First, ask yourself: Why do so many people talk about so-called New Year’s resolutions, as if they were really sincere about following through with their ‘resolutions?’ We all know that the vast majority of those resolutions will likely survive, if they’re lucky and very convenient and easy, until about January 15, then spontaneously dissolve rather than resolve. But Why is that?
Second, Why do these ostensibly positive and beneficial changes — and changes they are — appear out of nowhere and shortly after the Winter Holidays — and the Winter Solstice? They could just as well make an appearance anytime, because they should have always been practiced.
Third, Why are there New Year’s resolutions at all? I mean, do these pseudo-commitments so misnomered ‘resolutions’ just spontaneously generate at some time between December 1 and January 1?
Well, the short answer to all three questions is simply that most people around this time of year are suffering from Seasonal Pattern Mood changes or seasonal affective disorder; shorter days, less sunlight, holidays and holydays, play havoc with our serotonin, melatonin, vitamin D, general lifestyle, etc.
After the Winter Solstice days get longer, there’s more light, we’re putting the holiday stressors behind us; it’s time for a change. Besides, media, retail outlets, gyms and fitness centers, friends and acquaintances are all telling us about their plans for a better year, about their “resolutions.” So you’ve got to have one or several of your own. Right? Wrong!
I hear and observe all of the deceit, deception, delusion; all of the self-deceit, self-deception, and self-delusion, and I manage only to roll my eyes and shake my head almost in compassionate despair.
While I certainly don’t expect everyone I meet to be a true prophet or a rishi or a saint philosopher, I unquestionably hope to see some ray of intellect, a glow of awareness, a spark of divinity coming from him! It’s OK. I manage dissonance and disappointment very well with a small dose of reflection and meditation.
First of all, let’s set some operational definitions, so that we know what we are discussing here. A resolution is focused on the outcome, the destination; not on the journey. So, using that proposed definition, we have identified the major reason for most resolutions’ failure: there’s no roadmap, no plan, just a final result.
Intentions invite us to look deep inside ourselves, to become more of an imperfect human being. Intentions are all about less doing and thinking. Intentions are not easier but they are more realistic, and they require nothing more in return than that you make the effort.
More importantly, intentions do not hold you to a specific outcome, just head in the direction of where you want to be. Intentions are all about goals, intermediate goals, the stops between the start and the destination out there somewhere. I would even say that intention may be synonymous with goal setting.
Those of you who practice traditional yoga (योग) or homoerotic yogic Tantra are familiar with the practice of setting a saṅkalpa (सङ्कल्प); well, that’s what I mean about an intention. Your saṅkalpa (सङ्कल्प) is the goal for your present session, it is a waypoint in your journey; you have many saṅkalpa-s in your career but you may not yet have a destination. You have a vision but you are in the present moment, the Eternal Now, and each present moment is your current goal.
All the chatter of the external world, all of the self-help blather, all of the ‘You need to-s’ and ‘Last chance-s,’ all of the illusory and unrealistic air-brushed models are simply not going to get you from point A to point B unless you are aware as to where you are now and present in the Now, ready to flow to point A1 and then to point An. You simply have to know What? you want to do and Why? you want to do it. Only then can you start talking about the How? to do it.
Here’s an illustrative thought experiment. A man has a headache (the What?). Is it because he was hunched over his smartphone all say yesterday, and his neck muscles are tight? Is it because he missed his morning coffee? Or is it the first signs of malignant hypertension or a brain tumor? (Only a sampling of the possible, Why-s?) The question is: How does he best approach the fact of the headache, and how can he avoid a re-occurrence or an aggravation? The answer is: It depends.
And it really does “depend.” It depends not on universals or the general aspects of the case but on the individual, specific situation. A headache can be due to any number of causes alone or in combination. He must first reflect on his situation.
Where is the headache? When did it start? What were the circumstances? What is the quality of the pain? He should then reflect on what might be the cause or the etiology. Finally, where does he want to go with his reflections and his headache? To the medicine cabinet for aspirin or to the neurosurgeon for craniotomy? What will his roadmap and path be to his goal?
Here’s the ‘resolution:’ I’m going to go to the gym. Or, I’m going to meditate. OK. And ….
Here’s the ‘intention:’ I am putting on a bit more weight than I’d like, and I’m not active enough. I’m going to get up an hour earlier, and get to the office an hour earlier. That way I’ll avoid the stressors of morning rush hour. I’ll have my main meal of the day at noon.
I’ll leave the office at 4:00 to beat the stress of rush-hour traffic, and I’ll be at the gym before the rush. I can manage my workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Maybe on Saturdays I’ll plan a hike or go rowing.
Try this one: I feel something’s missing; I need something in my life but I don’t really know what. Discipline? Meaning? Purpose? Holiness? All of the above? I’m going to set the alarm for an hour earlier. I’m going to use that hour to reflect on who I am in that moment.
That moment may be one minute, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes but it will be my moment. My moment will be the time I reserve for discovering me, my real me. I will write down one sentence to describe what I discover.
Then I will get on with my day. In the evening, before I go to bed, I will spend no more than 30 minutes in reflection or meditation on what I became aware of during this day. I will journal one sentence describing my awareness today. I will then practice quieting my mind for sleep and rest.
Please don’t deceive or mislead yourself into thinking that you can pick up a self-help book or do a weekend retreat with some fake for-profit guru and all your problems will be solved. It doesn’t work that way, so wake up. The self-help book tells you only about the author’s problems and his personal, individual approach. It’s his epiphany, not yours. The so-called guru is motivated by marketing and sales results, not by your personal results, unless, of course, he can use them to promote himself. Wake up.
Yes. Wake up! Become aware! We all need to do that at some point or points on the journey. Myself included — perhaps more than most, since I have a calling to be a psychospiritual care provider, which entails incredible responsibility to myself and to my followers.
That responsibility is not the same as a liability because responsibility recognizes limits and boundaries in advance, and responds; liability realizes them only in retrospect or in terms of consequences, and reacts.
We all need guidance; the problem is not being aware of that fact. A powerful and meaningful saṅkalpa (सङ्कल्प), intention, requires awareness; that awareness doesn’t come overnight — although in rare individuals it might just do that in an Aha! moment or an epiphany — and requires good guidance from a authentic mentor, guru, or daka.
I have always been guided by a particular image of a mentor or guru (गुरु) or dāka (दाक). It’s not the śiṣya (शिष्य) or seeker following his guide like a puppy on a leash, or as a puppet imitating everything the guru says or does, and then goes through life as a digital recording of guru X.
No! My image of my seeker-guru relationship is the image of the seeker following an uncertain path, armed with a saṅkalpa, his sincere intention, and with the guru or mentor following close behind him, whispering in the seeker’s ear.
So, let’s drop the cliché of the New Year’s resolution together with its deceptions, and let’s start anew with a sincere intention to make positive, beneficial, authentic changes through long-term commitment and practice.
Let’s start the New Year and every day of the year with healthy awareness and devotion, with a commitment to self-awareness, compassion, and selfless service. Let’s forget the resolutions and pick up the intentions.
It may seem bizarre but sometimes you have to have an overarching intention to revisit and review your active or operative intentions. I recommend that you write down your various intentions, that you journal them. It’s also helpful to share them with someone capable of keeping you on the path, to help you to focus or discern what you really need. If you need a guide, a guru, a dāka, you don’t need to search for him; he’s found you.
Oṃ śānti, śānti, śāntiḥ ||
Peace to you in body, mind, and spirit.
If you have any comments or questions regarding this article, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
D. Karuṇā T.
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