It’s January, and that means I see bazillions of new meditators aiming to make a change at my studio, MNDFL. But here’s a statistic that hasn’t changed in years: out of the millions of Americans who set a New Year’s resolution for themselves only 8% are successful at achieving them. It’s not easy to intentionally effect change in your life, yet through setting an intention and building a lifestyle around that motivation it can get easier.
If you want to create a change in your life, you can begin by clarifying your intention for doing so. Here’s a simple exercise for intention setting: start by sitting up straight, taking a few minutes to check in with your body. Notice where you are tense and allow those muscles to relax. Once you are settled, turn your mind to the physical sensation of your breathing. Tune into the natural flow of both your in-breath and your out-breath.
After three or so minutes of this meditation, silently ask yourself, “What is my motivation for change in this new year?” Notice what answers arise in response to the question, let them wash over you like a wave, and then come back to asking it again. Some might feel canned or corny, others more authentic and relevant to your situation.
After a few minutes, drop the question itself and just return to your breath, letting your mind ride on that natural reminder of the beauty of this present moment.
Are you surprised by what came up in these few minutes? I always am when I do this work. Sometimes my mind keeps returning to the image of a role model; someone who seems to embody the ideals I hold. Sometimes a certain quality that I have noticed about myself (or one that I wish to develop) comes up and I am left with a profound curiosity as to what it would be like to live my life with that at the core of who I am. Having explored this quality, it’s time to move to action.
Discerning Your Personal Mandala
As a result of this contemplation, you can discern what you would like your personal mandala to look like. The simplest way to think of the Sanskrit word “mandala” is as a series of concentric circles that form a type of organizational chart. In Buddhism, within the core of the mandala is a lineage figure or deity that one might meditate on. Around that central figure are several increasingly larger circles which contain its emanations, its associates, and so on to the point that all sentient beings are represented.
In the same way, you create a mandala for yourself without necessarily realizing it. Whatever you take as your primary motivation is at the center. For example, if you put the classic American dream of “getting ahead in life” at the core of your mandala then your life will likely revolve around a job you may or may not find real meaning in. You may accumulate wealth, you may get a stereotypical “perfect” spouse who is, in fact, not perfect for you, and you might spend your time finding new ways to make more money until you retire or die exhausted (sorry).
Conversely, if you take the motivation that you want to be a kinder person as the center of your mandala, then that next circle around it might include how you could express kindness to your friends and family. Then it might include how to be kind at work, at social gatherings, or while traveling. If you put kindness at the center of your mandala then you will build a lifestyle based in that core idea of becoming who you want to be, as opposed to what you want to do for your 9-5.
It is up to you as to what you would like your life to revolve around. Is it your career? A quality you want to cultivate? Meditation practice itself? For each of us, our core motivation for personal change will look different. That’s why it’s important to figure it out, and then intentionally develop a support structure, our own personal mandala, to support that endeavor.
As we begin 2017, it is a helpful reminder that at any moment we can take a fresh start approach to our life. You can reflect on your intention for entering the new year, or even a new day, and see what aspects of your life you want to cultivate through meditation and contemplation. If you want to pick a New Year resolution that will last, best to look at the why behind the what you want to change. Looking at your motivation will provide fuel to keep the fire of intentional change burning all year long.
P.S. If you would like to be guided in this intention-setting practice you can view a video of me (and many other MNDFL teachers) here.