Examining my word of the year as a grounding practice, a creative energizer, and a prayer over the past few years reminds me of why I do it.
I’ve been choosing a word of the year for at least five years now. I’ve enjoyed Ali Edwards offerings and Suzannah Conway has some fantastic materials to prepare you for a new year and a new word by signing up for her newsletter. I’ve used both over the years and highly recommend them if you are new to this practice.
Some years the word I choose has zero impact on me. I go through the careful thought process of choosing one and then it slides right off of my brain. At the end of those years I look at my word and ask myself, “Who picked that weird word for me?”
One year, I came back to my word over and over. Savoring it like a good cheeseburger. It was both a comfort and a joy.
This year has been a meaningful word but a hard one. I chose “tend” knowing I would care for some family members in some very specific ways. But I didn’t know there would be multiple deaths in my circle. I didn’t know I would be tending to my own mental health and the health of my art practice.
Write it down
While I’ve been including my word of the year in my yearly goals posts here on the blog, this year I decided to also write it down in my bullet journal almost every day. At the top of each page I write my word and then the two supporting words: align and renew.
As I make my bullet journal entries and plans for the day, I examine whether or not each of those 3 words applies to my entries of the day. So many things this year has fallen into the category of tending. With align coming in a close second.
Putting it down on the page helps me feel less frustrated. I look at my list and I think I’m not doing things I ought to be doing because all of this other “stuff” that keeps getting in the way. Tending things and people take time. That’s a good reminder to focus on what’s good and what’s life giving. And letting go of what I “ought to be doing” is necessary sometimes.
This week I’m at a writing retreat where I’m spending some time writing new posts for my blog. It’s a kind of tending but also a bit of renewing my commitment to this space and aligning with what I want to put out into the world. I have RENEW written across the top of my page today.
It’s a practice
So many things in my life are about practice. I’m starting to think it’s almost all this life is about. Revisiting things until I learn them and can remember and apply them in new situations. Learning how the same values will serve me in so many different places. Being willing to mess it up and try again and again. And most definitely again after that.
Maybe that’s what choosing a word of the year is about. Being willing to practice the word or intention behind the word over the course of a whole year. Maybe that practice builds a muscle we all need to work on. I know I need it.
It’s a prayer
My word often turns into a prayer. “Show me how to tend well.” “Tend me and this need.” “You know best how this moment or person needs tending.” “Show me where I need to spend my time tending.” “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” is from Psalm 51:10. I memorized that as a young adult and it has come back to me regularly over this year.
I don’t often talk about my faith here. 1. This is an art blog. And 2. I feel very strongly that words from the Bible have so often been used as weapons and I don’t want to contribute to that in any way. This has been a hard few years for me though and my faith has helped me navigate these hard times. I feel like it’s worth noting that the word I choose so often becomes a sort of breath prayer for me.
It’s a creative energizer
Choosing a word of the year is a creative endeavor for me as well. Thinking about the many ways it can influence my time in the studio. How it might encourage me or push me. This year’s word has taken me out of the studio more often than not but I feel sure it will call me back into the studio at some point. And my secondary word “renew” is right there, ready to lend a hand when I want to think about renewing my practice.
My word has come up often in my practice in the past. One year it was “wait” and surprisingly that one came up a lot as I thought about things I needed to do in order to move my art business forward. One year it was “smactions” (small + actions = smactions). Small actions as a concept is an incredibly useful reminder for the work of the studio. Working small and watching and recording the accrual of those small actions was really lovely.
A grounding practice for our lives
Realizing that these chosen words can offer shape and meaning to the seasons of our lives is powerful stuff. Returning to the word again and again in so many different contexts is a grounding practice that I never knew I needed until I was 3-4 years in. I’d love to hear how your word has affected you, either in your artistic practice or your life in general. I am fascinated by how this practice works for so many people.