For at least the past two years I’ve chosen a “word of the year” instead of making new year’s resolutions.
I’m not against resolutions - I think we should all use the momentum of change that comes with a fresh calendar in whatever way works for us. It’s great to have a push toward the things that we have been thinking about or desiring for our lives.
I love setting a word for the year because it provides a foundation to build on all year long; a thoughtful theme for all of my actions and experiences. Whatever word I choose can apply to my personal and professional goals, and my relationships with others and with myself.
Choosing a word allows me to focus on positive ways I would like to move forward by keeping a feeling or action in mind that I would like to bring into my daily life. It also helps with reflecting on the experiences I have, whether they’re good or bad, with a healthy distance because I can look through the lens of the word.
When I’m selecting a word for the year, I try not to force a choice. A lot of times something will happen, a conversation will spark inspiration, or I will read something that jumps out at me as the catalyst for my word choice. Going into 2022, that didn’t seem like it was going to happen.
I didn’t want to select my word out of thin air - I wanted to know I could weave it into all the things I have coming up in the new year, as well as the personal goals I have for myself.
I spent some time reflecting on what went well in 2021, and where I want to grow in 2022. I gave a lot of thought to a few exciting events and projects happening this year and what I think I need to cultivate to both do well at them and enjoy them.
And then I dove down the rabbit hole that is the thesaurus. I spent some time sorting through words that came to mind looking for one that had the right feel and fit.
Eventually I landed on spirit. It’s a word with many definitions, but this is the version that spoke to me:
1. the result of a positive and confident attitude 2. essence of courage, enthusiasm, and determination 3. energy, playfulness
I love the action of this word, and the way it reminds me that I can choose the attitude I bring to every situation. It reminds me that I can enjoy my experiences for what they are, and that it’s not just my abilities that matter but the essence of what I do, how I do it, and who I am.
So, here’s to living with spirit in 2022. And, a little encouragement to choose a word for yourself if you haven’t (it doesn’t need to be January 1st for this exercise to give you a boost toward how you want to feel and act in your life!).
Even when we are not particularly busy, somehow life can feel chaotic or overwhelming. There are always messages to answer, we are bombarded with images of all the cool things everyone else is doing, and we are generally over-stimulated.
For musicians, this feeling of overwhelm can come from regular practice thoughts, anxiety about upcoming performances, or general concerns about unpredictable income streams. If you are a music student, you may feel engulfed by the sheer volume of work and practicing you need to do.
Personally, I find myself in this buzzy, underlying feeling of overwhelm almost every January. I mind the dreary winter weather and I hate being cold. After a season of busy holiday festivities and gigs, trying to get organized for a new year of teaching and performances can be daunting. I feel like my mind, and my office, are scattered and messy!
We all have a lot to face these days, but when your work depends on your ability to show up hyper focused for practicing, rehearsing, teaching or performing, the strain of distraction takes on a new meaning.
In times that you are feeling overwhelmed I’d like to invite you to build something. A container, for yourself. A physical or mental space (ideally, both) where you can declutter and find sanctuary. Your physical container could be a room, park, or coffee shop where you feel safe. Your mental container should be a way to get in touch with yourself instead of allowing responsibilities or expectations to take your attention and run.
Sounds idyllic, right?
I actually think that this is practical and available for all of us. So how do we do it?
Pay attention to how you’re feeling. This might mean being with some uncomfortable emotions like stress, anxiety or disappointment. Only by identifying these things for what they are can we unarm them and move past them.
Don’t expect perfection. This is true for yourself and everyone around you. We’re all human and that means nothing will ever be perfect. Embrace imperfection as part of the experience of life.
Indulge in something you enjoy. No, I don’t mean an online shopping spree. Pick something small that you love and really enjoy it. Maybe it’s your first sip of coffee, or holding a warm mug. It could be the ten minutes you carve out to read before bed, or a morning jog. Truly indulge in the whole experience of this activity.
