Rainy season is in full force in Borneo just now, so I was surprised to waken this morning to bright sunshine streaming in the window, New Year rays of sunshine. A sign of the coming year, perhaps. I cling to that hope.
There is no set plan for the first day of 2014, but there are some things to be done. A swim of course, and a wander through the rainforest to the beach, some gazing at the jungle covered, dramatic peaks surrounding us. Iconic Borneo view. And the three words to share.
One swim has been swum, as gentle, drizzley raindrops were falling and wispy clouds gathered on the nearby peaks. There is something refreshing and life giving about these rains, and swimming under raindrops is special. Until the rains become too heavy. I was able to swim for nearly half an hour before a rumble of thunder and the rain in my eyes prompted me to leave the pool.
Which makes it time to share the words. The words have been selected for a little while now, tested here and there, and now they just need to be wrapped in more words to give the background.
Just as 2009 was drawing to a close, with two rounds of surgery, and three cycles of chemo, oh and a stage 3 cancer diagnosis in the last weeks of the year, I saw an unusual prompt or suggestion for the coming year. Instead of making a New Year’s resolution, this suggested selecting three words to guide and inspire for the coming year. The rest is history. I identified three words which spoke clearly to me of how I wanted 2010 to be shaped. These were to stay closely with me over the following year and without doubt kept me focused on what I felt to be important. This resonated so soundly with me it has truly been a practice which has been alive and meaningful for me. This has become an integral part of my life, and yes I do know how trite that sounds! I spend a good amount of time, thinking about the coming year and how I want to guide it as far as I can. I play with different words, until the right mantra takes shape and I have my three words.
2010 Recovery Discovery Laughter
2011 Harmony Vitality Adventure
2012 Resilience Escapade Wonder
2013 Focus Treasure Design
I am astonished that as I have been crafting the mantra for the coming year, that this will be my fifth selection of words. Five years! In October, I will reach the five year mark from diagnosis. In these years, I have lived and breathed the words which I have chosen. My words whisper to me as they guide and inspire me, and I look to them if I feel I am drifting or struggling. I love my words.
Early this year, I also developed the five sticky plan which further embedded the three words in my life. This has been another practice which sounds a bit zany, but again it has been a mainstay for me and worked incredibly well with this year’s words.
The year has been a hard one in many ways. The words have been a support and guide which have been needed. I confess that I will be glad to say goodbye to 2013.
This has been a year which has brought intense times, and more than its fair share of loss and heartache. It has been a year where the side and after effects of cancer and its treatment have more than impinged on my life with pain and discomfort. It has been a year of professional and personal intensity in an exciting and demanding context and place in history. It has been an exhausting year and often hard to find that sweet spot where the balance in life is hiding. There has been more than ever a need for inner and outer strength and the patience to navigate through the grieving process. I still find it hard to believe that my father is really no longer with us. How can he be gone, when he was always there, all of my life up to this year? We knew his time was limited and precious, but that does not make his loss any less painful. There have been shocking losses too, people who have been taken this year, horribly before their time. How can my brother in law be gone, just days after we had been planning to meet up? How can a young man be taken long before his 30th birthday, leaving his family and friends utterly bereft, bewildered and shocked? How can life be there one day, and not the next?
Yet amidst the shock and grief we have been living in 2013, there have of course been moments and times to treasure, achievements, times we are proud of, times when challenges bring a refreshed closeness with our loved ones.
So what role did my three words play in this memorable year? How did they work? Were they lost amid life’s intensity?
My first word for 2013 was focus. This was my rationale for the choice:
I am a bit of a butterfly and flit from task to task, from idea to new idea and am easily drawn away in unplanned directions. I remember thinking that I needed to focus, to see projects through after the novelty wears off and to set clear goals and objectives as well as commit to seeing a task through. I particularly like the fact that focus exists as a verb as well as a noun and thus expresses deliberate action as well as something tangible to aim for.
This has been a really important guiding word for the year. It has indeed served to remind me that I must tackle those tasks which I love to put off, and to spend deliberate time working on planning and organising. The five sticky plan with its weekend reminders to spend some time on “focus” has been a useful technique. Sometimes I have spent time organising my immense photo library (not quite finished yet though…) and others I have put aside an hour or two to write to friends and family.
When I revisited the words a few months ago, this is what I wrote then, and this most definitely still applies.
I feel as if I have been floundering a bit, especially with my writing. I also see the need to bring a bit more order into most areas of my life. I am a bit of a butterfly – I flit about from one thing to another. My attention is easily drawn by something new and interesting. Ideas are not a problem. Or perhaps they are. I have so many that I tend to move onto an exciting new though as the inspiration strikes. I love ideas and where they take me. I like far less the graft of shaping and working with them through to fruition. And that is why I need to focus. I have a number of embryonic writing projects. Some more embryonic than others, and I recognised to need to prioritise and organise these projects if I want to see anything realised! Hence “focus”. And not surprisingly this has been the hardest one to work on. The five stickie plan really helps, as one or two of the five of each weekend’s stickies must relate to “focus”. I have taken time to better organise my electronic filing and writing work, spent time sorting and binning papers and junk which I am incredibly skilled at amassing and I have taken time to plan and prioritise my main projects”. A friend also introduced me to the Pomidoro time management tool and I find it works incredibly well for me both personally and professionally. I am much more focused when I know I have 25 minute chunks of time, and then 5 minutes to stand up, check email, make a cup of tea or even just to go to the window and look at the clouds! Perhaps there has been progress then, I realise.
