Wrapping up 2015 and setting intentions for 2016

Setting her Intention by Jessica Kantrowitz

My attempt to draw the Anjali Mudra. She is naked for aesthetic and symbolic reasons, and not at all because I don’t know how to draw clothes.

I’ve written about how Savasana, the meditation at the end of a class is one of my favorite things about yoga. Another of my favorite things is setting an intention. At the beginning of the class you place your hands, palms together, in front of your heart and decide what your intention is going to be for the class. You decide it yourself — the instructor never tells you what it should be. It can be anything you want: to be present, to strengthen your body, to connect with God, to let go of anxiety, or anything else you feel you need.

Your hands in front of your heart — Anjali Mudra — seal your intention. I’ve been doing it in other areas of my life, too, like before bed, sealing my intention to rest and not worry about the next day. Or on the way to work, sealing my intention to be focused and engaged. I’ve been doing it on a broader basis, as well, for years and even decades. It’s different from a to-do list or a list of New Year’s resolutions because it holds itself: You don’t have to do anything more once your intention is sealed in your heart. It’s not something you strive to accomplish. It’s more like turning in a particular direction so that your natural movement takes you where you’ve decided to go.

For me, for the last two years, this has had a lot to do with writing. The rest of this post is a summary of the last two years, my intentions and what has come of them. If you only have a few minutes, though, and want to skip to the action point of this post, here it is: What is your intention for the coming year? Is it different from last year? Take a few moments to sit with your eyes closed, hands together in front of your heart, to breathe deeply, and to consider what direction you want to turn for 2016. Set your intention, and then let go, trusting that you have placed it in your heart.

In May of 2014 I turned 40 and I set my intention to write. In a post entitled Forty: A preface I wrote:

I have some ideas, some thoughts I’d like to share, some stories I’d like to tell. I have some inklings and some convictions, some anecdotes and some parables, some bluntly factual reports and some metaphorical fictions.

They’re in me. I feel them brewing.

Ever since I was five or six I’ve wanted to be a writer. I still have stories from those days, mostly about cats and unicorns, with an overabundance of commas and adverbs. I’ve kept up my writing in various ways over the last thirty five years, through journaling, writing poems and short stories, several brief attempts to formulate novels and, most recently, blogging. I sent stories to literary journals in my late twenties, had a writing partner for a while in my early thirties. Yet I remember thinking, as early as college, that as much as I wanted to write, I didn’t have my stories yet — my life experience to draw on. I kept writing anyway. But I had this strong feeling that it wasn’t until I was forty that I was going to be able to write anything real. That feeling has stayed with me.

Three weeks ago I turned forty. And I feel it. It’s time.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

There are other people in my stories. Some haven’t behaved that well, and their bad behavior is part of my story. But, still, this doesn’t feel quite right to me. *I* haven’t behaved well in other people’s stories. And other people have blogs (and theoretical book deals) too. So I’ve been worried, not wanting to be unjust or to write to validate myself at another’s expense.

But then Glennon Melton posted this the other day:

When internet writers ask me for advice- one of the first things I tell them is: ”If you can avoid defending yourself for being human, you might have enough energy to keep writing. Don’t defend yourself, and don’t get your needs confused. You don’t need to be right- you just need to write.

So, I am going to write, knowing that I may not be right about everything, but knowing, too, that I have to write. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer,” said Maya Angelou. “It sings because it has a song.”

I have a chronicle, a myth, a fable; I have a memoir and an apologue. I have a saga, a romance, a spiel; I have a scoop and a cliffhanger. I have a song.

After that post I started blogging more frequently and writing longer posts, more like essays than the brief observations I’d been posting before. And that year I wrote, among other things, a post entitled Things I’ve been wrong about for most of my life, part one. It was the processing of a difficult time in my life, and of a difficult relationship, and I needed Anne, Glennon, and Maya to help me know how to write it. To tell my stories. Not to be right, but to write. Not because I had an answer, but because I had a song.

On New Year’s Eve of 2014, I set my intentions for 2015:

My new year’s resolution this year is to mostly keep doing what I’ve been doing, because I think I’m on the right track. I will not be dieting because diets make you fatter, and I will not be hitting the gym — though I would love to, actually — because I have a bunch of little chronic injuries at the moment. The one big thing I want to do next I’ve already signed up for: A writer’s workshop through The Frederick Buechner Center at Princeton Seminary. I am really excited about it. It’s the first time I’ve spent money on my writing, the first time I’ve been to a conference in seven years, and the first time I’ve been to a seminary in nine years. Don’t tell Gordon-Conwell that I’m cheating on them with Princeton.

