The Essence of My Year - Spoiler: It All Works Out in the End
It would be a lot easier if you picked the excerpts you like as you write the posts so when it comes time to write the year-end post in December, all your links and quotes are already there.
I remember so clearly giving myself little “life hacks” this year that mostly went ignored, which is why, as I sit down to reflect on the best (read; only) “of the month” club I’ve ever joined, I am laughing at my own willful procrastination. Without any further ado, allow me to introduce this idea for the last time in 2019.
My dear friend Laura Lavigne is the founder of the Center for Happiness in Anacortes, Washington. I was extremely blessed to spend six weeks near the end of 2018 living with her in Anacortes and helping out in small ways at the Center. One of the first things Laura taught me was about Essence. You can learn more about Essence here.
While living in Washington, I often found myself and my friends declaring an Essence for the day like “playfulness” or “connection” or “adventure.” The idea of beginning a morning with an intention not of what I wanted to accomplish, but of the things I wanted to feel was new and exciting.
A mutual friend of Laura and I was chatting with us about Essences when he mentioned wanting to focus on an Essence each month of 2019. Enchanted with the idea, I asked Laura to share with me a list of Essences. These are my reflections.
You can click here to read all the Essence Posts from this year or just read my highlights below (each month's declaration and reflection is individually linked below as well).
Essence of January: Discernment
Google gives me two definitions for the word, the first being the ability to judge well. The second definition says, “(in Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding.”
Lord knows I could use some understanding. I was talking to my childhood best friend around the New Year, telling her that I had never gone into a year with more uncertainty. I am choosing to see this as a blessing.
With February nearly upon us, I was feeling dejected. Maybe I hadn’t done it right. Maybe I should pick a new experiment for 2019 since I obviously wasn’t living into my Essences. It was the end of the month and I still felt a little lost – okay, a lot – lost.
I feel a little lost because I have no idea where I want to be or what I want to do. To feel uncertain in every aspect of my life is new and disorienting. I spent a lot of time in January thinking about what I wanted to do, being torn between cities and people I love, and wondering what the heck the “right move” is.
In February, I’m laying that burden down. In February, I am going to trust the process. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and that is exciting. All I can do is take things one day at a time and trust that I am where I need to be.
This doesn’t mean giving up or bowing out. This means giving myself permission to find peace. All things in time.
“One day at a time,” I would tell people when they asked what I was doing next. It was supposed to sound reassuring – but for who, I’m not sure. I chose “discernment” as my Essence for January, convinced that with enough bathtub meditation and dark chocolate, I could figure out exactly where I was supposed to be.
Imagine my disappointment when February 1st rolled around and I still felt part tumbleweed part hummingbird, a mixture of casual chaos, as equally intrigued by floating through the wind as I was by frantically controlling it.
This month, I allowed myself to settle in. I took a regular temp job working normal business hours and fell into the stability that allows. I knew my hours and a few coworkers and was quite content to spend my evenings and weekends on various unfinished projects. I danced around the “what comes next” question with carefully chosen words and a confident smile. After all, I was trusting.
Then, one morning, I was sitting in my cubicle, working on mindless data entry when a feeling of peace rushed over me. There were no profound answers. No clear voice pointing me in a specific direction. Just peace. Just a small simple sighing of my heart, reminding me that trusting in the process is the only thing I can do.
And the wind stopped blowing. And I stopped fighting the things I couldn’t control. And it felt – even if just for a moment – right.
Essence of March: Expansiveness
My initial draw to this word was – admittedly – to make a joke about how after 2 ½ years in my normal-sized bedroom in my apartment, I was switching rooms with my cousin, taking the tiny room we affectionately dubbed “The Closet.” The Closet is prime simple living. Big enough to fit a twin bed and small nightstand, The Closet is a great teacher for a Minimalist in training and I was quite content to cozy up in my new home.
To take on such a word as expansiveness, especially as I found myself physically downsizing this month felt fun in a child-like way. But perhaps it’s deeper than that.
Perhaps my desire to be unrestrained, free, and open is a gift I owe to my heart. Perhaps being open to growth in all its forms is the best thing one can do, standing on the threshold of a new season and new possibility.
That is what I promised myself in March. I told myself I would be open to whatever it was the Universe threw my way – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
To lean into expansiveness meant to trust in ways I didn’t know I could. It meant to give fair chance to everything that came my way, soaking up the good and politely side-stepping the bad.
