New Year, New Beginnings: Setting a Sankalpa for 2017.
“No good ending can be expected in the absence of the right beginning” – I Ching
In the Vedic tradition there is the concept of Sankalpa, which means determination, conviction and resolve. Whilst western notions of New Year’s resolutions often stem from the premise of somehow not being good enough as we currently are, Sankalpa acknowledges our intrinsic goodness and reminds us that we have absolutely everything we need to live our true path right now. Our call is simply to connect to our deepest self, open our mind and allow the divine to move through us.
The word kalpa means ‘vow’ and the invitation is to make a vow to follow our highest truth. Sankalpa is not about imposing ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ upon ourselves. Rather it is an invitation to re-commit to the things our heart is calling us most compellingly to. We can utilise a number of tools to help carry our desires beyond a conviction that fizzles out very quickly. We can:
Be gentle and Realistic with Ourselves
Every time we fail, our self-esteem takes a blow and we become less likely to bounce back and continue on the path. It is therefore important to be gentle with ourselves and mindful of our current capabilities. Whilst we might love to spend an hour every morning on our yoga practice, for example, twenty minutes may be more achievable. Setting our alarm clock just twenty minutes earlier is a realistic goal, as is perhaps setting aside this time in the afternoon or evening if this time suits us better.
There will be times when we don’t quite manage to maintain our determination. This is okay. Life has a habit of getting in the way from time to time and one missed meditation practice does not mean we need to berate ourselves or throw in the towel. We are called to be kind to ourselves, to practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness, to embrace our setbacks and move boldly on.
It is more difficult to hide from the things we write down. Taking just two minutes each evening to write a couple of sentences about our Sankalpa can strengthen our resolve and help us to see through any perceived obstacles. Writing in this way can also help us to explore our feelings and resistances; if we did not practice, it may be helpful to write down why we think this is and how we feel about it.
Sit with the Resistance
As fears and resistance arise, many of us default to escapist behaviours or don our battle armour ready for a fight. Any resistance, however, will dissolve far more effectively if we accept it and sit with it, staying with any emotions that subsequently surface. As A Course in Miracles reminds us, “What we resist persists. What we look at disappears”.
Starting each day with an affirmation related to our practice can help our desires to materialise into reality. It is important to put such affirmations into the present tense e.g. I am frequently mindful and spend twenty minutes each day in seated meditation.
Commit to the Path
Changing our routines and behaviours is hard. If it was easy, far fewer of us would be so tremendously stuck in our ways. Whilst the exact figure varies from person to person, studies have found that it takes people an average of 66 days to form a new habit. There is likely to be some resistance along the way, as most of us naturally gravitate towards what is familiar and less effortful. Yet as Gautama Buddha reminds us, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. If we continue on the path we have consciously chosen, however, refusing to be distracted or lured by the false promise of an easy life, we will surely end up at our chosen destination. The call is to wholly commit ourselves and fully own the vow we have made for the coming year.
Let go of Excuses
The most common lament from people wanting to deepen their yoga or meditation practice is that they don’t have enough time. Yet one thing that all of us have is time. Five minutes morning and evening is a commendable starting place, and is possible for even the busiest amongst us. It may also serve us to remember that the practice of yoga can occur anytime, anywhere. We are able to bring mindfulness to every experience, to practice conscious breathing with every breath, to exercise non-judgment with every person and in every situation, to release our mind-stories and reside in the place of unwavering peace within us in every moment of our lives.
Over to you! What is your Sankalpa for 2017? What do you feel your heart calling you most strongly to for the coming year?