guiding word- wholeheartedness

wholehearted: how one word can shape your life


Like so many others aspiring to step into 2016 with intention, I chose a word for this year to guide my actions.

Using a similar brainstorming and honing in exercise as my friend Stephenie does here, every year I choose just one word to come back to in times of need throughout the next 365 days.

While there's some question of whether the world needs yet another post on a "word for the year," my own word is one that I hope to step into with grace this year, and to continue to expand on well into 2017 and beyond. You could say it's the word that all of us ultimately aspire to work with and embody, even if we call it something else.

I've been doing this exercise for the past few years, leaning into a certain word that calls me--something I want to explore, grow into, aspire to. The exercise all started in 2012, when my word of the year was "reclaim." I felt so disconnected from my own experience that I wanted to really feel embodied and empowered, strong both physically and mentally. That year I started making choices, for what almost felt like the first time, to really take care of myself and listen to my wants and needs.

My Word for 2015

For 2015, my word was "stretch".

And did 2015 ever stretch me. Never to the breaking point, but definitely with ever outward expansion. I stretched my limits, my comfort zone, my heart, my muscles, my geographical radius...

2015 was both wonderful and awful. I took more risks more often and the payoffs were equally great. The highs were higher than ever, but the lows felt so unbelievably low.

The more you expand your capacity for huge joy and agency and lightness of being, the more you experience suffering and difficulty and darkness in turn.

Changing goals, hard conversations, moving across the country (twice), wrong jobs, and deep connections with beautiful souls stretched me so far this year. While I was stretched thin, I got a good glimpse of where some of my boundaries might lie.

What's interesting about choosing a guiding word is that it not only acts as a touch stone upon which you can make decisions throughout the year ("Am I aligned with my values?"), but also when you forget about your word for a while and suddenly remember, it seems like your life is still progressing in that direction on your behalf.

Sometimes your guiding word is a touchstone to help you make decisions throughout the year. Am I acting in accord with the intentions I've chosen for myself?

And sometimes you forget about your word entirely, for weeks. And when you suddenly remember the word and realize your guiding word has been subconsciously guiding you.

Sometimes I intentionally stretched myself and my limits this year. Sometimes life stretched me.

My Word for 2016

What do you choose as a guiding principle after your actions and your experiences have expanded you wide open, stretched the fabric of your life until it is bare and see through?

I've expanded for a reason this year, after many other years of contraction. It now feels as though I should make use of the opened space and fill it with something meaningful.

With that desire for wholeness in mind, my word for 2016 is "wholehearted."

I've been dancing around this word for a couple months, questioning its surface and its deepest meanings. I toyed with the idea of others words, but kept returning to this one. My attraction to this word centers entirely Rising Strong, which I devoured in two days and highlighted nearly every single page to the point of highlights being completely useless. I'm now working my way through Daring Greatly, which is equally worth devouring and also expounds upon wholeheartedness.

In both books, Brene Brown introduces wholehearted living as a concept from her previous book The Gifts of Imperfection, defined as:

"a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness."

The Guideposts of Wholehearted Living

Brene Brown's guideposts for wholehearted living consist of cultivating authenticity; self-compassion; a resilient spirit; gratitude and joy; intuition and trusting faith; creativity; play and rest; calm and stillness; meaningful work; and laughter, song and dance.

Along with cultivation, wholehearted pursuit is letting go of what people think; perfectionism; numbing and powerlessness; scarcity and fear of the dark; the need for certainty; comparison; exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth; anxiety as a lifestyle; self doubt and "supposed to"; and being cool and "always in control."

Jen Carrington, a creative coach whose work I admire like crazy, also happened to choose "wholehearted" as her guiding word for 2016. In her post, she expands on each of the ten guideposts for "wholehearted living" with the intention of bringing each into her daily pursuits.

I'm taking the first part of the year to feel into what wholehearted means.

As it turns out, I've already come to my own conclusions about wholeheartedness that align with Brene's tenants amd Jen's musings.

What is Wholeheartedness?

