(As published in “Staff Picks” & “Popular Lately” on Elephant Journal)
The New Year is always an exciting invitation for transformation and new beginnings.
In Sanskrit, the word “Sankalpa” means “resolve or intention,” and “Shakti” is power.” Sankalpa Shakti is, therefore, the power of resolution—which can be utilized at any moment we are seeking a more mindful approach to the unfolding of our lives.
Oftentimes, at the start of a new year, we are full of excitement at the prospect of setting often more generic resolutions, such as exercising more or eating healthier food, only to quickly discard these intentions. I myself have gone through that experience of setting generic resolutions that have soon fallen to the wayside.
I’ve learned that, for a Sankalpa to really have power, it must be thoughtfully contemplated first—as it really must come from that deepest space within ourselves, from the quiet voice of the soul, which often speaks in a whisper, when we are silent enough to listen to and heed its inner knowings.
Since learning Ayurveda, Yoga, and Vedanta (a spiritual philosophy about the nature of the soul) from my teacher, Acharya Shunya, I have been blessed to have become exposed to the inner workings of the human mind, which is composed of three different gunas, or qualities.
Tamas is the heavy or inert quality of the mind, needed for proper sleep, but also the one that represents the unconscious. It is the one primarily responsible for the darkness of addictions of all kinds, the one that causes us to act against our own wisdom, to steal, drink excessively, cheat, and ultimately become mired in a web of utter hopelessness.
Rajas is the passionate or active quality of the mind, which we need a healthy amount of to get things done and achieve our goals, both material and spiritual. Out of balance, however, rajas makes us full of negative emotions and desires: fear, anxiety, controlling behavior, as well as uncontrollable desires: for money, sex and power.
The third quality, called Sattva, is absolutely essential for a healthy and happy life on earth. Sattva is responsible for balance, forgiveness, compassion, integrity, inner peace, and freedom from suffering.
The desire to mindfully and intentionally practice Sattvic actions is one that stems from the depths of my soul, and hence, my Sankalpa to cultivate more Sattva has changed and blessed my life in countless ways. I’m happy to share a few specific Sankalpas I’ve set in the past with you below, which have guided and continue to guide me towards a healthier and happier existence.
1. Speaking the truth.
Having had relatively strict parents growing up, I went through a period of time in my late teens and early 20s when I truly craved the freedom and independence to follow the path of my own heart, versus the more traditional life journey my parents had desired for and expected me to pursue. A lot of times, that meant lying to my parents about where I was going and what I was doing.
One fine day, this bad habit, stemming from my fear of what my parents would say or try to do if I told them the truth, completely backfired on me, as I had told them I was in a major city in India where there ended up being a large terrorist attack. I was actually quite safe in the remote Indian village where I was volunteering.
The external explosions of bombs (both outside, as well as the ones from within my parents) set fire to my inner intention to start being more truthful with my parents thereafter. The root of the word “Sattva” is “Sat,” which means “truth.” Resolving to be more truthful with my parents started with having to ultimately be more truthful with myself, first and foremost. In opening up to my parents about my Sankalpa to lead a life of service over the past several years, our entire relationship has transformed in such a positive way that I now consider them amongst my greatest supporters.
India’s national emblem contains the words “the truth always triumphs,” and that has certainly been my experience.
2. Letting go of shame.
I remember how deeply struck I was by how Acharya Shunya, once taught how important it is to mindfully let go of what she called “the sin of gossip of the past. This is not just the gossip we speak about others, but also the lies we have told ourselves, about ourselves.” She encouraged us to identify those instances in which we have been holding onto shame, and beautifully clarified the difference between shame and guilt.
Shame is when we have accepted and told ourselves lies, that we are broken, bad or otherwise unworthy, whereas guilt can actually be quite a constructive emotion that allows us to make changes in our behavior. This guilt is called remorse, and I have found it to be quite a healthy force for letting go of bad habits in the past, such as staying up too late at night, as doing so would cause me to regret not receiving the myriad benefits of waking up early in the morning.
In the Ayurveda tradition, there is a concept called “Pragya Aparadha.” “Pragya” means “knowledge” or “wisdom,” and “Aparadha” means “to go against.” Pragya Aparadha, therefore, are literally the crimes we commit against our own wisdom and knowing, which are the root cause of the vast majority of diseases and imbalances, according to Ayurveda.
When I used to lie to my parents (a Rajasic action), I remember feeling plagued with the feeling of doing something wrong. But it wasn’t until the explosion in India that I really resolved firmly in my heart to start to be more truthful with my parents, as the explosion gave me no choice but to come face to face with my guilt, and to allow the feeling of remorse to fuel my resolve to speak the truth.
Once I had set the Sankalpa to speak the truth to my parents, what gave it more Shakti (power) was writing it down and sharing it with some of my most trusted teachers. The support and counseling I received from my teachers gave me the strength, clarity, and power to follow through with my Sattva-promoting promises to my own self.
But, how many times do others try to counsel us, only for us to disregard their well-intentioned advice? It was not until I was ready and resolved to stop lying that I could be supported in my Sankalpa of speaking the truth, the resolution from which I have ultimately found not only external support, but also an inner feeling of peace, clarity, and freedom (Sattva).
3. Valuing process over outcome(s).
We live in a results and outcome-driven world in which the end product of anything and everything is more prized than the process that has gone into it. In learning the deeper aspects of Yoga, however, I have greatly appreciated what Acharya Shunya has taught about the practice and purport of Karma Yoga, which is a spiritual way of working, in which we put our full focus on the process we are engaged in, while fully letting go of the results of our actions, which are actually out of our hands, anyways. It is our ego that wants to wrongly believe it can fully control everything and everyone around us.
The way I have learned from Acharya Shunya about whether an action can be considered Karma Yoga is in how Sattvic the action is. “Tamasic actions are where we hurt ourselves and/or others and Rajasic actions are those in which we work excessively hard only to take care of ourselves,” Acharya Shunya revealed.
Sattvic actions, however, are those in which we actually serve the truth. They usually involve engaging in contemplation first to determine whether they are truly serving truth, or just blindly feeding our own ego.
Having gone to competitive schools for high school and college, I remember how obsessed I became with achieving perfect results in every subject, to the extent that I no longer experienced the joy of learning. It was, therefore, very powerful to set a Sankalpa years ago to endeavor to be as pure of an instrument as I could be, to reflect the truth and light of Sattva, and thereby be of benefit to anyone I encounter.
Karma Yoga, to me, is the mindful practice of instrument consciousness, which reflects an important core value of spirituality: humility.
Far from its frequent wrong associations with humiliation, true humility acknowledges that we are only instruments, in the hands of a larger power. The more I surrender to this higher power, which some call God, and can also be simply seen as the interconnected web of interdependent relationships that comprise the underlying reality of this entire universe, the more I can really connect with that amazing feeling of smallness, which washes over us whenever we stand beside the ocean.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the stress that comes with the normal sense that I am the “doer,” of my actions, an attitude of humility inspires in me a sense of satisfaction and gratitude that I even have the opportunity to be of service in the first place. Humility helps redirect my energy towards creative new possibilities for giving, and opens the doorways of collaboration, through which we can achieve more together than we can ever do alone.
This New Year, I am looking forward to continuing to cultivate the light of Sattva in each and every moment.
Try resolving to speak more truthfully, let go of shame, and focus on the process more than the outcomes this New Year, and you, too, will glow more and more with the beautiful light of your own soul.
Happy New Year!
Photo Credit: Kim Seng/Flickr Commons