Check in with yourself. Ideally, this is in a way that you could do it anywhere. Maybe it’s taking a deep breath or focusing on the air leaving your nostrils. It could be becoming present to feeling the bottom of your feet. Pick something that works for you that you could do on stage, in the classroom, or by yourself.
These are just suggestions of ways we can create a container for ourselves - a place to feel and recognize our emotions and situation. Do what works for you that supports your wellbeing.
The goal is not to escape, but rather to help yourself find a way to be in the present moment with a clear head.
Education is built upon a series of agreements from everyone involved.
The teacher or educator has accepted the responsibility of showing up prepared, being aware and respectful of the student and doing their best to deliver the material.
The student has accepted the responsibility of also showing up prepared, with an open mind, ready to learn, and to exercise self discipline.
Although this seems obvious, we often enter into these agreements blindly. A teacher may show up to class and simply recite material without engaging, or a student may just show up to a lesson without the conviction to put energy into their participation.
Being a student in 2022 is certainly different than it was twenty years ago, ten years ago, or even pre-pandemic. I find my students faced with towering academic expectations, endless distractions, and anxiety/general despondence. The world around us can make it difficult to focus or even figure out what the right thing to focus on is.
As a teacher, I give a lot of thought to how I can help my students face the challenges of education. Helping them develop an awareness of the unspoken agreements we make is a good start.
Even better, I can help them establish the agreements they need to make with themselves for a positive, healthy learning experience.
Below are the personal agreements I will share with my students as we begin a new semester so that we can have clear expectations for ourselves and each other as we enter our lessons and classes.
Personal Agreements for Healthy Learning:
In order to have a great educational experience, it is to the student’s benefit to have a clear understanding of the teacher’s expectations (as laid out in the studio policy).
Even more important is for the student to have a clear set of expectations for themselves - to have an outline for self discipline and keeping an open mind that creates a capacity for learning.
Accomplishing what you set out to do requires self respect, respect for others, willpower and commitment. Your time as a student is designed for you to develop these traits, and being conscious of how you are growing them will help create a healthy learning experience.
These are the standards I hold myself to in my interactions with you, and I encourage you to do the same in your personal life, our studio, and with your peers.
Although these are “personal agreements” and they ask you to show up for yourself, you are not alone in your commitment to learn. Remember that you have a support network and it is always available to you.
Being a good student, colleague, educator, professional, or human (!) requires humility and willpower. Having the willingness to show up for yourself, your instructors, your peers, or your future students will not always be easy but it will always be meaningful.
I _______________________________________________ commit to these self-agreements and a mindful approach to healthy learning on this (date) ______________________________________.
2020 kicked my love of reading into high gear. As the year progressed I needed something to look forward to that wasn’t on my phone or the internet. Although I was practicing, it wasn’t fitting the bill - it came with it’s own baggage at the time, since we had no idea when we could perform again (and because we know that while practicing can be enjoyable it's not necessarily relaxing).
Reading became the perfect quarantine activity and escape, and I ended 2020 having read 63 books, deeply in love with reading in a way I hadn’t been since childhood.
I love using Goodreads to keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read. They also allow you to set a reading challenge for yourself each year of how many books you’d like to read. Coming out of 2020 I couldn’t know how a busier schedule would play out for my reading habit, so I stuck with a goal of reading 40 books in 2021.
As it turned out, I still loved having something to focus on that wasn’t on my phone, or related to work or the breaking news of the minute, and ended the year with a total of 53 books read.
Overall, I read mostly non-fiction in 2021. There were a number of books I read that were genuinely impactful on my day to day actions and that I plan to read again. I hope that you find some of these helpful, or just plain enjoyable as well.
Looking ahead at 2022, I’ve set a Goodreads goal for at least 50 books. However many books I read this year, I hope I continue to love reading just as much or even more.
What books have you loved recently? What are you planning to read? Let me know so I can build my list for 2022!
For now, on to the best books of last year (in no particular order)!
The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal
There were several books I read this year that I think should be required reading for college students, especially students facing high stakes performance fields (medicine, music, law, etc.). The Upside of Stress is one of these books. McGonigal unwinds our cultural perception that all stress is bad by teaching us about mindsets and the different types of stress responses we might have. She lays out practical ways we can begin to shift our relationship with stress and understand our reactions.
