Written 1st January 2015
As the New Year of 2015 dawns I find myself in one very special place on the planet. A space in the remote hills of Laos, amidst unspoilt, undeveloped nature with only the sound of water falling and birds singing..A serene and tranquil space for a mind wishing to step aside from the bustle and noise of the 21st Century. For this is also a space without internet connectivity. This means that you will only read this several days into 2015, when I return to the world of instant communication.
The first day of the year has dawned unexpectedly bright. The past couple of days have seen cloud and a heavy, cold mist bathing the hills. This first day of 2015 sees no cloud in the sky, a whispering breeze nudging leaves and branches. Butterflies are flitting from bush to bush in a silence so deep you can almost hear their wings fluttering. In the distance, a cockerel is wishing a Happy New Year to any soul who may be listening.
This is the right time for me to set out the three words I have chosen to guide and inspire me throughout 2015.
This is a process I have been following now since the close of 2009. At that time I was truly in the thick of treatment with two rounds of surgery, three cycles of chemo and that life-changing stage 3 cancer diagnosis only just behind me. As Facebook feeds were filling with New Year’s Resolutions, I spotted something different. This suggested selecting three words to shape and guide the year ahead. This resonated powerfully with me and I had no trouble choosing three words for 2010. These words stayed with me throughout the year and as that year came to a close, I found myself reflecting and thinking of the year ahead and how I wanted to shape that. It is no secret that this has become a practice which has been truly alive and meaningful for me, not just at the start of the year, but throughout every month, week and even day of the year. They keep me on track and motivated and the practice of choosing the words itself is one which helps me to focus on the way ahead.
Before I share my words for the coming year, I want to spend a little time reflecting back on 2014 and how the mantra has served me.
My first word for 2014 has been dedication. This has had a variety of meanings for me. I selected it to build on the previous year’s choice of “focus” which had been particularly useful for me. Dedication pushed me to ensure that I devoted attention to those matters which are important and which often I do not enjoy, or put off, as well as the ones I do. This also relates to the importance of taking care of myself, physically and emotionally and to set aside time and attention for people and activities which are important and not necessarily those which are the most demanding. This was also a prompt to give time to those mundane but necessary tasks and chores but also those creative and wellbeing activities which can be swept aside if we squander our time.
I found dedication a challenge in that I struggled to stay true to the notion of dedicating time and attention where I aimed to. I knew that there were challenges in the year, and this is linked to the middle word, integrity, and I found it extremely difficult to maintain a balance especially. The five sticky plan, as quirky as it sounds, certainly helped to ensure that I did focus over the weekends, but more and more I have found myself squeezing out elements related to my creativity and wellbeing, and have fallen behind in personal emails and connection with friends and family. However, this does not tell me that I have failed. That is where I find that the words have a beauty and a value which I have not seen in a “resolution”. There is in fact, no such thing as fail. It means that as I reflect and review the year’s words, this helps to refine and sharpen how I need to focus and concentrate for the coming year.
My second word of the year, my core word has been integrity. I knew that this would be critical. I knew that there were challenges ahead and that I needed this guide to ensure that I approached these in a way which did not compromise my principles, yet which I would be sure to make decisions and act in the right way. Indeed many of those challenges did materialise, and I did find them demanding, draining and often upsetting. Many though, did not transform. Other unexpected ones of course did appear too. I found myself placing the “integrity lens” in front of me more and more as the year progressed. In major decisions and actions, just taking time to pause and think whether I was acting with integrity was enough to confirm or rethink what I planned to do. Increasingly, though I found that I was applying the integrity lens to so much more, the most everyday of tasks. I found myself pausing for the most tiny of actions, like taking a moment to pick up litter which I saw dropped in front of me for example, to seek out the jasmine seller instead of scurrying inside the building if I did not have the right change handy, to make an extra effort and send an email which I knew would be welcomed. I cannot pretend though that this always comes easily. I know that I operate most comfortably with the path of least resistance and distinctly dislike and avoid conflict and argument. So this has often pushed me into uncomfortable terrain, but I have found that rationalising this an ensuring that it is the true and right thing to do, that it is consistent with my true principles and values, then I have found that this gives strength to do so.
Using the integrity lens is something which will stay with me. ”Is this the right thing to do?” “What is the right thing to do?” these are questions which frame so many of my decisions now that it has become a reflex.
My third word of 2014 has been flair. My creative and writing year has been a landmark one in many senses with the most significant event being the publication of the Dragonfruit Anthology. This has been a huge milestone for me, seeing my name in print, in proper pages on real paper and even available on Amazon! Of course, my name is on the back of the book as I am but one contributor amongst 26 women writers. But this is a major step forward in my writing self, a Biggie on the Writing CV. More than this though, is what I have learned through the process. My short piece was selected from a number of submissions and then we went through a process of editing, contracting, selection of title and cover art and then the subsequent promotion and reviews. I learned a great deal from my writing being edited by a Real Editor, seeing my work from a reader’s perspective and understanding a great deal of the publishing process. As well as how much I was sheltered from the hard work which accompanies this. Reading reviews of the anthology has also taught me a great deal and has helped me refine and re-think my current writing projects.
Perhaps I have not been able to devote as much time as I would have liked to the flair side of my life. I know that this has been compromised by the demands of living and working in such an intense environment of change. But still, I feel that I have made major steps forward. Working on Dragonfruit has helped me to refocus on my main writing work, the memoir. In addition to this, I have started working closely with two others from our writing group and set up a “writing buddy” system. We are all working on very similar projects, and in addition to sharing our work as it evolves in the writing group, we are working closely together to provide peer support and critique on our very specific topics. This has given me an enormous boost and has helped me to completely review and refine the nature of the memoir. That I will talk about in more detail in the coming days or weeks, but for now I feel that flair has been a very welcome guide for the creative side of my year.
