Envisioning 2020 with a three word mantra

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It was ten years ago, on New Year’s Eve in Bangkok that I first spotted that Tweet about three words which revolutionised my approach to the coming year from then onwards. It is no secret that this resonated immediately with me and three words formed with incredible clarity and haste. I am still quietly astounded how this practice has embedded itself firmly as I now embark on this process for the eleventh year running.

I am always astounded by how well my words serve their purpose, guiding, reminding and encouraging me through the year. This year has been no different and my mantra of “script, nestle and nourish” have been by my side through another year of transition. I have been reluctant to lay them gently to the side this year though. The transition has been far slower than I could ever have imagined, and I could quite comfortably take these words with me through another year and I did consider this. However, the prospect of this emotional and psychological review and cleanse is valuable and I again have found the process of identifying my priorities and the right three words one of enormous benefit. So, I will keep my 2019 words tucked away, behind my new words, reminding me that none of my words are ever discarded. In fact I believe that they build on each other, and I now have a wonderful foundation of words and mantras that remind me how greatly I have travelled since December 2009 and how much there is to be thankful for.

2010                Recovery, discovery and laughter

2011                Harmony, vitality and adventure

2012                Resilience, escapade and wonder

2013                Focus, treasure and design

2014                Dedication, integrity and flair

2015                Breathe, stargaze and realise

2016                Reorient, nurture and crystalize

2017                Emerge, explore and intend

2018                Search, settle and weave

2019                Script, nestle and nourish

These words tell the story of my life over the past decade. In particular a decade since my cancer diagnosis, but so much more than that. I can recognise each year and with it, the feelings and emotions of those times as much as the significant events in each mantra.

Before I introduce the mantra for 2020, the new year and indeed the new decade, I like to reflect briefly on those words which have accompanied me through 2019, “script, nestle and nourish“.

Script

Writing continues to play a key part in my lift. I have found a wonderful writing tribe in Edinburgh, and although I do not spend nearly as much time as I would like writing, this hour weekly provides so much more than a space to shut up and write. It provides friendship, like minds, new faces and encouragement. I still have my writing project alive, but needing an infusion of deliberate effort to move it forward and, dare I hope, complete it. I have set the path for the coming year by reconnecting with my writing mentor in a commitment to dedicating time and energy to this. Having my own space finally, and establishing a creative place in that is part of that commitment and motivation.

Script was also about being intentional in shaping my life. It meant putting effort into the things I wanted to change, and writing my own story. And that is also apparent in the other two words.

Nestle

This has been the central word to the year, appropriately in the heart of my 2019 mantra. The transition from overseas life to finding a forever home has been complex and my eagerness to finally settle in a space that I intend to stay in the very long term has taken long to realise. I finally found myself able to start searching properly in the spring of this year. This was both exciting and daunting. I knew in my heart what I was looking for – a quaint little cottage-type home, close to the city, easy to commute, in a nice neighbourhood with character and some history and tradition. Some green space and a place for a bird table and feeders. When I was looking for a place to call home in Rwanda, I put my thoughts together, and apart from a dearth of jacaranda and challenges in getting frangipani to thrive in Scotland the rest is incredibly apt.

My wishes were clear, and the search started in earnest. With it came the abrupt realisation that there was an incompatibility with many of these requirements within the means I had available. My search was wide, and weekends and some weekday evenings I would be on a bus, exploring new communities and potential homes. And there were very few which came anywhere near what I was looking for. The process was draining, but invaluable. I learned what was available and what were the key priorities for me. I knew which areas I needed to compromise. I came close to thinking about putting in an offer, but something always stopped me. I was not ready to commit, just in case the perfect home was round the corner. None of the 29 places I viewed were quite right and not how they were portrayed in the advertising. Camera angles are very deceiving and can make tiny rooms look cavernous. I had entered the year eager to settle, and now midsummer was approaching with no sign of my forever home. In early June, I arranged a viewing at another property, a quirky wee place, which looked really promising, and spotted that there was an open viewing at another place, a dear looking little cottage, nearby just beforehand so thought I would pop in there too while I was near. And it quite took me by surprise. It ticked many of the boxes that I knew were important to me, but I had to look beyond the fact that it needed a great deal of work to make it home. but I knew that the other option was more promising, so I headed to view it with high expectations. And it was also suitable, but I felt a sense of very slight, almost intangible, disappointment. It also needed work but had incredible character.

