Many tend to think of the New Year as a new beginning, and take the opportunity to reflect on the previous year and set goals for the year ahead. There are workshops on goal setting and envisioning your ‘best self’ in your ‘perfect life’; a whole industry cashes in on peoples’ failures at achieving their goals. Why do so many people fail? In a nutshell, goals are focused solely on the future, and don’t provide any kind of ground to fall back on when they aren’t met. In the end, people either tend to be left discouraged, or with subsequent goals to meet if they have gone so far as to achieve their initial goal. It is either a tail chase or a disaster.
In reality, every moment is an opportunity to start over, a new beginning and an ending. With every moment comes a small death and a birth, a chance to stop an old habit pattern and begin a new one. A chance to tune in and listen. What do we hear? We hear our thoughts, and more subtlety, we hear an underlying current — our intentions. Unlike goal setting or resolutions that are generally a response to something that we are trying to change about ourselves, intentions are at the core of who we are, they sit with us through the continuous flow of changes that life provides. Intention setting is about focusing on the present moment, listening to our inner values, and then aligning our worldly actions with what we hear.
I once had a student come to me and ask why her intentions were not seeming to lead her anywhere, despite her daily yoga practice and regular meditation. I asked her to be honest with me about the nature of her intention so that I could help her feel more fulfilled, and after some hemming and hawing, she admitted her intention was to lose weight.
While there was nothing wrong with what she shared with me, it was a goal of hers, not an intention. This is a common mistake that rarely is explained within the context of a yoga class. Cultivating intentions are different than setting goals. It doesn’t mean that goals are to be abandoned; goals are helpful when they exist in a larger framework, and can work together with intention. But what if we measured our own success based not on achievements but on how much we are able to align our actions with our values?
Every action has a cause and a consequence; it’s what we call Karma in the yoga practice. Every moment we have the chance to cultivate seeds, and it is up to each of us to decide which seeds we will water and grow by giving them our energy, and which we will purposely ignore and let die.
To come back to the yoga student who’s goal was to lose weight. When we spoke for a few minutes, I encouraged her to go deeper, to see what was behind her desire to lose weight. Ultimately, she rephrased her intention to be more loving of herself. We spoke about how this could translate into actions that would support the intention: she may start to fuel herself with foods that make her feel good and don’t harm others. We spoke about how loving oneself ultimately comes from loving others. As my teacher Sharon Gannon says, we can have anything we want in life, as long as we are ready to offer it up to someone else first. We can be more loving of ourselves if we are more loving of others. We can do less harm to ourselves when we first stop harming others. Food is a very good example of this. Eventually, the student would reach her goal, but by setting an intention that was more fundamental than her initial goal, she created a larger framework in which she now sees herself in the world, someone who is worthy of receiving love.
Meditation is a support to intention setting; it is a daily practice that helps to constantly renew the intention and helps it take root and blossom. Without the regularity, it can be easy to get caught up in the attachment of an outcome and confuse intention with goals. By remembering our intentions through a practice such as asana, meditation or mantra, there is an opportunity to reconnect with our inner selves. A difference with goal setting is that when the goal is achieved there will be another goal in its place rather than a sensation of peace, and when the goal is not met, there is no larger framework to fall back on. Even when a goal is met or surpassed, another goal will quickly fill its place and lead to desire and attachment to outcome. Only right intention leads to sustained peace.
Some tips for finding your intention: 1. Meditate. Choose a comfortable seat. Once you have established your ease filled, joyful seat, take the first minute to explore what is most important to you. What are the things that are truly important to you? If today was your last, how would you like to be remembered? Find a word or phrase that resonates on a soulful level. Is this something that can be practiced in the present moment? If not, is there a way of rephrasing it? Let it sit for a moment, then let it go.
2. Practice santosha (be happy with what you have and where you are in your life). Intention setting is more effective when it comes from a basic state of contentment–when it comes from a place of weakness or need, expectations tend to be attached and the intention can become lost inside a goal. Keep it simple and clear so that the focus remains strong.
3. Have faith and let go. Get rid of the attachment to results and get comfortable with uncertainty. Intend for everything to work out and open up to the possibility for positive outcomes, but let go of hoping, fixating and worrying. All are signs of attachment. Have faith that things have a way of working out and have faith that you are doing everything in your power to manifest your intention. A forced outcome is a false outcome. Trust Mother Nature and your inner voice.
4. As long as you see others as separate from yourself, treat them as you would like to be treated. This includes ALL others. The more you widen the circle of others, the more loving you will become. If you don’t believe me, see number three and have faith in something.
Start your new year realigning yourself with your intentions. January 1, 2014. Indaba yoga studio, 11am-1pm