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Intentions for a New Year (PART ONE): Discovering Your Sankalpa

In part 1 of this series, you’re invited to explore setting intentions for the year ahead in a way that doesn’t start with classic self-improvement but rather begins from a place of wholeness. I hope you’ll indulge in this 15 minute meditation to help you explore intentions based on your heart’s deepest desires.  (Part 2 includes 4 encouragements to help you live out your intentions.)

“Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” 

 – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2392

The Beginning of a New Year

Having marked the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday, we are now past the Christmas season and have moved through the sweetness of Christ’s Epiphany.  Indeed, we have finally landed squarely, solidly, in Ordinary Time. Hallelujah! 

I always feel a sense of sweet relief in this quiet space between so many Holy Days and Lent.  There’s no pressure here, nothing to mark, note, or celebrate, nothing big to make a lot of magic for, and nothing crucial to teach my children relating to fundamental theological meanings and how that should be integrated into their lives.  Instead, I can focus on the simple things, like Love.  (Ha!  I know — Love is as complicated as it is simple.)  

However, it is still January, and turning the calendar to a new year can bring up a lot of emotions.  It can be exhilarating, as if we are opening up a world of possibilities that somehow we couldn’t access in December.  And it can also produce feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, or even dread. If we expect ourselves to enact a long list of changes we think we need to make, or countless “shoulds” we don’t even want to think about, “Day One” of our Big New Plan might find us plowing ahead doing the same old things we’ve always done.  We can find ourselves in an elaborate attempt to avoid change. In this case, burying our heads in the sands of Ordinary Time seems mighty convenient.

Resolutions & Intentions

Awhile back I let go of traditional new year’s resolutions and have focused on setting particular intentions that help guide my decision-making, both large and small.  Traditional new year’s resolutions aren’t bad. In fact, they’re wonderful when used as clues to deeper longings. They usually point toward the deep human longing for loving attention, respect, security, and companionship.  In my experience, though, I noticed that “setting resolutions” didn’t quite help me change my behavior beyond a couple of days. They usually felt big and unwieldy, “out-there” theories without any practical applications to go along with them:  I will be healthier.  I’m not going to be selfish.  I will lose all the baby weight.  I’ll practice yoga more. I’ll stop complaining.  I won’t eat sugar. I will exercise everyday.  Do any of these sound familiar?  Big goals like “I will ______” or “I won’t ______”  can seem random or even shallow, and sometimes completely out of reach.  In this vein, our approach to resolutions can lack an action plan, or a set of mini-goals that act as stepping stones to get us where we think we want to go.  Intentions, while still existing within the mind and heart, can function like those much needed stepping stones by offering a foundation of relevance – the big Why.  For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, what’s the reason? Is it to feel better, look better, fit into your clothes better? It might be, and those are all appropriate responses. And deeper than those, would losing weight allow you to move through the world in a different way, experience kind attention, connection, respect, and love? If so, is losing weight the only way, or the best way, I can experience this? Look for the reasons beneath your goals to find your intentions.

Intentions & Sankalpa

Basically, an intention is how you want to show up in the world and why.  In Yoga practice intentions are born out of your Sankalpa.  Sankalpa is a vow or commitment to a higher truth and refers to a heartfelt desire, an expression of your deepest longing to be of service to something greater than you.  In short, it is your heart’s truest path, your dharma, and when you’re on it, you feel a sense of purpose, gratitude, and joy (typically, in that order!).  In Christian practice, sankalpa can be likened to God’s calling for you, your vocation, which can grow and change as you move through different phases of your life.  Both sankalpa and God’s call assume that you are already all that you need to be to manifest this truth.  This is a wildly different approach than the classic I’m not good enough as I am.  And I won’t be good enough until I do X, Y, and Z.  This coming from a place of wholeness (rather than a place of brokenness) is one of the greatest comforts I know and is a true gift.  

Living what you are meant to live can feel as though you’ve finally slipped in the last shape of a 1,000 piece puzzle.   There’s a sense of completeness, that you’ve finally figured it all out, that you know who you are and why you’re here. However, because life includes aging, tragedies, and all manner of suffering, the path will not always feel smooth, nor will it always roll out obviously and effortlessly in front of you.  Purpose, gratitude, and joy are definitely part of the emotional experience of living out sankalpa, but so is challenge and difficulty, and sometimes even confusion because we are human and occasionally stop paying attention, ending up sideways.  Both sankalpa and God’s call acknowledge a powerful paradox, or mystery — that while we come from a place of wholeness as sacred beings who share in divine nature, we are also always in the process of realizing, or manifesting this fact. In many spiritual traditions, including Christianity, this is sometimes referred to as becoming fully human, or, being and becoming.  

