Spiritual Exercise – Possibility

Spiritual Exercise - Possibility

Catholics talk of a time in the third and fourth centuries when people would go to the desert and seek out monk-like hermits for guidance and wisdom. This tradition is referred to as “seeking a word.” These wise “desert mothers and fathers” would offer people a word or a phrase to ponder for weeks, years and even a lifetime.

The idea behind this practice was that a simple word – when reflected upon with discipline – has the power to create possibilities in us and in the world. These words weren’t instructions as much as invitations to open oneself in new ways. As one writer puts it, they are about deepening and unfolding, rather than fixing and improving.

So this New Year’s lets lean into that work of unfolding, rather than fixing. Forget about making a list of resolutions to improve yourself. Instead try out this ancient practice of picking a word that will help keep you open to new possibilities throughout the year.

There are tons of words to choose from. Online you can find many examples of potent words that people have selected: embrace, listen, home, wholeheartedness, patience, presence, blossom, soar, overcome, treasure, nourish, expect, release, finish, delight, follow, lead. It’s not hard to imagine how holding any one of these in front of you on a daily basis can open possibilities and expand the way you walk in the world.

But how do you find yours? Well, it’s more of a matter of it finding you. For many, it will be easy. It may simply come up immediately. If not, take some time to make a list and then read it over until one pops out to you in neon lights. It often helps to ask yourself questions like: What do I need? What do I want? What do I need to focus on? What is in the way?

You will also want to find a way to hold on to your word. Some people put their word on their computer’s screen saver or cellphone’s home screen. Others have drawn their word on rock or made/bought jewelry with the word on it. Creative folks and families have done vision boards or paintings that hung on a wall in their house all year. Some small groups have written their word on a piece of paper and then given it to the group facilitator who kept them in envelopes for a few months and then returned them to the group members as reminders. Whatever your method of choice, this holding on part is key to making the exercise work.

So come to your group ready to share not only the word you chose (or that chose you) and why, but also the method you’ve selected to hold on to it. And maybe even give some thought to how you as a group can help each other hold on to it.

Enjoy the possibilities that this alternative new year’s practice unfolds for you!

A story from the Chicago Tribune to inspire you.

A podcast on choosing a word from The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin.



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