I decided that I would put in an offer. And with some deliberation and to-ing an fro-ing I decided to put in an offer on the other place too. The closing dates were adjacent, and I was almost frightened that my offer on the first would be accepted, as I realised, almost despite myself, that I seemed to be setting my heart on the little cottage. I was not disappointed that my offer for the quirky place was miles short of the one accepted. Now I had to go through the same process 24 hours later, but with a very different frame of mind. To cut a long story short, the process was not clear cut, but in the end on a midsummer’s day, that truly was the longest in many ways, my offer was successful. I was delighted. I knew I had found my home. I also knew I could not move into it until some essential work was done, but I was very much closer to nestling.

A month later, I had my keys just before I set off on my Voldemort trip, with the knowledge that I was returning to Scotland by train to the prospect of my own home and under my own terms, unlike my abrupt return two years earlier. This gentle train journey homewards was truly a “homecoming”. And a few days after the autumnal equinox, with the critical elements of the essential work completed. I was finally able to move in, unpack and begin to truly nestle.

Nourish

Now, the emphasis on nestling has probably indicated that while nourish has been an important guide, it has had to fit in alongside, “nestle”. Rushing around, getting ready to search, undertaking an extensive process of viewing and then readying my home to live in has nudged my focus on “nourish” slightly to the side. Not quite neglected, but it is not to be forgotten as I move forward to 2020.

As the day dawns on the new decade, what kind of 2020 do I envision? The past weeks have seen me pondering, contemplating the year ahead and how I want to shape it. As in recent years, I have travelled in different directions, playing with different ideas and words, reflecting on the aspects of the coming year which I want to focus on and I now have the words I feel will guide me forward. And the words which have emerged are:

Still, dwell and glisten

Still

My first word is “still”. Not the adjective but that beautiful verb which means to calm or become quiet. I feel the need to still my soul, my body and my mind. Much of 2019 as spent running around. A great deal of this was readying for the search for my home, those long weeks looking and covering a great deal of ground physically and emotionally, preparing to move and then starting to settle. My mind and body have not stopped. It is still to still, to allow myself to breathe again. It is time to quell my anxieties and focus on mindful and meaningful days. There is plenty to fill my time, I just don’t need to be constantly “on the go” to do so. Amidst this stillness, I believe I will be able to keep sight of what is important. The terrible pun would be to say this would be my 2020 vision.

Dwell

My second word is “dwell”. This feels the perfect way to guide how I settle in my new home and community with the definition “to become familiar with a place and feel happy and confident in it”.

Gradually I am shaping this as my home, while I trust, retaining respect and appreciation in the history of the home I have moved into. I am settling into a space which has an evident and warm history. While there is a natural pressure to quickly have all work finished and sit back, I am also happy with the gradual process that is necessitated. This gives me time to learn how I will settle into my new dwelling, bringing my eclectic collection of Asian, African and Scottish belongings and styles into this existing history. In particular, the well cared for garden contains so much history and life – plum, pear and apple trees, many flowers I do not know the name of, wild raspberries and gooseberries. A wise friend countered the main advice I had heard and counselled me “take time and sit in your garden, let it speak to you before you make any changes. It will tell you what to do”. Those words resonated powerfully. I am sure I will make some changes, but probably minor and these must be in keeping with the character of what is already in place. I can dwell in this space by being true to the garden and to myself. And wider afield, I am eager to make connections in this community. There is a book group, a writing group, a photography club and even links through a twinning arrangement. I look forward to dwelling in my community.

