Most New Year’s resolutions start with the words “I will.” We summon willpower and pledge to change what we do and who we are by setting goals and imagining how happy we will be when we get what we want. New Year’s resolutions can spring from the misguided desires of the ego, senses and conditioning. They often fail because they start from the assumption that we are not good enough and reinforce the mistaken belief that our happiness depends on acquiring what we want. These will often be abandoned within a few weeks, if not days, as enthusiasm and willpower diminish.
Yoga teaches that there is a difference between “I will” and “Thy will”. Yoga tradition offers an alternative to New Year’s resolution; Sankalpa.
San meaning connecting to the highest truth
Kalpa meaning rule to follow above all others
Sankalpa is a vow and commitment we make to support our highest truth.
The sankalpa practice starts from the radical premise that you are already who you need to be to fulfil your deepest intentions (dharma). It becomes a statement that is called upon to remind us of our true nature and guides our choices. Sankalpas do not require the willpower that we typically summon to make changes, the energy and will is already within us.
Sankalpas take two forms:-
- Heartfelt desires – a statement that reflects your true nature. It is a statement of who you are e.g “I am already whole” or “I am healed” or “I am peace”. This comes from deep within us and informs our mind of a particular direction that we need to take or are taking within our lives.
- Specific action or goal – setting specific intentions that help to align your moment-to-moment choices by asking yourself what specific things need to happen to move forward on your path. A specific sankalpa will describe what you need to do and where you need to direct your energy to make progress on your larger life goals.
Discovering your sankalpa is a process of listening. Your heartfelt desire is already present, waiting to be seen, heard and felt. It is not something you need to make up and the mind doesn’t need to go wild searching for it.
There are three stages in the listening process
- Willingness to hear the message of the heartfelt desire. This can take courage to listen to the heart and a quiet,settled mind.
- Turning to and welcoming the messenger in. When you hear the call you must be willing to sit with it, feel it and deeply reflect on it
- The willingness to do what the heartfelt desire requires of you. It will call you into action into the world and you must be willing to respond.
What if you sit down to listen and don’t hear anything or if the answers you hear sound more like endless desires of the ego, senses and conditioned mind rather than the wisdom of your heart? Simply start where these are. Even a desire that might be interpreted as simple or shallow can lead us to the heart’s desire. Trust the practice and keep following the heart’s desire; it will take you to the essence of your being. Work with the goals that arise but also ask yourself what’s underneath them. Ask yourself, what is the feeling you are striving for? What is the longing in your heart that is pointing you in this direction? Are you seeking peace of mind, freedom from pain or the feeling of being accepted? Can you find a deeper hunger that is trying to be nourished?
The sankalpa should be stated in the present tense as it is a vow that is true in the present moment. The tremendous will, energy and truth that arrive with the discovery of your heartfelt desire is acknowledged and also reminds you that whatever is required of you is already within you.
The core practice of sankalpa is remembering. By bringing the statement to mind, you strengthen your resolve and honour your heartfelt desire. The most supportive state of mind for remembering your sankalpa is the direct experience that we are already open, timeless and perfect; we are already complete and whole.
One of the most powerful practices for finding this state and planting the seed of sankalpa is relaxation at the end of your yoga practice. Our self-imposed limitations dissolve and we become pure beings. It arrives as a felt sense in the body, it is absolutely alive and true in that moment.
When we first work with sankalpa, the practice can seem full of contradictions. We begin by identifying what we want, but to realise it we must acknowledge that we are already it and already have it. Goals are set and habits are broken; but we must act in line with the goals and acknowledge that we are already whole and perfect. It is vital for happiness that you walk the paths of being and becoming, direct your energy with intention but be mindful that your nature is unchanged whether you achieve your goals or not. Live as contentedly as possible between the setting of the goal and the realisation of the goal.
If you would like to find out more, please join me on Sunday 31st January at 2pm for a setting your intention, sankalpa workshop. Investment £20. Please book your space here
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