Monday, September 24, 2012

Twenty Words

During our years in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to babysit my friend Marion's children one morning a week for a couple of hours. She was a busy stay-at-home mother and homemaker by choice, but craved a little window of time just for herself. I was happy to oblige, as she lived in a cute duplex on the Presidio army base, and had a real backyard. We were in the middle of our apartment-dwelling years, and a morning for my little daughter in the sunshine and turtle-shaped sandbox, with two darling friends, was such a luxury.

There was another big draw to Marion's home for me: she had a medium-sized round table off to the side of her little living room, which was covered in a beautiful, floor-length tablecloth, and if I remember correctly, a round glass top. This table was Marion's collecting spot for everything she came across that was interesting: mounds of books, articles ripped from magazines, recipes to try, gorgeous photos, lists of things to do in the city, and letters she had received from friends ... an absolute delicious piling of inspiration.

Often when I would arrive at Marion's to babysit, she would throw open the front screen door, pull me into her home and up to the table with words like, "I just have to show you what I found...!" or "I saw this in a magazine and cut it out just for you!" We would stand and rifle through her week's discoveries and I would literally salivate. This was one fascinating, intelligent, creative woman.

Marion's table held one other mysteriously wonderful thing: a three-ring binder which she called her "life's creed". Within those covers held the best-of-the-best from her years of combing through resources and from her voracious reading. She had collected in that one place her most cherished snippings and personal writings that defined who she was, and who she wanted to become.

I never got to see what that binder held, but I have never forgotten Marion's idea of having a life's creed.

Years later, I was reading Alexandra Stoddard's book called "Choosing Happiness" (2002, HarperCollins Publishers), and I came across a little exercise that reminded me of Marion's deliberate sifting and extracting of things that spoke to her soul. In Alexandra's words:

"I have often invited my audiences to write down their (twenty) defining words. What began as a fun exercise eventually led to a huge body of research. I now have collected thousands of examples. By staying mindful of what we love, of what we cherish and hold dear, we can cultivate our words in tangible ways, watering the seeds of our consciousness with every step we take, every thought we have, in all the wonderfully creative ways we express our love of life.

"I urge you to write down your (twenty) defining words. It's a happy exercise that is extremely revealing. I've shown you mine. Now it is your turn to write yours down. Light a candle, sit in a favorite spot, and let your intuition identify "Who am I?" "

This is an exercise that I have played with over the years, and which can change even from day to day as life takes different twists and turns. Above, you can see my current 20 defining words, pinned to the ribbon board that hangs next to my side of the bed. I will switch the words around and even add or subtract words as the mood strikes me. The point is to have "my words" greet me each morning, reminding me what my life's focus is.

Below are five of those 20 words that I have pinned seperately for this week. These are things that I am specifically focusing on as the most important, right now:

Alexandra also suggests choosing one of your words, and then coming up with a quick stream-of-consciousness brainstorm list of 20 words that better define that word for you.

For example, her word is "home", and she quickly jotted the following: "love, hearth, private, cheerful, pretty, friends, intimate, flowers, happy, children, tenderness, sweet, sacred, grounded, sensuous, welcoming, colorful, beautiful, comfortable, family, light, friendly, art, collections, changing" (pages 40-41).

What would be included in your twenty defining words? As Alexandra suggests, find a quiet place, grab a pen and notebook, add a bit of soft, instrumental music and perhaps the glow of a candle, and write!!


  1. Quiet, contemplation, nutrition, food, learning, solitude, family, writing, natural, beauty, fresh, warmth, safety, cleanliness, exploration, gratitude, inspiration, remembering, discovery, green.

    You're right: I DO love this post. You can bet I'm going to do this, too.

    1. LOVE it, Bear-io. Your words are YOU!!!

  2. Macy, I love reading your blog. Your posts are so inspiring and thought-provoking. Always a great pick-me-up. Thanks :)