CONTEMPLATING THE NEW YEAR
“I call the moment when you fully know that a change is achievable realizing the imaginative possible. When you are able to envision that an alternative is real, you experience a sudden energetic surge toward actualizing it, which becomes self-reinforcing.”
……Phillip Moffitt (2012) Emotional Chaos To Clarity
The New Year holiday is a natural time to reflect on the cycles in our lives – the beginnings and endings, the losses and renewals, the ongoing narrative themes that weave in, out, and through our life story. In the ritual of new year’s resolutions, we also have an auspicious opportunity to contemplate our aspirations and intention as we go forward into the unfolding future.
For more than I decade, I have had a personal new year’s practice of reflecting on and then writing about my goals and intentions for the new year. I distinguish between goals and intentions. Goals express our preferences for future; what we want to accomplish; what we want to bring into being. They provide inspiration and direction as well as determine how we allocate our time and resources. Intentions, on the other hand, are statements about how we would like to actually think, act, and speak in any given moment as we move forward towards our goals. Together, goals and intentions describe our purpose— the forward thrust of our energy going forward. They can function as a blueprint for the “imaginative possible” (to use Moffitt’s phrase from the opening quote).
Because intentions are what ‘incline the mind’ in one direction or another, it behooves us to be conscious of what our intentions are. Having clear intentions is a soft form of “thinking from the end”: the fundamental idea that consciousness has a shaping impact on awareness going forward. In new age psychology, this idea is captured in the phrase “energy follows thought”. If we think of the past as a push and visualization as a pull, push and pull come together in the present moment by influencing how we interpret and respond to events in an ongoing fashion. In the act of bringing new awareness to the present moment, the next moment is already changed because of the alteration in view.
Without resorting to metaphysics, the concept of intention in Buddhist psychology elegantly illuminates the complexity of this process. Everything that happens, the Buddha taught, begins with our thoughts; for good or ill, our thoughts are the foundation of what arises. Intentions are an important dimension of thought because what we intend directs our energy and attention. The back and forth movement of attention lights up the process of ‘minding’ that is the unseen background of experience as it arises. Intentions frame our interpretations and determine how we hold things in mind.
When we form a conscious intention, this then becomes an integral part of what unfolds next. Attention and intention light up experience and support living from the inside out.
When our purpose is clear and coherent, we are on course towards a particular outcome. Moreover, intentions keep us centered in the moment by keeping our attention focused on what is important, and that helps us stay optimally responsive to what is unfolding.
Clear seeing and clear intention segue into strategies for action. Once we are clear about what the goal is, we are poised to take whatever action is appropriate and indicated. (And conversely, our failure to see or understand important aspects of the current situation keeps us blind to important possibilities). Intention leads to constructive action in the spontaneous unfolding of the journey forward. It remains only to commit to what we most deeply value and stay on the path defined by putting one foot in front of the other.
Wishing us all a safe, healthy, and vital new year.