I want to talk about intention, known in the yoga world as a sankalpa. Sankalpa, as defined by Wikipedia, is a “conception or idea or notion formed in the heart or mind, solemn vow or determination to perform, desire, definite intention, volition or will.” It is a huge part of the way I practice and teach yoga, and the meaning of this word, and the practice of creating a sankalpa has continued to evolve for me.
When I teach yoga classes, we almost always begin with a few minutes of mindfulness meditation to bring awareness to the breath. We use the sense to connect to the breath, and then we use the breath as a light to shine within the body and scan for places of tension, soreness, injury or weakness (as well as strength, readiness, and health). We then shine the light of the breath into the mind, and observe the state of the mind, and the types of thoughts that are arising. We notice, and we allow. Then we move the breath to the heart, and we shine it into the corners and edges, noticing the general state of the heart, as well as the emotions circulating there. This practice gives us some good information about where we are, and what to focus on in our practice.
We use this information to identify — as in a self-diagnosis — through self-observation what we need most from our yoga practice. It might be some physical relief from tension in the body, it might be a break from an intellectual or mental challenge that is taking up a lot of real estate in the mind, or it might be a balm to some emotional pain or suffering — and likely it is some combination of experience in the body, mind and heart.
What’s interesting is how easy it is for us to identify what we “lack” and therefore what we “need.” We are so good at pointing out our own deficiencies, aren’t we? And yet, if we are truly to explore the power of sankalpa, we have to be very conscious about the intention that we create. I want to heal my hamstring. I want to release stress from my mind. I want to soften my heart to accept love. I want to be more loving. I want to be more patient. I want to be more flexible. I want to have more courage and confidence… You get the idea.
What I’ve been working on specifically in that last year, thanks in large part to some amazing yoga nidra recordings, is the practice of expanding my sankalpa or intention towards my highest evolutionary potential. To paraphrase Maalika Shay Devi Dasi (check out her amazing Yoga Nidra recording here), a sankalpa, or resolve is “embedded into the conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious state, and is bound to manifest as reality in time.” This means that when we speak this intention, it becomes reality. And, if this is true, we should bring the greatest potential into reality, right? So, my intention/sankalpa has transformed from trying to bring in something I think I currently lack in my life. Another recording of Yoga Nidra, by an artist named Manuji, advises: “Take it for granted that it [the sankalpa] will manifest itself in your life. Instead of staying I will become strong and healthy, say I am strong and healthy.”
My hamstrings are healed. My mind is free from stress. My heart is soft and open. I am the essence of love. I am patient. I am flexible in body, mind and heart. I am courageous and confident… Hmmm. That sounds better.
I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned my struggles with anger before. Oh anger you teacher you. I think there is at least some part of me that has been angry at the world since I was a child. For all the things that were unfair. For all the wishes that went un-granted. For all the prayers that appeared to go un-answered. For a world that didn’t make sense. For a life where I didn’t get what I wanted no matter how hard I tried. That frustration and disappointment led me to a coping mechanism you might be familiar with — PERFECTIONISM. Perfectionism is the myth that if I try really hard to be really good (at everything), I can control the outcome (of everything), and have what I want the way I want it (all the time). Anger — and perfectionism– are both common “side effects” of co-dependency… the more a co-dependent exhausts themselves taking care of others and trying to “fix” everything, while neglecting themselves, the more overwhelmed and angry they get…
Perfectionism is the drug that gets me high on the days when I conquer the world and all is right and the children say please and thank you and the husband gets home from work on time and the rooms are clean and the laundry is folded and the checkbook is balanced and surprise there’s extra $ in the bank, and we all love each other and say so out loud as we hug and kiss and hold hands. Oh, wait. That never happens (at least not all on the same day)! But I keep convincing myself it will, and the more disappointed I am that it didn’t happen, the harder I try, and the harder I try, the angrier I get.
