I walked Ocean Beach today, the first day of the new year, gathering stones. The wind was high and offshore, spraying wave crests wide while the snowy plovers skittered and swerved in the tide. People’s faces were expectant and open, and the light was magical. The sense of new beginnings was in the air, along with all the infinite potential gestating there.
The stones are for JAMcamp. Tomorrow’s theme is “intention” (one of the sixteen values called out on our last record, Family Values), which is kind of a big concept for these in-the-moment, impulsive little ones to grapple with. So I made up a mindfulness exercise using the rocks, because it’s amazing how centering and grounding it can be to hold an earth-born stone in your hand. And since children believe in magic, it will be no task at all to imbue the stones with the qualities we are setting intentions about — qualities we want to develop as human beings in relationship to self and other, like kindness, understanding, generosity, gratitude. Then we will sit quietly, holding the stones, loving them and ourselves with all our hearts, and the rest will take care of itself.
The Stone of Intention. I think I need one for myself.
For ‘tis the season we traditionally make grand resolutions, promises and declarations to turn over fresh new leaves. We hope, as we do every year, that THIS TIME we will stick to our programs, banish our addictions, get more organized, stop this or start that. A noble mission born of the desire to approach, more and more closely, our best selves, our highest selves, the truth and goodness deep inside, our Buddha nature. For all resolutions have at their core a striving for healing, connection, forgiveness and love — for redemption, really.
Why then, do we so often fail to keep our promises to ourselves? If what we want most in this human life is the end of suffering and separation, why do we eventually break down and fracture and split and spill out — “despite our best intentions” — sometimes making an even bigger mess of things than we had at the start? What is it that really stands in the way of becoming the healthy, loving, kind, patient, accepting, generous and integrated people we want to be?
I had a therapist say to me once, “Don’t ever try and quit something (behavior, substance, habit) until you understand what hole you’re trying to fill up with that thing, and find a healthy, self-loving replacement to fill it. Or you will not succeed.”
I have seen this truth born out again and again in my life. It implies that if we are to improve ourselves, we need to be brave enough to investigate our own relationship with harming (self and other) and be willing to accept whatever difficult truths we might find there. We need to observe where our behaviors have become crutches, stop-gaps, short-cuts and coping mechanisms (necessary, we think) to navigate life and avoid suffering, and avoid feeling. And rather than abandon our “little helpers” out of guilt, fear and self-loathing, we must actively work to understand their mechanism while searching for a loving way to heal the wounds they only seemed to salve.
Finally, we need to be willing to mourn. For the foil of positive, uplifting, forward-thinking resolution is deprivation, loss, and the accompanying grief. Anything so difficult to change that we feel moved to ritualize its resolution is probably quite deeply entrenched in our behavior and identity and even our perceived sanity, and is, therefore, clearly serving a purpose in our life and our ability to function, healthy or not. So despite the sweetness and hope offered by the new beginning, the parting will necessarily contain some sorrow if we are brave enough to acknowledge it, which we must if we truly want to let go.
I have jettisoned so many things from my life boat as the years have passed. Some were not such a big deal to toss. Some took an almost unimaginable strength to heave over the side. Some consistently found their way back on board before finally staying permanently (at least I think!) at the bottom of that sea. Some are gone from daily life but still dance in my dreams. Some of course are still here, waiting their turn — ‘til I become strong enough, or awake enough, or brave enough, or honest enough to deal with them.
Whether or not I knew it at the time, all this tossing away has been in service of waking up to who I am underneath all the behaviors and cravings and tricks of mind. All has been an effort to become more myself — unwrapped, exposed, sometimes terrified, often unsure and lost, but at least AWAKE and no longer dreaming. It must be the case with all of our striving, resolving, intending, and even regretting: we want to love, we want to heal, we want remember and believe that we are made of light, we want to return to what is real.
