Aligning Your AspirationsJan 26, 2023
It’s still early in 2023, after we’ve celebrated and marked both the Solar and Lunar New Years. Have you taken these opportunities to reflect on your aspirations?
Aspirations are not resolutions. Reflecting on our aspirations is a process of recalibrating our inner compass - turning inward and examining where our hearts and souls want us to orient in the year ahead. Our aspirations are an expression of what in Buddhist language is called “volition.” Volition is one of the nutriments that shape who we are and become. The four nutriments are edible food, sense impressions, volition or intention, and consciousness. We usually get how edible food affects our bodies and minds. Hopefully we can even understand how what we consume in terms of sense impressions - tv and films, news, books, conversations, serene and beautiful vs. chaotic and polluted surroundings - also play a role in shaping who we are and our experience.
Volition/intention/will is the ground of all of our actions. Whether or not we are aware of it, we always have volition. So it’s important to be mindful about it - where is it directing us, and how is it shaping our actions and our lives? We must ask if our volition points us toward that which will bring us more suffering, or toward freeing us from suffering and the causes of suffering. In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The Buddha advised us to look deeply into the nature of our volition to see whether it is pushing us in the direction of liberation, peace, and compassion or in the direction of suffering and unhappiness… We need the insight that position, revenge, wealth, fame, or possessions are, more often than not, obstacles to our happiness. We need to cultivate the wish to be free of these things so we can enjoy the wonders of life that are alway available - the blue sky, the trees, our beautiful children, [or families, or other dear ones].”
Aspirations are powerful expressions of our Volition/intention/will, which is part of what creates who we are and what we do - our actions, impacts, and experiences. From volition comes our thoughts, and from our thoughts comes action, which ultimately shapes our lives and our world. So our individual aspirations, collectively, have the impact of shaping the trajectory of the world.
I believe (and I’m certainly not alone in this) that the role of every human alive at this time is to imagine and plant the seeds for a transformed world - one that is more sustainable, balanced, wise, and honoring all of life. We don’t need to change the world single handedly, but it’s through our aspirations, intentions, and imaginations that transformation can happen.
Lynne Twist, co-founder of the Pachamama Alliance, compares the current pain of our collective world with morning sickness: someone who is pregnant may feel terribly ill, but the nausea of morning sickness and later the pain of labor brings forth new life (though it’s also not guaranteed). She says, “we don’t necessarily live in the reality of the world. We live in the conversation we have, about the reality of the world. And that narrative, that conversation, is malleable. We can tell a new story.” That new story we tell, the world we bring into being, can be part of our aspirations.
Artist Molly Costello draws parallels between her garden’s depleted soil and people:
“Looking up from the ground, I feel that everyone around me, too, seems depleted. There is so much extracted from each of us. What would it look like for us to slow down and sow care and nutrients into our shared foundations? What are shared values that support wellness and abundance in our social spaces? … I trust that each of us is doing our part outside of the bright lights of mainstream cameras and that our small practices will slowly connect in new webs of being. We will shift our culture out of this death spiral that is the U.S. empire toward the sacred truth that each of our lives are interconnected and hold value as we create the world that reflects this. I know the world we want has not yet existed and in naming this, we become agents in world building… we may have to play and experiment and fail, but in that process, unimagined possibilities open up.”
So welcome hitherto unimagined possibilities and world building in your aspirations. Instead of bemoaning and despairing the current pain of the world, align your volition with the world you would like to bring into existence. In reflecting on your aspirations, I recommend focusing on how you would like to feel rather than what you want to have or do - it’s a powerful manifestation tool.