What Happens to Intentions Once They’re Set?
A Personal Reflection
Written by Sara Sheridan Preston
Happy New Year! As January draws to a close, this sentiment, along with many of the resolutions or intentions we set in the excitement of the holiday may feel a little less relevant, pressing or important. Here at the Get Ready Project we hope that those well wishes and intentions still feel as bright and meaningful as they did when the clock struck midnight and the ball dropped, but we understand if they don’t.
As cliche as it may seem, the advent of a new year, and for all of us in this moment, a new decade, can bring with it feelings of reverent reflection for what has passed and a special infusion of energy for that which is to come. But how do we maintain that reverence and energy weeks and even months after the glitter has faded and the confetti has been cleared away? This is a challenge I’ve been confronting as the new year takes root.
For the first time in what must be years, I created a solitary New Year’s ritual with a focus on reflection, release and intention. I’d spent much of the past decade, which was full of incredible changes, challenges, growth and opportunity, dedicated to cultivating a more meaningful connection with myself and fine-tuning the way I take care of myself. But, in all honesty, many of those practices escaped me in the last few months of 2019. Despite my years of practice and on-going reflection, the end of last year felt rife with challenges, one seemingly more insurmountable than the last, and so those routines I’d worked so hard to foster often felt our of reach. We talk so much about what happens when our children and our students go into survival mode, but I recognized that I was perched atop that fence, teetering dangerously close to reactivity more often than I wanted to admit.
I tried to be patient with myself, allowing myself to feel my experiences and use all of the tools I had to process each feeling as it came. But I reached for a pint of ice cream, blankets and the remote just as often, if not more than I reached for my yoga mat, my essential oils or my journal. And then I would grow frustrated that I wasn’t better able to do the “right thing” or the “healthy thing” to cope with my struggles. For me this new year offered an opportunity to let go of the past few months with grace. Despite still not always feeling like I did it “right,” I recognize now that I actually needed to be gentle with myself during that trying time, and that those instances that felt like pure self-indulgence were as integral to my healing as the yoga practices and the walks in the woods and the pages of journal writing.
So the holidays passed in a bit of a blur and I prepared for New Year’s Eve as I did most years, I found some sparkling accessories and made plans to celebrate with the people I love. I also started to feel a bit more ready to re-commit to some of those healthier routines and patterns I’d developed over the years. I started to read up on the process of and reasons for intention setting, but the only real plans I made for New Year’s were to head to a party with family and friends. On the morning of the 31st my husband awoke with a terrible cold, and I could feel that fuzzy congestion creeping into my head, so we reluctantly cancelled our plans for celebrations and decided to stay in. Typically this kind of change, when I’m already feeling vulnerable would make me miserable- thoughts like “I was so looking forward to the party! I’m going to miss everyone! I feel terrible that we bailed last minute!” would rattle in my head all day. But I think this idea of an intention setting ritual had begun to resonate and so it felt like missing the party was becoming more of an opportunity than a loss. So as my husband slept on the couch I set myself up in my yoga space. I spared not a single detail- the candles were lit, the essential oil diffuser was humming, I had my new pens and my old faithful journal, my coziest sweater and a piping mug of cinnamon ginger tea. I queued up my favorite movement practice followed by a chakra clearing mediation and I set to work.
For those of you who are members, I followed the same intention setting practice you’ll find amongst this month’s self care resources. I decided to divide my work into two days. New Year’s Eve would be a time for reflection and release. I used movement and meditation to help clear my headspace and heart-space and then answered some interesting and tough questions about the past decade and the past year. I spent time honing in on that which I was ready to release- which was harder than I had anticipated. Even knowing that these patterns and feelings were no longer serving me, putting them into words and onto paper felt so decisive, and I still wasn’t completely sure I could let them go. But I followed my plan and shed more than a few tears. Once I felt that I had moved through that process thoroughly, I shifted to reflect on gratitude- with every challenging experience in the past year, I have dozens to be deeply thankful for. It was essential to bring those acknowledgements to the surface before I concluded my work for the day. Closing this way felt genuine and real and supportive. It didn’t negate the hard part, but made it easier to move forward from a place of greater joy and connection. I felt ready to snuggle up to my husband on the couch and welcome in the new year, just the two of us.
New Year’s day I woke up early, feeling fresh and excited for the next step in my process. I recreated the scene from the evening before and slipped into my space while the house was still silent and the sun was just beginning to filter through the windows. I used movement and meditation to find clarity and then moved back to my writing. I reread the work from the night before and was proud of myself for being honest and detailed even though it had been difficult. From there I began to focus on my desires, using meditation and visualization to hone in on what I believe will truly contribute to deeper levels of contentment and fulfillment. It was from this space that I crafted three intentions for the year, that almost a month in, still feel powerful, relevant and important. Without going into too much detail these intentions are centered in cultivating vitality and abundance, in fulfilling, meaningful ways.
As with any new journey, I began enthusiastic and excited. I felt a surge of energy that accompanied the power of the process. Honestly, I felt invincible- I knew the changes I wanted to make were achievable, and I knew how good I would feel when I was actively taking care of myself, back on my mat consistently, eating foods that were both delicious and nourishing. And for two weeks that enthusiasm and excitement was almost tangible as I worked daily to build actions into my day that nurtured those intentions. But my intentions are are not meant to be fulfilled in a moment, a week or a month. They were specifically crafted to guide me through the entire year. And when you’re engaged in a long term process, it’s almost impossible to maintain that high level energy all the time. In fact, I’m reminding myself, that it’s not only impossible, but it wouldn’t serve me to pursue that level of intensity all the time. In order for these intentions to manifest in their most powerful way, they need to guide me through not only the optimistic and energetic, but through the challenging, the mundane and the entire array of my very human experience.
Some say that intentions are most powerful when you “set and forget” them. So I am practicing detaching from outcomes, while actively working on the routines and actions that support my general well-being, cultivating that vitality and abundance without obsessing over it (or trying to!). The process of setting these intentions was so valuable and the energy that followed was incredibly motivating. What I see now though, is that staying true to these intentions has been even more meaningful as the novelty had worn away. Finding self-care in the ordinary and the challenging moments, those moments when I’m not motivated or I’m sad or struggling, and still able to make decisions to truly nourish myself have become sustaining. More than once that nourishment came from cuddling on the couch and watching a sweet movie or being gentle with myself around my healthy “rules” rather than climbing onto my mat, and that’s okay. It is also coming from re-establishing my yoga and meditation practices, and committing to getting into nature a few times a week, even in the cold of an upstate New York winter. It’s finding balance in these strategies and truly tapping into what I need in the moment I am able to feel the meaning in the work I’m doing. I was delighted when I realized that I could do a side-plank with ease, but making the decision to call my husband and my mom rather than endure a wave of sadness on my own was a much bigger deal. It’s been those micro-decisions that have really sustained me as the shiny newness of the intentions wears off and I settle into this beautiful mundane daily existence. So as you move forward in your own journey, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as the process unfolds, as I seek to do the same.