New Year’s day is upon us once again! This time of year is often seen as a good time to set new goals or intentions and have a fresh start (to clarify, I consider an intention to be a general direction and a goal to be a specific task-oriented step in that direction). We can be tempted to adopt lofty intentions for ourselves: better fitness, more time for friends, or giving more to the community in some way. We can also start to put pressure on ourselves to make big changes too quickly. We can get overwhelmed with not knowing where to start or become afraid of failing at our grand task and give up early. I’ve been there too! It can be a disheartening process especially when we start off with such great intentions for ourselves. I want to explore the value of setting goals for the New Year and offer an alternative perspective that I hope can bring some balance to our home practice.
Why do we set goals? We often make goals because there is a future state that we want to reach. We then think of steps that are aimed at getting us there. We assume that the current state needs changing AND we have the ability to change it. When we adopt the attitude that the current state is bad or undesirable, we can fall into the trap of judging ourselves and become afraid of failing. I also question how much power we have to change our own lives let alone greater society. We can make many plans but they can easily be changed by adverse weather, other people’s decisions, or surprising events. One may say that something we desire will happen if it is God’s will. What we certainly do have at least some control over, however, is our perspective and our minds.
Let’s consider an alternative perspective on goal setting: one that involves moving through life aimlessly with complete acceptance of all that is (including our bodies, families, work life, etc). For example, rather than setting a goal of losing weight we instead embrace the body as it is in its current state. Our attitude towards life is rather more like a jelly fish floating in the current than a shark hunting down its prey. We are no longer concerned about attaining a future state. We are instead focused on living in the present moment and being content with all that is. It is a drastic shift in perspective that zen practitioners would say can bring peace and happiness. Is that not what most human beings want in life, inner peace and happiness? I wonder if we would all become passive and unconcerned with the issues of the world if we adopted this attitude all of the time (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
As I reflect on my intentions for the New Year, I find myself taking an attitude towards setting goals that lands somewhere in the middle. Perhaps there are times of our lives that are suited to setting goals (more sharky) and other times of our lives that are suited to embracing all that is (more jelly-fishy). Or maybe there is a way to blend these perspectives. Picture a heron that sits patiently waiting for a fish. One of the merits of setting goals is that it helps to bring focus and a clear direction to our daily life. Otherwise we can so easily become swayed and distracted from what is important to us. Starting from a place of complete acceptance, we can evaluate what needs attention in our lives and in our community in the present moment. Then we can set goals to guide everyday actions that add goodness in the way of joy, love, and spiritual beauty. Setting goals in this way could help one to bring about positive changes that are good for all without becoming fearful of messing up and staying in a “bad state”.
How do we determine what changes are positive and what is good for all? The process of identifying what needs changing is informed by our world view. In a western (capitalist) cultural paradigm, common guideposts include wealth, security, sex/love life, health/appearance of the body, and happiness. Teachings from across spiritual/religious traditions can offer alternative guideposts, for example inner peace, connection with God, doing good in the community, and non-materialism. How we set our goals depends a lot on what it is that we value and what we consider to be positive change-making. How we achieve these goals depends on our approach to life: for example, do we pray for God’s help and ask for guidance or do we set off on our own and hope for the best?
Arriving in the year 2020 today, I want to set intentions that will help me to give more goodness to the world. In my view this includes finding a greater connection with God so that I can share more love and peace with others. I believe that the more loving and peaceful we are as individuals the more love and peace we will see in the world.
I have had a strong calling recently to dedicate more time to writing and relaxation. I’ve had a lot to process around my recent travels and I have been wanting to integrate what I have been learning. I have been trying hard to change some of my old habits (for example, overindulging in snacks!) but now I see that this attitude adds stress.
My intention for the New Year is to simply trust in goodness. For the first part of the year, my focus will be on sharing love and insights through writing. Here are my goals for January/February 2020:
- Writing 2 hours every day,
- Posting a new blog article once a week,
- Submitting two articles to journals by February 1st,
- Choosing one of my book ideas and making an outline,
- Finding or buying a well functioning laptop,
- Applying to at least one writing project on Upwork (website for freelancers).
I also want to focus on trusting and relaxing:
- Doing one hour of meditation, yoga, or qi gong every day,
- Exercising vigorously every 1-2 days,
- Renewing my intention to trust in the goodness of myself, others, and the universe/God/Great Spirit every day.
It may seem like a lot of goals but I actually pared it down from a longer list! I tend to be a bit of a high achiever… I know that if I don’t achieve all of these goals all will still be well. I like to think that I will probably add more goodness to the world with this approach than if I didn’t set any goals. We each need to find our own balance between focused discipline and relaxation, and between setting goals and accepting all that is. Regardless of what approach we take right now we can trust in the goodness of life.
Wishing you happy intention/goal setting (or blissful floating) and a prosperous 2020 :).