The trend these days is to choose a “word for the year”.
Although I have nothing against the idea of creating an intention and living into it, I am focused on creating more flexibility rather than rigidity and being willing to jump from word to word depending on the circumstances I am facing. In other words, I am taking it a day at a time!
Nonetheless, as we enter this new year, there’s a word that has presented itself to me with such determination that I am declaring it my word of the year.
My son called me last week to announce that he had asked his wonderful girlfriend to marry him. Over FaceTime, I heard them jubilantly declare “We’re engaged”. Such a special moment for them, and of course, for me.
As I read the dictionary definitions of “engage”, I became fascinated with its synonyms, which include: absorb, undertake, engross, occupy, captivate, attract… all words I am drawn to..
The definition of engage I love most is “to establish meaningful contact or connection with”..
In addition to the wonderfully uplifting news about my son’s engagement, the week also had many challenging moments with my aging parents, my son recovering from a bad accident, wildfires, storms and upended holiday plans due to Covid outbreaks. The co-existence of joy and heartbreak is the most basic truth about life.
We just can’t have one without the other. Staying engaged with them both is essential to authentic living. The word “engage” is a reminder to be fully expressed and connected to one’s experiences in life, whether difficult or amazing.
The deaths of two brilliant and important people this week offered additional insight into my exploration of the word engage.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Joan Didion, both completely unique beings yet, with something in common. Each in his or her own way, is a master in “being engaged”.
When you think about extraordinary people, isn’t it true that you are inspired by how engaged they are with their art, their craft, their business, their life, not by any outcome or success they have achieved?
I know for me it is how they are connected, absorbed, captivated and engrossed in their work or whatever it is that calls them forth that ignites in me the inspiration to do more, be more, create more.
When I read The Art of Happiness, I was blown away by the conversations the Archbishop Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama shared; mesmerized by how committed, how engaged they were, in studying how to live a life and meaning and sharing that wisdom every moment of every day of their lives. The ingredients for living a “happy life” they prescribe are simple and few:
‘the three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”
Joan Didion’s book A Year of Magical Thinking has helped many of us live through the times we thought we couldn’t survive. It is the most poignant, honest, relatable book on grief I’ve ever read. But what makes the book so extraordinary is how completely engaged the author is in her own experience and in the writing about it. It is as if you are inside of her head and her heart, feeling everything alongside her. Pure engagement.
How do we become engaged with something that matters to us?
First of all, we bring our attention there.
Meditating is one of the most effective ways to learn about attention. When we sit and focus on our breath, we learn to let our thoughts pass by, continuing to bring our attention back to our breath as often as is needed. We learn that where our attention goes, our energy flows.
Attention, much like engagement, is the embodiment of being present.
In the words of meditation master Tara Brach, “attention is the most basic form of love. By paying attention, we let ourselves be touched by life, and our hearts naturally become more open and engaged.”
What do you want to give your attention to?
With what or whom do you want to be engaged?
What attracts you? Captivates you?
All important questions, but remember that the power of attention is that it matters less what you engage with than that you are attentive and engaged. Take a breath. Slow down. Witness life happening around you.
Pay attention to what’s right in front of you. Your family, your environment, your friends, your work, all are deserving of your attention, your presence, your engagement.
We need to commit to being engaged with whatever it is that matters to us, to stay vital, interested and connected. And what should matter to us is what is right in front of us.
Become engaged; with someone you love, a passion, on a walk, reading a book, cooking a meal, with whatever you are doing in the present. When you give yourself fully to the moment, the moment becomes meaningful. Presence strengthens all experiences.
In the words of Yo-Yo Ma, “when your heart and mind are engaged, you cannot go wrong.” I completely agree.
With love and light, Nora