Glisten

My third word is “glisten”. It took me by surprise a little, as I had almost settled on either enlighten or illuminate when thinking of the wish to spend more time and energy shining a light on my creative pursuits. It was also articulating some of the wider context we find ourselves. In many ways these are times of polarity and negativity around us and it is important to have the courage to shine light in dark spaces. But then glisten arrived unexpectedly, and was perfect. It is more subtle, natural and everyday. It has the meaning of “shining with reflected light” and has an element of the ordinary and extraordinary about it. Most importantly, to me it emphasises cooperation and a relationship as two elements are needed (light and moisture) to make something glisten. Two simple, everyday elements that we overlook and take for granted, but which create something eye-catching and of wonder. How often are we taken aback by the twinkle of the sun on a frosty edged puddle, or the light captured in a raindrop? It is also about our attitude and approach. We all have light in us that shines, and means we all have the potential to make things glisten. This encourages me to be creative, solution focused and optimistic and to keep my eyes open for those tiny, extraordinary moments we can miss when our minds and thoughts are dark.

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Even in these short Scottish, winter days there are many opportunities for us to see that which glistens around us, and for us to be our own tiny light.

As the daylight starts to fade on this first day of the decade, I am ready to open up and gently place my three words for the year into the wide open world.

Still, dwell and glisten

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Happy New Year and may 2020 bring you everything you dream for.

Unlocking the door into 2019 with a three word mantra

As I look into my well-thumbed notebook where I have kept a note of the sets of 3-word mantras over the years, I realise that this is the tenth time that I am embarking on this exercise. It is a bit of a puzzle since it is only nine years since my diagnosis but that is the mystery of numbers and one which I will not pretend to understand.

This past year has been one of continued transition, with major tasks to work on to help me to settle. It has involved a great deal of searching and energy, guided by my mantra of Search, settle and weave. The searching has seen me find a renewed purpose, closely connected to my overseas work and an area which inspires and motivates me. I feel connected again. I am considerably more settled. Thus there has been considerable progress and the various threads of my life are slowly weaving together. A picture is gradually emerging even if the tapestry is still to reveal its full picture.

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And as the year comes to an end, and I attempt to rest and heal after many weeks of intensity and poor health, my mind has been quietly working away to clarify the best words to guide my path ahead.

In the final hours of 2019, I put my current words gently in their place in my notebook, alongside their predecessors. As I look at each set, I can identify each year clearly through each mantra,

The year I discovered this practice was Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) of 2009. Looking back, “recovery, discovery and laughter” firmly tells me “yes, that was 2010.” That was the year I moved through the months of chemotherapy, radiation and follow up with those guiding words and their reminder that a sense of humour is an extremely useful tool during times of challenge. “Harmony, vitality and adventure” and my quest to gain strength, confidence and healthy and balanced life very accurately tells me that was my 2011, and the mantra “focus, treasure and design” tells me immediately that I approached 2013 knowing that the year would be a tough one as my father’s health failed. Indeed, that year as we said goodbye to him was indeed one with cherished moments and heartache to hold on to. The last three years have been characterised by enormous change and upheaval in every area of my life – professionally and personally. “Reorient, nurture and crystalize” tells me of the guide I had set out for moving on from so many years in Asia and says “2016”. Just as clearly, my mantra for the past year “search, settle and weave” whispers “ah, that was 2018,” to me. When I first saw the prompt in the final hours of 2009 that shaped my first 3-word mantra, I had no idea that this would become such an important part of my emotional and spiritual essence.

I always approach the final weeks of the year with a touch of trepidation, unsure as to whether I will find the right words for the coming year. Each year, I reflect, think ahead, look at the areas I want and need to shape most and somehow the words come. I seem to be more finely tuned to the meanings of words at this time, often picking up on a word I read or hear as it is spoken, and draw it into my evolving thoughts. This year has been no different. In my notebook, I have ideas, priorities and thoughts, jotted down, linked together and explored.

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And from this jumble of letters and scribbles, incredibly the 3-word mantra for the year ahead has emerged.

As I sit on a warm rooftop terrace, on a sunny New Year’s day far from Edinburgh, it is time to put my new mantra into the world, and set out my intentions for 2019:

“Script, nestle and nourish”.

These are the words which will inspire, motivate and guide me through the coming year.

Script

Script is an important word with several meanings for me. I love different scripts, and in Mongolia was especially fascinated by the sweeping, curved pen strokes which would start from the top of the page and work downwards.

