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New year’s is always my favorite holiday. Maybe it’s because the holidays are so hectic, maybe it’s the opportunity for beginning a new year or starting over with a blank slate. No matter what, the whole idea of starting over, while hopeful is bizarre when you think about it. I’ve just been introduced to the practice of Beginning Anew, a practice where individuals actively work through misunderstandings in relationships. Beginning Anew was developed by Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. While the practice of Beginning Anew exemplifies what the New Year is supposedly about, the reality is we can begin anew at every moment. I have just had the privilege of attending a New Year's retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery, a mindfulness and meditation practice center and monastic training center founded by the Buddhist monk  in upstate NY, establish by students of Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. I was witness to a joyful community of Buddhist monastics, individuals who have pledged to live in peace and harmony and aspire towards loving kindness, compassion for all beings and mindfulness. Here I was reminded of many things I am familiar with, as well as new ways of being in the world. As the focus of the retreat was on the New Year I had much time to contemplate what I want for the New Year and how I can move forward with a more peaceful and loving attention.

I’ve always known that the idea of New Years resolutions brings with it much self-judgment. ‘I should exercise more, eat less, talk to my mom more, etc.’ As I have worked for years in my role of Nutritionist/Diabetes Educator I am well versed in how to establish a healthy goal. But even the idea (or wording as such) of goals can bring trepidation and shame to the healthiest of us. We all know that resolutions always fail. But we continue to beat ourselves up with expectations to try again. Why is this? Maybe we see the New Year as hopeful and maybe, just maybe this year we will succeed! The idea of success brings value judgments, such as that if we fail (yet again) we are not a good person or good enough. This behavior trap sets us up to relive our shameful thoughts: ‘See you failed like you always do, why bother?’ These negative thoughts, sometimes seen as the inner critic, are so easily accessed when we view life in this manner.

Coming back to resolutions, if we put into practice mindfulness when our inner critic surfaces, perhaps we can let go of some of the shame and self-judgment.

Even better, perhaps before we set up these resolutions from which our negative thoughts come up, we can choose to do something different this year.

Instead of resolutions, we can set our intentions for the New Year.

What’s the difference between intentions and resolutions, you may wonder?

Resolutions are a decision or determination. Often they stem from a sense of scarcity. ‘I’m not good enough, I need a better… I should be thinner’. Often they focus on the finish line as opposed to the journey.

I’m much more interested in the journey these days. And with this focus I try to bring more gratitude into my life. Maybe its because I’m getting older and see how fast time moves, maybe its because I am more aware of the preciousness of life, but no matter what I believe we miss out on what is present right now when we are always thinking about the future and the finish line. Intentions are a purpose or attitude towards an action or way of being. Intentions allow us to be present and mindful. I like to ask the question: “How do I want to feel?” As opposed to scarcity, we can focus on gratitude and what more can we appreciate about our life in this moment.

For example, ‘I want to feel healthier this year; I want to be more loving to myself; I want to feel more patient with my children.’ This way of thinking allows for more kindness, which ultimately I believe is the force we should all bring more consistently to our lives. Specifically we can all bring more kindness (and compassion) to oneself.

In addition to mindfulness I have immersed myself into the study of compassion, and like kindness, compassion goes a long way. (More about compassion in another entry…)

So maybe this year we can all try setting an intention, which allows so much more breathing room. We can reflect upon it daily and check in (mindfulness) to see if our attention and action is kind and of service. We can ask ourselves, does this action move us towards or away from our intention? Without judgment, if it’s moving us away, we can pause and redirect our attention and or actions.

My intention this year is to be more kind to myself! What about you? What would you like this New Year to be about, how do you want to feel and what would you like to reflect upon without judgment but as a view forward? Please contact me if you would like to work together on Beginning Anew!