But the things that I want to focus on next year are the same things that I’ve been focusing on this year. Nothing new or particularly ambitious. But they work for me.

1) Be the best nanny and editor I can — focus on being present and paying attention.
2) Write weekly (I can’t swing daily right now, but I’m getting good at weekly).
3) Do yoga and bike when I can.
4) Keep seeing friends and family in person as well as connecting online.
5) Eat mostly healthy food and resist equally the temptations to eat too much and too little.
6) Look for ways to connect with God, and don’t be discouraged when I can’t find Him in the same places I used to.

To briefly touch on nos 1 and 3-6, I did those things mostly well, but not always. Being a good nanny got harder when I moved from a family with one little girl to one with three children under five. I felt like a good nanny a lot less. But I think I still mostly did my best, so that counts. I did yoga and biked when I could, but a knee injury slowed me down, and when my wheel broke at the end of the summer I made the difficult decision to pay down my debt and wait till the spring to get my bike fixed. I saw lots of friends in person, and stayed connected with many others online. I ate too many pastries when the winter got tough in February and March, but I started eating mostly healthy again in the spring. And I did keep turning my focus toward God, setting God as my intention and focus again and again throughout the year, even though that looked different in 2015 than it did in, say, 2006 when I was doing daily Bible readings and intercession-style praying. Prayer in 2015 looked more like a deep breath and lifting up a person, a thought, a worry, a hope, a fear, a praise, or simply gratitude to God.

Back to writing. Thirteen days after I’d set my New Year’s intentions, my friend Glennon shared Things I’ve been wrong about for most of my life, part one on her Momastery Facebook page, and 30,000 people read it. Thirty thousand people read about a time in my life when I’d felt isolated and alone in my confusion and struggle, and hundreds of them said, “Me, too.” Thirty thousand people read something I’d written, which is kind of more than I’d ever dreamed, except that in my dreams they were holding my book in their hands. My 12 year old self was impressed but confused when I told her about it. We hadn’t published a book, so were we a writer or not? The internet is a weird and wonderful place, I told her. You’ll get used to it; but not really.

For three weeks in a row there were blizzards Sunday into Monday.

For three weeks in a row there were blizzards Sunday into Monday.

At the end of January, 2015, it started snowing, and pretty much kept snowing all the way through February. For a couple of months most of my blog posts were about the weather and living through it in Boston:

The darkest night of the year

Florida: A true story

Boston in January

Self-talk

Of monster and men

Consider the birds of the air

Dear February

Before we move on from that topic, I would just like to add that there was so much snow in Boston last winter that it didn’t completely melt until July 14th. Here is the NPR article for proof.

On April 1st I moved on from the weather to write about something that had been weighing on my heart for a long time. Someone who disagreed with my essay asked me why I felt I had to write it, and I said: It wanted to be written, and I couldn’t write anything else until I did. Bake for them two went viral on a scale I never expected, and I have spent a lot of the rest of the year trying to figure out what that means for my writing career. Was this my big break or just a freak vicissitude of the internet? Where did I go from there? Was this a subject about which I had more to say? I processed with my writer friends, two of whom rolled up their sleeves and helped me wade through the 1500+ comments (thank you, Judi and Heather!!). I went to the writer’s workshop and was able to pose some of my questions to Rachel Held Evans, as well as other wonderful writers and editors.

by Denna Jones

by Denna Jones

Some of my questions had answers, and some of them still don’t. But one thing going viral taught me is that I don’t have much control over what happens next. All I can do is to keep writing whatever is on my heart. I’ve had posts I’m proud of only reach 100 people, and others gain traction and reach 500, 1000, or 15,000 (the latter was my June post about Sam and Anne Lamott). But I don’t get to decide which ones catch on. All I can do is keep writing what is in me, and keep being curious about where and for whom my writing might be relevant. Going viral didn’t lead to a book deal, but it did help to get noticed by editors at Think Christian and The Good Men Project, who published my Bake for them two piece and my Sam and Anne Lamott piece, respectively. (The Good Men Project also gave my piece the gorgeous artwork above.) And that, in turn, helped me to write a respectable author’s bio.

The answer to, “Do I have anything more to say on this subject?” turned out to be, yes, but really only three things. In my follow-up posts to Bake for them two I wrote about why we need to stop saying “love the sinner, hate the sin, about how my dad’s choice influenced my own, and, in answer to those who asked me why I as a Christian supported gay marriage and full inclusion of LGBT people into the body of Christ, my testimony.

