,“Wholeheartedness.” It’s a mouthful. It’s also the word that has been ricocheting around in my thoughts for a week. The word I keep coming back to when I imagine who I want to be and how I want to live. The word that is surely the antidote for the devouring self-doubt that’s lately been haunting my days and keeping me awake at night. What I suffer with in the darkness is this: My best efforts aren’t enough. I don’t have what it takes to be the mother my two sons need, the wife my husband desires, the friend my own friends deserve, the writer I want to be, the woman I still hope to become.

And in moments of light, when I can quiet the voice in my head long enough to listen to what my soul is trying to tell me, I hear this: It is okay to stumble. You are allowed to fail. Doubt your doubts. (Because in fact you are okay just as you are.) Know that you are worthy of your joy and strong enough to survive your pain. Wholeheartedness is what you’re here for.

I know that’s all true. It’s just that lately, I feel depleted, half-hearted, out of ideas and out of confidence. Not even quite up to the job of being me.

I packed quickly to go to Kripalu for the weekend; there wouldn’t be time for much besides the yoga workshop Henry and I were doing together, but I stopped by my bookshelf on the way out the door and threw a couple of books into my bag anyway, almost at random. And then I kissed Steve and Jack good-bye, climbed into the car with Henry and, for the first time ever, our family split up for New Year’s Eve.

Kripalu turned out to be a good place to usher in 2012. Many hours of yoga with my beloved, first-ever yoga teacher, Rolf Gates. A walk by the lake, particularly tasty kale for dinner, a long silent meditation at midnight, time to reflect on the year past and the one to come, deep sleep, early rising.

I loved the sense of belonging that washes over me as soon as I set foot through the door of Kripalu. I loved being in the very room this weekend that my month-long teacher training was held in last winter; the memories were fresh in my mind, the faces of my classmates easy to conjure. I loved not having to think about what to wear, or what to cook, or what to do at midnight, or how many glasses of champagne I should have. I loved having time in solitude and I loved meeting, at long last, my dear on-line friend Pamela, whose gorgeously written blog Walking on My Hands is one of the few I read religiously. And I especially loved it that my twenty-two year old son was so open and willing to sign on for the ride, to give yoga and meditation a try, to experience firsthand this place that’s come to mean so much to me, and even to spend a weekend as my room mate. I know he did it for me, and his presence at my side was a gift. Henry may be a beginner on the mat, but he is a yogi in spirit.

(My husband Steve was happy to be home alone on New Year’s eve, which is what he prefers anyway, and I’m sure Jack was quite relieved I wasn’t around to tell him to “make good choices” or offer up some other motherly platitudes as he headed out the door to spend the night with his friends.)

Very early yesterday morning, I sat down with one of the books I’d brought along, an odd little volume that’s been sitting, unread, on my shelf for a long time. A brief, unlikely meditation on unencumbered living, “Journeys of Simplicity” is essentially a collection of lists about traveling light: what Thoreau took to Walden Pond, what an 85 year old hermit needed to survive, what an anonymous Celtic woman prayed for a hundred years ago.

My book fell open to page 39, “Raymond Carver’s errand list.” According to Carver’s partner and companion, poet Tess Gallagher, he always lived according to what she calls Carver’s law. It was his practice, she says, “not to save up things for some longed-for future, but to use up the best that was in him each day and to trust that more would come.”

Even as he was dying of cancer at age fifty, Carver continued to write and plan and hope. Just after his death, she found this to-do list in his pocket:

peanut butter
hot choc



Hope. Wholeheartedness. Ordinariness. How beautifully these three qualities intertwine in our best, most essential expressions of our humanity. To live is to hope. To live wholeheartedly is to trust that there is always more to come, to believe in the rightness of things as they are, to drink hot chocolate and dream of far-off continents even as you confront the loss of everything you love. It was not lost on me that someone else’s final, heartfelt errand list was the very first thing I laid eyes on as the first day of this new year dawned. The message from the universe seemed pretty clear: live fully, live here, live now. Wholeheartedly.

After two days of meditation and challenging yoga practice I was tired, a little sore, and more than a little raw when our last session began. As we moved through our final series of poses, I could feel the tears gathering behind my eyes, ready to spill. “You know,” Rolf suggested, as we eased down into child pose, resting foreheads to mats, coming into stillness, “it is okay to be vulnerable. In fact a willingness to feel our feelings completely, to show our vulnerability, to acknowledge our own tenderness and confusion, is really what living wholeheartedly is all about. To be wholehearted is to be vulnerable.”

And then, at that moment, a pair of knowing hands pressed down upon my back, smoothed along my spine, and rested there for a long, full minute. An assist in child pose, yes. But also, I’m pretty sure, some cosmic, loving gesture made on my behalf, just to make sure that the mail really was getting delivered: “wholeheartedness.”

The tears I’d been fighting off all weekend came then, tears of surrender and grace and relief. I didn’t have to make a new year’s resolution I couldn’t keep, or choose a word to try to live up to. The word I needed found me, hovered for a while, and landed. What better time than right now, the dawn of this new year, to give up my own unnecessary suffering, suffering that is all about believing I need to be someone other than who I am?

