The New Year approaches. Perhaps you are considering your resolutions for 2013. Consider this:
Your past. Your experience. Your mistakes. Your embarrassments. Your outright failings. Your fulfilling moments. Your accomplishments. Your successes. Your triumphs.
Your foundation for setting New Year’s Resolutions.
Personally, I cannot look ahead to future goals without deeply (deeply) reflecting on my past. Behind me lie the clues for sensing what might come next. And if I seriously consider these hints, my next steps will be in harmony with whatever makes sense for my ongoing direction. On the other hand, if I do not consider where I’ve come from, then despite having all the best motivations, my path forward will certainly include more bumps, stalls and difficulties than necessary.
In the past, all too often I would set a goal (whether New Year related or not) based on unfounded hopes for the future…correction…based on conjured demands on my future. For example, the future must yield this or that. It must because the present is disappointing, unacceptable, even unbearable. In my past, current conditions would inspire a desire for change – but without recognition that change requires reflection, intention and then resolution.
There is a space between assessing the past and setting goals for the future. In that space dwells Sankalpa – Sanskrit for “deep resolve” or more generally, “intention.”
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At the beginning of every yoga class that I teach, I invite yogis to form a personal intention for the practice – but only after taking time to observe the current, authentic flow of thoughts (without editing or censoring), the present physical state (without judgment), the natural breathing (without shaping it at all) and the senses (without controlling the tug or pull). Next, returning to the mind, we zero-in on one thought that’s been tapping us on the shoulder more than ever – again, without censoring or editing. And based on that thought – regardless of its quality – we shape an affirmation, a dedication or a positive reflection to bring purpose to our time on the mat. We form a Sankalpa.
With that Sankalpa in mind, we check in with how the body feels when the thoughts are positive; we shape the breath into three-parts to deepen the flow of intention on the inhale, and to dissolve and release distractions on the exhale; we notice that, as we embody and breathe with intention, the senses soften and concentration can deepen. In a way, we cycle through the eight limbs as a centering ritual.
During our Asana practice, I encourage yogis to regularly reconnect their body, breath and intention.
By the end of class, all of our initial observations – the mind, the body, the breath, the senses – have become the past, they are behind us. Distracting thoughts, worries or anticipations about the future have softened. What remains is the present intention in our hearts and minds, and our resolve to take that Sankalpa off our mats and into the rest of our day.
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For December, anticipating the approaching flip of the calendar and the related trend of goal-setting, I introduced “Intention and Purpose” as our class focus. And my home studio (Quiet Mind Yoga in DC) chose Warrior II as the Asana of the month. So we’re fusing Sankalpa and Asana for some deliberate work toward New Year’s resolutions, and gearing up for our New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa workshop at the studio.
Inevitably, my teaching of these themes and poses is powerfully shaping my personal reflections and practice. (I am so lucky to be devoted to yoga, and to teach it! I can’t imagine trying to navigate life without such intent and purpose.) Here’s what’s been arising for me this month…
When I look back on 2012, I recall these landmarks (in the order they popped into my mind):
– Committing to my “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention” blog and actions
– Rockin’ out at loads of awesome concerts
– Rockin’ out (and praying my heart out) at the Jai Uttal, Hanumen and DC Supersonic Kirtans; playing percussion and chanting with wonderful Bhakti yogis
– Coordinating and facilitating the 1-year reunion for DC-area Off the Mat, Into the World intensive participants; wrapping up my volunteer Community Builder service for OTM
– Planting roots as a teacher at Quiet Mind Yoga; part-time managing QMY for a temporary spring/summer gig
– Teaching yoga and percussion for another fantastic six weeks of the Levine School of Music’s summer camp
– Being mildly assaulted by a kid in my neighborhood; engaging in a makeshift restorative justice process with him right there and then; enjoying complete reconciliation with him months later
– Leaving a long-term teaching gig on principle; realizing I could have navigated the situation more confidently and potentially stayed
– Celebrating my team – The Washington Nationals – as they clinched the MLB National League East division title and wrestled their way through a noble post season (my god, I still get butterflies in my stomach and tears in my eyes recalling witnessing it all)
– Reuniting with some important friends; losing some relationships with people I care about due to my fear-based triggers and consequent reactions; healing some relationships despite my triggers and reactions; enjoying stronger relationships with those that embrace and practice the process of healing and growing from past patterns; receiving patience and love from those that support my process of healing and growth
