Setting intentions for a new year (PART 2): 4 encouragements to keep your light shining

In Part 2 of this series, you’re invited to be curious about different ways to live out the intentions you set in Part 1, specifically, ways to take action, stay motivated, access creativity, and overcome hardship.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

– John 1:5

Living Out Your Intentions

Saying a big Yes to God can be difficult, even scary. But when saying yes to God is also saying yes to our truest self, the path can be much more fulfilling and something for which we brim with gratitude.

In part one of this series you used a meditation to discover your sankalpa, or vocation, God’s unique calling for your life that can evolve and shift as you grow and change. When I practiced setting intentions last year, I realized that my heartpath was one of service. One of my deepest longings is to feel that I have a purpose, and one way to do that is to offer my gifts and talents where I find a need for them. My intention setting this year revealed that another of my deepest desires is to be at ease in my connections with others. This one seems much harder than last year’s! Mostly because being at ease is an internal state of being, so I have to figure out what actions I can take that will manifest this. And, while life is definitely good and sweet, with its unexpected hills and valleys, tidal waves and doldrums, it certainly takes a lot of navigating. At times this can make living our heartpath, while both fulfilling and joyful, quite challenging.

However, God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7). So when you feel your light fading, remember that you are a child of God, filled with the light and power of Christ (John 1: 12-14).

Below you’ll find some suggestions for how to keep your intentions in your awareness, live them out each day, and keep your light shining. Remember, God isn’t going to ask you why you were not Moses, Ghandi, Mother Theresa. God’s not going to ask you why you were not your grandmother, your father, or your best friend. God’s going to ask you why you were not you, the unique person God created you to be. (This is inspiration enough!) So keep your light shining and walk courageously along your heart’s path!

Action

The spiritual life is both contemplative and active.  While it can be difficult at the beginning and throughout the journey, if we hope to embody the fruits of our contemplation, taking action is necessary.  Choose one concrete action based on your intention, and do it. Daily.

“Concrete action” can take many forms. For instance, if your intention is to create positive change in your family or workplace dynamics, your action might not be something obvious like initiating special prayer times or hosting a non-violent communication seminar (though it might!) Your action could be something as invisible as shifting your own thought patterns. When you notice a negative thought, consciously searching for the positive counterpoint is sometimes a sheer act of will.

This kind of action is only obvious to you, but it can have enormous impact on everyone around you. If your intention is to take care of your body, your concrete action might not be driving to the gym for an hour workout (though it could be!). Your invisible, yet still very concrete action might be pausing to take three deep breaths to notice if you’re physically hungry, or if your craving is mental or emotional and then choosing whether or not you will have a second helping at dinner. Again, this is another action that functions more like the wind: you can’t see the wind itself, but you definitely see and feel it’s impact.

Start by posting your intentions somewhere you’ll see them everyday. (Mine are taped beneath my bathroom mirror.) Then your first action can be as simple as repeating your intentions in your mind while brushing your teeth. You can also hold your intentions in your heart while getting dressed. You can even say them out loud before heading out the door. This kind of repetitive action will have a lasting effect: as you repeat your intentions in present tense, notice any felt sensations in your body or any energetic shifts. Does simply acknowledging your intentions allow your shoulders to lower, or bring about a sense of ease or lightness in your heart? If you notice a felt sensation in your body related to your intentions, it’s more likely you’ll be able to touch back into your sankalpa throughout the day. You’ll quite literally have a touch or a feeling associated with your heartpath that can come back to you at key decision points and allow you to make choices that are true to your calling.

I admit, sometimes taking action is super hard. By far, the strongest motivator for me to take action is other people.  When I am doing something for someone else, I show up and give my best effort because people are counting on me.  My students, my colleagues, and my family members are the reasons I put thoughts into plans and plans into action.  

When you begin living your heartpath, who will be the beneficiaries?  (Don’t forget to include yourself!)  Keep these people in your mind and heart and allow them to inspire you.  You might also consider sharing your intentions with one or two people close to you and offer to hold theirs, as well.  Check-in with each other often for inspiration, support, and encouragement.

Staying Motivated

Getting motivated is one thing, staying motivated is another. To cultivate longstanding inspiration on your heartpath, investigate the science, touch back into your sankalpa, and celebrate the successes of staying true to your intentions, both large and small. 

Habits are a huge part of being human, and it’s possible that various habits can block or hinder living our heartfelt desire.  Numerous studies show that habits are created by repetitive actions* over the course of 14, 24 or 40 days.  Consider just one or two intentions, look to the deepest layer of your heart’s desire, and set your eyes on a stepping stone of 10 days; notice the positives and celebrate them!  When you enjoy the benefits of your hard work, you are more likely to keep going.  After that, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and beyond will seem a bit easier and the rewards a bit greater.**

*This is also true of thoughts and emotions.

**Please keep in mind not all habits are changed or created in a short amount of time.  Some long held behaviors can take months or years and require the guidance of trusted counselors or medical professionals. 

Creative Ways to Practice

Because your calling, sankalpa, and intentions are scandalously particular to you, I can’t really offer specifics.  However, being creative can simply mean doing something in a way you, personally, wouldn’t think of at first go.  Ironically, sometimes living from our truest self can mean letting go of what we think makes us us. The terms “true self” and “false self” were first used by Thomas Merton, 20th century writer and Trappist monk, and are now used by Fr. Richard Rohr “to clarify what Jesus surely meant when he said that we must die to ourselves or we must ‘lose ourselves to find ourselves’”(Mark 8:35).

Consider a thought experiment and approach your intentions from someone else’s perspective.   How would your friend, neighbor, or coworker put this into action?  Would your cousin, sibling, parent, or elder have a different plan? Remember the WWJD bracelets from the ‘90’s? Well, what would Jesus do in your situation?

Remember, changing habits and creating habits means doing something different.  And you don’t have to come up with all the answers on your own:

  • Ask the close friend with whom you shared your intentions for their thoughts.  
  • Ask a group of children for insight.  Tell them, “I’m going to practice ________.  Do you have any ideas about how I could do this?”  (Often, these ideas are the best!)  
  • Be open to the creativity of the Holy Spirit.  
  • Consider letting go of expectations as you ask God for guidance, inspiration, and opportunities to open up in front of you.  
  • Start looking for what you hope to find.   Search for opportunities to practice your intention and you might begin seeing them everywhere!

Overcoming Hardship

Self-Compassion has great benefits.  Being compassionate to yourself involves recognizing your struggles as part of the shared human experience, and it brings about mental, emotional, and physical well-being.  Touching back into your sankalpa, and the truth that you are already all you need to be, encourages resilience.  It can also bring comfort and the agency to continue making choices based on how you want to show up in the world.  

“Above all else, be gentle with yourself.”

Using God’s eyes, look to the big picture, the long term.  When you find yourself in what looks like a slump, or what you might reactively label as failure, above all else be gentle with yourself.  Be as forgiving and as kind to yourself as you would be to your friend.  Then, touch back into your sankalpa and call to mind the felt sense of living from a place of wholeness.  Call to mind the felt sense of well-being you experienced during your meditation and after a few days or a couple weeks of practicing living your intentions.  Acknowledge that you are, indeed, enough.  And you have within you all you need to live out your God-created calling.  

“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”

– St. Teresa of Avila

May you know Love, Light, and any amount of Action!

(photos by pexels)

because Christ is everywhere