And so, gently and with great love, I say to myself – and to you, too – as we step into 2012: “Live wholeheartedly. Know that your vulnerability means that you’re alive. Remember who you really are. Use up the best that’s in you each day, and trust that it’s enough.”

Yesterday, on a gray, colorless January 1, this rose was a singular spot of color. Someone had placed it on an altar in the woods, and there it lay – exposed, vulnerable to the elements, yet, bravely, pinkly, wholeheartedly being itself, a rose in winter. May we, too, bloom with wholeheartedness in this new year.

Do you have a word that is your touchstone? Does the idea of “wholeheartedness” resonate with you? I would love to know!

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. This is so lovely. I can picture you at Kripalu, that lake, that deep sleep, and wish I’d been able to share space with both you and Pam. What a dream that would have been! I love wholeheartedness as a desire, a goal, an aspiration. xox

  2. I was fortunate enough to begin my New Year at Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York CIty. During the homily, the priest suggested five resolutions to think about – 1) Count your blessings. 2) Bury the hatchet. 3). Forgive yourself for your shortcomings. 4) Don’t expect so much from others. 5) Look on the bright side. How easy it is for us to lose sight of the important things because we are so blinded by the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

    Here’s hoping that 2012 will bring everyone a sense of wholeheartedness as we embrace all that is good in our lives.

  3. This sounds like such a lovely time for you. And how wonderful that you got a chance to meet Pamela, who is such an inspiring person. As are you. Happy New Year, full of wholeheartedness.

  4. Wholeheartedness….what a wonderful word. I think we all feel depleted and question ourselves. I know caring for my mom who turns 93 tomorrow I at times get very confused for many reasons. I will remember this wonderful word. Also to feel is a reminder that I am human. I must say as much as I loved the gift of an ordinary day…I am also hooked on mitten strings for god. My 24 year old is raised and grown but I read a chapter every morning and to be honest I apply some of the words to the time Im spending with my Mom. I want to be more present…I want to not be so busy that Im not enjoying her….I want to have patience and have her help me do things…your words apply to so many…not just mothers…but this daughter is using it as well….:) http://www.50plusstickingtogether.com

  5. My meditation this past week has been: Less self-criticism, more self- love. Your message of wholeheartedness definitely resonates with me! Blessings in the new year.

  6. Thank you. This brought me peace.

  7. Thank you my dear. Happy New Year.

  8. Katrina, how can you capture that weekend so fully in just a few words? Your writing is perfection itself. I am going to print out this post so that on these cold January days to come, I will be able to remember this divine weekend – the one where there was no line.

    During December, I decided that while my word for 2011 was Trust, my word for 2012 would be Heart. This weekend reinforced all of that.

    It was absolutely divine to meet you in person and your magnificent son. Thank you so much for this beautiful piece.

  9. You have very much in my heart-mind, Katrina, these recent days. Perhaps I was along in spirit without quite knowing it, or perhaps the simple wish arises to be amongst the spirits of you and Pamela, together, and your son… how lovely.

    I’m so very much hoping that we are entering into a time of rising compassion and consciousness; and along with this come such dark nights of the soul, these wringing outs and letting go tears, these heart-stretching, forging, tempering, softening and blossoming, like that numinous rose, to comprise not just individual whole-heartedness, but collective.

    My son, at New Year’s dinner, suggested that his intention for the coming year (we were steering clear of resolutions) was to have more fun. I’m joining him in that, even if it means crying more tears, saying yes to more things that plunge us again into our doubts and anxieties. For together perhaps we are becoming more whole-hearted and whole minded than we could have ever envisioned all by our lonesome selves.

    Here’s wishing you and yours and all of ours a New Year of whole-hearted loving kindness and compassion. XO

  10. Blessed. I suppose if I had to sum up the past year in one word, it would be that one, blessed. Not because it was a stellar year full of hopes and promises fulfilled and financial and worldly success, but because it wasn’t and yet in spite of all the turmoil we were truly blessed beyond measure in each and every day. Blessed by a neighbor, a friend, a relative, a stranger, someone who wasn’t afraid to reach out and lend a helping hand when needed, despite not being asked. And looking back and even in the midst of it all I can and did see God’s provision for us and I am truly humbled by it all.

    My goal this year if I had to make one would be to pay it forward, wholeheartedly.

  11. Susan Keeley says:

    I love this definition of Hope.

    Hope is the ability to continue to work towards something because it is worthy and good. Hope is not the same as optimism…it is not the conviction that things will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.

  12. Well, this was a post I was meant to read this first really cold day of January. As I struggle to transition into the empty nest, work on my marriage, plan a wedding for my oldest, work as a lawyer, be an artist, write my novel, maintain my blog, and listen to my well-meaning friends’ words that I should be teaching art and speaking about creativity and writing a book about that, I am feeling depleted, scattered, and unfocused. Wholeheartedly so.

