One of the unexpected pleasures of completing a yoga teacher training course a couple of years ago, was that I had to learn a little bit of Sanskrit – the language of the people who first came up with yoga thousands of years ago. And when I say I learned a little bit of Sanskrit, I mean like a thimbleful. Most of my very limited repertoire is focused on the names of different poses and a few words that represent some of the key concepts from the tradition. The fun part has been making a connection between some of the ancient words I’ve learned and very modern day situations.
For instance, one of my favorite Sanskrit words is vritti . There are a lot of different ways to define that word. The one I like best is mental chatter. Another way to describe it is monkey mind. In some weird way, I find it comforting that even though they didn’t have smart phones to distract them, ancient sages recognized the challenge of monkey mind so much that they came up with a name for it.
This month, I’ve learned a new Sanskrit word that I think is a perfect one to reflect on as we wrap up the first month of the new year. As I wrote here last week, we’ve entered the phase of the year where many of the resolutions and good intentions we set a month ago have been subsumed by the flood of things we have to do every day.
That brings me to that new word which I learned this month from one of my favorite teachers, Sara Ivanhoe . The word is sankalpa . Again, it has many variations on a definition. I really like the way that Sara describes it. Paraphrasing her, the idea of sankalpa isn’t about what we’re going to do; it’s about how we want to be. I love that idea because it takes a lot of the pressure off remembering a list of things we have to do to be better and better. Instead, if we remember how we want to be, the things we need to do to show up that way become fairly self-evident.
While I didn’t know the word sankalpa when I wrote Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative , it’s the principle behind the first question of the Life GPS® personal planning tool that’s at the heart of the book – how are you at your best? If you have a clear picture of how you are at your best, that can become a reference point for the actions you take and the outcomes you’re trying to create.
There’s this great question that you may have heard – are you a human being or a human doing? As we move on to the rest of the year, what difference would it make to focus a little more on the being and a little less on the doing?