Intentions for the New Year

Our present direction is clearly defined but without having a goal. When we stop projecting goals and hopes in the future, and refuse to be led around by them, yet work to clarify our lives, that is, the “direction” of the present, then we discover an alive and dynamic practice.

— Uchiyama Roshi

Our practice is perfect in each moment and yet we have a direction towards Buddha.

—Dogen Zenji

Year after year, I had the same New Year’s resolutions. The exact same ones! This is quite discouraging and often leads to an animosity and cynicism towards New Year’s resolutions and endless self-improvement goals. My husband who is an avid and consistent exerciser, laughs at this time of year because, in January, the health clubs are inundated with New Year’s Resolution people.

Buddha made the 2nd limb of the 8-fold path Right Intention or, another translation, Right Thought. This indicates the importance of our life intentions and our vows to the direction our life goes. Dogen writes that we should have a direction of going towards Buddha even though every moment is absolutely imbued with Buddha. We still should have a direction of going towards are vows and for Mahayana Buddhists, we can say going towards the expression of the Bodhisattva Vows in our unique life.

So every year, the Clouds in Water Community takes a day, the first Saturday in January, to have a life review. How is it going, our intention to live towards our vows? How did our life go last year and what is our direction this year? I liken it to a North Star. What is the most important thing? What is our true heart’s desire? That is our North Star. Even though our path is curvy, and goes off course, we can constantly adjust back to our North Star if we have clarity about what and where it is.

I have begun to restructure my idea of New Year’s Resolutions. I have over-all vows in my life that I am constantly, moment-to-moment aligning myself with. This is why the resolutions repeat year after year. They’re never really finished. The most important things are never finished or resolved. They are our practice.

An intentional life, a mindful life, an aware life has to have a clear and firm direction even though we don’t hold on to the results of our actions. We have to cultivate the conditions for our goals to manifest even though they don’t show themselves in our pre-conceived way. Life is a continuous surprise with continuous interruptions and obstacles. Each day, each present moment, we adjust and navigate towards are Right intentions.

This is the paradox: can we have a direction to our life and yet, not hold on to the results of our actions.

Dogen Zenji so clearly states that we should not be living our life with the intention of fame and gain. But usually our goals all land on the side of pleasure, gain, success and praise. Can we have a unique understanding of the direction our karmic life is going in this next year, create the most positive conditions we can for that clarity and manifestation, and then let go of the results of our actions? With a clear mind, true sincerity and in accordance to the actual situation we are in, can we throw our life force into every situation and allow it to come to life and fruition. Allow our self and our life to settle into itself.

So every year I develop a North Star unique to my karmic situation of the moment. This contemplation can manifest as a few sound bytes or a few succinct themes that will keep my mindfulness and awareness focused and help me make decisions and prioritize my actions. The clearer my mind is about my direction, the easier it is to align my actions with my spiritual intentions. The clearer my intentions, the clearer my present moment activities.