In September and October, continuing to follow my intention, I took part in a six week writing contest for Mythgard Institute. This was pure fun — I got to write micro-fiction and even a poem, inspired by Tolkien-related prompts and specific word limits and guidelines. They are going to do it again next year if anyone would like to take part. I was completely surprised and honored to win the literary prize (judges’ choice) for my “minute mystery” and the popular prize (readers’ choice) for my poem. They will be a part of an ebook, available soon from Oloris Publishing. (My twelve year old self was much more impressed that we won an award for writing a story than she was by going viral for an essay. She still doesn’t get what an ebook is, but, honestly, I don’t either. A book with no pages? Maybe in another 29 years we will start to get the hang of things.)

I swung and missed a few times, too: I entered a poetry contest and another micro-fiction contest that I lost, and sent three or four article proposals to magazines that were turned down. But rejection letters are badges of honor, and proof that you are writing and moving forward. I also received the discouraging news that it was next to impossible to get a book of essays published unless you already had a successful book, or, “Unless you are Anne Lamott” as one editor told me. But that is good information, as well.

I have some ideas for where I’d like to go in 2016. But, since the best laid plans of mice and men “gang aft agley” and since “We live the given life, and not the planned” I am not focusing so much on specific goals or resolutions. Instead, I am setting the same intention I did back in May of 2014: To write. My friends Heather and Glennon shared with me this great TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she wrestles with similar struggles, and comes to the same conclusion: Write. I probably won’t go viral again in 2016. I may not get a book deal, or publish another article, or win another contest. But I know what I will be doing, week after week: Paying attention to the world around me and then sitting in front of my computer trying to organize my thoughts and write them down.

Other intentions for 2016:

1) Be the best nanny and editor I can — focus on being present and paying attention.
2) Look for ways to actively work for racial justice.
3) Do yoga, bike and walk when I can.
4) Keep seeing friends and family in person as well as connecting online.
5) Eat mostly healthy food and resist equally the temptations to eat too much and too little.
6) Look for ways to connect with God, and don’t be discouraged when I can’t find Him in the same places I used to.
7) Keep breathing deeply, forgiving myself and others, and letting go of pain from the past.
8) Read books!
9) Go outside!
10) Take care of myself, even if that means saying no to things I really want to do, or that others really want me to do.

What about you? What are your intentions for 2016? Let me know in the comments. And thank you so much to all of you who have visited Ten Thousand Places this year, who have shared my posts, and especially to those who have left such thoughtful comments, even those that disagreed with me. Will, Brian, Meredith, Hope, Suzy, Juanita, Rachel, Soundtek, Somewhat Anonymous, Judith, David, Dawn, Mary, Linda, Elaine, SueAnn, Cindy, Liza, Michelle, Frodo, Beth, Debbie, Steve, Scarlett, Alethea, Julianne, Donna, Mike, Rachael, Monique, Olivia, amgregory, patiencewithquestions, joyfulmelody, Robyn, taracope, and everyone else who took the time to share, your words meant so much to me. I hope to see you back here next year.

Love,
Jessica

 

 

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8 comments on “Wrapping up 2015 and setting intentions for 2016

  1. Therese says:

    I have been very worried about my husband’s cancer coming back – and ultimately his death. While this is not imminent, I live with the fear of being alone someday. I have lost four of my six siblings at too young of an age, and so I worry about another loss. I don’t want to live in fear – so my intention for this coming year is to somehow learn how to feel okay with the future. Any suggestions much appreciated! Wishing you all the best with your list.

    Like

    • Therese, I’m so sorry about the loss of your siblings. I can relate to your fear: I worry about my parents a lot, and wonder how I would be able to live after they’ve died. When my depression was bad it became an almost constant fear — I would have thoughts all the time about car accidents, or my dad choking, or my mom drowning, and even though I knew they weren’t real I would feel the grief as if they were. It was a long process for me but I’m doing a lot better now. It has helped me to focus on the moment, to be present and remind myself that they are still with me, even to reach out and touch them if I am with them. Yoga has helped quite a bit, too, with its emphasis on accepting things as they are. There is also a prayer called The Welcoming Prayer by Thomas Merton that has a similar focus. And I used a lot of the concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help talk myself through anxious thoughts.

      Like

  2. Jules says:

    Happy New Year, Jessica. Love your blog and how it has helped my faith.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. chris says:

    Happy New Year. Thanks for your blog. It makes me consider the possibilities in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jessica, Happy New Year. Thank you for writing. I am constantly inspired by your content and how you can so beautifully convey your message. I am so happy that we met this year.
    My intention for 2016 is to “Be Stil.” Sound familiar?
    Love, Mary

    Liked by 1 person

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