This coming from a place of wholeness is one of the greatest comforts I know and is a true gift.  

Heart-work like this takes patience, courage, and fortitude.  Pray for God’s Divine Providence and guidance, the Holy Spirit’s power and truth, and Christ’s unfailing, steadfast support that is always and forever at your very core.  With wisdom and discernment, all you need to do is ask, seek, and knock (Matt 7:7-11).

Discovering Your Sankalpa, A Meditation

Please know that it’s totally okay that you’re reading this mid-January.   And it’s super-okay if you are reading this in February, or at the end of March.  Nothing needs to happen on the first day of the year, the first day of the month, or the first day of the week.  Any time, Wednesday at 1:37 in the afternoon even, is the perfect time for a new beginning. It’s quite a beautiful practice to give space and time to allow intentions, ideas, and plans to percolate for a bit at the beginning of any new season.  For me, taking the first week of Lent to allow God to nourish in me the actions I’ll take over the next few weeks takes all the pressure off. Basically, we don’t need to have it all figured out before we start — another sweet relief!

For those of you who follow the liturgical calendar, you might have begun your new year on the first day of Advent, and perhaps you are already in a sweet groove of manifesting your intentions.  If so, this meditation can serve as a reminder, reset, reimagining, or a reinvigoration. Think of it as encouragement when your courage is waning and as a heartening for your heart’s truest path.

A MEDITATION PRACTICE FOR DEEP INNER LISTENING

Inspired by the work of Richard Miller, Kelly McGonigal, and Thomas Keating, I’ve created the following meditation to provide time and space to be curious.  

Set-Up

Choose a time of day when you can allow fifteen minutes for the meditation and anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes for reflection.  

Before you begin, notice that reflection questions are provided for you below the audio file.  Collect a journal, pen, and any art supplies if you’d like to draw your reflections.  

Set up a yoga mat with supportive props.  A chair is another option, as you can practice this meditation lying down or seated.  If you think you might fall asleep, choose to sit upright in a sturdy chair. If your body is in need of restoration, choose a deeply supportive version of corpse pose using blocks, bolsters, and blankets arranged in “queen’s pose/lazy boy pose,” any other savasana variation, or legs up the wall pose.  Then start the audio posted below.

Meditation for Discovering Your Sankalp by Amy Dobson Secrist

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Reflecting on Your Heartfelt Desire 

Based on your meditation, consider answering any or all of these questions in words or drawings to discover your sankalpa:

  • What brings me joy?
  • What experiences allow me to feel fully alive?
  • What is my heartfelt desire?  (State your heartfelt desire in the present tense rather than in the future.  This reminds you that you have all you need and are already capable of manifesting your higher truth.)

Setting Intentions

Based on your meditation, consider answering any or all of these questions in words or drawings to help set your intentions:

  • Because I am already capable of living my heartpath, I make a commitment to show up in the world as I truly am, a person who is  ______________.  
  • What resources are already in place for me to follow my heartpath?
  • What other resources might I pursue?
  • In my daily life, what actions am I already taking that manifest my heartfelt desire?  
  • What actions can I commit to in my daily life that support my calling?  Are there any specific decisions or changes that I can commit to that support my intentions?
  • Because I am already capable of living my heartpath, the first step I will take is __________.

Next Steps

By practicing this meditation and reflecting on what you’ve discovered, you’ve already taken a big first step.  From here, take care not to pressure yourself to get it all right, exact, or correct. Invite the Holy Spirit to work in you and through you. 

One practice that can feel like perfect swaddling is to choose just one word, almost like a theme for the year ahead. Many Christians practice this by spending time in prayer during the weeks of Advent, or throughout the Christmas season and holy days, or for a shorter time at the beginning of the calendar year.  Your time spent with God in meditation, uncovering your sankalpa, can be a part of this word-choosing as well. Consider inviting the Holy Spirit to reveal your word to you, either through deep inner listening, scripture reading, or interactions with friends, family, and others. Your reflections on this inner listening meditation can most likely be distilled and encapsulated in one word.  Take a look, offer it to God, and see!