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I was able to read modern Mongolian as Cyrillic is now used, with a couple of extra letters, my days studying Russian at university providing me with the key to at least sound out the Mongolian words, but with little or no comprehension of their meaning. In fact, in all of the Asian countries I lived and worked in, there were different scripts (Devanagiri in Nepal, Tamil in the part of India where I worked, Singhala and Tamil in Sri Lanka and the beautiful circles of Burmese script in Myanmar.

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I am fascinated by the relationship between these configurations, their pronunciation and their meanings. I would need to live for many centuries to begin to unravel some of these amazing puzzles.

Script also obviously relates to the practice of writing, and is important to me because it has been a neglected area of my life for too long as I have been working through practical tasks. This will remind me to set aside time and energy for writing, and to be courageous and regain confidence. I need to follow through the various writing goals I have set before they wither. I will find a creative space which will remind and encourage me to write.

There is another, important meaning to this word though. I am conscious that over the past months and more, I have been reacting to events which have happened. My work finishing earlier than planned, a return to Scotland which was abrupt in the grand scheme of things, and health glitches – these are all things which need to be dealt with. Of course I cannot change what happens, but I can take control of how I deal with it. I want to script my own story, to manage the various practical tasks in a constructive and appropriate way so that the tapestry is one which I believe in and own.

Nestle

This is taking forward the idea of settling from 2018. After so many years on the move, and with life plans changing, a priority is to find a place where I can nestle down and be cosy, where I can unpack my weird and wonderful bits and pieces from my life in so many corners of the globe. I want to find a little space where I can plant some seeds and watch them sprout, and where I can put a little bird feeder for the Scottish birds I am getting to know again. Where I can make tea and build a hearth to welcome family and friends. Where I can “coorie down”, – a wonderful Scottish expression for tucking yourself in, making yourself cosy and protecting yourself from the cold and outside troubles. It is linked in my mind to nesting which is also an important part of what I am eager to do. The long term fallout of cancer and divorce play mayhem with previosuly established long-term plans and bring a sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. Nestling seems to be the perfect way to create a sense of belonging.

Nourish

My third word for 2019 is “nourish”. This is also a word which encapsulates many meanings. The most obvious relates to a nourishing approach to maintaining and rebuilding health. I miss the seasonal and fresh foods of recent years, with local markets and variety. This winter and a persistent bout of seasonal ill health remind me of the importance of eating nourishing foods and natural resilience. I am also reminded to nourish the soul as I have access now to sources of reading, writing and inspiration on my doorstep. In Yangon, I had developed over the seven years, a lively creative life with a writing group, book club, photography club and regular film nights. Focusing on this area will strengthen my sense of belonging and connectedness as well as nourishing the creative self. This will help me to nestle as I also nourish those little birds, and seeds to establish a peaceful and inspiring space around me.

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As I gently place my 3-word mantra into the big wide world, I reflect especially on a weekend in early October. I was fortunate to be able to join like and inspiring minds on a mindfulness and writing retreat, run by friend and fellow blogess Audrey and poet and writer Helen. We were welcomed to the perfect space, tranquil and surrounded by a lifetime of gathered treasures and mementos, trees changing and shedding their leaves and a busy woodpecker. Far distant from the chaos of the outside world, set right in the outdoors. At the start of the retreat, we were asked to select a picture from a number of available images. I was immediately drawn to a key, which spoke to me of a childhood fascination of old keys as well as the notion of unlocking doors to the future. As the weekend drew to an end, we all made a pledge for the future. My own pledge featured an old rusty key and a box, to lay to rest my anxieties and harboured tenderness from the unexpected transition and encourage me to move forward in a positive space.

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As I move forward, I know that I have many untold stories which I am eager to script. Stories of the singing fishermen of Lake Kivu, of trailing my little travel bag around the Galapagos and of humming birds under the shadow of Mount Tunguruhua with its rumbling Strombolian promises of fire, tales of Rwandan weddings, African sunsets and safaris and many other adventures.