What I realise, is that focus is not something purely for 2013, but a practice which I need to incorporate systematically. I must keep my eye on the future, and in the direction I want to travel, I must focus to get there. And I must often work on some tasks which I would rather put off till another day,
Treasure was a bittersweet word for 2013. I had wanted to convey a number of elements including the sense of holding things close and valuing them. Seeing the special elements in the everyday, and appreciating what we have. It spoke of cherishing and nurturing to me, its essence of encouraging growth and creation through care. ts, as well as a beautiful sense of when caring for the most precious things to us, protecting and treasuring them.
I also love the fact that it is also a both a verb and a noun, and that symmetry really calls to me. In its verbal form, it is very close to cherish, with the added sense that it is something very special. I love treasure as a noun too, because we are surrounded by treasure, in even the most ordinary, everyday entity. I love to pick fallen frangipani blossom in the morning, and call it morning treasure. It is so important to notice the simplest elements in our surroundings and value them. As modern life becomes more sophisticated and complex, maintaining a sense of naivety and wonder is refreshing if not essential to our emotional wellbeing. I also apply this concept to my physical wellbeing and know that I must continue to focus on health and activity. My wonderful morning swim and cycle routine is a treasure indeed.
Treasure has been a massive word for me through 2013, but the most difficult to articulate. In one sense I have been guided by treasure to ensure that I take care of myself, that I care for my physical, emotional and creative sides and devote time and energy to this. Moreover, though treasure has been bittersweet. In March I spent the last week I ever would with my father and that time and those memories and the time we spent together as a family on his loss are beyond treasure. I hold them close, remember and relive those times with a mix of sorrow, grief and gratitude.
My third word of 2014 was design. I selected it with its abundance of meanings which spoke to me.
It represents the importance of creativity in my life and serves to remind me to prioritise those creative activities which I so enjoy. I need to ensure that there is space for art, reading, writing and imagining, and that I must ensure balance in my life. Design also conveys a sense of deliberate action, as in the phrase “by design”. This chimes with me so much. No matter what challenges are thrown in my way, I must retain control and make wise decisions as I follow the path I choose. I must ensure that I invest effort and due consideration and don’t just allow myself to be swept along. Life is not about what happens to us, but how we deal with what happens to us, we must remember.
This year I have in some ways felt as if life is a return to High School with all its extra curricular activities – in a good way! I have Writing Group, Book Club and a Film Night most of which require preparation in either writing, reading or remembering to bring a snack or bottle of wine! In January, a Photography Club started up and I didn’t hesitate to join. I discovered that I was the only photographer using a point-and-shoot which promptly broke irreparably in some sense of inferiority! I have bought an entry level SLR camera which has led to me learning so much and taking some appallingly bad photographs (another sense of focus). Add that to the daily swim and cycle routine, and design has in all of its sense been prominent in 2013 and I continue to enjoy learning and experimenting, making the effort and continuing to push boundaries.
Even before this review, I knew that the words were doing their work. They will not be retiring as we move into 2014 as their essence will continue in the practices which have become integral in my daily life.
As the year end approaches, I have a flutter of excitement as I begin the process which will lead to the selection of three words for the coming year. Firstly, I take time to think of the priorities which I want to focus on and the emphasis for the coming year. For 2014, I want to build on the work of these previous years while moving forward deliberately. The past year has been a difficult one, and I know there will be particular challenges in 2014. I cannot control many external factors but I can be deliberate in how I deal with these.
With this in mind, the words I have chosen for 2014 are:
Dedication, integrity and flair.
I LOVE them, as individual words, but also as my guiding mantra.
This builds on focus. It encapsulates a sense of devoting both time and attention on those things which matter most. I need to dedicate time to being organised and taking care of even the tasks which I don’t enjoy as well as the ones I do. I need to take care of myself, physically and emotionally, I need to set aside time and attention for people and not be swept up in the pressing things which tend to swamp us. I need to be dedicated to taking those writing and creative projects forward.
“Do the right thing when no one is looking” is a (para) phrase which I read somewhere and I quietly lean on. I have seen it attributed as a definition of integrity but to me it means more than that. It speaks of quietly doing the right thing, without calling attention to what you are doing, so for the “right” reasons. It conveys the importance of being true to yourself and your values no matter how invisible or inconsequential that act may seem. We live in challenging times, where priorities and demands conflict and by selecting integrity, I am setting out the importance of ensuring that in everything I do, I must remain true and loyal to my values and principles. Integrity is the middle word for a reason. It must be at the core of everything I do. No matter what challenges come my way, I must be proactive and faithful to what is right. This will be tough for me. I know that the path of least resistance is one which I favour. I don’t like confrontation or conflict, and yet sometimes it is necessary to face up to difficult times and not allow wrong things to happen, by doing nothing. Integrity is like a beam of light which I must focus on and work towards.
My third word is flair. This combines my creative side with individuality. I love being a little different and seeing things in new ways. At the photography club, we provide feedback on the images we share on a given theme, and one piece of feedback this year hit the spot and made gave me a swell of pride. The theme was “rainy season” and I had shared a photograph of a line of monks walking through a flooded street, seemingly oblivious to the rains and the water levels. I was told that of the thousands of photographs of monks in their alm-gathering lines, and rains in Myanmar, my photograph was unique and an image which no one had seen before. The photograph was not technically great, but the essence I had captured was one of uniqueness and that is what delighted me. I like seeing things through new, fresh eyes and from angles which others do not see. A touch of flair. Something creative to aim for, letting inspiration take me on a journey.