Throughout the book McGonigal acknowledges that there are types of stress that can wreak havoc on our mind and body, but that much of the stress we encounter in our lives is something we can use to move forward and grow if we understand it. This book was easy to absorb and the suggestions it gives are easily applied as many of them are shifts in mindset.
Peak Mind by Amishi Jha
Peak Mind made its way into my favorites this year for its approachable, science-backed endorsement of the benefits of meditation on attention. This is an excellent book for anyone who is skeptical about the tangible advantages of meditation. Jha walks us through the experiences of skeptics, including herself, who find calm and awareness through daily meditation, and also shows us the research behind why just 12 minutes a day can be enough to make a positive impact.
In our fast moving and attention-seeking culture, this book does an excellent job of heralding the benefits of meditation for our distracted minds, as we as suggesting how you can get started if you’d like to try.
Added bonus: Jha has also done a number of extremely informative and interesting podcast interviews for anyone who’d like a preview of her research and perspectives.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
This book was an unexpected favorite. (I can’t even recall where I saw it recommended.) I’ve never liked running, but a lifetime of practicing my instrument and growing as a musician feels like its own kind of marathon. What I loved so much about this memoir was Murakami’s thoughtful reflection on how running over the course of his life allowed him to reflect on his experiences and tie them together. He eloquently describes the personal growth and reflection that comes from pursuing something that can’t be achieved quickly, or maybe ever, to the level you would like. I loved how he touched on the way all the parts of our lives are connected.
I think anyone dedicated to an art form or athletic pursuit would enjoy this meaningful reflection.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
James Clear writes one of my favorite weekly newsletters and has one of my favorite accounts to follow on social media. His claim to fame is codifying existing research and breaking it down into actionable steps and digestible pieces of information that are meant to improve our daily lives and help us develop, well, atomic habits.
It would be impossible to summarize this book in the amount of space I’d like to use here. It includes so much useful information about our behaviors and suggestions that we can implement, I’m certain you couldn’t apply it all in just one read.
Throughout the book I found myself inspired to make small adjustments and reconsider how I thought about and approached my daily habits and routines. This is definitely one to read more than once - I’m sure that I will take new things away from it each time.
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
This was a book I couldn’t put down.
The Tiger reads like fiction but is a completely true story about a man eating tiger that took place in Siberia in the late 90s. I was fascinated by the culture, the Russian history the book provides, and the relationship people who live in Russia’s far east have with the tigers that share the region. This book includes cultural perspective, history, and educates the reader on conservation and the protection of tigers living in the wild all wrapped up into the excellent storytelling of this real life thriller.
Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer
Judson Brewer’s book Unwinding Anxiety is another that I believe all college students (and adults) should read. In the way that McGonigal’s Upside of Stress breaks down how we can use our understanding of stress to work with it, Brewer outlines how we can unravel the cyclical experiences of anxiety we can get stuck in through understanding how it works.
I found this book helpful in working through my own performance anxiety and have it high on my list of books to read again. Like other books I loved this year, Unwinding Anxiety provides actionable steps and clear explanations that make it approachable and useful. It also encourages the embodiment of our experiences, much like we would in meditation or breathwork, as a way of facing our feelings of anxiety.
Breath by James Nestor
Although this is the only book on breathing I’m including in my “best of” list, I actually read six books on breathing and breathwork in 2021, which has become a topic of fascination for me. Understanding the way our modern lives have affected how we breathe and why it’s so important is something that could benefit anyone, and Nestor’s book is a great starting point.
Learning about the all implications of how we breathe has brought up so many questions for me about why wind instrumentalists aren’t thinking about the breath outside of how we inhale and exhale to produce a sound.
Nestor’s book takes us through his own experience of breathwork and through his reasearch to understand all the ways the breath affects our mind and body. It’s enlightening and enjoyable to read - my top recommendation from 2021!
Hi, I'm Morgann! Flutist, teacher, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.