Last year my chosen word was “Interbeing,” a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh that speaks to how all of us, every sentient being in the cosmos, are connected and are in relationship with one another.
Then there’s the Tarot card. I like the Tarot. I use it often, as did Carl Jung and many others whose interests run toward depth psychology and a certain kind of mysticism. Each year I do a simple calculation to learn what my card of the year is. (see below for the calculation.) In 2023 it was the Hanged Man.
“Interbeing” was a good choice, and the Hanged Man, which is all about trials undertaken to gain wisdom (think Odin hanging on the tree of wisdom), complemented it in strange and ultimately nourishing ways. Getting to that nourishment was a bit rough, though.
2023 was a year of loss for me, but I’m not alone in that as every year is a year of loss for everyone, or so I’ve learned. That’s what Interbeing is, after all. It was the year in which I learned, at a deeper level, what it means to experience profound grief, what it means to survive it, and what it means to understand that grief is one of the foundations of interbeing. To experience profound grief is to enter into humanity’s deepest core, to become joined with all those who grieve.
As Joan Didion said, grief is never what you expect. It’s also the universal human experience.
You’d think I would have learned all this when my brothers died (there’s more on their deaths, here), but grief is funny like that. It is a repeating experience on a spiral timeline, coming back many times through the course of a life, but each time a little differently. Grief cannot be avoided, nor conquered. Grief, I have learned, has its own lifespan, its own trajectory. Once it arrives, it never leaves. But then I’ve come to believe its presence is a good thing, a connecting thing. This poem captures my sense of it:
Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.
I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.
You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider my house your own
and me your person
my own dog.
“Talking to Grief” by Denise Levertov, from Poems 1972-1982. © New Directions, 2001
One cannot escape the rock of grief, but you can learn to grow around it, grow a heart spacious enough not to be crushed by it, spacious enough to risk loving and the inevitable loss all over again, and again, and again.
When I chose that word – Interbeing – as my Word of the Year, I had no idea what was coming, or how grief and trials would be my teachers. Looking back, however, I don’t think I could have picked better.
What did you focus on this year? What did the year bring you?
I’ll write more in the next few days about my word for 2024, and my card for the year as well.
(Note: The calculation to find your Tarot card of the year is: add the month of your birth to the day of your birth to the year, and reduce to a number between 1 and 22, which is the number of Major Arcana cards in the Tarot. So if you’re born on, say, March 4, your calculation would be: 3+4=7; 7+2023=2030; 2+0+3+0=5. The 5th card of the Tarot Major Arcana is The Hierophant.)