I am not a fan of making resolutions. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I don’t write big This Is Where I Should Be in Five Years plans, and I won’t even have a fixed plan for my day if I don’t have any appointments scheduled. Beside the fact that I don’t want to feel like I failed by not keeping a resolution, I mostly love the idea of leaving space for the unknown. I prefer to give life the opportunity to unfold, and let myself be dazzled by the infinite possibilities and surprising opportunities that may come my way. Last year I wrote a blog about why it is so hard for many to keep their (New Year’s) resolutions; we are making them for the wrong reasons (read it here).
I do love to set intentions, however. A while back I felt confused when I read someone suggesting to ask yourself in the morning how you’d like to feel at the end of the day. “How would I know?”, I wondered. “If I don’t yet know how my day is unfolding, how can I decide right now about my feelings later”? “Where does present moment awareness have its place in this”? I pondered these questions and talked about it with my meditation teacher. I came to the realization that the metaphor of holding sand in your hand explains the difference between resolutions and intentions beautifully: when you hold sand in your hand and squeeze it tightly because you don’t want to loose the sand, most of the sand will actually spill out immediately. Yet, when you let the sand sit in your open palm, you could hold it there forever. Resolutions bring about a sense of tightness and constriction; things have to be(come) a certain way, and when they don’t happen, or turn out differently, you failed. Intentions, on the other hand, leave space. You can start moving in that general direction, but if your path suddenly takes a turn, it may take you to an even better destination.
I have read a lot of books about manifestation. The Secret, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire, Wishes Fulfilled, Creating Money, Infinite Possibilities, you name it. From everything that I’ve read, manifesting what you want is easy: just affirm you already have it. I know that the brain creates your reality, and that it doesn’t know the difference between what is a physical manifestation and that what you imagine. However, my experience is that is doesn’t always work out that way. For me, affirming something that is not (yet) true feels a lot like a resolution. It has to be this way. It can bring about tension (“What if this doesn’t happen?”), it may foster clinging (“This has to happen.”) , and it likely elicits doubt (“Is this really going to happen?”). Affirming “I am happy”, when you feel anything but that, may make you think you are not allowed to feel the way you are actually feeling, suppressing current emotions, and making you feel even worse. Setting an intention is a much kinder method to carve out the way to change.
As I pointed out in my blog referenced above, the fact that we feel so unfulfilled – and are constantly looking to improve our lives – is because we are perceiving ourselves as separate from the fullness of existence. The Buddhist tradition offers a solution in the form of metta. Metta is a Pali word meaning: love or lovingkindness. “When we practice metta, we open continuously to the truth of our actual experience, changing our relationship to life. Metta – the sense of love that is not bound to desire, that does not have to pretend that things are other than the way they are – overcomes the illusion of separateness, of not being whole.”*
Classic metta phrases are quietly repeated, first to oneself, and later also to others:
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be free of fear and suffering
What I love about the practice of metta, is that it feels like an invitation, a kind reminder of possibility. Interestingly, one of the root meanings of the Pali word metta is: gentle. It is likened to a gentle rain that falls upon the earth, undiscriminating and available to all. This is also how I perceive intentions: “May it be this way.”
This morning I set the intention to feel calm and accomplished at the end of the day. Last night I also set the intention to go grocery shopping this morning. I didn’t go. After I had an early client for private yoga I realized my body would be happier if I did a Yin practice at home. And that is what I did. The result of this decision made me feel calm (my practice was very relaxing) and accomplished, as from that allowing came the thoughts for this blog, hopefully inspiring you to let go of firm resolutions and to hold your intentions lightly. The groceries can wait (my loving husband offered to go instead). May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free of fear and suffering.
* Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness, p. 21