Setting Intention

"The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred... unforeseen incidents, meetings, and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way."  - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Torrey Pines State Park, Guy Fleming Trail, January 2017.

Torrey Pines State Park, Guy Fleming Trail, January 2017.

Every year in December, I spend time reflecting on the previous year, and contemplating the year ahead. I take my time to celebrate everything that happened in the previous year, small and big. I take lots of photos, so it’s a good time to review some of those moments. (Incidentally, I have been using the Collect app to capture a photo a day, then create an end-of-year collage for a fun review of the year.) 

When I was growing up in Moscow, New Year’s celebrations were our major winter holiday. There was no religion in the U.S.S.R. officially, so Christmas was not really celebrated, and hence all the magic, the tree, Father Frost with the presents, making wishes, and celebrating with friends and family came on the night between December 31 and January 1. To this day, it is a special time for me, and a lot of Russians I know would agree. While in my current home of San Diego, I can’t go sledding at midnight with sparklers, I can celebrate with family and friends, and take in the magic of the year turning over. 

When I came to the U.S., I learned about the practice of New Year’s Resolutions. Somehow, it never really stuck with me. I know people who are resolution-setters, and I know that for some of them it works very well. But for me, resolutions feel like something we force ourselves into that we don’t really want to do, that, crucially, may come from a place where we judge ourselves to be insufficient, and set goals to “improve” ourselves. No wonder resolutions often break down. It's not very motivating to make changes from a place of "never good enough", because it feels like the spiral will never end. Trust me, I'm no stranger to the negative self-talk, and it's a continual process for me to notice and counter it.

So today I want to introduce the notion of intention-setting, as an alternative and energizing practice. In contrast to resolutions and "improvement", the source of intention is inspiration. This inspiration comes from your heart's deepest desires, from envisioning the direction you want to go in next, and crucially, how you want to be in that process. Moreover, rather than attaching yourself to specific outcomes in the future, you are staying in the present, and creating a map for this next piece of your journey, to which you then commit.

In my experience, this kind of vision-setting leads to incredible creative energy, which then results in devising concrete steps along your path to get you moving in your chosen direction. But importantly, you are not attaching yourself to something that might well be outside your control, there is no "failure" if you don't attain a certain specific outcome, and you are prioritizing being present for the process of it, in ways that are most meaningful to you.

So maybe, not "Resolution: publish a novel this year", but rather "Intention: make time and space to write every day, and enjoy the creative process."  

If you would like to try out an intention-setting practice for this month, I offer you one below. You have most of the month, so spend some time with these practices. Hopefully, you will find this process enjoyable for its own sake, a self-care ritual and an exploration, and it will help you set the foundation for a thriving next year.  What I have also found is that when you get clear with your intentions, the world will conspire to help you along in the directions you choose, just like Goethe says.  

Namaste, happy reflecting, and happy holidays!


Intention-Setting Practice

First: grounding in where you are now. Write about your 2017 up till now. What are you grateful for? What have you learned from the year? Which people have made an impact on you? Celebrate your achievements, and those of your loved ones as you see fit. Celebrate your perseverance. Celebrate your strength in the face of challenges. Have compassion for yourself in the face of any difficulty that came your way.

Second: reflection. Get quiet with yourself for a while, over a few days, and reflect: where are you right now in life, and what are your heart’s deepest desires for the next year? This is a good journaling practice to do after a some quiet time with yourself. Try to quiet your mind so as to let your intuition arise in the gaps between your thoughts, listening to your gut feeling, so that this practice is not just analytical, but intuitive. 

Third: intention-setting. Out of the reflection above, write down the intentions that bubble up.  Make sure you really love the list you have made! If you feel like anything in your intentions is out of alignment with your gut feeling, think about whether or not you want that item on your list. This will be a roadmap for your year, but you can revisit and tweak it later as much as you want.