I've relinquished for many a year now new year's resolutions—making them packs quite a self-defeating punch when we don't stick to them. And anyone who's been defeated knows why—we set ourselves up to fall short of these resolutions—they're a tough act to actually follow.
Not this year. Nope. Never again. This new year, each and every day, I'm simply going to practice being gentle with myself, to continue practicing three little things—my good intentions.
People tend to think that thoughts really don't matter, that what we do (you know, the actual work behind those resolutions) is what actually matters. Our thoughts, though, our intentions are what come first, literally. They come before what we do—they manifest themselves in what we do.
We are shaped by our thoughts—we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves. —The Buddha
What we think and believe, our thoughts and our intentions, are just as important as what we do.
Teach this triple truth to all—A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity. —The Buddha
These are a few of my favorite things.
A generous heart gives love, openly and free from fear's attachments, its entanglements. Oh, don't misunderstand me—fear is there, it is felt, it resides right along with love. But it doesn't overshadow or overpower love—it simply distracts us from it, temporarily. It is by choice that we give love despite fear—love lives in us in spite of fear. Having a cracked-wide-open heart means that the pain and suffering (it's there anyway, heart cracked or closed) in this life is understood through compassion, consoled with kindness, even healed in love.
And, yes, it's risky—it sometimes hurts. A lot.
But mostly it's wondrous. This wonder is experienced in our everyday moments with our families, friends, and our fellow humans. Some things as simple as thanking a stranger for holding open a door, as heartbreaking as holding a child who's letting her tears of grief flow, and as terrifyingly terrific as trusting in love, again and again, can be moments of pure bliss, when we choose love in spite of fear. An open heart renounces fear because in it thrives on only love. Sure, fear is there. It's always there.
But, you know what? Love trumps fear, every time.
Love and kindness, this loving kindness we seek through our deliberate and gentle intentions, begins with our words. Compliment others even when they refuse to accept it, thank them for the littlest of things, inspire them with your kind words—yes, even perfect strangers. Speak kindly to others even when you're spoken unkindly to in return. Teach kindness by speaking kindly. As you practice speaking kindly to others, you'll begin a habit that no one will ever want you to quit, especially you. It's one habit in which you'll feel good about your overindulgence.
It feels good and you get to indulge in it.
And this means (thinking and) speaking kindly about yourself too. Write yourself a loving kindness letter—simply start there. Then speak about your goodness, your good intentions. Speak kindly about your loving heart, your kind words, your compassionate deeds—you. This is positive self-talk, literally. When others hear you speaking kindly about yourself, you inspire them to do the same. And pretty soon this kind of self-talk naturally spills over into others' words and lives. It cultivates more kindness, loving kindness.
On second thought, go ahead and make that resolution.
The other day I was standing in line at the market with quite a few items bulging from my arms. As I began to place each item on the counter, I noticed a man with a couple of items in his hands patiently waiting his turn. I smiled at the clerk and asked her to please help him first. He smiled and thanked me. I smiled too, and welcomed him. Later, as he met his companion at the door, I overheard him happily speaking about this encounter. He was giddy when he said, "A kind woman let me go ahead of her."
He literally said I was a kind woman. And I believe him.
Now, this may seem like a simple example, but the simplicity of our everyday acts of kindness is what cultivates love. Yes, the monumental acts stand out, we take notice. We wonder (and doubt) if we could ever make such an impact. But it's the little, moment by moment acts of kindness that spread, take root, and grow more kindness, in us all. And these acts can be simple and easy. Help a neighbor shovel snow, declutter and donate your overabundance to a charity, read aloud to children at the library, play your musical instrument for shut-ins or inmates. Kindness is contagious—it's catching.
So affect and infect others with your acts of loving kindness.
Focus on your good intentions, right now, gently.
What are you thinking, saying, and doing right now?
Recognize when you're on automatic pilot—gently refocus.
Cultivate more kindness with deliberate acts of loving kindness.
Have you given up making (and then breaking) too-tough resolutions? Have you already resolved yourself to simpler intentions? If so, what are your everyday new year's intentions? What simple things do you intend to think, say, and do?
Happy now year and beyond,
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