Willful Resolutions Or Joyful Sankalpa?
This is the time of year when many of us review the past year and preview the coming year. Sometimes we see habits that didn’t benefit us in the previous year, and we resolve to improve those habits in the new year. We are sure our willpower can make it happen.
Most New Year Resolutions last a month or two at most.
For many years, I was a consistent, 4-times-a-week gym member. As January approached, I always mentally geared up for the sudden crowds as the gym became swollen with new members keeping their “get fit” New Year Resolutions. It was a minor inconvenience, really–waiting for a machine or signing up for a turn on the aerobic equipment. The inconvenience was short-lived; by February the crowds started to thin out and by March, the gym had returned to “normal”.
Haven’t we all set resolutions, only to see them dissolve within a month or two? I think it’s because even the word “resolution” has a sort of striving, clenching, gritting-the-teeth feel to it. We are using our intellect, our ego, and our strong wills to force things to happen. Even more significantly, we commit to this resolution out of a sense of having fallen short, of not being “enough”. It’s worth asking ourselves whose standards we are using when we feel “less than enough”. Whose voice is speaking to us that way? If we follow it to its core, we will discover it is not the voice of our inner, authentic self.
Yoga offers us a joyful alternative
In Sanskrit it is called “Sankalpa”. It’s usually translated as “intention”. More literally, “san” is “pure” or “highest validity”. “kalpa” means “vow” or “rule to be followed above all other rules”. Using a Sankalpa, we gently allow an intention to become a part of our lives as a “highly valid vow” we make with ourselves. It feels very different from making a list of all the things we’ve just got to change this coming year in order to be “better/happier/more successful/whole”.
Get comfortable, be still, breathe gently, and listen for a yearning to bubble to the surface. Your heartfelt desire is already there, waiting to be heard, so you don’t need to search and grasp for it. What do you truly, deeply want? Once an answer reveals itself, guide your attention to settle softly upon the intention. Allow it to take the form of a short sentence that can be easily repeated; perhaps memorized. Sankalpa comes from deep within us, from that place of wholeness.
Inhale with your attention on your intention, and then exhale with an affirmation such as “all is well” or “things are already falling into place”. For me, this exhalation is a reminder to let go of any tendency to clench or force, so that things can unfold in their own way. This reinforces the ease and joy of the process.
Remember to use positive terms
Over time, as you work with your Sankalpa, it may change or shift. That’s okay. Be sure that you always focus on what you would like to happen, rather than what you don’t want. For example, your Sankalpa could be “My choices create perfect health” rather than “I don’t want to be sick anymore”. You may remember from previous articles that our subconscious is like a first grader who needs clear, simple instructions that are phrased in positive terms.
Nourish your Sankalpa
Your Sankalpa can be a large over-arching desire that involves your whole life path. It can be a small, specific desire that takes you one baby step forward. Either way, phrase it in the present tense. A Sankalpa isn’t a request or a prayer; it is a statement of what is already there, waiting to bloom. Therefore, “My true nature is patience” is more powerful and accurate than “I want to become more patient”.
Using the present tense reminds us that everything required for the Sankalpa to be fully realized is already within us.
Sankalpas come as complete, self-contained packages. They come with “iccha” (consistent will and unbounded energy), “kriya” (ability to take action), and “jnana” (the knowledge of how to take that action) already baked in. The fact that this particular Sankalpa has arisen in you at this time is the proof that you are ready and willing to embrace it.
One way to think of a Sankalpa is as a seed you are planting in the fertile ground of your unconscious mind. Meditation is the perfect place to plant that seed, in the silence between your thoughts. This is because meditation returns us to the memory of our wholeness.
Behave Your Way To Success
Speak your Sankalpa aloud. Write it down. Put images up around your house, at work, and in your car that support it. Act as if it is already happening. For example, when I realized my heart’s desire was to become an elementary art teacher, first I set my intention (my Sankalpa, my “highly valid vow”). I created a short sentence, like “I love teaching kids art as an elementary art specialist” and I repeated this affirmation to myself consistently. I made a vision board of images of art projects my students had created during the years I was a first through sixth grade classroom teacher, and I included a photo of myself, teaching an art lesson. I asked kids what their favorite art experiences had been, and began to collect ideas for art projects for grades 1-6. I also made posters to put on the walls of the art classroom. It was as if I was already an art specialist; the only thing missing was the actual job. When related opportunities came my way, I said “Yes” and made time.
Be open to whatever comes
Allow your Sankalpa to effortlessly become part of your daily life (repeat it as you begin your yoga or meditation practice, or as you drift off to sleep at night). Over time, as you tend it, you will begin to see results, especially if you’re on the lookout for them.
In my case, after about a year of working with my Sankalpa as described above, I was offered not one, but two jobs as an elementary art specialist, at two different elementary schools. This, in a district that previously had zero elementary art specialists!
Sometimes the results will show up looking different from what we had pictured. Stay alert for opportunities and welcome whatever comes, in whatever form it presents itself.