With these reflections, it is now time to look ahead and share my chosen words for 2015.
This year I have been surprised by the process of selection of the words.
Indeed, I believe that at least one of the words has not been selected by me, but rather the word has continuously spoken to me, whispering in my ear consistently and over several weeks. Instead of me deliberately selecting this word, I feel as if this word has persuaded me of its importance. I am convinced.
I very much see the need to be more deliberate and intentional. I need to prioritise balance and well-being and not allow myself to be sucked in and swallowed up by matters which are pressing and urgent but not the most important necessarily. I need to take time to breathe. My first word, and the thought foremost in my mind as I move into 2015 is breathe. I need to savour the “now”, to pause and breathe in a way I have forgotten to. I have been drawn to practices of meditation and mindfulness in the past and I am keen to drawn on these now. Breathe is also a reminder to look after my health and wellbeing. My daily cycle and swim do far more than provide an hour of exercise. During the swim in particular, I find myself breathing, and reflecting. So many problems have been solved, ideas have come into being and been nurtured, challenges have been faced and tears have been shed. I must take time to breathe, regenerate and heal this year.
Twice in the past weeks, and again now for longer, I have stepped out of the 21st Century and the dependence we seem to be developing on connectivity in particular. Something which I am increasingly finding to be rather a double edged sword. I love what connectivity has brought to me, particularly living so far from friends and family in Scotland and in connecting me with others in a similar situation. I love being able to track down answers when a puzzle catches me, or share my latest photos, speak with family and friends around the globe. But at the same time, I find myself losing and squandering time. The same connectivity brings so much also takes away. As a butterfly I am too easily distracted and can surface from a path I have been drawn down to find that too much time has passed. It is time to pause, disengage with the fast life which we now live, and breathe, refocus on what matters.
The second word has been a little elusive. I have been looking for something to emphasise the creative side and continue to push myself. I toyed with various words – imagine, muse, ponder…… Dream was one word which especially resonated, one which made me look beyond and push myself. I also liked stretch which conveyed my desire to push beyond boundaries and my usual comfort zones, to experiment a little. And then I stumbled upon stargaze. This has a variety of nuances which all capture what I want to convey. When I was little I was fascinated by the night sky following a visit to London Planetarium. Suddenly the sky had taken on a whole life. I had charts of the constellations in my bedroom, and used to gaze upwards at night time when the sky was clear. I lived in a remote part of Scotland when I was young and there was absolutely no light pollution at all. On a clear night Orion and his belt and the Great Bear, or Ursa Major as I consistently called it, were clearly visible. While I was in Mongolia, one of my most vivid memories is that of gazing at the night sky out in the countryside where there was the greatest expanse of land and sky imaginable. The climate is so dry and arid, and the country mostly at altitude so that this all combines to provide a sky bursting with life at night. The sky is almost milky and crowded with an unbelievable amount of stars. I have never seen anything like it anywhere else. This nightsky fascination is also evident in my wish bucket, you will see that I maintain a longing to see Saturn and its rings through a telescope.
So stargaze is a good choice for me, in its mix of meanings – literal as well as figurative. It speaks to me of imagining, of going beyond, of limitless opportunities and scope. It provides a limitless landscape for creativity and musing. It speaks of shining through darkness. It reminds me not to be constrained by practicalities and things which can be overcome.
How apt that I spent the passage from 2014 to 2015 under the stars, quietly reflective and appreciative of the peaceful space I have been in.
As the mantra for 2015 takes shape, there is one dimension which is also important to me. This builds on focus from 2013 and dedication from 2014. I wasn’t to take this a stage further now and ensure that I produce results and tangible outcomes. Like a book. With my name on the front cover. Or at the very least, a manuscript.
In one of my previous jobs I had the opportunity to do a Belbin assessment. This is a tool which identifies your predominant traits an provides labels for them. The types are plant, resource investigator, coordinator, shaper, monitor evaluator, teamworker, implementer and completer/finisher. I was predominantly a plant, and very happy to be so. A plant is creative, unorthodox and a generator of ideas- an original thinker. I love the idea of being a plant. I also found that my lowest feature is that of being a completer/finisher. That did not come as a surprise, but rather a realisation and confirmation. I am that butterfly, caught by new ideas and inspiration and although I love a perfect and finished product I am the world’s worst at doing this myself. I am useless at seeing something through because I get bored with it and am drawn to new and exciting projects, leaving them strewn around me as I bound off towards ideas anew.
This year I want to realise many of these projects and see them through. I want to make it happen and actually finish many of the half baked pieces of work I have. I want to see dreams turn to reality by applying myself more and making that conscious effort.
Realise also has a variety of meanings, which resonate. The importance of being aware and understanding is a priority and links nicely to breathe. It pushes me to think things through and understand the whole process of my undertakings. It encourages me to commit to the wholeness of projects, not only my writing goals, but particularly related to those goals. This year I want to deliver.
So my mantra is complete for 2015 and although I cannot share these until I return to that 21st century connectivity which I have stepped away from, I am grasping them eagerly as I move forward, whispering them to myself in reassurance in motivation.
Breathe, stargaze and realise.
Since I started this in 2009, every year my words have served me well and many stay with me. I can remember each word and each three word mantra, and the year to which it relates. As in previous years, my 2014 words have provided a guide and inspiration and kept me on the path I want to tread. I find that my 2015 words additionally have a logical flow to them, they set out a direction. First of all I must remember to pause and breathe. I can look upwards and allow my mind to move beyond boundaries. Then I have to aim to realise…..
Yes, indeed. Breathe, stargaze, realise……….. Good morning and welcome, 2015.