Setting Sankalpa: Aligning with Your Highest Possibilities
"I'll be happy when...."
"Next month, I'm changing the way I eat..."
"Tomorrow I'm starting fresh...it's a new day, new commitment"
"In the new year everything changes..."
Beautiful. Except it doesn't. Tomorrow doesn't come. Or rather tomorrow comes and in the tomorrow we tend to perpetuate the patterns of habituation.
We do the same things we did before.
At least for a moment.
Until our conditioning, our habits, take over again.
Or until we are pressed with circumstances that elevate our stress levels and once again we return to the familiar.
Doubting if the new path is worth the pain, frustration, or simply the effort required.
The truth is that without an actionable plan, without accountability, without truly purposing in our hearts and minds the path forward, more than likely our change will not come and we will not create the things we are envisioning.
I'll tell you a secret. Manifesting won't get you anywhere. At least not in the sense that word is casually thrown around in New Age circles.
You can sit around and "manifest" all damn day. I have news for you, nothing will happen. Zip. Zero. Nada, UNLESS you pair all of that "manifesting" with intention, purpose, and perhaps most critically, action.
That is when we actually start "manifesting." Then it isn't really manifestation at all. It is creation. It is generative, vibrant, and ever evolving.
That is where the magic happens.
Where plan and purpose meet with all of our creative juices and all of our inner calling and desire.
What then are we to do if sitting around "manifesting" and staring at a vision board won't bring about lasting change?
By the way, we are not bashing on vision boarding, it is a beautiful way to get tactile about what you want and to provide a clear visual path forward.
A sankalpa is an intention set with determination and will in the heart and mind. It is to have single-mindedness and a one-point resolve to focus all of our efforts, spiritual, psychological, physiological on a specific goal. A good sankalapa comes straight out of our deepest desires, helping us to align with who we are and with our purpose so we can move with ease and better navigate all aspects of life.
We have both practiced intention setting in this way for a long time but have increasingly pulled on this practice during yoga teacher trainings with our students to help them to guide themselves in their own learning and in their commitments to personal transformation.
We lead a small ceremony the first night of training asking our students to get really clear about their core desires and what they are going to do make those things come to fruition.
Throughout training we check in, we journal, we recommit, we shift. On the final night we return to those intentions to reexamine how we are doing on the path.
I am often working on the same sankalpa for anywhere from 3 months to a year. Often altering the language of my sankalpa as I refine my vision.
Returning to my words again and again and thinking through
"Ok, what is my next step?"
"What are the next three practical things I can do to move in this direction?"
One of our teachers Rod Stryker of ParaYoga explains sankalpa like this
kalpa means vow, or “the rule to be followed above all other rules.” San, refers to a connection with the highest truth. Sankalpa, then, is a vow and commitment we make to support our highest truth. “By definition, a sankalpa should honor the deeper meaning of our life. A sankalpa speaks to the larger arc of our lives, our dharma—our overriding purpose for being here.
Your sankalpa then should be this thing that reminds you and pulls you back to who you are and to your purpose in any given moment.
Practicing sankalpa is so beautiful because it is not about your ego muscling through your goals or you exerting your egoic will to force change.
Instead, sankalpa is really about alignment with what already is, resonance with your internal call and vibration.
Achieving our highest possibility is a lifelong journey. You can think of each sankalpa as a gentle stepping stone towards our highest purpose.
There are two primary types of sankalpa that can be particularly useful.
1. The sankalpa can take the form of what we need to do, where our energies need to be directed, and towards how we are spending the currency of our attention.
2. Or the sankalpa can be more focused on reminding us of our truest nature. For example "I am healed."
We have found that having sankalpa set in both categories is the most potent way to shift towards lasting change.
The reason sankalpa works so differently than egoic goal setting is that it is not asking you to change who you are, tt is asking you to acknowledge who you are, to dive deep into your heartfelt desires, and to resolve to live fully in that possibility.
To start working in this way the first thing we have to do is get really good at compassionate listening.
To our own hearts.
For example if you are trying to "exercise more" dig deeper. Get quiet and ask yourself what the need you are trying to satisfy truly is. Your heartfelt desires are resting just beneath the surface and it is this deeper desire we are slowly evolving towards.
In this instance it may be something like "because I want to take care of my body for a long life," and even deeper "I love my body and the capacity in which it serves my divine purpose."
Start with a list of intentions. Choose the ones that are speaking to you the most. Either post asana or post pranayama practice come to meditation and focus on your intention. Listen for the need, heart-felt desire beneath the more general intention or goal.
When you feel like you have a resolve come out of your meditation and write your sankalpa in the present tense. This piece is critical. Write it as if it were already true. Imagine how you will feel when you have achieved your sankalpa. Feel it as if it were already so in every cell of your body. Write your vow in a short, succinct phrase you can easily pull to memory.
Set your sankalpa in the present tense so that you are not constantly reminding yourself of what you don't have and what you are not achieving. This allows you to focus your attention and efforts in a non-dualistic way. Single-minded. Singular focus. So that can be supported by your mind rather in conflict with your mind. In this state you are able to fulfill your resolve much quicker.
Allowing your mind to rest in Oneness. In awareness.
Once you've planted the seed of your sankalpa the rest is all remembrance and action.
The remembrance is the simple act of returning to your sankalpa as often as you need to to stay the course. It is to turn to your sankalpa when you make a mistake or you get distracted rather than choosing to move into self-judgment or doubt. The practices of meditation and yoga nidra are particularly potent for remembering your sankalpa.
And lastly, critically, return to action. In this way, your sankalpa becomes a rudder for the ship of your life. Each moment when you are faced with a choice you can turn to your resolve and ask if your actions are serving or hindering your progress and shift accordingly.
In this way your sankalpa becomes the foundation for progressive action.
And when you stumble, you fail, or you forget return to the recitation, the meditation, the focus on your resolve. Every instance of your failure and your forgetting becomes an opportunity to refocus on the sankalpa and in this way to shift your attention and energy towards fruition rather than to your mistake or to the idea that you have to "start again tomorrow".
Throughout the yogic tradition we find this notion of things becoming and yet already being. The path of sankalpa is the same. And we can find comfort and rest in this great paradox as we pave the path forward.
Perhaps most beautifully, sankalpa is a reminder that our lives are the way in and the way through. We don't have to be anyone but who we are to awaken to both our habits and our vast potential. What a relief.
Our challenge to you is to write a sankalpa you wish to fulfill in the coming months. To get quiet in meditation and to then spend real time crafting your language. Then? Join us in sharing your sankalpa in the Living Yoga online community to receive support and love.
Ready to dive in? Join us LIVE Saturday November 12th 10am EST on Facebook
We will practice yoga together, meditate, and journal. Please join the mailing list HERE to receive the PDF journaling prompts.
The act of sharing our intentions with others often solidifies what our purpose. And invites accountability.
We look forward to sharing with you and reading all of your intentions as we enter this new month, this new season, this opportunity for expansion.
Selena and Anwar