in the last couple of days. I thought I would share mine because it represents a departure for me. Previous years I have used create, imagine, focus, and dream. This year I chose hold fast, not one word but two.
Hold on its own felt too much like I wanted to put life on pause, and heaven knows, I had had enough of that feeling in the spring. A nautical term, hold fast means to stay the course, but it also means to maintain the strength of your convictions, or to align yourself to something that will help you keep moving forward.
Last year, I felt like I was often stuck fast, firmly held back by conditions or needs not within my control, most of them arising from the pandemic. This year, it seems natural to look at all the ways I can hold fast to what really matters and why. As I work better with questions, I wrote a few down in my calendar to act as prompts for the year ahead.
How will I maintain my practices in fitness, work, and home?
How do I maintain my focus, keep moving forward, and still hold true to my values?
When must I stay the course and when must I let go?
How committed or invested am I in an outcome?
The word of the year opens up lots of possibilities for thought and for action and I am excited by the power that offers for change and growth. What else might you be thinking of doing in this new year ahead? Let us know in the comments.
MarthaFitat55 writes from wet and windy St. John’s.