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And perhaps first, will be the tale of a little Scottish grandmother, trailing around the souqs of Marrakesh, haggling over the purchase of a rusty old key with absolutely no practical use, yet with enormous personal significance and optimism…

Stargazing

I was on my home way last night from a regular supermarket trip, when I glanced out of the taxi window. My stomach turned over. There was a beautifully low lit half moon in the sky. Why did my stomach flip?  The previous evening when leaving the office, I had remarked to a colleague that the moon looked as if it was almost full. Yes, she replied, it would be full on April 4. eclipse 2The moon is important here, and we keep note of lunar phases.  Most festivals are based on the lunar calendar and we are in the final days of run up into the biggest festival here – Thingyan, famously known as the Water Festival. I was puzzling about the status of the moon and its relation to Thingyan when I saw the almost full moon on Friday and in my mind I thought meant that it would probably be New Moon for Myanmar New Year which falls immediately after Thingyan.

So I was more than a little freaked by the sight of a half moon last night. Firstly, I questioned whether the moon had indeed been almost full when I had remarked on it the previous evening. The conversation with my colleague was fresh and clear in my mind. I knew the moon had looked full.  Seeing something dramatically unexpected about the moon rocks our foundations and most basic beliefs and truths. My thoughts then moved to Murakami’s IQ84 where the parallel world had two moons. I did not want to take that train of thought any further and vowed to Google this weirdness as soon as I got home.

When I got out of the taxi, a couple of neighbours were lingering, chatting in the lane as happens most evenings. One pointed to the moon and showed me that he was taking a photograph on his phone. He knows that I am wont to take pictures of the moon and I thought he was suggesting I photograph it. I obligingly (I would have been doing this anyway) took out my camera and captured a few images, while staring at the moon and pondering the mystery of its sudden regression or progression to half moon status.  It was so clear in the sky and I could see the shadow of the other half of the moon quite clearly when realisation hit.  This was not a half moon shadow, because the moon had a “bite” out of it!  This was a lunar eclipse!

I watched as the shadow passed across the moon, the orange glow faded and the full moon I had sought appeared gradually again. I remember seeing pictures of the solar eclipse recently, and delighted for friends who had seen their first eclipse, posting their awe on Facebook.  This was not visible in South East Asia, but I admit to being secretly envious.  There was a total eclipse on my birthday in 2008 but I could hardly see it because of cloud cover as I waited patiently on the rooftop of the apartment block I lived in at the time in Colombo, Sri Lanka,, taking photographs of cloud and trying to convince myself that I could see a shadow. And apart from the tail end of a solar eclipse in Myanmar in 2010 which I could not really see properly I have never truly seen either a solar or lunar eclipse.

I was quite delighted to have seen my surprise lunar eclipse.  There had been no anticipation and with the lack of planning and expectation there could only be satisfaction. If we put this in perspective, this has more meaning than just a fifty-something woman seeing her first clear eclipse.  If you look at my wish bucket it is pretty clear that I have a fascination with the night sky.  I want to see the rings on Saturn, and I would dearly love to witness the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. I was fascinated by the night sky as a child and still love to gaze upwards in innocent wonder.  That is very clear too, in the second of my three words of the year too – breathe, stargaze and realise. How apt that just after writing about breathing a couple of weeks ago, and with a vague plan to write about stargazing next, that the planets should align to gift me a lunar eclipse!

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Watching the shadow slowly move to reveal the full moon again

As I approach my next round of medical checks with some questions which I expect to be explored, and as life continues to throw challenges in my direction this is a timely and keen reminder that I need to strive to stargaze and stretch my creativity. Life is less about what happens to us, but how we deal with what happens to us. I must remember to breathe, to stargaze and to realise.

December already?

At this time of year, I am always caught by surprise by the sight of snowflakes falling across my home page.  I found this seasonal (well, northern hemisphere seasonal) function years ago, and switched on the “let it snow” feature.  Every December since then there have been snowflakes falling on tropical vegetation and other background images.

Once the snowflakes start falling across the screen, I am usually working my way through another annual process.  The three words.  Any “down” time, such as sitting in a taxi, waking in the middle of the night or other time where there is a space for reflection I am thinking of the past year and the coming year.  Have the words worked well this year?  How do I want to approach the coming year.  Which words will capture my aspirations and guide me as we move into the new year?

