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  • Danielle Foushée

From Passion to Peace with Sankalpa Practice

One of the eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali is called “niyama.” The niyamas include the following of five observances: purity, contentment, ardour, discipline, and self-study. These observances are directed inwardly at oneself for the purpose of personal development — cleansing and preparing ourselves for enlightenment.

It is with this in mind that at the turn of each new year, I like to choose an intention (sankalpa) as a focal point for self-study (svadhyaya). I like the idea of an annual intention as opposed to a resolution because it allows for wiggle room — there is time to explore a concept within my own life without judgment and with plenty of openness for varying levels of success throughout the year.

Once I choose an intention, I keep the idea in the back of my mind through all of my everyday activities. When I reflect on my actions and habits (samskaras), I look at them through the lens of my intention and see if I've behaved in a way that is compatible with it. If not, I make a point to learn from the experience and to try to act with more awareness in the future.

2011 was my seventh year doing a sankalpa practice, and I focused on peacefulness. There was a lot of change and upheaval in my life this year: we moved 1,100 miles from our beloved desert oasis in western Colorado to Seattle. And just as we were starting to get our bearings in our new home, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after a routine checkup. I was stunned, since I am in my thirties living a healthy lifestyle that includes a regular yoga practice.

Life change is no doubt a great starting point from which to consider the intricacies of peacefulness.

In the midst of these changes that I couldn’t fully control, I started thinking more about the things in my life that I could control, namely my professional work. I had been unhappy for quite some time (years?), and never felt like my heart and head were on the same page regarding my job. Interestingly, from an energetic point of view the vishudda (throat) chakra is the gate that lies between the anahata (heart) and ajna (third eye) chakras. Is this thyroid cancer a symptom of a disconnect between my head and heart?

This line of thinking about my work brought up a lot of issues about another quality that is related to peacefulness: passion. American culture tells us to “live your passion” to find fulfillment and happiness in this life (and that usually revolves around career). But after much reflection, I think passion is too strong a word; it doesn’t seem to be a truly positive quality to embrace, especially as an entire culture.

Passion implies a loss of control, a kind of tunnel vision where all the factors of a situation may not be considered. It connotes greed, irrational behavior, and unconcern for the consequences of one’s actions—perhaps it’s where the phrase “crime of passion” originated. After considering the prism of passion from many different angles, I realized that at least for me, passion and peace are mutually exclusive.

Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that I don’t care about deeply — family, friends, health, creativity, community, yoga, learning/teaching, the environment, social justice, etc.

But passion cannot exist where peacefulness lives.

Passion says that we aren’t good enough or right enough today, that we have to keep searching outside ourselves to find self-worth and fulfillment. Passion looks too much into the past and future to the detriment of awareness of the present moment, where true living takes place.

As my sankalpa for 2011 wound down, I decided to stop living with passion as a value in favor of purposefully cultivating peace instead. This shift in my values became clear to me when I described to a friend how I knew that my husband was “the one.” I told her that unlike other boyfriends, I never felt that crazy teenager feeling of being out of control in my infatuation. When I am with him, I feel peaceful. I feel a sense of being “home.” I like this feeling of belonging and acceptance. So, choosing my husband was the first of many choices that prioritized peace over passion during the past nine years, even though I didn’t realize it until now. I will continue to choose peace, because for me that is where happiness and fulfillment truly reside.

In 2012, I want to use my sankalpa to focus on clearing out the lingering blockages in my throat chakra, so that the peacefulness I’ve come to value so strongly can take hold more fully in my life. I will spend 2012 with integrity as my intention. I will explore what it means to live my truth by putting heart and mind to work as a team instead of as adversaries. I’m starting out my exploration on integrity with a mantra to “live powerfully, but not aggressively” and see where I can take it from here.

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