Goals and Intentions for the New Year

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New Year’s Day, Friday, January 1, 2021
8:00 to 9:00 am – Great Bell Chant Morning Meditation
10:00 to 11:30 am – A Community Celebration
including tea ceremony, oracle reading, and social time
All are invited. More information is below.

Dear Still Water Friends,

Over the decades, as I’ve written many New Year’s resolutions, I’ve learned to distinguish between my goals and my intentions. In “The Heart’s Intention” Dharma teacher Phillip Moffitt clarifies the difference:

Goal making is a valuable skill; it involves envisioning a future outcome in the world or in your behavior, then planning, applying discipline, and working hard to achieve it. …. Committing to and visualizing those goals may assist you in your efforts, but neither of these activities is what I call setting intention. They both involve living in an imagined future and are not concerned with what is happening to you in the present moment. With goals, the future is always the focus: Are you going to reach the goal? Will you be happy when you do? What’s next?

Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are “being” in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present “now” in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.

Samyak samkalpa, is the second element in the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Although samyak samkalpa is often translated as “wholesome thinking” or “wholesome resolve,” Moffitt and others prefer “wholesome intention” which emphasizes that it is samkalpa (intention) that initiates action. The karmic energy contained in our thoughts, spoken words, and behaviors arises from our wholesome (or unwholesome) intentions.

The “wholesome intention” I regularly come back to is to be mindfully present.

When I am mindfully present during my sitting meditation, I can recognize and embrace my physical and mental sensations without wanting to change them. When I am mindfully present in daily life, I feel more alive, more at ease, less pushed around by fears and anxieties. It is not that everything is suddenly changed and I become perfect. I am still a work in progress. I still procrastinate, say stupid things, and get anxious making decisions. (Sigh.) However, it is clear that with mindful presence, I live with greater ease and joy.

One of the distinctive teachings of the Plum Village tradition is that mindful presence is a source of joy, not a burden or an obligation. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Breathe, You Are Alive!:

In traditional Chinese medicine, doctors often offer their patients something healing that is delicious to eat. And just by eating, you begin to heal in a pleasant and relaxed way. The same thing is true with the practice. While you practice sitting, you enjoy sitting. While you practice breathing, you enjoy the breathing. And if you are able to enjoy yourself, then healing and transformation will take place.

When you’re able to stop and breathe and enjoy each moment, you’re doing it for all your ancestors. Make a peaceful step. Smiling and touching the earth happily is very important. Your practice is not for yourself alone, it benefits the whole world.

We practice stopping and observing to arrive at liberation. We live as if we’re in a dream. We’re dragged into the past and pulled into the future. We’re bound by our sorrows, agitation, and fear, and we hold on to our anger, which blocks communication. “Liberation” means transforming and transcending these conditions in order to be fully awake, at ease and in peace, joyfully and freshly. When we live in this way, our life is worth living, and we become a source of joy to our family and to everyone around us.

My New Year’s hope is that 2021 will bring an increase in mindful presence and joy to all beings, everywhere.

This week we will not have our regular Thursday and Friday evening practices. Instead, we invite you to join us on New Year’s Day (Friday, January 1, 2021) for:

  • A Great Bell Chant Morning Meditation Practice – from 8:00 to 9:00 am – that includes listening to the chant, sitting meditation, and Dharma sharing on our intentions for the new year.
  • A Community Celebration — from 10:00 – 11:30 am – that includes a tea ceremony, oracle reading, and social time. More information about the New Year’s Day events is on our website  Please register online.
  • Still Water online Tao Te Ching and Pooh Wisdom Oracle reading for 2021 –  For many years, at our New Year’s Day Brunch, members of the Still Water community have drawn “Oracle” cards printed with passages from the Tao Te Ching or from the Wisdom of Pooh. This year, even if you can’t be with us, you can click on the link and participate online. Their guidance is often illuminating and beneficial.

Also, on Saturday, January 2, 2021, the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center will join with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax for the Transmission of the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. The ceremony will take place online, beginning at 9:00 am (Eastern time). All Still Water practitioners are invited to attend. Please register in advance and log in to the Zoom meeting by 8:50 am. (For security reasons, the registration link only appears in the weekly announcement and is not on the Still Water website.)

Warm New Year’s blessings to all,

Mitchell Ratner

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