Much of Buddhist practice focuses on mindfulness in the here and now, but as 2012 approaches many of us look at the year ahead. Mr. Gotama said not to fixate on the past or future, and we all know from experience how that can get you lost in a mental ball of string. But intention is critical to our practice, and New Year resolutions are based on goals rather than the process of intention.
Because resolutions are goal oriented, it’s not uncommon for New Year resolutions to get completely forgotten by March. There are a lot of reasons for this, and if you are mindful daily, you’ll see the New Year Resolution processes unravel those good intentions. Or maybe, you weren’t paying attention last year, ehem.
Right Intention is a part of the Eightfold Path, and it’s well worth pulling out and examining as the New Year approaches. Instead of looking at what you want to change in the new year and making those your resolutions, maybe this is a good opportunity instead to be mindful of what lies deeper under the desire for change in the first place, what intentions you’d like to foster next year, and what the process is to create change.
If you look through Buddhist literature, you’ll see many descriptions of Right Intention. Some speak of renunciation, intentions towards harmlessness and developing good will. Those too tend to be goal oriented. Instead of focusing on the end result of an intention, examine the feeling of intention itself, when it arises, what it feels like, how it drives your actions.
Without intention, we wouldn’t do much of anything. In fact, all of our actions rely on intention, whether you are mindful of it or not. For intention to work, you also have develop mindfulness, and to develop mindfulness you have to develop intention. In other words, they work hand in hand and you can’t do one without the other. Doing both improves both, just like in washing your left hand with your right, the both hands end up clean.
The laboratory, or practice area, for examining intention with mindfulness doesn’t need to happen in long sessions of sitting on the cushion, though that is a good place as well. But being mindful of our intentions as we go through daily life can be very telling and necessary. What was the intention of your response to a friend on Facebook yesterday? What was your intent in rearranging the furniture in your bedroom? How did intention play into your being late to an appointment? What happens as you develop mindfulness and become aware of intentions as they arise even before you’ve taken action? Can you feel the intent arise before reaching for the radio station knob?
There is nothing wrong with setting New Year’s Resolutions with goals. You might even keep a few of them and make the changes you wanted. Whether you do or not, you’ll learn much about creating change by being more mindful of intention when it arises, how it influences action, and by examining the desires beneath the need for change, seeing what is driving intention in the first place.
Perhaps we can develop New Years Resolutions Buddhist style by:
- Being more mindful of intention
- Setting intentions to be more mindful
- Intending to be more mindful of desires and needs for change
- Being willing to change intentions based on what is discovered through mindfulness
- Being mindful toward the intentions that drive our speech and actions
- Intending to speak and act with wholesome, beneficial intentions
- When mindful of unwholesome intentions, being mindful of the craving, desire, or greed that may lie beneath
The point really is to be mindful of the processes that create change rather than the outcome of change, the result. Because if your entire focus is on the result, it’s difficult to discover the process of change that will be successful. Of course, feel free to change and add to the list above as suits your practice and what you discover about intention and mindfulness.
You might also be interested in reading this article, published by Psychology Today called New Year’s Resolutions the Buddha Might Have Made.
How do you feel about New Year’s Resolutions? Do you incorporate resolutions Buddhist style? What other tips can you give for understanding the process of change and setting goals?