April will be a month of vision. It’s exciting to have a big idea for the future. It’s even more important to act on the idea. My intention is to focus on my vision and hold that attention through the daily tasks of making it a reality.
I can’t wait to create what happens next.
April brings a lot of things for me. A lot of birthdays and a lot of firsts. First time running outside in a t-shirt for the year, first time not wearing a winter jacket to work. Most, okay, all, of these firsts are weather related. But this year, April felt like spring cleaning for more than just my closet. April was spring cleaning for my mind. It was time to get out of my head and do something about it.
In April, I chose to create. My first quarter of the year was focused a lot on thinking, with Essences like Discernment, Trust, and Expansiveness. Entering April, I was ready to put that into a tangible plan, to create the future I wanted.
The other week, I managed my time poorly and found myself up late on a weekend night, finishing a couple projects and wondering how I had gotten there. This naturally lead to frustration with myself and the spiral began. Freedom of choice still requires discipline of action.
This month, I am focused on embracing this freedom. I am reminding myself that I have the ultimate choice over every decision I make. I am reminding myself that if I don’t like the situation I am in, I can walk away. I am focused on appreciating my autonomy and learning how to live with myself in a productive, thoughtful, and genuine way.
Every month when I pick my Essence, I write it in block letters on the top of my tiny calendar. The calendar hangs next to my door so it’s one of the last things I see before I leave my room each morning. Therefore, every morning of May began with a hastily written “FREEDOM” underlined three times as a reminder that I had a choice.
I also have a better understanding of how closely freedom is tied to self-discipline. If I want to accomplish the goals I have created for myself and for The Smile Project, they are my responsibility. I cannot blame anyone else if I don’t have my business in order. That is on me.
I am learning more and more each day how these Essences dance with one another. And I am learning to dance with myself.
The most beautiful thing in the world is the opportunity to feel genuine connectivity to the people around you. To be in sync with those you live with and to feel as though you are understood. To be met where you are and as you are is one of life’s greatest blessings.
When I picked “Connection” as the Essence of the Month, I wasn’t thinking about connecting with myself. I spent a lot of time this month reflecting on not just where I want to be or what I want to do, but who I want to be.
Today, I am grateful for feeling grounded.
I’m jumping into a summer routine that I’ve never had before. I was nervous and excited and jittery. I could either let those emotions control me, or I could find creative ways to manage myself.
In July, I hope to find creative ideas and solutions not just for camp, but for my own personal well-being. If I can live each day with eyes for possibility, then I will have lived into my Essence.
I could have very easily let my internal world flip upside down as much as my external world was. I had a choice. And I chose creativity. I found ways to stay connected to the people and things that ground me.
So much of this year has been about self-reflection – thinking about the decisions I’ve made that have led me to where I am and thinking about who I want to be going forward. This month I learned how creativity dances with that.
We won’t always be gifted the perfect circumstances for our careers or our relationships or our lives. And that’s okay. There is always another angle to approach problems from and there are infinite ways to find joy in our work.
I used to be really afraid of that – the idea of “not knowing.” I always wanted to have everything lined up and figured out.
Then I moved to New York City. Shrug. That city has a way of helping you live.
I’m choosing Adventure for August because I truly have no idea what is going to happen on August 11th and I can’t wait. I don’t need to have it all planned out. I don’t want to have it all planned out. Trusting my heart this month and eager to see where it leads me.
“I’ve never cancelled a flight before,” I heard myself saying as I laid in the grass in a Los Angeles park, cancelling my flight that was boarding in six hours.
What happened next was amplified joy. My friends and I spent 11 laughter-packed days driving from Santa Ana, California up to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and back down to Los Angeles. We swam in Lake Tahoe and camped in Umpqua National Forest. We watched a beach sunset on the Oregon Coast and hiked the Hoh River Trail. We saw waterfalls and National Parks and elk. We ate camp fire meals and vegan food truck meals and tired “what do we have in the trunk” peanut butter and apple meals.
Adventure is never the wrong choice.
Essence of September: Acceptance
My summer was a beautiful mix of chaos and travel. As I settled into my friend’s home to dog sit for a couple weeks, I decided I would give myself intentional time to step back.
I wanted to be wholly and fully open to whatever the world had in store for me. I’m a firm believer that you can’t accept new gifts with your hands clutching the past. A dear friend taught me that.
