January. It's that month when we take it upon ourselves to change something, to give something up or start something new and we often announce our decision to others - our New Year's Resolution.
The practice of making new year resolutions goes back over 4000 years to the Babylonians who made promises to their gods to return borrowed objects and pay their debts. Fast forward to the 21st century and the most common new year resolutions are: to get in shape; lose weight; save money; eat more healthily and do something for self care.
The problem I have with resolutions is that so often they are associated with failure! Why is that? Possibly because there's usually a defined goal. That's not a bad thing and we need goals to stay focused on an end result in order to follow a particular course of action but when we get attached to a goal and the goal evades us, well we can end up feeling like we've missed the target. So these resolutions, which are meant to inspire us to change or transform can end up having the opposite effect and leave us feeling like there is something lacking; as though, we are in some way not good enough. And well frankly who needs that, especially in January which is quite possibly the most miserable and definitely longest month of the year, or least it feels like it is!
What then it we changed the semantics. Instead of setting a resolution let's create an intention. Ooh already I feel more positive. An intention, more precisely a positive one, goes a little deeper than a resolution. It calls on us to think about what it is that we need more of in our lives, what is it that we will bring us lasting joy and happiness. It's also less specific in terms of a goal or an end result. In fact our intention could remain entirely abstract and we could move into 2020 with the intention of say simply being kinder - just think how many opportunities we all might have to excel at that one!
Intentions also call us on us to change, but that might show itself in the form of clearing some space so that our intention can take root and evolve with gradualness. It might necessitate removing any obstacles that prevent the intention from truly manifesting in our lives. Maybe our intention to be kinder requires us first to work through what's preventing our natural innate kindness and compassion from being deployed, or do we need to look at whether we're operating within the right tribe?
My personal belief and preference for intentions over resolutions and what makes them a more viable plan for dreary, dismal January especially, is the sense of opening it offers. With an intention we are summoned to start to release old ways of thinking and acting (or reacting); we can begin to clear out any worn out, 'past their sell by date' or 'never really were ours anyway' beliefs and tend to what we genuinely need to enrich our lives. A direct consequence of doing so is that we inadvertently change the lives of all via the ripple effects of our own positive change.
This isn't an easier option though. It may feel more organic and quite possibly be simpler to implement in the long term but it will still take persistent effort, regular and continued commitment to show up and be present to the course we've set ourselves to live with our intention. Abhyasa in Sanskrit, is a commitment to the practice, a showing up and staying resolutely in the long game without waivering or giving up. We will have to practice in order to live with intention. The practice may even become the intention?
With this continued effort we can tend to our intention and allow it to grow, either into an achievable realistic goal or maybe a path that leads us, not just through the first few weeks of January but all the way through the year and beyond, because what we've created is a an intention that affirms a life we can truly live and grow with. Our intention carries us forward.
An intention allows us space to fail too. When you can't find your A game and you yell at the traffic warden or express a harsh word to someone you love, you haven't lost, you don't need to give up and go back to the old way. The trips and stumbles, the lost ground can become part of the intention, a reminder to just keep working at it. Just as Ganesha puts obstacles in our way to remind us of our fragility, our humanness so Kirsha tells Arjuna in The Gita, no effort in life is ever wasted.
And finally In case you're wondering what my intention is. Well it's simply to be more present; to bring my Self into as many moments as authentically as I can and not to shy away from the inevitable discomfort that life sometimes offers up. Hopefully it won't get too messy!