This 2014 has brought its challenges and intensity, some of which had been hinted at, some unexpected and some less welcome. As the year closes, I will have brought my reflections together and turned my focus to the coming year.  Already, the mantra is taking shape and words are dancing around.  I know, though, that the decision comes later, that the words form their own shape and settle together as the time to set the mantra approaches.

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Nearly twelve months ago I shared my 2014 words, and now already I am preparing for their successors.  And I find that this process is as relevant and meaningful for me as it was when I first chanced upon it in 2009. And for as long as it works, so shall I keep living with and through my three words.

Three little words, five years running

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.

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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.

Dedication

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.

Integrity

“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.

Flair

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.

Borneo

So these are my words for the coming year.  2014, I do not know what you have in store for us, but with my words – I am ready!

Shaping 2012 with three little words

This year it has actually been really hard to settle on my three words to guide and inspire me in the coming year.  To be fair, I knew it would be difficult because I have liked my previous choices so much.  Not only have they been the right words for me, they have been the right words for me in that particular year.  When I first saw the idea of selecting three words at the end of 2009, it spoke so clearly to me and the three words came almost instantly.  2010 was indeed a year of recovery, discovery and laughter as I moved through the months of heavy treatment, back to Scotland to see family and friends after so long, returning to work and finally growing those characteristic grey chemo curls as I moved towards the end of the year.

Last year’s words clearly represented a shift in where I was with “harmony, vitality and adventure”.  Harmony in terms balance in my life, professionally, personally, emotionally and physically as well as harmonious musically.  Vitality encouraged me and spurred me on to build on my daily swimming and be even more active, taking up the gym and becoming fitter than I probably have been in decades.  And adventure – well, this has been a favourite and I hav embarked on a number of adventures throughout the year, which have grown in their adventurousness as the year progressed!

So I started thinking about the words for 2012 over a month ago, looking forward to the process of selecting the words as much as I look forward to a new series of the Amazing Race!  As the time approached I would start thinking of the overall areas I want to focus on and pick up on words as I heard them, read them or even as they came to mind as I was ploughing up and down the swimming pool.

I was however, right in my guess that this year’s choice would be much more difficult though.  How could I settle on words which I liked as much and which were as meaningful as the previous years’ words?  How could I pick only three words when there were just so many to choose from?  I veered from extravagant words through to simple words, playing with each in how they balanced each other as well as how they sounded together.  It is interesting too, that the mood of the words changed somewhat as I worked through the recent thorax and Twang Arm pain and associated fears, and that is reflected in my ultimate choice. Finally, after a great deal of polishing, reflection and dictionary searching I have my three words to share:

Resilience, escapade and wonder

Resilience comes first.  This is one which I have leaned increasingly towards as the challenges of the past weeks played out, and the pain I experienced.  It expresses the priority I aim to place on building my strength both physically and mentally so that I am in a better place to deal with whatever might come my way. The past weeks showed me that despite my pretty good health, both the cancer itself, and its treatment (combination of chemo, the radical surgery, radiation and the calcium-stripping Tamoxifen bonus side effect) have led to a fragility which I have to recognise and respect.  So I intend to continue to build my strength physically, with my precious swimming, and the less popular but equally important regular gym visits and other healthy pursuits.  Mentally and emotionally I will continue to prioritise my creative time and take control of what is in my hands.  This year has seen me join a creative writing group and latterly a Book Club which have been lovely ways of connecting with likeminded souls here, as well as an inspiring way to spend free time.  These are ways of building my strength and capacity to make me more able to “bounce back” following whatever unexpecteds and unwelcomes head my way.

The dictionary definition of resilience is 1) the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress and 2) an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.  There is also a very interesting discussion on psychological resilience on Wikipedia which tells us that “Resilience has been shown to be more than just the capacity of individuals to cope well under adversity. Resilience is better understood as the opportunity and capacity of individuals to navigate their way to psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that may sustain their well-being, and their opportunity and capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided and experienced in culturally meaningful ways”.  How apt.

My second word is escapade.  I toyed with coining my own noun “escapaderie” to describe the broad concept of being involved in escapades but decided that was just a bit too inane!  An important word for in 2011 has been adventure.  I have referred repeatedly to adventures, made field trips and short breaks into adventures and plotted adventures.  These have all represented a shift in strength, confidence and independence.  Two years ago I was unable to walk unaided through Bangkok Airport.  Two days ago I returned from a fairly physically demanding trip to a remote part of the country, involving local flights, side car/trishaw transfers, exploring by cycle, pony and on foot and long boat trips which I had to board by slithery narrow planks!

