Buddhist “Intention Setting Ceremony” for New Years (and Refuge Recovery)

Several candles laid out ceremonially with meditation bells and a copy of the Refuge Recovery book
A quick photo of the candles from our New Years intention setting ceremony at the Montreal Refuge Recovery meeting.

“Intention setting” is a concept you can find in a variety of Buddhist contexts, either as a daily practice done by an individual, or a communal ceremony performed by a sangha (community) of Buddhists. Often intention setting ceremonies are performed around the new year, as a more wholesome replacement for “New Years resolutions”.

This article describes an intention setting ceremony I synthesized for my Refuge Recovery group that meets each week. I’m sharing it for the sake of any Refuge Recovery groups, other Buddhist meetings, or anyone else who wants to try a ceremony like this!

Overview

The core idea is that instead of doing “new years resolutions” – which don’t work and are a capitalist mesa – we pick an “intention” for the new year and work to keep that wholesome motivation in our heart at all times. We’re less likely of “screwing it up” with a single action than with a “resolution” and the intention gives us something we can come back to on a day to day basis to improve ourselves over the year.

I’ve done them at an Against The Stream meeting as well as my local True North Insight meditation group , and in my experience they are very beautiful and motivational. The theme of setting intentions also fits really well with the Refuge Recovery program and there’s even a perfect reading to use right there in the book!

In addition to integrating what I remember from the ceremonies I’ve attended, I read a few articles that gave me ideas and inspiration for the steps and guided meditation below. Here are the ones I found most useful:

We tried out the script below last night with the Refuge Recovery Montreal sangha and it turned out AMAZING! Everyone enjoyed the process and participate with so much sincerity it filled my heart with mudita (celebration). Each person’s share was inspiring to everyone else and we were nodding our heads off at the importance of each intention and the good ideas for protecting the intentions that people had (see the details below for what I mean).

Also the candles were a big hit, so if you can, use candles. They were like “lets always have candles!” and I can’t really argue 😄

One note is that you really want to have time for everyone to talk, so if that’s not normal in your group, plan the time carefully and maybe keep the earlier meditation shorter and/or time people’s shares carefully.

Alright, enough preamble! Below is the full process we used. Of course you can change it up and write your own introductory text about the importance of intentions, or change whatever you want! I included everything I think was important to the success of our meeting.

Intention-Setting Ceremony Steps

  • Before starting the meeting, light a large candle next to enough small, unlit candles for each of the participants. Let the mystery build.
  • Normal meeting preamble, introductions etc.
  • Do a meditation that goes with the theme of intentions.
  • Read from the start of Chapter 6: Intention (page 41) of the Refuge Recovery book, and continue for as long as you like.
    • We read about 1 page worth, until “and not the act itself.” but there are lots of good places you could stop if you want to read more.
    • See below for an appropriate quoted excerpt from the Refuge Recovery.
    • Of course if you’re using this ceremony outside RR, just read something else, see the reference links for inspiration!
  • Introduce the idea of an intention-setting ceremony for the new year.
    • Explain how it replaces a “resolution” with something more wholesome.
    • I mentioned how this is a common daily practice in Tibetan Buddhism (see links).
    • Emphasize how this intention is something they should be keeping in mind throughout the year, and of course for the rest of their lives.
    • You can also talk about the relationship of between “motivations” (the underlying/subconscious motivations for our actions) and “intentions” (the chosen/conscious ideas that drive our actions), and how in Buddhism we try to use mindfulness to empower our “intentions” to be wise and in control of our action, while disempowering our subconscious “motivations” (like greed, hatred and delusion) from controlling us.
  • Ask everyone to get back into a sitting posture for a short, guided meditation where they will choose an intention for the year.
  • Lead the Intention-Setting Guided Meditation (described below).
  • At this point, they probably have something to say!
    • Leave a few quiet moments for them to process it if they haven’t decided yet.
  • Explain the Process for Intention-Sharing  (described below) which will serve as the “sharing” component of this meeting.
  •  Let people volunteer to share one at a time, lighting their candle and explaining their intention and how they will nurture and protect it throughout the year.
  • When everyone who wants to share has done so, continue with the meeting announcements and dedication of merit as normal.

