Most people start to meditate, “in order to …”. In order to calm down. To get rid of the tinnitus. To sleep better. To lower their blood pressure.
But the funny thing about meditating is, that it helps better, if done purposeless. Ideally, you wouldn’t sit down and pay attention to your own breathing to lower blood pressure or to be able to concentrate better. But you’d sit and pay attention to your own breath, period.
And after a few days, weeks or months you realize how good it is for you to come to rest at least once a day.
But it’s somewhere between awkward and hard to leave one’s own desires, hopes and concerns so completely sidelined.
Fortunately, that’s not even necessary. You can define a so-called “intention” before meditation: One devotes the meditation (and the rest of the day) to world peace, inner peace, love, or whatever you think is beneficial.
An even more personal and specific variation is called “sankalpa”. A sankalpa states our heart’s desire in simple words. But ” An authentic intention comes directly from the heart. It comes from asking what it is that live wants, which is different from what I want,” says Yoga Nidra expert Richard Miller (Yoga Nidra is a yogic deep relaxation, which is pretty close to meditation).
What do we really want?
A sankalpa could be something like “I am committed to finding inner stillness” or “I am at peace within, whatever my circumstances.” Or it can even relat recursively to meditation: “I am going to cultivate a daily stillness practice for 10 minutes every morning as soon as I wake up.” Or simply: “I am lovable and loving.”
Sankalpas should describe the fundamental values that we want to live, no practical everyday details. So “I live well and pay attention to my well-being” trumps “I will stop smoking and eat no more fries.”
If you have set your own sankalpa, it is recommended to stick with it for a few days or weeks – and watch what happens. Write down your intent and read it aloud three times at the beginning of your meditation session. Or, if you can remember the phrase, just say it silently three times. Then meditate as usual – e.g. watch your breath or name the thoughts and feelings that arise in you (Vipassana).
Why do sankalpas work?
If we mate hopes, wishes, good will and peace of mind, it creates a relaxed determination. We internalize the sankalpa, give it space to unfold in its own way. If we do need to make a decision in everyday life, chances increase over time that we show determination and stamina – and do what we want, and not what we are accustomed to.
From my perspective, the most important difference to ordinary “good intentions” from New Year’s to spring dieting is this: A sankalpa is embedded in the practice of utilizing a loving gaze on us and the world. We are not strict and angry, but friendly and quiet. Think times back to your school days: From which teachers have you learned more for life? From harsh screamers or from those who brought you back on track politely but firmly, again and again?
BTW, my current Sankalpa is “I am focused. I am loving,” because I would like to live and express these two elements at the same time more often.