It was a my Mrauk U adventure and pushed me further than I could have imagined possible at the beginning of even this year.  My 2011 adventures have included remote field trips to North Shan and the Ayerawaddy Delta, a trip to Chiang Mai by overnight train and my somewhat extravagant birthday trip to the temples of Angkor in Cambodia.

In choosing “escapade” I wanted to maintain that sense of making the most of experiences, reaching out for the new and continuing to push myself.  For me though, escapade also has a touch of naughtiness about it which appeals to the rebel in me!  This is confirmed by the definition I found of escapade – “a usually adventurous action that runs counter to approved or conventional conduct”.  What appeals additionally to me is that an escapade (in my world) can be as small as an almost imperceptible gesture through to a grand action which attracts attention.  I can apply escapade to so many actions, even to the way my friend and I behave in the oncology waiting room together, being naughty cancer rebels and giggling about the grief we are going to give our doctors in the form of never ending questions!

And my third word, wonder, came to me in the swimming pool as I was ploughing northwards and southwards, waiting for the sun to rise.  Again this has a variety of meanings.  As a verb it encapsulates the action of questioning and enquiring, descriptive of my inquisitive soul as well as critical to my work.  And there is never a shortage of things to wonder about!  As a noun, it is that almost innocent sense of being in awe of things from the most simple through to the truly breath taking and grand.  Throughout 2012 this will remind me to retain that sense of appreciation in what is around me as well as honing my natural curiosity.

As in the two previous years, I am ridiculously pleased with my words.  They fill me with optimism for the coming year and the sense that I can take control of what is in my own hands.  And that is another reminder that much as we cannot change many things which happen to us, particularly in the land post cancer diagnosis, there are many ways to shape our life and experience which are in our hands.  Only we can grasp those ourselves and we have the capacity to interpret what is around us accordingly.

And that is why I have chosen the image below.  A doorway into an unknown place, dark and frightening.  It is also an image which gives me goosebumps of exhilaration as it reminds me of the emotions and new found confidence I felt when exploring the ancient and mysterious temples of Angkor earlier this year.

I wish you a 2012 which is as kind as it can be, and for continued strength and resilience from within each of us as well as from each other.

Three words to guide and inspire as we move into 2011

Last year I was prompted to select 3 words to guide and inspire me throughout the year.  The 3 words recovery, discovery and laughter came easily to me and they stayed with me as a mantra. I have found the task more difficult this year, perhaps because I really like last year’s words.  However, things must move forward and I very much trust that the coming year will be different from the outgoing one.

So in that spirit, after night time and daytime deliberations, I feel that I have settled on my new guide for 2011.

Harmony, vitality and adventure.

Harmony is the main essence of how I want to see the year.  It represents the need to maintain a balance in life, especially between work, health and leisure.  It shows the importance I hold in keeping a space for creativity in my life.  It also shows my dislike of conflict and wish for peace, in my life and in the wider world.  It also has the dimension of being in harmony with my body.  Much as I wish for NED I know that there are no guarantees.  So no matter what the year throws at me, I intend to be at one with how I handle it physically.  And in a very different vein, harmony in the musical sense shows my love of music and its importance in my life.

Vitality covers my wish to feel the full benefit of feeling well, and enjoying life to the full.  In a wider sense, I feel it can also cover a broader approach to life, embracing and each new day and new challenges.

I decided to pick adventure as my third word, as it also has a range of meanings which I feel will guide and inspire in the coming year.  It shows that I want to push myself and reach for new experiences.  If we look at its origins – (I knew learning Latin all those years ago would have a use) the word is made up of the verb to go, or move.  The prefix “ad” brings the notion of forward to the motion.  So adventure also represents moving forward.  I most definitely intend to keep moving forward, no matter what the year throws at me.

My wish for 2011 is that the year is kind and brings health, happiness and harmony in every sense to us all.

Happy New Year!