Mindful awareness

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Living with Intention

Having been an academic forever, autumn is to me what New Year’s is to most people I know. Autumn is my time to reassess where I’ve been and where I’m going. With that comes reflection on what is my personal mission statement. I consider three values that I want to exude in my thoughts, words, and actions.

The yoga mat is a good place to consider intention. I invited students to set an intention for their practice and to find it there in every asana (pose) during the class. Then throughout the entire practice, I kept prompting them to return to their intention. The intention could be any value meaningful to them, perhaps strength, flexibility, balance, patience, acceptance, compassion, presence, generosity, awareness, mindfulness, the list is limitless.

Identifying the intention is often easy. The difficulty comes when we try to live that intention. It’s hard enough to remember to return to it during a 75-minute yoga class; remembering to live it each moment off the mat seems especially difficult.

Take one of my intentions, for instance: compassion. Sounds like a lovely intention to live by and I’d like to think that I do. But I’m human and from time to time I find myself forgetting to live as the compassionate being I aspire to be. On my mat it might be the day that I feel especially tired and worn out. I don’t feel up to par yet I push myself on my mat. On these days a slower practice of restorative poses or more folds and twists might be in order. But forgetting to have compassion for my body I push through a demanding practice of standing balances, arm balances, and inversions. Then I think – oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be emanating compassion. That probably should start with compassion for myself. Forgetting my intention to be compassionate can show up during any practice as boredom in a relatively easy pose like bhujangasana (cobra pose) or as ambition in a deeper pose such as urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose).

I find even more opportunities and challenges to live as the compassionate being I aspire to be when I’m off the mat. That seemingly stupid and inconsiderate motorist driving in the bicycle lane deserves the compassion I intend to convey. But I forget. I’m not mindful of my intent and I resort to my automatic reactions emanating from my anger.( You can guess what those words and actions are; I don’t think I need to be explicit here!) Some days it takes me hours to reflect on my emotions. Other days my practice serves me and I am more aware that the words, thoughts, and actions I had in immediate response to the driver are not representing the way I intend to live. I am able to imagine the driver being distracted by illness or tragedy or just being late for an appointment. I become more aware of the driver’s need for love, acceptance, and respect just as any person desires. I become mindful of all the other perspectives that may contribute to the driver’s actions. I find the opportunity to thank the driver for helping me to live my intention.

Living with intention requires mindfulness and it isn’t easy. But it is rewarding and certainly worth returning to each and every moment.

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