We’ve all probably experienced times when we felt bounced around by too many stressors and we struggled just to keep our balance. In stressful times, we may be happy just to make it through the day, have something nice to eat, and a little entertainment to relax with. But the predominant messages of our culture can influence us to see this as a way of life – one in which making a living and having some pleasurable experiences constitute success and happiness.

If we don’t have some sense of what our hearts truly long for, our personal dharma, it’s easy enough to fill our time with all the sense-stimulating experiences our modern world offers. This is why we chose to practice living with intention as we enter a new year: to clarify the overall purpose we hold for this lifetime and, based on that, the way we want to carry ourselves through each day.

We may have many goals during our lives like earning a degree or buying property, but naming an overall intention influences both the formation of our goals and how we pursue them. This intention also becomes a useful tool for evaluating the many smaller choices we must make on a daily basis.

Envisioning an overall purpose for our lives can be challenging, especially when self-doubt or conflicting desires muddle our thinking. Meditating to quiet our minds of habitual desires and ways of thinking is an ideal way to sense a deeper voice within us.

Then, with a sincere willingness to listen, I like to ask myself questions like: What do I value the most in this life? What do I most want to experience in this life” and “Is the way I am using my time and energy in harmony with what I really value? The clearer I become about what is most important to me, the easier it is to gradually create a life that supports realizing a heartfelt desire.

I recommend reflecting on deep questions like these, jotting down ideas about what we most want out of this life, and forming a simple statement that rings true. It’s natural to revise an affirmation like this as it becomes clearer to us, but I suggest keeping it where we’ll see it regularly to remember the big picture as we pursue the daily duties.

In addition to clarifying an overall purpose, making a firm commitment to some practice or teaching that aligns our lifestyle and daily behavior with that purpose can be of great benefit. While we may embrace an intention to awaken fully to the Light within, we can manifest that vision by cultivating virtues like compassion, generosity, contentment, or non-violent communication, practices that embody that intention. We may want to give up some unhealthy habit, commit to some specific practice of asana, pranayama and meditation, or dedicate a certain amount of time to doing selfless service and/or self-care.

An important aspect of committing to a specific practice is to be realistic about what we can do and reduce it into clear, doable steps. I recommend backing away from ambitious resolves that might make us look good, and instead, searching our hearts for goals that are both meaningful and feel healthy. Starting small is a great way to build confidence and will power by being successful.

We can also look for ways to support our goals, like having a practice partner or keeping a daily checklist of measurable steps we have taken. Attending group scripture study classes, like the one we started recently at our Institute in San Francisco, can be a great way to share our efforts and derive support from the personal connections we make there. Attending a weekly Yoga class or group meditation session can be a great way of reinforcing our intentions and staying inspired.

Having both an overall intention and specific ways of carrying it in our hearts breathes spiritual life into the day. Remembering again and again a higher purpose frees us from being captive to the consumer-oriented messages of our culture. Each step taken in harmony with that higher purpose strengthens our resolve to progress on the spiritual path. I pray that by practicing this way, we all grow more aware of the source of deep peace and love that is ever-present within.

About the Author:

Swami Ramananda is the president of the Integral Yoga Institute of San Francisco and a greatly respected master teacher in the Integral Yoga tradition, who has been practicing Yoga for more than 35 years. He offers practical methods for integrating the timeless teachings and practices of Yoga into daily life. He leads beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level Yoga Teacher Training programs in San Francisco and a variety of programs in many locations in the United States, Europe, and South America. Swami Ramananda trains Yoga teachers to carry Yoga into corporate, hospital, and medical settings and has taught mind/body wellness programs in many places. He is a founding board member of the Yoga Alliance, a national registry that supports and promotes Yoga teachers as professionals.