At a New Year’s Eve celebration last night, my good friend Kate, a wise yogini (also known by me as my personal Yoda), asked us what our intentions are for 2017. My answer was probably overly-direct and sounded snarky even if that wasn’t what how it was meant: I said that I don’t set annual intentions. What I really meant is I don’t set resolutions each January 1. I stopped that practice years ago, as it doesn’t feel right to me to wait for a day on the calendar to declare that “Now, I will do this!” If you want to eat better, start eating better. If you want to watch less TV, stop watching TV so much. And do it now. No reason to wait for some supposedly magical day. Plus, if you fail in your resolution, whether it be because your really didn’t want it as much as you thought or because something (health, job, family, etc) caused life to shift, you could find yourself at the end of the year looking back and feeling pretty crappy. That doesn’t do you any good.
But as I reflected today on the question “What is your intention for the year?” I felt it differently than if I were being asked for a resolution. In yogic terms, it’s a sankalpa, something that arises from the depths of your heart and mind and forms a commitment that essentially defines who you want to be. It’s a resolve that we make to bring out the best in ourselves.
A sankalpa can be set at any time, whenever it is deeply felt. It’s common, however, to specifically set a sankalpa at the beginning of the calendar year. It’s a meaningful spiritual time, a specific opportunity to move forward. And let’s be honest–we humans like things to be time bound. Last year on January 1 I participated in a sankalpa-setting workshop; in the true spirit of a sankalpa, however, it wasn’t the right time for me. I don’t even recall what intention I set, making it pretty clear that it didn’t come from my deepest self. (There also was a lot of dancing. I don’t like yoga that involves dancing. That no doubt distracted me.)
Today, one year later, is different. As I took my dog for a lovely walk on a brisk day, I started thinking about my intention, my sankalpa. What I came up with wasn’t an intention for just 2017, but one that I need to have as my North Star in perpetuity.
It’s simple, really: my intention is to be a better person.
Now I realize that is REALLY broad, but in its broadness, it encompasses all of the “mini” or “sub” intentions that I’ll need to attend to throughout not just this year but the rest of my life. What I need to focus on at a given time will change–it could change yearly, monthly, daily, even hourly. But each in-the-moment intention will resonate if I ladder it up to that “master” intention to be a better person.
And on that count, I have a lot of work to do. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s how it should be.
So what are the “mini-intentions” I’ll be working on? Here are the ones that come to me now:
Be less judgmental–of myself and others. Laugh more. Love ferociously. Listen more. Talk less. Ask better questions. Balance satya, truthfulness, with ahimsa, non-harming, in my interactions, speech, and writing. Let go of melancholy for where I no longer am or longing for where I want to be, and value where I am right now. Be present, with others, with myself, and with the energy of whatever space I have the opportunity to be in at a given moment. Speaking of energy, be judicious with how I expend it. Manage my energy, not my time. And speaking of time, if I say “I don’t have the time,” change that instead to “It’s not a priority” and see how I feel about what I just said. Identify the stories and soundtracks and mix-tapes that play in my head on perpetual repeat, ask how they are serving me, and work to let them go. Spend more time with those whom I feel I can be 100% myself. Spend less time with those whom I feel I need to be someone else–or try being myself and see what happens. And accept that I’m not for everyone, and that’s OK. (Thank you, Kira Sabin at The League of Adventurous Singles for that bit of wisdom.) Pause before reacting.Move more. Read more. Nap more. (More than what? Just more.) Meditate. (No “more” after that–it’s a low bar when you aren’t doing it at all.) Listen to my body and my mind in equal measure, with curiosity and a little bit of challenge. Be kind to myself, gentle with myself. Forgive quickly–both others and myself. Breathe.
That feels like a pretty good place to start.
So I go into 2017 with that perpetual intention. I will stumble in these efforts far more than I succeed. And the successes will be small, imperceptible even. And it will be messy. But each one will be a step on the path to the intention of being a better person, and in that, there will be grace.