As the darkest days turn back toward the light, all the possibilities and hopes for the new year begin to shine brightly, and then we crush them with guilt from resolutions we don’t keep. “I resolve to exercise at least 5 times a week, become a vegetarian, only have 5 drinks per week, lose that extra 10 pounds, etc and pointless etc.” As January turns to February, we’re already failing miserably, mentally beating ourselves up, and then letting it go altogether, which is exactly why I stopped making resolutions years ago and began setting intentions.
What, you may ask, do I know about setting intentions? Obviously not much, because last year on New Year’s Eve, I stood at an open window with one of my best friends and set my intention for 2015. Here is what I yelled with all the force of my being to the universe:
“I will make 2015 a year of health! I will sleep more, drink less, and focus entirely on my health!”
Please tell me you see the humor in this, because the universe answered my call. 2015 has been almost entirely about my health; I have slept more and drank less than I have since I was 16, but in my sincere commitment to this intention of a health focused year, I forgot to specify. As I yelled out that window I might have included that I hoped to accomplish this by devoting myself entirely to my Pilates apprenticeship and perhaps drinking more water, cooking at home, and pushing for 7 hours of sleep a night. I did not mean to achieve these goals by being diagnosed with cancer. Oi vey.
Intentions are an act of self kindness. Intentions differ from resolutions in that a resolution is defined as “a firm decision to do or not do something,” or “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.” The first definition requires us to force something upon ourselves, and if you’re like me, I push back against force. If I resolve to never eat cookies again, I’ll end up eating 20 a day until you’re cutting a hole through a wall in my home to remove my gargantuan carcass. The second definition requires an action plan with consequences and rewards. I’ve never known anyone to set a new year’s resolution by creating an action plan. That is type A business of a magnitude we don’t often see around here.
Intentions, however, are defined as “a thing intended; an aim or plan.” This is gentle, focused, and allows room for our efforts to swing back and forth like a pendulum as we seek balance in achieving these goals. When you fall off the wagon you get back on without guilt all through the year, or as long as it takes, to achieve your aim and set it as the new normal.
My brilliant friend Carrie Contey and I discussed this the other night, and she told me that she has often had clients write what they see as an “achievable” intention and then the one they really want, the grand one, the over the top, living the dream one. She encourages them to be as specific as possible, and says that very often her clients achieve that over the top goal. Don’t be afraid to aim high, and be specific. Add the important details, and then paint a picture of them. Get creative. Seriously.
I think about my intentions often throughout a day, and like exercising a muscle, each time I bring them back into focus and behave accordingly, I find myself closer to achieving my aim. Like I said before, I am motivated by anything I can treat as a practice, and to approach an intention as a practice engages my mind and holds my interest, necessary for success. This week I’m working on the wording of my intentions for 2016. The goals themselves are clear in my mind, and revolve around 3 words: liberation, ecstasy, now. Get your dirty minds out of the gutter! In 2016 I intend to become liberated and live ecstatically by living in the now. No big. Well, absolutely big, but 2015 taught me that I can do anything. I feel freer than I think I ever have, and oddly happier than I’ve maybe ever been, but that’s not enough. Liberation trumps freedom. Ecstasy trumps happy. As they say, go big or go home.
In the meantime, i.e. the next 2 days, I will work on that sentence, look for pitfalls, accept the fact that it might not be very specific (but I actually believe it is), realize I could never plan for all the curveballs the universe can throw, and at the stroke of midnight shout it out with all the mighty force of my being. Only time will tell what I set into motion.
*side note. As 2015 comes to a close, it would be insane not to bow before the people who have lit my way through this year with love on a scale I could never have imagined. If I started to name them all (which would take hours) I would forget someone, and that would be absolutely unacceptable, because there have been huge gestures and small kindnesses alike that have affected me in ways I’m currently unable to express with words. All I can say is that my life will move on with an intention of paying these beautiful acts forward in honor of you all. To quote Mark Helprin from “Winter’s Tale”:
“The sicker I become, the more clearly I can see that everything is connected by light.”
With all my experiences over the last year I am now able to confirm that this is true, we are all connected by light. Happy New Year, and welcome 2016!