Monday, January 2, 2012

Your Special Word for the New Year ...

Most of us are used to making (and breaking) resolutions with each New Year - I'll lose some weight, I'll exercise more, I'll have a better balance between life and work. This year, my friend, Elaine, told me about a different way of approaching the New Year - a practice of finding a special word to guide your year.

This practice is rooted in ancient times when certain men and women left their homes to live in the desert where they gathered in small communities and dedicated their lives to spiritual and psychological growth. This time in the desert was seen as a threshold time - a time of refining and transformation from which one emerged altered in some way.

As these desert abbas and ammas (desert mothers and fathers) grew in wisdom and wholeness, they were often asked by others for "a word" to guide the others' growth - a word to ponder and reflect upon  throughout the year or throughout an entire lifetime. According to spiritual teacher, Christine Painter, PhD, one's word was something "to nourish, to challenge, to wrestle with and to grow into".

The New Year's word is like a seed that invites you to cross a threshold. With continuing attention - through contemplation or prayer, reading, thoughtful reflection, journalling, expressive arts, or conversation -  it ripens slowly, changing your life, your attitudes, your beliefs, your feelings, your ways of be-ing.

In modern times, spiritual teachers suggest that, rather than making an intellectual word choice in order to "improve yourself", it can be more helpful to allow your word to choose you. Christine Painter suggests a number of ways of doing this:

1.  Discovering your word isn't about a cognitive process of choosing the "right word". Rather, it is an opening of your consciousness to receive an intuitive gift. "The word (or phrase) is one that will work in you rather than you working on it. Remember that a word that creates a sense of inner resistance is as important to pay attention to as one that has a great deal of resonance."

2.  Ask a soul friend, spiritual teacher or wise elder for your word, as in the desert tradition. (Remember to give them time to contemplate which word fits best.)

3.  Create a retreat of a few hours, uninterrupted, to be still and silent, to journal and to reflect upon the year past.  Write about your dreams and desires for the year ahead. Notice whether a word, image or phrase arises in your mind.

4.  Go for a contemplative walk. Notice Nature and listen to hear whether she has a word to offer you.

5.  Listen to your dreams and consider whether their images hold a word for you. Also, pay attention to the day's synchronicities - are there repeated images or words?

6.  Allow time for the word to ripen slowly:

"If you hear a word calling, sit with it for a couple of days. ... Eventually there will be a tugging inside you, where you feel yourself drawn again and again to this word. ...  Allow yourself to be in a space of unknowing. ...  This is a journey of transformation and the word may not make immediate sense to you, but trust that over time more of its meaning will be revealed."

I'm quite excited to have found "the intuitive gift" of my New Year's word for 2012. My word is act and it has great meaning for me, being one who can be overly cautious in putting my creative ideas into practice. By the end of the year, I hope to have been transformed in some way by my attention to the nuances and levels of meaning in this "word that has chosen me".

If this practice appeals to you as a way to greet the New Year, and if a particular word "finds you", why not  drop by and leave a comment here to encourage others to find their own?

Happy New Year, everyone!




Susan Foulds said...

Thank you for these wise words! I'm going to set aside some quiet time this week to see if a word finds me.


Jan Spilman, MEd, RCC Compassion Fatigue Specialist said...

Thanks, Susan. I hope your quiet time bears good fruit for the New Year. Cheers, Jan