So, after losing my shit on my son last night — OK, come on, he was terrorizing his little sister’s doll by squishing it’s plastic head in — after swinging his crutches around like weapons (that would only “by accident” hit his littler brother or sister, or maybe a lamp or a window). I stopped myself dead in my tracks. I was so ashamed for losing my temper. But instead of allowing myself to indulge in shame about it (which gets me nowhere but deeper into the mire of self-hatred) I paused and tried out a new sankalpa.
I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. woah.
This morning — like every morning — is just a complete cluster. In about 30 minutes, I make breakfast for 3 kids who all like slightly different variations of breakfast (cereal and milk, cereal and milk with bananas, oatmeal and milk and bananas, toast with butter, toast with butter and grape jelly, toast with butter and strawberry jam, glass of juice — no not THAT cup, the PINK cup)! I also make lunches with the same slight variations. Meanwhile, I am making sure reading logs are signed, backpacks are packed with homework, shoes, snow pants, water bottles, chapstick etc. etc. etc. There can also be arguments along the way, like the 2 1/2 year old who wants to wear a summer dress and rain boots in -8 degree winter weather. There’s a large margin for error — spats between the kids, messed up breakfast orders, a missing mitten, a homework assignment embellished with “Frozen” stickers, a black sharpie missing it’s cap… And then there’s the clock tick tick ticking away at any possible chance of being on time.
But this morning, as I felt irritation rise in different moments, I repeated my sankalpa. I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. And guess what? We walked out the door early today, and as we crossed the snowy yard my five year old look up at me smiling and said “This is the BEST LIFE EVER!” I almost cried my heart just broke open with joy. I dropped all the kids off and got myself ready for work, and had a quick meeting, where I repeated my sankalpa before discussing a slightly uncomfortable situation. On the drive home I called my insurance company to discuss my cracked front bumper and got some disappointing information. I repeated the sankalpa again. Even though I had a tight time frame, I was early to pick up the kids from daycare and school.
Usually after school there are more spats and melt-downs, but today there were none. I was even able to share some of the frustrations of my day with my husband without inferring BLAME, or SHAME, or some state of self-sacrificing martyrdom (which I am quite adept at!) And guess what? He was home from work earlier than usual, helped me make dinner, and even got the kids to help me clean it up!
I know I am new to this sankalpa. It could be beginners luck. It’s only been a few days, but I feel strong and fierce and also more tender and competent. I’m willing to overcome my inner-cynic, and assume that the universe is affirming my new intention as my truth. And this truth, that I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE is allowing me to handle these feelings without having to contribute so much energy to expressing them, AND to recovering from them! Already I can feel the spaciousness and freedom.
I’ve been downhill skiing quite a bit lately. This is something that I never imagined I would be able to do. I have stood on the edge of a steep hill, a hill so steep that you can’t even see the bottom, and I have felt my fear, and I have turned my skis down that hill anyway. I have lost my balance and caught myself more than once before fear took my down. I have literally said the word NO right out loud to stop myself from falling, and have put my foot down hard into my ski and moved beyond my doubts about myself. And somehow, this dance with anger feels similar. It’s new territory, and yet, I’m ready for it. I remember telling my homeopath once that my only goal in life was to learn to overcome anger. She told me it was a very admirable goal. And after all this time, all I had to do, was claim my skill with it, instead of allowing it to overpower me.
I AM THE MASTER OF ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION AND RAGE. This is not to say that because I am the master of it I welcome it into my life. It just means that if and when it comes up, I will know what to do. I am no longer helpless. I am no longer a victim. I am no longer ashamed.
And so, I can’t help but wonder. What is your source of shame? What is the habit or emotion that feels so much bigger than you that you feel powerless against it? What situation or circumstance feels hopeless? And what sankalpa or intention might manifest for you the reality that you seek?
May we all become masters in this life! And may all our wildest dreams and desires manifest through our heartfelt and humble commitment to the amazing power of our evolution!
Om. Amen. Hallelujah!