A photo from January 1, 2017 – a quick stretch before the first of many bus rides to NYC this past year.
by SADIE LEIGH
This time of year always seems to sneak up on me. Looking back on the year gone by, January feels like forever ago, but also as if the whole year happened in the blink of an eye somehow. This is a season that comes with a lot of emotions, and a lot of expectations. And that’s why, when I think about the year to come, I prefer the practice of setting intentions rather than the perhaps more popular concept of New Year’s Resolutions.
My yoga practice has taught me that suffering comes from expectations, and bliss comes when you’re able to act without attachment to the results. So for me, not only does a resolution seem too fixed and stiff with no room for growing and shifting, but there’s a lot of pressure! In my experience, it seems like when folks make New Year’s Resolutions, more often than not they’re pretty unattainable. Expectations go unmet, and that leads to shame and guilt and frustration, and all of that sounds like a real bummer. But an intention, that’s your agreement to yourself to try your best. To put thought, word, and action towards a dream or desire to the best of your ability. An intention is strong and meaningful, but it’s also flexible and forgiving. Sounds much better to me!
There are many wonderful practices people turn to when it comes to intention setting. I encourage you to do a little research, ask a trusted teacher what they think, do a google search, or however else you like to get your info! To get you started, I’ll share a few ideas that might be interesting to you.
- A practice my dear friend Linda turned me onto is to try to choose one word for the year and let that be your intention. For example, last year I chose the word “education.” I was feeling like I wanted more information and understanding, so I let that word sink in and when it came time for me to make choices throughout the year, I often let education be my frame. I feel like this manifested in big ways — like my decision to finally do a 500 hour training with Sri Dharma Mittra, something I’d been considering doing for years — and smaller ways, too — like reading more nonfiction books on subjects I’m interested in. I love this one word practice because it sets a direction and gives a framework without being too specific or demanding.
- For some, intention setting is nearly synonymous with vision boarding. This is a practice in which you essentially make a collage of images that resonate with you, which will inspire you to live with your intention(s) in mind. They can include photos, drawings, words, whatever will help to inspire and remind you of your intentions. These are often physical collages that you can hang in your room or by your desk, wherever makes the most sense, but I’ve also heard of folks doing similar things with Pinterest boards or a tumblr, so if that’s something that would work better for you, go digital!
- I’m a big fan of writing things down. You might try spending some time in the first week of the year with a pen and paper (or a keyboard, again, whatever works for you!), and writing yourself a letter. Don’t worry about being too specific or making a plan, don’t stress to much about the “how,” just allow yourself the practice of writing down that which speaks to your desires and vision for the coming year. Something about the act of actually writing down an intention makes it feel really real and that much more accessible for me, maybe the same is true of you!
There are plenty of other ways people set intentions – write it on a small piece of paper and burn it in offering, meditate on your intention, find a small object to carry with you, like a smooth stone or figure of a deity to carry a physical representation of your intention – and on and on. The trick is to pick something that feels authentic and manageable for YOU.
So at this point you might be thinking, well all this is fine, but… what should my intention even BE!? Great question, and it’s one that only you can answer. I, nor anyone else, can tell you what to strive for in the year ahead, but I’ll leave you with some questions that might get you started on thinking about what shape your intention or intentions might take.
- How do you feel when you’re at home?
- When you think about the physical spaces you occupy most frequently, what comes to mind?
- What do you love about yourself? How can you feed this part of you?
- Is there something you’re holding on to that you’ve begun to realize you no longer need?
- Who in your life brings you joy?
- How are you connected to your community?
- What would you say or do if you had a clear moment of fearlessness?
- How can you learn more about the things that matter to you?
- What is important to you and how can you elevate it?
- Who do you love, and what are you doing about it?
Maybe several of those questions resonated with you, or maybe just one, or maybe none at all. It’s all good information to have. So take some time, sit with your thoughts, ask your heart what really matters, and go from there. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to look to the year ahead with optimism, determination, and compassion.