Years ago, I quit making new year’s resolutions and began to focus on just one word a year instead. For me, resolutions felt more like a list of failures from the previous year rather than exciting possibilities for exploration in the new one. It’s no surprise that I often abandoned them as soon as the weather warmed up. I noticed that when I made resolutions, each one seemed to focus on an area of weakness in my life such as managing my weight, getting the house organized or developing a regular writing practice, rather than on the possibilities for growth and wholeness. Once I started focusing on only one word at a time, something shifted and a new kind of creative energy entered the process. Last year the word was STRENGTH. This year, I will focus on RESILIENCY. If you could pick only one word for 2012, what would it be?
Choosing just one word has been incredibly freeing, leaving ample room for improvisation while still giving me a sense of purpose and direction throughout the year. This approach to planning is a little secret that I picked up while I was in the human development program at St. Mary’s University.
In this innovative graduate program, each student has the opportunity to create their own master’s degree. For as long as I can remember, I have been passionately interested in the connection between creativity, dreams, healing, and the arts. St. Mary’s allowed me to create a degree that fit my interests and needs perfectly. At the heart of this program is the “contract” which serves as a kind of road map for one’s course of study. Students must complete four contracts and a “position paper” in order to graduate. A position paper is a kind of thesis that sums up where one currently is in relation to their creative exploration, knowing that the journey will continue to unfold in the years to come.
I quickly learned that if I tried to articulate every twist and turn of the material I intended to cover in a contract there wouldn’t be any room for the natural detours and surprises that often pop up. By focusing instead on specific signposts along the way, such as embodiment, imagination, spirituality or dreaming, I had a clear sense of direction for each contract with enough room for the unexpected. This approach to learning has become a tremendously helpful model for all areas of my life, including new year’s resolutions.
Since graduating from St. Mary’s, I have continued this practice of making a contract with myself for the coming year by choosing one word to focus on at a time. Last year, the word was STRENGTH, which led me back to the gym. Of course, I could have just made a resolution to exercise more, but that wasn’t nearly as helpful to me as focusing on learning more about nature of strength not only through readings but also through my own body.
In this way, I was able to bring a sense of curiosity and play with me into the health club rather than treating exercise as just another chore to be completed. I really wanted to understand first hand what it means to cultivate strength in a body that often suffers from chronic pain. How would becoming physically stronger affect my relationship with pain? Could I learn to exercise in a way that wouldn’t create more pain in the process? I soon learned that by doing less than I could more often than I would was the key to steady growth and increasing strength.
During my first pilates class, I naively thought that since I am quite flexible it would be relatively easy to begin. I was appalled to discovered how weak I had become over the years of struggling with chronic joint pain. Although I have always prided myself in my flexibility I didn’t realize how little muscle strength I had. One day, when I stretched much further than I should have and couldn’t get back up, my pilates instructor warned me that too much flexibility without strength can actually be dangerous. How counter intuitive!
It was one of those “Ah ha!” moments when things suddenly came together. Her comment got me thinking about all the other areas of my life in which I am incredibly flexible but not terribly strong at maintaining boundaries for taking care of myself. Where there other areas of my life in which had I lost core strength without realizing it while constantly bending to meet the needs of others in my family, work and daily life? What latent strengths did I have that I could build on at this point in my life rather than starting from scratch? These questions led to a renewed interest in studying Japanese and deepening my relationship with my husband, as well as reconnecting with my love of music and enduring interest in Zen, the arts and self cultivation.
By focusing on STRENGTH for an entire year, a new way of weaving the various strands of my life together naturally emerged. As I have continued to cultivate strength in my physical body, a desire to build on strengths that I already have led me back into the daily study of Japanese in a way that fits into my life today in Minnesota. I have fallen in love all over again with Japanese films and TV dramas thanks to all of the streaming sites on the internet. I have also found myself drawn back into cooking from scratch daily in an effort to strengthen my overall heath and immunity. Rather than deciding that I needed to LOSE weight, as I have vowed to do way too many times at New Year’s, I now find myself wanting to STRENGTHEN my overall sense of well being and enjoyment in the kitchen through home cooking, natural ingredients and a closer connection to the seasons through food. It doesn’t hurt that many of the Japanese dramas I watch while cooking dinner focus on the role of food in Japanese culture as well!
So now as I begin 2012, I am curious about how strength and flexibility work together to create RESILIENCY. I have learned that without flexibility AND strength, it is impossible to bounce back from the many challenges of life. To celebrate this year of RESILIENCY, I recently participated in a resiliency training program at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, which was started by Dr. Henry Emmons and his team. This program takes an integrative approach to cultivating resiliency for a greater sense of health and wholeness. I am looking forward to seeing where RESILIENCY will take me in the coming year!