Intention-Setting Guided Meditation

  • Get comfortable and start to breathe smoothly and deeply.
  • As is common in Tibetan meditation practice, do a few very deep breaths, filling your lungs like a jar being filled with water right to the lip,  as if it would overflow, then slowly but fully emptying them.
  • Each time you breathe out, ask yourself “What is my deepest intention”
  • Breathing in, as deep as you can
  • Breathing out, asking yourself “What is the change I need in my life, and what are the intentions that will bring that change to fruition?”
  • Pause
  • “What intention will bring peace and happiness for myself, and for those I love?”
  • You can think of just one, or several. Listen to your deepest heart as you breathe out.
  • Pause
  • “What motivations are blocking these intentions from being fulfilled in my life?”
  • Pause
  • “What is my deepest intention for this coming year?”
  • Pause
  • Ring bell

Process for Intention-Sharing

  • One at a time, people volunteer to come forward to where the candles are.
  • Pick up an unlit candle and, holding your chosen new year intention in your heart, light the candle as a symbolic commitment to follow through on that intention. (i.e. do it slowly and mean it!)
  • Sit back down and talk about your intention:
  • What was the intention, and why is it important in your life?
  • What can you do, in the coming year, to support this intention and help it come to fruition?
  • What underlying motivations and related wholesome states will support this intention?
  • What underlying motivations will hinder this motivation, and how will you stand on guard with mindfulness against these defilements and challenges?

That’s it! Like I said, it worked great for us, and everyone had something to say.

Please feel free to copy this and try it out now or just after new years! Change anything you want!

If you’ve got other ideas, share them in the comments 🙂

Appendix i: Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Refuge Recovery

We renounce greed, hatred, and delusion. We train our minds to meet all pain with compassion and all pleasure with nonattached appreciation. We cultivate generous, kind, and compassionate wishes for all living beings. We practice honesty and humility and live with integrity.

We intend to meet all pain with compassion and all pleasure with nonattached appreciation, to be generous and kind to all living beings, to be honest and humble, to live with integrity, and to practice nonharming.

Our intentions are always based on our understanding. Therefore, it is important, first and foremost, to understand cause and effect. Wise intention means that we take full responsibility for all our actions and the consequences of our actions. In this factor of the path we are asked to intentionally align our actions with kindness, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, and understanding.

Intentions are the goals or aims of our actions. They are the reasons behind our actions.

Having learned the truths of existence, we must now align our thoughts and intentions toward the goal of recovery and freedom from suffering. This consists of redirecting our thoughts and intentions from the negative karma-producing intentions like greed, hatred, and delusion to the positive intentions of kindness, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, appreciation, and understanding.

In order to recover, we must aim our life’s energy and actions toward being free from all forms of hatred, ill will, aversion, and wishing harm on ourselves and others. We must also be free from the greed for pleasure, which is clearly the cause of much of our addictions. Greed is desire out of control. Our intention doesn’t need to be free from desire itself, but only free from the extremes of craving, clinging, attachment, and greed. Wanting something is not a problem, but having to have something is—it’s a setup for suffering.

Intention plays a central role in the spiritual life. All our volitional actions come from our intentions—the actions that are at the heart of karma, which literally means action. Most of us misunderstand karma: we think that it refers to the result. Something bad happens and we say, “That was my karma” or “That was her karma.” Actually, karma is action itself. The result is the karmic fruit. And that karmic fruit—the outcome of an action—comes from our intention, not the act itself.

Refuge Recovery: An oral history of the book with Gary Sanders

Gary Sanders, one of the original founders of the Refuge Recovery program, sits down with me to discuss how the Refuge Recovery book was written collectively based on the meetings that were already happening in LA.

We discuss the program itself, the early days when the program was being developed by a group at Against the Stream LA, the process of collectively assembling the book and much more!

TL:DR; The book was not written by just one person, it was assembled by a group based on the the group experience of running years worth of Buddhist Recovery meetings. Whether we consider Noah our teacher or not, the RR book is a necessary and invaluable resource for our meetings and our lives.

Read on below to find links to everything mentioned in the video and a full transcription with timecodes!

Continue reading “Refuge Recovery: An oral history of the book with Gary Sanders”

Refuge Recovery meme: I was alone before

I love wholesome memes, and couldn’t pass up the chance to extoll the virtues of Buddhist practice and community to finally defeat addiction:

Animated image of dracula, labeled 'addiction" and saying "You couldn't stop me before", followed by an image of three people, labeled "meditation", "me" and "community". The person labeled "me" is saying "I was alone before"
Meme by me, Jer Clarke. Inspired by Refuge Recovery

Continue reading “Refuge Recovery meme: I was alone before”

Celebrating one year of sobriety with Refuge Recovery

Today marks the one year anniversary of my quitting pot completely and hopefully forever. On November 22 last year I packed up what I had left of it, gave it away, and haven’t looked back once with regret. Since then I also got sober from a bunch of other other things that were dragging me down, like alcohol, video games and porn.

photo of the refuge recovery book being read, with candles in the background.
Me reading the Refuge Recovery book last January. Accepting that addiction is suffering is the first step.

