It’s a new year! And of course January is marked by new year’s resolutions– our attempt to start the year with a change for the better. So how did it devolve into a subconscious exercise in self-loathing? Lose 10 pounds! (Message to self: You’re fat.) Stop drinking caffeine! (You’re co-dependent.) Call your parents more often! (You’re ungrateful.)
Perhaps it’s time to trade in your tired and redundant resolutions for a sankalpa or kavanah instead?
In yoga, we offer a sankalpa at the beginning of a practice: an intention. This moment of setting an intention focuses the practitioner and elevates the practice from merely a series of physical exercises and stretches, into an offering to the Highest Self or Consciousness. It could be argued that setting an intention is the most important part of a yoga practice. Traditionally, yoga asanas (postures) are not practiced to become fit, to alleviate low back pain or stretch the muscles; they are practiced to make the physical body ready for meditation. A body cannot sit in meditation for hours, if it is not strong and flexible. And so, we practice asana to prepare our body for the real yoga: to be present in each and every moment.
In Judaism, this same principle exists, with the same amount of sanctity. Our Jewish path to inner awareness begins with kavanah. When we raise a glass to someone and say: “Le-chayim!” this simple is kavanah, labels an act and acknowledges a moment. Jewish tradition understands that our kavanot, our intentions proactively direct holiness into the world. We gather our energy for a specific purpose.
An intention can be anything- it can be personal, “May I accept myself just as I am.” It can be universal, “ May all beings be happy and free.” It can be specific to a given moment, “May I be more patient with the people in my life.”
A Sankalpa, a Kavanah is a practice just like any other- when we frame our intention, we transform small gestures into offerings, we bring awareness into each moment and our days unfold with more grace.
What if we brought this principle of setting intention into other places in our lives? While setting the table or cooking dinner, while cleaning the house, while driving in traffic…While make a phone call we have dreaded..what if each small thing we do, became a vessel of light? How different would this year look?