– Witnessing, praying for and showing up to support close friends going through very difficult challenges
– Saying a final good bye to a man who betrayed me over and over and over; wising up; honoring my heart and soul
– Enjoying and witnessing ongoing healing and growth within my family of origin
– Attending yoga workshops and trainings focusing on at-risk populations’ issues, including Tommy Rosen’s Recovery 2.0 and James Fox’s Prison Yoga Project; starting a regular practice with Faith Hunter; tuning up the Chakras with Seane Corn and Amy Barnes
– Reaching 10 years of recovery from addiction; continuing to connect with and be of service in my recovery community
– Celebrating my 47th birthday with loving friends and community
– Reaching out far-and-wide with a job search effort; receiving support from many; facing the reality of my un-employability within today’s job market; navigating the doubt, fear and stress of being without full-time employment; using yoga and related practices to remain peaceful despite stress; borrowing money and navigating related shame and despair
– Feeling a very definitive shift from being negatively enmeshed with the pain of my past, to being positively strengthened by that past, and witnessing it inform my present purpose
– Staying open and honest, maintaining my “Nothing To Hide” mantra
* * *
Looking ahead, when I envision my ongoing future, I see these larger goals:
– “Ahimsa Now” as a nonprofit project, program or organization
– The Urban Yoga Den as a physical space for restorative work
– Credentials via university degrees or other certifications to support the creation of Ahimsa Now and The Urban Yoga Den
– Contributing to Restorative Justice efforts as a yoga teacher, counselor, social worker and/or lawyer
– The Urban Yoga Den blog evolving into a wider-reaching resource and a full-length memoir
– Contributing to family well-being and supporting the healthy aging of my father
– Remaining an active member of my recovery community, in service to others
– A loving, trusting, devoted, evolving circle of friends
– Playing percussion professionally more often
– A financially sustained life through which I can give more to others, and cultivate more rejuvenation for myself
– Yoga anchoring my every breath, thought, action ‘til the day I die
I’m sure I’m forgetting something! But hey, these are long-term ideas, so they aren’t going anywhere…
To set intentions for next year, I want to look clearly at what has happened this year, and recognize obvious direction, natural patterns, ongoing strengths and challenges. Also, I want to see if that experience is at all related to my vision for the future; and if so, how and where and why. And I must connect the dots between past experience and future dreams. And only then can I set intentions for next steps.
* * *
Behind me lies my past, before me awaits my future…in my heart center dwells my Sankalpa for moving forward – with informed wisdom, deep resolve and realistic intention.
So, when I think about Sankalpa for 2013, I feel these intentions arise in my heart:
– I will continue doing the practices and work to heal (from past brokenness), grow (into new strength) and serve (passing on what helps me heal and grow).
– I will continue to plant seeds for opportunities to share yoga with at-risk beings.
– I will ask peers and teachers for advice re: continuing education to strengthen credentials and knowledge for starting a non-profit organization. I will research their suggestions and options for continuing education. I will contact schools or programs regarding scholarships and other preparatory steps.
– I will practice percussion regularly.
– I will continue to attend concerts and baseball games for rejuvenating, exhilarating, blissful breaks. I will spend healthy time in nature.
– I will continue to pause and witness my own fears when feeling negatively triggered by those I care about. I will continue to slow down reactions and decrease the need to make amends. I will make amends promptly when necessary. I will prioritize developing trust and love.
– I will nurture friendships. I will visit family at least three times. I will make appointments to research services to support my aging father.
– I will continue to seek financially sustaining work that supports my day-to-day living, and, my step-by-step pursuance of continuing education and the founding of a nonprofit.
– I will chant my face off and pray my heart out at Kirtans. I will work with teachers to enhance my Asana practice and pass it on to my students.
This is it. This is what arises in my heart for the coming year. I am keeping it simple, building on the roots that were planted during 2012, which was a very positive year for me. Gratefully. I am feeling myself returning to my essence, my strength, my joy.
When I practice this process of assessing the past, envisioning the future, and setting realistic intentions for each present step forward, I can be true to and consistently fulfill my big-picture purpose. But how do I discover my purpose? Stay tuned for the next December blog, “On Purpose” – inspired by my recent teacher training with the Prison Yoga Project.
Wishing you a reflective December. Hope to see you on the mat, in the ‘hood or among the electronic air waves soon. OM Shanti.