I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Every January 1st, I politely yet firmly invite the whole New Year’s resolution machine to suck it. 

I used to be a very ambitious, goal-driven person, with lengthy To-Do lists and action plans and a clear direction for my life. I was going to teach for 30 years and have a family, and then retire with my husband and I’m not sure what – volunteer, maybe, and probably travel, and definitely live financially secure. The road was clear and straight and well-marked.

Then I had kids and didn’t sleep for five years and spent the bulk of my time feeding and wiping tiny humans who continued to change and, by association, changed who I was. I quit teaching. I started writing and going to therapy and dealing with my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and grieving losses over my lifetime. I got divorced. The road that was once clear and straight became full of curves and hills and blind corners and cliffs that made my stomach drop. But it was my road, the one that led to healing. 

What was once neat and tidy (and boring) became messy and random (and exciting). Transforming. Transformation. I haven’t thought this through, but my gut tells me that I would not have been able to “goal set” and “achieve” my way through the healing process. I have yet to see a “Healing To Do List” on my Instagram feed.

Over the last four years, I have healed a great deal of my trauma, including debilitating PTSD symptoms. And as weird and “woo woo” as it sounds, I give a lot of credit to my last four years of Intention Words for helping to heal me from trauma. 

What is An “Intention Word”?

An Intention Word is more of a compass than a road map. A way to start without knowing the ending. The beginning of a road, without knowing if it will be curvy or straight or dark or well-marked, but knowing that it’s going in the right general direction. An Intention Word is a holder, like a bread box keeping all those sourdough loaves we baked at the beginning of the pandemic. An Intention Word is a leap of faith, an investment in hope.

As the scourge of 2020 ends and the new year approaches, I enter into a deeper reflection of my life and my spirit, personal growth and messy transformation. I start to ask questions about myself and my life and my path, including, “What is my word for the new year?”

Because there’s a word. I don’t do resolutions, but I can do one Intention Word per year. I’ve written before about finding that one word, an Intention Word to bring focus to the upcoming year, but what I didn’t know at the time was that these words would help heal me. 

Tracing the Healing Path of Intention Words

I first heard the idea of choosing an Intention Word in December 2016. I was in a group that wrote about the finding and seeking of joy. I remember choosing my first word: Nourish. I wanted to learn how to nourish myself; not physically necessarily, because there is more than one way to starve. 

Over the last four years, these have been my Intention Words:

2017 – Nourish

2018 – Open

2019 – Power

2020 – Healing

These words have each been inscribed on a rock using black or purple Sharpie, each rock placed together in a clear wide-mouthed jar that sits on a shelf where I see it every single day. They are tangible markers of my journey into healing. 

If I hadn’t chosen Nourish, I would not have seen how I was starving for affection and partnership and love and time and attention. I likely would not have taken my health seriously, as that was the year I started seeing my current doctor, who helped me figure out how to nourish my body so I don’t develop diseases for which I am genetically predisposed. 

If I hadn’t chosen Open in 2018, I would not have seen how much control I wanted over my life and how little actual control I had. How little I trusted myself. How trauma had taken over my life and essentially shut me down. How I was stuck in depression and anxiety and the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How closed I was to the idea of healing. That was the year that I learned the phrase, “All you have to do is be open,” which felt like an excuse to not act but was, in fact, a catalyst for change. 

If I hadn’t chosen Power in 2019, I would not have recognized my own powerfulness and powerlessness. I would not have allowed myself to become unstuck, to be broken down, to hit bottom. To put my faith in myself and the idea that healing was not only possible, but desirable and available and worth the associated fear.

By the time I made it to Healing for 2020, I was so ready to do the work that needed to be done. And I have done that work this past year, the year of so much upheaval and distress. I experienced groundbreaking healing and no longer have PTSD, when four years ago I believed that there was no way that I or my life could be any different, that my life could be full of joy and freedom and love and hope. 

How to Choose an Intention Word

This is a funny idea, choosing an Intention Word. I have found that the Word chooses me. 

This isn’t a goal or a To Do list or a set of plans to achieve. This is something deeper (also that’s what she said). To find your Intention Word, you’ve got to let go of your analytical, questioning, skeptical, and even cynical thinking side and open up. Let that mind let go and wander. With deep breaths, let the chest relax and the heart soften. 

Last year, I thought I had my Intention Word all figured out. I was early, even, having decided on 2020’s word in October 2019. Oh, that was a great word, all light and bubbly. 

But I was wrong. On Solstice Day (December 2019), I walked a labyrinth located in The Grotto, a beautiful and serene park and place of worship here in Portland. Walking a labyrinth sounds woo woo, but not as much as you might think. Labyrinth walking is a practice, like praying or meditating, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go while concentrating on each foot taking a step. One step at a time, around and in and over itself, the path with no clear exit that seems to suddenly resolve itself.

I had my word for 2020 already, so I started the labyrinth walk a little cocky. I moved along the brick path, one foot, one step, one following another. Sheltered by my umbrella in the pouring rain, the drops dappling the fabric over my head. My rain boots with paisley owls following the path in front of me, all curves and blind corners. 

Lulled by peace and quiet and rain and a path I did not have to create, the word for 2020 chose me. Healing. 

I tried to argue. I mean, I already had a word, I had already decided. But the Intention Word was Healing and I knew it. 

I could not know what that would mean, coming into 2020. How difficult the year would be on a variety of levels. The virus and lockdowns and deaths. Global pandemic. The election. Systemic and personal racism. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a lifetime of trauma that did not want to let me go. Missing so much of normal life, friends and family and parties and concerts and eating in restaurants. Crushing sadness. The realities of grief. Newfound peace and happiness and joy. 

Who knows what the next year will bring? I do not know the details, but I can tell you this: Words have the power to change our lives.

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