[This post is a tad long and I hope it doesn’t fall into the category of “TLDR” — “too long; didn’t read!” I hope it’s of some benefit to anyone reading it. I know I benefited from the writing and I’m grateful for the opportunity to post it here. Namaste. Annie.]
With the new year have come many personal growth and wellness blogs touting the importance of having a word, or intention, for the year, to guide or focus you in reaching goals and becoming a better you. This, some call a “2016 word.”
I’m always interested in learning about things that other people do that might help move me forward. But there are problems with trying to follow the latest trends in all of the personal growth and wellness writing that’s out there. The advice offered is mostly generic: it’s not tailored to people who have PTSD or a dissociative disorder or the myriad of other things that can be so impactful on a person’s life. All of the well-meaning advice in the world from someone who isn’t informed about what it’s like to have one of these problems will help, if at all, only in a limited way.
I know, because for many, many (too many, painfully too many) years, I didn’t have access to the right kind of expertise about my mental health issues. And, in seeking solace and solutions, I read a whole lot, took a lot of courses, consulted with a lot of people and tried a lot of different things. Some of the things I tried worked, sort of.
Trying to address something that’s wrong with sort of a solution if it works at all is not likely to yield a long term fix. It’s like trying to fix a problem with a car with a part that only sort of does the job. Sooner or later, that car is going to stop working the way it was designed to work. It may well break down and stop working altogether.
It’s with this in mind that I approached the “word for 2016” advice that I’ve come across in several blogs in the new year.
Actually, I’ve always used what I’ve called “word anchors” to help stabilize myself. These are words that I’ve chosen in times of distress because they’ve calmed me, given me strength, and a focus for the moment. Something to hang onto, to get me to the next moment.
But a “2016 word” isn’t the same thing as a word anchor. It’s not meant to be something that’s used so much for grounding and stabilization in periods of distress, although that can, I think be a part of it. It’s more a word to provide mental focus and direction for the entire year, in the service of a goal towards overall self-improvement. While it may appear to be a small thing, choosing a “2016 word” is a challenging concept. Doesn’t a heck of a lot change over the course of a year? And might your focus or direction be required to change with that?
And for me, with my PTSD and dissociation issues, that challenge is multiplied times a gazillion. Things can change for me a whole heck of a lot over the course of a day or an hour or less. I may be able to have focus and direction for a period of time but just as often I’m derailed by flashbacks. Or, I may believe I have focus and direction because I’m being very task-centred. But actually, I’m overly focused on a task — and that could be any task — and I’m using that to dissociate from my feelings.
And when the latter happens, I go in circles. I’m “doing” but I don’t move forward. Because not all of me is working together. (If you don’t quite know what I mean, rest assured that such is my reality with dissociation. More details about that reality will have to wait to be revealed in other blog posts.)
Given all of that, I played around with ideas for a 2016 word to guide me for the year in a direction I want to go. I couldn’t decide on just one word and so I selected a few to string into a phrase. What I came up with, initially, was “meditation-peace-focus-flourish.” I liked all of those words and what they meant for me. But that felt like a lot to try to hang onto.
In my head.
And then something happened. I went to yoga. And guess what the teacher was talking about? Yep, picking a “2016 word”.
Only, this time, it was different.
During yoga class, I had an experience of embodying* my 2016 word. I had the powerful experience of having the word that I chose “sink into” my mind and body.
This is how it went: The teacher instructed us to choose a “2016 word” for focus and direction during the class and for the year. (She told us what her word had been for last year: “trust.” And for this year: “create.”) She instructed us to go back to our word during our practice, to help focus us on the yoga, when our mind scattered and drifted as it is wont to do.
This particular teacher on this particular day spoke powerfully and led the class in a very powerful practice. Again and again and again she emphasized gathering and containing our energy, in our core, that unifying place that can hold us together.
The class was challenging for me. Very. Physically, mentally and emotionally.
Because it was a different teacher than I was used to with a different teaching style, I couldn’t anticipate the movements and poses the way I normally can. The poses were held longer than I had the strength to do. I had to take a lot of breaks. It was a hot yoga class and I was sweating a lot. Overly, I thought. I couldn’t keep my hands from sliding around on my mat and I couldn’t seem to get my yoga towel to work to help with that. I was ungraceful. I felt emotional, weak, fragile at times. I felt alone, often. I thought I was having a harder time doing the movements and poses in the class than the other students. I thought other people were noticing. I thought I was more sweaty. Messy.
But my struggle worked in my favour.
The powerful, compassionate presence and words of this particular teacher on this particular day fed me during my struggle. Ravaged, I ate up her words and they went into my head, into my spirit and into my body.
As I struggled, the teacher told the class we were worthy of gathering and containing our energy, in our core, of letting it go, only when it was time for us to do that. And I thought, “I am worthy.” And I cried. I never cry in yoga even though I know it has the potential to release emotions long held in our body tissues.
Lovingly and powerfully, the teacher instructed us to draw on our 2016 word, when our minds doubted our physical abilities during the yoga class. Because I was struggling so much, I had lots of opportunity to draw on my 2016 word.
After the main part of the class was finished, the teacher told us to thank our mind for doing its job when it’s unfocused and scattered around in many directions.
And she told us to know that we have the power to give our mind another job.
My word, in the yoga class, and the word I’ve decided is my “2016 word,” is “Peace”. That word, for me, is not a philosophical ideal nor a mental construct, although that is a part of what it means. The peace I am seeking is deep, internal, physiological peace, within my self and my body. That is my focus for 2016 because of the disruption I feel when I experience flashbacks. When flashbacks have me activated at every level, physiologically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, I am in the past and I am rudderless in the present.
And I very much want to be in the present with a rudder.
During the yoga class, I had the embodied experience of my 2016 word, Peace. “Peace” helped to steel my body, calm my anxieties and give some focus to my mind. When I was broken apart in class, Peace stayed with me and helped put me back together.
And this is my intention for myself for 2016: Peace.
*For more on becoming embodied, especially if you have a trauma history, take a look at the many resources on Deirdre Fay’s website “Safely Embodied” (www.safelyembodied.com).