Wholeheartedness is something you can feel. Even without the list of what to cultivate and what to let go of, I've already had some inclinations toward what wholeheartedness is, in my own life, in my own body.

Outside of definition and research, based solely on my personal experience (though backed up by both), what does it means to live with your whole heart?

So far, here is what I know: wholeheartedness is engagement.

It's acknowledging my fears and setting them aside to do the work that my heart says yes to. It's vulnerability, laying myself bare and speaking my truth when all I want is keep my lips--and my heart--closed.

Greater risk, greater reward.

Closer listening, better knowing.

Wholeheartedness is a day-by-day feeling into a soft strength within.

It is the practice of trying to reach out with love more often than shrinking back in fear.

Alignment with Your Truth

By virtue of being human, we've all felt it at some point.

Wholeheartedness is that expansiveness of acting in exact alignment with your truth. My pursuit of wholehearted living is the desire to feel that expansiveness as much as possible.

When I say "alignment with your truth," I don't just mean not telling lies. I mean capital "T" Truth, the chord of your self that sings when you play it just right.

Alignment with your truth sounds lovely, but in practice it is the hardest work that every one of us does in our lifetime.

A constant practice. A constant checking in. A path finding for you alone.

Being truthful with yourself--really truthful--can feel like you're being dragged through the mud face down (and that you got yourself there).

It can feel like you're lost in the dark with no orientation or compass or help to be found. The more you speak and act what feels true to you, the more you diverge from what you might previously have believed or been told to be true. There's a lot of self guiding, a lot of dead ends and swearing, and self doubt and backtracking.

Despite the muddy slog with no foreseeable end or direction, you can still feel that you are doing "the right thing." That's what alignment is and why you keep striving as you do.

You feel a rightness in your body and your soul that you attempt to follow and make a path from, but there's a certain unrooting and disorientation that takes place too.

In its most positive light, wholeheartedness is living the best possible version of myself, as much as possible. In its most negative, it's placing myself in as many positions as possible that scare me shitless when all I want to do hide in bed and eat cookies all day instead.

I do not think it is a mistake that I'm starting 2016 off with a hacking cough and a fever. I get to start the year with the question, "What does wholeheartedness look like when I'm feeling horrible?" Because if there's anything that stretching taught me in 2015, it's that opening to more good in the world also opens you to more that feels bad (and that the opening up is still worth it anyway).

If there's ever a time to practice wholeheartedness, it's when we are feeling our worst.

Engagement with Intention

Here is what wholehearted is not: unbridled galloping into life, heedless of the needs of myself and others.

Engagement is not always pushing forward. Sometimes it is a quiet listening, an invitation, a knowing of a need for stillness and reflection rather than action.

Wholehearted living is being wholly intentional with my time and my resources.

Wholeheartedness is asking myself the question, "Am I doing my best today?" and being honest with the answer.

Acknowledging that "doing the best I can" is sometimes very little. Some days I will feel low and not at all open to the world and its possibilities and its people. On those days, wholeheartedness will mean tuning into my need for comfort, for rest, for withdrawal and self-compassion.

On other days, there will be the quiet checking in with myself and the answer that says, "Do more. Be bigger." Not because of the need to impress or modify myself, but because I can revel in the splendor of my own strength and capabilities.

I want that for you, too.

I want you to be able to say, "No, thank you" this year when it best serves you to be inward and restful.

I want you to say, "Hell yes" when you know you can and should be firing on all cylinders, igniting with world with your creativity and gifts.

The Invitation

Regardless of your theme for 2016, my invitation to you is to keep the concept of wholeheartedness in mind this year, to call back to it.

Where can you show up more fully?

Where can you give yourself compassion and permission to withdraw?

These are both daily, even minute-by-minute, questions.

Go with your whole heart into this year, rejoicing with all that you are and that you already have.

Because you engage with all of your heart, you will wrestle with and surrender to the darkest, most tenuous parts of your soul. But you will also unleash the brightest light of your being and your beauty.

Know that this is the hardest pursuit, but that it is the ultimate pursuit.


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