Here it is, the new year; a clean slate, time of rebirth and starting over. Out with the old and in with the new. Except after a couple of decades of this clean slate business, we all know it doesn’t really work that way. Come January first, or Sunday morning, or your birthday, it’s still ourselves with all our complexity looking back in the mirror. You again.
I know a lot of us are jaded and not going to be duped into making new years resolutions. But hold on--let’s not miss out on a prime opportunity. Hold onto the baby when you drain the tub. Forget about Resolutions, but definitely set some Intentions. There is a difference. I think it’s profound.\
A Resolution is a static thing. Even if you're good at goal setting and include all the important bits (make it challenging but attainable, set a time limit, be specific) this approach is still vulnerable to failure. Maybe not doomed, but you're starting out with strikes against you. For one, it’s oppressive and comes along like a parental need to fix something that's wrong. “I will stop smoking this year.” “I will call my mother every Sunday.” “I will fix the porch.” Even “I will have more fun this year” has an edge of aggression, a violent way of dealing with the psyche. It’s the well-meaning parent but it’s harsh and almost ripe to be revolted against. Plus it has that pass/fail quality. Slipping up is a sign of failure and failure is the first step to abandoning the project altogether. It doesn’t acknowledge the real terrain of life or the growth and evolution needed to move into a new way of being that some of these changes require. Smoking solves problems. Sure it creates others and probably is not the best way to solve what it does, but the reality is that in the complexity of your life, it has a niche, it plays a role. It often takes more than discipline to grow successfully, to evolve, to make complex life changes.
This is where setting an intention can have real power. Intentions have a quality of curiosity and playfulness about them. They acknowledge the journey aspect of life in resolving problems. If you resolve to stop smoking you're already starting off labeling your behavior in a negative or pathological light. If you set your intentions to quit smoking, it opens all kinds of room around that topic. It’s the difference between an outer authority making demands and being met as an equal with compassion and caring. It’s easier to make changes when we feel safe and cared about than when we are being attacked. “Why do I smoke?” is a very powerful question. I remember running into a co-worker behind the store where we both worked. He was sheltered from the rain in a small alcove the smokers had made for themselves. We spent a sweet five minutes together while he smoked and we visited in the cool rain on a misty Portland afternoon. Then he went back in and I went on my way. It was magic. I understood. As abhorrent as the habit is, even with all the health implications screaming away, I understood. Setting an intention around smoking, or whatever behavior, allows exploration of all those pieces, to tease out what works and what doesn't.
Everything becomes an opportunity to gain more information. If you try to lose weight and just cannot stop eating cookies in the afternoon, this gives you the opportunity to really watch your behavior in the afternoon. Is there a particular stress then? Do you not have access to better choices? Do you need to totally review how you manage food and meals? Is this a shopping problem? A cash flow problem? Are you doing too much and not getting the basics like food shopping and cooking done? Is someone sabotaging you? Is this the only 'sweetness' in a demanding life? Setting an intention releases you to be the detective and problem solver in your life and helps develop a sense of partnership with yourself. Where resolutions can leave you stranded and frustrated, an intention can help you explore other options or study yourself enough for new options to appear.
This is a more profound tool than it appears. Because you start out in partnership with yourself rather than in opposition (let’s figure out how to stop smoking versus you must stop smoking) you already begin with a powerful ally and one fewer adversary. Not that the adversary doesn’t come up, but when it does there is a voice of reason that shows up too, rather than just the Inquisition. (since I had cookies already the whole week is ruined vs hmm even though I want to lose weight I still ate all those cookies, why did that happen?)
The best part of setting intentions is that it builds your relationship with a specific point in the future. Out of all the possibilities of what could happen to you, you are singling out one and creating a relationship with it. Bill Mitchell, ND taught us how to harness the synergy of that relationship. His idea has to do with the relationship between energy and mass. Its why E=MC2 is relevant to us here on the ground. You take a point in space--say the painfully real present moment where I want to pay off a debt. Very real, very solid, recognizable. Then pick a point in the field of all possible futures--say that one there where I have paid off that debt. It’s like any other possibility, except… I choose that one. I set an intention to reach that point and start energizing that possibility. I think about it, I start creating behaviors that will make it possible and I do everything I can to bring that new and novel point into alignment with myself. I create a relationship between that particular possibility and myself. The energy and mass of that future grows as I put more into it. Eventually a point is reached where that spot has both mass and energy creating a vacuum between the future point and the present point. The vacuum itself, the distance between the reality of today and the future point becomes unstable and the distance actually collapses bringing the two points together. Using the power of intention actually harnesses the natural forces at work bringing that possibility into being. It’s a sweet and interesting theory.
Setting an intention sets you onto a journey of self-discovery and wonder. Sometimes you just find bad habits but often there are real gems to be uncovered as you wrestle with the true nature of obstacles and what it really means to evolve your soul. Setting intention also allows the interplay of other forces and energies to interact with you. It frees you from the tyranny of fixing yourself and leads you into the dance of becoming. It leads you down the path of the heart.
Not sure how to go about it? That's a whole other journey but here is a nice suggestion from Deepak Chopra. I would add, start at the place that engages your heart. If that's shadowy, start with the thing you feel you should do: lose 25 pounds, pay off a bill, etc, then go through that laundry list and then ask yourself why? Why spend your life energy on that project? What do I really want? You may uncover some very interesting desires and deep intentions. Take hold of this year. Make it yours.
Dr Sharon Woodard
Good Life Medicine Center