One last thought about resolutions. As any parent knows, no matter how difficult a pregnancy is, it still pales in comparison to the rest of it. The gestation period is the fun, creative, dreaming, almost (comparatively) imaginary part. It’s the guiding of the baby into the world and the daily attention required to keep it safe, happy and whole that is the real work. And we know by now that we can never be perfect at this job, so we do our best, love like hell, keep showing up, stay open, forgive ourselves and keep going.
What if we stepped into our resolutions the same way: with grace, compassion for ourselves and realistic expectations? And if we “fail”, we start over, no judgment. Just like in meditation — when you notice your mind wandering, you bring it back to the breath and start over, no judgment. And you keep practicing. Every day. And your mind keeps wandering and you keep bringing it back. And the enlightenment comes not in the perfection of never again getting off track, but rather in the moment of awareness that you ARE off track, and the remembering that you have a choice, in that moment, to simply bring your attention back to the task at hand, rather than be upset or angry with yourself for not meeting your expectation. The choice is ours, over and over again, and we really are that powerful.
And that is the work, and the intention — for today, for this new and beautiful year, for our whole lives. To be present for ourselves and others with all the compassion and understanding we can muster; to be honest about our shortcomings; to honor all our shadows and mis-steps as part of the process; to forgive ourselves and others when we fall down; to feel what we feel; to hold the earth-born stone with all the love in our hearts and believe that we are capable of ever-expanding goodness.
To that end, here is the Stone of Intention meditation I will be doing with my JAMcamp kids tomorrow. There is a version for you to do along with your children, and a version you can do all by yourself. I hope you like it. Touching earth is always a good idea. And I hope you have an incredible year full of love and support and anything else you need to manifest your own personal redemption. Because it must be true that every little awakening carries within it both seed and realization of a world in love. Let’s go.
Stone of Intention Meditation
You can set an intention about anything. In the child version below, I have chosen to use “I am” language and present tense (acting “as if”) so that the intention is more of an affirmation, as if it is already in the works and exists and is being acted out. The adult version is a bit more complex and includes the concepts of forgiveness, root causes, and solutions.
Choose, with your child(ren), a list of four or five qualities you feel, as a family/classroom/community, are important. I have given some examples below, but it’s even more wonderful if you and your child(ren) come up with your own together.
Sit on a cushion or chair with your back straight. Cradle your Stone of Intention in the palm of your left hand, with your left hand cradled in your right. Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your belly three times, noticing and following the breath as it moves in and out.
Say to your child(ren), “Feel the weight of the stone in your hand. Repeat after me, and imagine you are speaking directly to your stone.”
“I am loving.
I am kind.
I am generous.
I pay attention to the world.
I make healthy choices.
I love myself.”
Then sit quietly, for another brief moment (30-60 seconds) to let it all sink in before opening your eyes. When finished, thank the stone for listening. Keep the Stone of Intention in a special place and use it only for this meditation.
Think of a behavior or habit your would like to shift. Be honest with yourself about what consequences this behavior has for yourself and others. Investigate the root cause of the behavior (what basic need is not getting met that the behavior is attempting to meet). Think of a couple of healthy ways to potentially meet this identified need. Until you become more familiar with the meditation, it is helpful to write all these things down using the outline below and refer to it during the practice.
Sit on a cushion or chair with your back straight. Cradle your Stone of Intention in the palm of your left hand, with your left hand cradled in your right. Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your belly three times, following the breath as it moves in and out.
Say the following sentences either out loud or quietly to yourself, stopping to take three mindful breaths in between each one. Feel the weight of the stone in your hand and imagine you are speaking directly to the stone.
“I love myself.
I am practicing (new behavior).
I forgive myself for (old behavior).
I understand that the root cause of (old behavior) is (whatever need is not getting met).
I will work toward meeting this need in healthy ways.
Here is one way: (list a healthy way to meet the need).
Here is another way: (list a healthy way to meet the need).
I am doing my best.
I have gratitude for the opportunity to make healthy, loving choices.
I love myself.”
Sit for as long as you like in quiet meditation, following the breath. When thoughts come up, honor them, then let them go and focus again on the breath. Keep the stone in a special place and use it only for this meditation.
Copyright 2013 Charity Kahn