It’s the time of year when we are drawn to look back at highlights and challenges of the current year and consider new directions for the year to come. But New Year’s resolutions, no matter how well-intentioned, are often like seeds planted in soil that cannot sustain their growth.
Here’s a question suggested by the term well-intentioned:How can we do well not only at creating intentions for new directions but at remaining intentional about them daily throughout 2015?
For two years I have practiced what I call “the three rememberings” to help me keep clear about my intentions and to re-set them daily. After years of feeling like I was not very good at breathing meditation because my mind just wandered too much, I developed this approach to help me recall why I show up to silent meditation each day.
The main commitment necessary for practicing the three rememberings is taking time daily--as little as five minutes--to sit in silence. The first re-membering involves going from feeling dismembered (fractured, stressed, split etc.) to putting yourself back together--or re-membering yourself. I do this by sitting on a chair or cushion with my hands at first stretched as far to the right and left as I can reach, as if I’m being drawn and quartered. Then I slowly let my hands float in to rest palm-to-palm over my heart in the traditional prayer position. I bring to mind the words of St. Teresa of Avila: “Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon God in yourself.” The first half of that phrase is the first re-membering: just settling a bit, slowing down, taking a few deep breaths, tuning in to how busy the mind is and allowing it to begin to move toward stillness. The hands over the heart serve as a focal point. The feeling there between the hands is peaceful and calm. My hands get the idea of settling in solitude long before my mind does.
The second remembering is contained in the latter half of Teresa’s words: remembering that God (or Mystery, or Compassion) dwells in the soul. I think of it as remembering OneSelf--one energy flowing through me, through all other people, and through all of creation. My busy adult mind (often called “monkey mind” by people who teach meditation) usually protests this idea that is expressed by Teresa and other mystics of spiritual traditions. The monkey just wants to keep swinging from thought to thought. He wants to stay logical and rational. Often he begins his protest by asking if I have proof that there even is a God. Instead of fighting with the monkey, I begin to imagine that my own consciousness in the present moment is the primary connection I have with Mystery. I play with the idea that the flow of my consciousness is a trickle from an infinite source--a tributary of a great stream of consciousness. To feed the monkey something that makes him a little sleepy, I bring the words of St. Francis of Assisi to mind: “Make me a channel of your peace.” I paraphrase Francis’ words--first to “I am a channel of peace,” then to “I am a filament of compassion.” I hold this last phrase in mind like a child imagining or playing, without need for any adult-mind proof or approval. Using William James’ idea that believing your life is worthwhile helps create the fact, I play with the possibility that imagining myself as a filament of compassion will help create the fact. Often in this second remembering, I imagine that one of the hands over my heart is my ego-based self, and the other is the indwelling Great Self. Like a playful child, I imagine that the two hands are melting together and becoming one hand.
The third remembering is a return from private meditation to re-member ourselves (to become a member again of our communal life). In this phase, I use Meister Eckhart’s words to lead me into setting specific intentions for the day: “What you plant in the soil of contemplation, you shall reap in the harvest of action.” This gives me a chance to plant seeds of intention to live with love and compassion. It is a time of resetting intentions for specific personal and work goals. It does not matter if yesterday’s seeds have come up yet; what matters is that I keep planting seeds of intention. If we take Meister at his word, planting in contemplation will eventually lead to a harvest.
So there they are: re-membering yourself (putting yourself back together), remembering OneSelf (recalling we are connected to a source of consciousness and compassion way bigger than our individual selves), and re-membering ourselves(setting intentions to live a life of love and compassion). Practicing all three of these starts with just one counter-cultural commitment: the decision to show up daily to silence.
May your New Year bring a bountiful harvest of your seeds of intention!