Moving Out into the World

Your intentions guide your days moment by moment, or decision point by decision point. When you find yourself ready to make a particular choice about something, what you’ll say, how you’ll act, touch back into your sankalpa, your intentions, or your one guiding word. Your inner truth that lives deep within will nudge you in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to follow your path!

Transcript 

Welcome to your meditation practice of deep inner listening.  In your own time, allow your eyes to close or soften your gaze, and begin to notice your body through sensation.  Notice where your body makes contact with the supports beneath it and any sensations that might be present here. Notice any amount of gravity, a gentle downward force connecting your nervous system to ground.  Invite a sense of spaciousness into your body, a sense of non-compression in your joints. Notice any sensations of heaviness, lightness, or both of these. At your own command, invite a deeper breath – a comfortably deep inhalation, and an easy exhalation.  Take two more breaths like this. Now, give the work of breathing back over to your body and give the weight of your body into your supports. Allow the body to breathe you, rather than you breathing the body. Notice how it feels to be breathed, to be cared for. 

If it is in your practice to do so, please begin your deep inner listening by consenting to God’s presence and action within you.  A nod, a smile, a big hello inward in God’s direction. Invite the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to be present within and around you.  Know the comfort of God’s great care for you.  

Bring your awareness back to sensation.  Notice any sensations anywhere in the body as they arise, stay for a moment, and fade away.  Notice that your body is breathing. Notice the breath coming and going. Now, notice who is noticing.  This is your awareness, the part of your mind that knows experience. Invite your awareness to notice your mind and any thoughts present here.  Allow them to settle. Release any amount of expectation feeling safe and secure, cradled in God’s great care. Return to this experience of ease, your inner sanctuary, at any time.

Suspend judgment for the next few moments. Suspend analysis.   Invite a sense of spaciousness, invitation, and inquiry. Become curious about your heartfelt desire.  Welcome, with a sense of hospitality and friendliness, whatever arises. Any thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations that come into your awareness are like messengers.  Welcome them as guests and be curious about what they wish to share with you. As you practice this self-inquiry, allow your thoughts, imaginings, and emotions to be spontaneous, without analysis, or judgment, and without feeling the need to change, fix, or wish they were different.  It is normal and okay to not have an immediate response, or to not know the answers. Remember that you come from a place of wholeness. 

Begin to notice your connection to ground.  Notice your breath. Your inner sanctuary. 

Now, imagine yourself smiling and happy.  Notice what happiness feels like in your body.  Notice what brings this about in you.  

Call to mind any specific goals that you have been wishing for or working toward.  Do these goals inspire your smile or bring about your happiness?  

What deeper longing lies beneath these goals?

What amount of this experience that you deeply long for is already present in your life?

Now imagine yourself smiling and joyful.  What does this feel like in your body, where does joy live in you?  Consider what experience allows you to feel this profound joy.

What opportunities to experience joy and comfort are already present in your life?  How are you already exploring more experiences that allow you to feel joyful, comforted, and fully alive?

In your own time, notice any obstacles that might be present.  Notice one obstacle and welcome it as a messenger. Does it have a shape, a texture, a color?  What else do you notice about this obstacle?  

Become aware again of your awareness, and the presence of God within you.  Notice any amount of security, comfort, and ease that exists here. Know that this is available to you at any time.  Touch back into God’s presence. Know that you are secure, deeply loved, and held. You do not need to be fixed. Know that your wholeness depends on nothing.  You are a whole human being, fully present, and fully alive.  

Invite your awareness back to your breath.  Notice that it’s been here all this time, caring for you.  In your own time, invite your awareness back to your body. Notice any amount of heaviness, lightness, or both of these sensations.  At your own command, invite your breath to deepen. Breathe in comfortably deep, and breathe out in any way that feels right. Take two more breaths like this, noticing how your body responds to this bigger breath.  Before inviting formal movement, simply notice your fingers and toes, hands and feet, your arms and legs, neck and head. If you feel it would be interesting, consider blinking open your eyes or lifting your gaze to notice whatever texture, color, or shape is in view.  Notice that your are fully awake while your body is very much at ease. When you feel ready, invite movement into your fingers and toes, your hands and feet, then arms and legs, neck and head. Then, begin to move and breathe in any ways that feel right.  

In your own time, find your journal and supplies.  Write or draw about your experience in your own way, or use the written questions to guide your reflection.  May you know peace and wholeness.