  13. you should never doubt your writing ability, Katrina. Your posts always move me. I also feel that I fail to be or do all that I can be or do but through a daughter’s illness I have begun to change, or at least try to. The ordinariness and hope of each new day is what keeps me going. Hope is very big with me as is the idea that most of us are quite ordinary and lead very ordinary lives, But there is great peace and beauty in the repetition and simplicity of that. If I had one more day I would want to spend it hopefully with my family, but just doing every day things. Sometimes we fail to notice the tiny sparks of loveliness throughout each day-that is what I would like to improve on-to notice and enjoy them-wholeheartedly.

  14. Your blog entry ‘Wholeheartedness’ resonated with me as this was the word I chose a month ago about how I wanted to live my life. No more foot in, foot out on my commitment to living fully in the present moment–warts and all.

    Two quotes come to mind: 1)”Wherever you go, go with all your heart,” says Confucius. And from Rumi, 2)”Half-heartedness does not reach into majesty.”

    Thank you for your book, your work, your blog. Thank you for bringing beauty into the world in your unique way.

  15. P.S. When I think of vulnerability, I think of pure love, one’s true essence. O

  16. My touchstone word is “kindness”. Last year, I read Michael J Chase’s, “am i being kind”, and it absolutely changed the way I live my life everyday. The book takes you through kindness towards all, from being kind to yourself, to others, to animals, to your community, to the world. My pet peeve has always been litter bugs but now I’ve learned that not picking litter up is also unkind so I pick up litter wherever I find it. This is just one of many examples of kindness discussed in the book that many of us really don’t give a lot of thought to on a daily basis. But when you put kindness first, in everything you do, you find so many ways to show it. Try it on a bigger scale…it will change your heart and your life. My mantra…be the change you wish to see in the world (Ghandi).

    Kindess…the more you share, the more you’ll receive!

  17. I love the idea of “wholeheartedness,” but for me, it means something different. With the many losses of loved ones in the last three years, wholeheartedness means assimilating – finding a way, somehow, to work through the pain, and paint a tapestry of harmony and connection between those who have passed and those who are much younger than I. I am coming to realize that I am being watched, just as I watched my older relatives, and that inexplicably, I must grow up and act like a mentor, even as I stumble my way through.

  18. This is a timely blog post as I have been vacillating between genuine contentment and deep self-doubt. I also struggle with being half-hearted rather than wholehearted. Thank you.

    My word for 2012 is kindness. I desire to be kind to myself first and then say yes to kindness in all situations with all people. A daunting minute by minute challenge and yet I believe being kind and wholehearted WILL change our world.

    How beautiful that Henry experienced this glorious weekend with you.

    Blessings to you in the New Year Katrina.

  19. Katrina,
    You don’t know me personally but I have followed your blog for over a year now. Your style of writing resonates with something inside me. As an aspiring writer myself, I view your writing as a style I wish to one day achieve. It is beautiful, heartfelt, honest and your descriptive details bring it to life. I too believe in living wholeheartedly, in fact its the name of my blog. I am 39 and I have spent too many years living with a heart half full. No more.
    Hugs from Utah!

  20. My word for the year is “nourish.” It is just right for my family and me at this time. I have loved both your books over the years. My children are 12 and 15 so I found your most recent book inspiring. Our girls have always attended Waldorf School and we also built a house. Years ago, I built the beginning of my blog around my responses to various chapters in “Mitten Strings.” http://maymomvt.blogspot.com/2010/03/mitten-strings-posts.html

    My thanks to you for how much your writing has touched me over the years.

  21. There is no better testament to your “wholeheartedness” than a post as full as this. I’m also quite envious of your New Year celebration since my word for the year is destined to be calm. There is truly no better place to find both than Kripalu.

    I must say, I think I’ll write this out and post it at my desk at work. It’s just the sentiment I needed today:

    Use up the best that’s in you each day, and trust that it’s enough.

  22. This is so beautiful Katrina. I have found a few definitions, but yours is my favorite: “To live is to hope. To live wholeheartedly is to trust that there is always more to come, to believe in the rightness of things as they are…” As hard as 2011 was for me, I believe in its rightness and the lessons learned. Thank you for reminding me of this.

    Today, I was missing my dad terribly. And I asked for a sign… and I got a beautiful one. I wrote about it on my blog today. Asking and then waiting, but truly listening and watching while waiting, is MY wholeheartedness.

    Meredith From A Mother Seeking Come find me on my blog, A Mother Seeking…

  23. Ellen Perry says:

    I read your book “The Gift of an Ordinary Day” some time ago, and was reminded of it again recently when I was browsing my book shelf. Decided to look for you online and just today started reading your blog. How wonderful! I was particularly touched to find this post on Wholeheartedness as it is a concept I have been working on for the past year. It started when I discovered Brene Brown’s work. If you don’t already know her, you MUST check out her blog http://www.ordinarycourage.com.

  24. Susan Rees says:

    This took me back a number of years to a similar experience on my mat and has just brought me to tears. Thank you Katrina.

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