The moment I read Acceptance, my heart felt at Peace. So maybe that is where this month should begin. I am open to receiving. I am listening to my heartbeat. I am ready to accept whatever is next in my journey.
I closed my eyes and thought about September. I thought about the places I had traveled to and the friends I had made. I thought about weddings and losses and good news and bad. I thought about trying to squeeze all of that into a comprehensible post while still trying to sit with the messiness.
And I decided not to.
That’s when I won.
There are so many things that I haven’t fully accepted or found peace with yet. But today, I am finding peace with that. I am accepting that not every month will go as planned. Not every day will I live into my Essences.
I suppose I’m only human.
And things are going to be chaotic. And life is going to feel relentless at times. And there are going to be a lot of days when I don’t agree with the decisions I make or the situations I put myself in. I am going to screw up. I am going to fall short. I am going to cry (probably a lot and mostly because of who I am as a person).
And that’s okay. Acceptance is the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered.
So I say bring it on. You haven’t bested me yet.
To the anger, the heartache, the indecision, and the mess: I see you. I feel you. I appreciate you. Let’s sit together for a little. And then let’s get up. And try again.
This month I am setting an intention. I want to give The Smile Project time. I want to give it focus. I want to be intentional with my energy and my actions.
Truth is? It’s actually pretty scary. And when I sat down to write about an October Essence, I definitely didn’t see myself going this direction. But I have always stood by openness and transparency with The Smile Project and that hasn’t failed me yet.
In preparation to write this post, I looked up the definition of Intention one more time:
Intention: a thing intended, an aim or a plan.
Maybe I hadn’t been too far off.
Then my eyes jumped slightly down the page as I read the second definition
Intention: (MEDICINE) the healing process of a wound.
I thought back to that restless night earlier in the month. Maybe I was healing all along and perhaps just by a different name.
Maybe that’s what healing looks like most of the time, an unintentional daily practice of becoming stronger and being blissfully unaware. Maybe healing was an intention I never could have set or wished for but one that found me nonetheless. Maybe healing isn’t linear or perfect or something that can be crossed off a to-do list. Maybe, just maybe, this is a life-long Intention that I am finally ready to make space for.
Essence of November: Worthiness & Fun
Fun like dancing to James Taylor’s music while you do the dishes. Fun like seeing who can make the farthest shot on the basketball court. Fun like spontaneous and unplanned road trips. Fun like turning grocery shopping into a scavenger hunt. Fun like seeing who can hop on one foot down the street the fastest for no good reason. Fun like blasting the music you listened to in middle school just to see if you remember all the words. Fun like picking a random book from the library and hoping for the best. Fun like Halloween costumes in May. Fun like socks that don’t match. Fun like making a friend on the city bus. Fun like mixing breakfast cereals. Fun like counting stars. Fun like snow angels. Fun like long hugs. Fun like a new notebook. Fun like counting your blessings. Fun like life.
This month, I want to tap into that energy. I want to create Fun moments and know that I am Worthy of them.
It shouldn’t take declaring Worthiness as an Essence to know you deserve love. Laughter. Light. Joy. Every day, no exceptions.
It shouldn’t take declaring Fun as an Essence to know it’s okay to watch a movie on a weeknight or spend the entire morning reading a new library book.
And yet sometimes, I realize, I seek permission for both. Waiting for someone to tell me it’s okay to do this, to want this, to reach for this.
Every day, I am learning to accept both of these Essences in whatever forms they take. I am a perpetual work in progress. And that is okay.
But there is a different kind of Vitality that has nothing to do with physical strength and everything to do with the power behind waking up each morning and facing the uncertainties of a new day.
There is Vitality in writing through a clouded mind and pushing out the words that are difficult to say out loud.
There is Vitality in calling someone to apologize for unkind actions or being on the receiving end and accepting with grace.
There is Vitality in being brave enough to love someone and receive that love in return.
There is a kind of Heart Vitality that I am choosing to give my energy to this month. I’m not sure what it will look like yet, but I have a feeling if I do it right, it just might change everything.
Vitality was never just about what my body could do. Vitality was getting body and mind on the same page. Flying up that last hill with the breeze at my back and the finish line in sight, I finally felt, even if for one beautiful, perfect, fleeting moment, like I was doing the exact right thing.
It has been a pretty beautiful year after all.