I thought its time had come and gone, its 15 minutes of blossoming fame, but I woke this morning to two open flowers on my Christmas cactus, with the budding promise of eight or nine more. This 7-year-old cactus has been flowering since late November, more than making up for last season’s one-and-done blooming performance. It’s the perfect mascot for my new year’s Intentions, ones filled with a desire to achieve my goals despite the inevitable changes, setbacks and general bumps in the road.
I like the word “Intention” rather than “resolution” because there’s something more mindful, more encompassing about Intention. So, forget all that “road to hell” BS about Intention because the way I’m writing about it here, it isn’t just a nice thought of what we’d like to do but forget two seconds after we think it.
Intentions are a breeding ground for mindfulness. They are my inquiry into why I behave and think the way I do. Intention, to me, is a proper noun and therefore needs to be capitalized Intention is a friend, a teacher, a counselor with a name. Ms. Intention. And she has a big job ahead of her this year.
· * “My Intention is to understand and be mindful of why I still – after 7 years – wander around the kitchen looking for something to stuff in my mouth when I’m on a deadline, even though I’m not hungry.”
· * “My Intention is to carve a career that is based on what I want to do and not what others thinks I should do.”
· * “My Intention is to find peace in my personal life, and to understand how I am responsible for my own happiness.”
Intention isn’t a road map. It’s a starting place. It’s a consciously made list of the behaviors and thoughts I most want to engage in in order to live the life I want. Intention isn’t a wish. “I want to be skinny” is different than “I Intend to lose 20 pounds because I want to better control my blood pressure and arthritis.” Intention implies action.
Of course “imply” isn’t “does.” Intention isn’t going to go to the gym for me or meditate for me or fix a healthy meal for me or study for me or save money for me. Intention is my go-to place when I need to be reminded why I’m going to the gym instead of playing Angry Birds all morning; making a healthy meal, even when I’d rather nose dive into fettuccine Alfredo; doing my homework instead of wandering aimlessly on the web; not buying something I don’t need in order to save money for the things I do need.
Whenever someone asks me how to lose weight, I tell them to not start with a “diet,” but rather to start with writing down the reasons she wants to lose weight. That reflection leads to Intention, and it’s her Intention that she can look back on when faced with the challenges of weight loss.
Intention can’t work alone, though. It needs Confidence (or Faith) to succeed.
Unlike Intention, Confidence isn’t a statement of goals. It’s not a reminder. Confidence isn’t an action, but rather a muscle that takes time and repetition to build. For instance, when I’m aware that I’m wandering around the kitchen, I have the capacity to ask myself, “What’s going on here that is making me mindlessly stare into the refrigerator?” Remembering to be aware builds my Confidence that the next time, I have a good chance of staying present.
It’s not rocket science, yet at times it feels like it. I mean, if our Intention is to lose 10, 50, 100 pounds, it our actions toward that goal that build our Confidence, right? But tracking food intake isn’t easy at first (and sometimes never). Neither is figuring out what food is best to eat in terms of our desired carb/fat/protein ratio, which in and of itself can be confusing! But the more we learn and the more we track, the better we get at it, and in the process, we’re living our Intention.
I liked the example Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal gave in a recent dharma talk, “The Faculty of Faith.” If your Intention is to learn to ride a bike, then the more you ride, the more Confidence you gain. And if you fall off and your Confidence is shaken, remembering that it’s still your Intention to learn to ride a bike is what will get you back in that seat.
Say you develop a food and exercise plan because your Intention is to lose weight and get fit. You go for a few weeks spot on every day with your food intake and exercise goals. Then you go out to a restaurant or to a party and your favorite foods are there and you take one then three then twenty bites even though in the back of your mind something’s screaming “Stop!” But you don’t listen and then you wake up the next morning feeling guilty. Your Confidence is shaken. Do you say, “I can’t lose weight! I’ll go eat donuts!” or do you get into your workout clothes and hit the gym? Distraction from our Intentions isn’t a crime worthy of guilt. It’s not a crime at all. It’s the perfect place for reflection and mindfulness.
In the ancient Buddhist texts, the root word for Confidence meant “hospitality.” As Gil said, it means “being a good host to your experience, a good host to whatever’s going on.” Intention and Confidence does not want us to treat ourselves unkindly when we forget or when we fall down. They merely want us to stay present, to pay attention to what’s going on with ourselves and to be kind.
I’m choosing this year to live my Intentions, moment by moment, to the best of my ability. To build Confidence at the gym, in the kitchen, at school, within my relationships, when I’m lonely, when I’m happy, when I’m afraid. And when I feel myself striving too hard or separating from the present, I will call on my Intentions to set me back on the path.
So I may be a little late to the Happy New Year party, but I wish for all of you a year filled with mindful presence and self-kindness. And look for me a little more often here, too. Blogging regularly is another one of my Intentions *grin*
If it’s your Intention to get fit and you’re looking for some wise (and fun) counsel, I strongly encourage you to read Carla “MizFit” Birnberg’s book “How to Build Muscle and Lose WeightWithout Losing Your Mind.” I’ve been reading Carla’s blog for years and her down-to-earth approach to life, fitness, motherhood, you name it has grounded me many times, especially those times I didn’t realize I was ungrounded! Her book is helping me rev up my fitness routine and no, she didn’t pay me to say that! I just love Carla’s honesty. It works for me.
To win a copy of Carla’s book, all you have to do is leave a comment and your name will be thrown into the hat for the drawing on Monday, January 14. You don’t have to write anything profound. Just “Hi” will do. Or you could list one of your Intentions. That would be great! Good luck!