Word of 2021 - 氣

Word of 2021 - 氣


  • I spent 2020 warmed by the wonders of Hearth 🔥.
  • It's time to choose a new word for 2021! This year, Dr. Jason Fox warned of the hazards of hastiness—as tempting as it was to begin a New Year with a New Word, I found myself swinging between the hubris of "I've done this before!" and the panic of "I must choose a Word that is somehow 'better' than last year!"
  • Of course the perfectionist tendency defeats the purpose of the Word, and is one of the self-sabotages delineated by Dr. Fox himself.
  • Nonetheless, I spent January-March testing out new Words that wished to be invited into my life.
  • This second time around, the Words arrived much more quickly, since I have learned to avoid vague/grandiose gestures ("success!" "relax!") It felt like trying on clothes in a changing room, examining:
    • How does the Word make me feel?
    • What would I do differently if I was embodying this Word?
  • Here are the Words that gave a good run for their money but didn't make the cut:

Embodied but Abandoned Words for 2021

bamboo 🎍
implied prolific and multi-purpose nature
awkward to incorporate into daily language, perhaps too "sprouty" and out-of-control
chief 🪶
regal, a good sense of self-worth
vulnerable to the trappings of judging oneself by success/failure
mercury ⚕️
matched how I felt—very busy these days, lots of activity, implied focus on commerce and communication
made me feel agitated (mercurial!)
evergreen 🌲
broad-stroked, too static
bonsai 🪴
beautiful, balance of divergence and convergence
too deliberate and an attempt at manipulating nature/circumstances, finicky
root 🥕
grounding, implied direction towards nourishing qualities/habits and moving away from non-nourishing ones, implied investigation of one's ancestral roots
too entangled, too secluded and dark
  • What I learned was the power of embodiment—testing these Words out influenced my emotions and actions! There were days where I had set my mind and even began drafting this write-up, only to abandon them because in my heart, they just didn't feel quite right.
  • Upon reflection, I can see that the Chosen Word for 2021 incorporated the positive elements of the Abandoned Words, and it was indeed a helpful exercise to figure out what I was looking for.
  • So without further adieu...

🎐 氣 is my word of the year

  • In retrospect, I can see why I struggled to put my finger on this year's Word. What I sought for was an ineffable concept, and is exactly that—an energy/life force that is hard to perceive, yet shares analogous understanding across cultures (prana, mana, etc.)
  • I spent many years subconsciously rejecting this concept because it goes against what I was trained to do as a scientist—the Western scientific method had rejected aether, and other similar ideas are rebuffed along with it. Every Wikipedia article seems to make a point about these concepts as bunk.
  • Yet I feel this Word most appropriately captures how I would like to conduct my life, and I have had the opportunity to learn more about this concept, supported by unexpected personal experiences. I will share them in the usual format of Principles, Patterns, and Projects below.

💡 Principles

Note to self: I need to improve the writing in this section...I feel it doesn't actually say what I'm trying to say very clearly and some of the esoteric Buddhist stuff needs more explanation..

  • Internal-facing
    • Unentangled: In 2020 I was able to spend more time deepening the Buddhist practice and see the dangers of being too entangled with the world, grasping at the worldly winds of gain/loss and praise/blame in particular. (In one of the Q&As between Ajahn Cunda and Tan Nisabho, two monks at Pacific Hermitage that I greatly respect, they mentioned how praise/blame is such a magnetic force that it's somewhat repeated in fame/disgrace pairing as well.)
      • I'm not saying that I'm somehow invulnerable to the worldly winds! Moreso that I seek to further disentangle myself from them because I feel so much more peace in the brief moments when I can let go of them.
      • The Word 氣 possesses that airy, flowing quality—of not being stuck or grasping at desired outcomes.
    • Collected: I learned of this translation from Tan Nisabho, as an alternative to the word concentration in the Buddhist texts. Apparently this is part of the re-examination from Buddhist monastic scholars about the words "samadhi" (usually translated as "concentration") and "saṅkhāra" (usually translated, opaquely, as "bodily formation".) It seems like Western buddhist practitioners may have taken "concentration" to mean a very pointed and narrow form of awareness (like noticing the breath from the nostrils), when perhaps the original meaning is a full, whole-body awareness. And perhaps "bodily formation" means something closer to 氣. From learning these alternative translations, I found that I was able to get settled a bit faster while meditating, and gain a new appreciation for the importance of body awareness even for mindfulness of breathing practices. I hope to further practice along these veins since they have been fruitful so far.
    • Investigative: This year also brought about a lot of opportunity to learn more about diversity (Deep Diversity Class, Bystanding Intervention.) What it uncovered for me was how much yet still I can learn from my own cultural backgrounds, and the subtle internalized racism that affects my decisions. For example, even as I chose this year's Word, there was a moment where I hesitated because I thought it might be too Chinese and unrelatable/seen as exotic or other (!) So there's ripe opportunities here to unpack the cultural baggage affecting self-perception.
  • External-facing
    • Unentangled and collected: Similar to the internal-facing principles, I aim to stay more collected and less scattered in how I engage with others. This might mean fewer engagements compared to last year's community-building focus! However, I aim to provide "higher quality" presence—improving my listening, and practicing meditation to settle.

I wonder if there's naturally a "balancing" phenomenon that occurs with choosing one's Word—last year's Hearth is squarely in the hot, fire, externally-engaging element, and this year I'm choosing a Word that belongs in the cooling, airy, untethered element. I noticed that a number of Abandoned Words belong in the earth/wood elements—perhaps they might be more appropriate for future years?

⚜️ Patterns

  • 🐚 Letting go of the task list at the end of the day, seeking seclusion to recharge
  • 🧘🏻‍♀️ Learning new ways of perceiving: whole body awareness and sensing/diverting one's 氣
  • 🗒️ Staying draft-y and build without burdening oneself

👷🏻‍♀️ Projects

  • 🍵 Continue to build honeyritual (whole fruit Asian tea with wellness rituals) that likely contributed to this Word, if only because of the body of knowledge I have gained about Traditional Chinese Medicine and related concepts.
  • 💀 Death preparation organization and paperwork—the ultimate letting go! I'm aiming to get all the overdue organizing/paperwork finished so that folks are not left with a mess when I die. Sorry if this happens before I'm done! Inspired by Ash's brother's book, Getting Cracked: Preparing for Open Heart Surgery
  • ☯️ Practice qi gong and g-tummo to supplement sitting meditation practice and promote whole body awareness
  • 💻 My New Year's Resolution as announced on Evening Drama: Rebooted is to write 1 piece of software that businesses will pay to use, and donate a portion of the proceeds to charity...

👚 Enclothed Cognition

  • Oura Ring - tested but returned b/c it in a way made me feel less connected with my body and question myself 🤔

💁🏻 How You Can Help

  • Forgive me if I am less available this year for reasons above
  • Check out honeyritual tea and consider making it part of your day 😌

0️⃣ Non-Doing

  • As a counter to too much doing...I'm considering implementing these habits:
    • Observe Uposatha days to the best of my ability—at least avoid entertainment and practice moment-to-moment mindfulness
    • 10 min of non-doing every morning and evening