Living a clean life is easier than I thought it would be, and as far as I can tell, completely worth it. If you are currently in a place where you do things you know you shouldn’t, and wish you could stop, please know that it’s possible.

The challenges of doing what’s right are significant, but the suffering of doing what you know is wrong will always be worse.

refuge recovery logo

Maybe I could have made it here without Refuge Recovery and Refuge Recovery Montreal, but at this point it’s impossible to say. RR is an amazing set of Buddhist teachings about awakening from the suffering of addiction, as well as being a fantastic and supportive sangha (community) of fellow renunciants to practice and celebrate with. The RR community has been there both in person and online. If you are looking for help, please investigate their book and meetings. For a Catholicism-addled atheist like me, the RR program was a much-needed reprieve from the theistic approach shared by most of the 12-step programs.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me over the past year. To my family who is always there and trusting me to do what’s best, my friends who accepted my sobriety without making it weird and especially to the Refuge Recovery sangha who have welcomed and supported me.

Suffering in this life is unavoidable, but all beings have the potential to awaken and experience freedom from it.

May we be safe and well 🧡
May we be free of suffering ❤️
May we be happy and content 💙
May all beings live at ease 💟

image of a buddha statue wearing a rosary
Mexican Buddha prays the rosary too just in case 🙏🏻📿🇲🇽

A Buddhist Guide to WordPress Development

Below are the slides from my WordCamp Montreal 2018 talk A Buddhist Guide to WordPress Development. 

It’s an unusual WordCamp talk for sure, as it is mostly about an ancient religion rather than a state-of-the-art website app, so I hope some can find it valuable.

FWIW if you just want to learn about Buddhism, and don’t care about WordPress, this would probably be useful to you either way ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Continue reading “A Buddhist Guide to WordPress Development”

They Broke The Facebook IA Plugin for WordPress and Here Is The Workaround

Learn about the 2018 bug in the Facebook Instant Articles for WP plugin which remains unresolved and which stops your IA posts from getting updated on FB when you update them in WP.

I wrote this up for my beloved Global Voices contributors (i.e. my job), but it applies equally to anyone authoring content on a WP site with the IA plugin running. If you are the admin for a publisher that cares about having your FB users see up-to-date versions of your content, maybe you should share it with your authors too ? ⁉

Facebook Instant Articles: Thou shalt re-scrape thine articles after important edits

If you’re not sure what FB IA are, check out my WordCamp talk on the subject: F******k Instant Articles: How do they work?

Global Voices and Amber: Preserving the web and combatting linkrot with free culture and free software

Very happy to share the news that Global Voices has fully implemented Amber, a project from Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University that backs up every site we link to in case it ever goes down ???

It was a big project getting Amber to handle our 100k post archive, but the satisfaction of having a tool like this be part of my job is exactly why I cherish working for GV. It’s a bit of a love note to GV, The Internet Archive, and the whole endeavor of preserving the web both socially and technologically ?

Thanks to Carl Alexander, who works with me on the backend and programming side of Global Voices, together we came up with some great patches for the plugin that we shared back upstream on Github ???

GV is Preserving the Web in Amber and Why That's Great News

Gender Disobedience and Disobedients

I love the expressions “gender disobedience” and “gender disobedient” as alternatives to “gender non-conformity”. They are great for describing queerness and transness from the perspective of people who intentionally subvert gender norms.

This post is me google prospecting on the term “Gender disobedience” because I found no interesting results and thought the concept needed a homepage.  I hope my thoughts on the subject are interesting to you, especially if you yourself happen to be gender disobedient. To read more about me and my particular gender check out About Jer and Gender.

Protest sign saying Gender Liberty For All with the trans logo
Disobey all the conformities. Photo and sign by me.

In praise of gender non-conformity

If you are careful to do things expected of your gender, or just happen to, you are “gender conforming”. If you do things that aren’t expected of your gender, for any reason, you are “gender non-conforming”.

Gender non-conformity is an essential concept because it’s so unspecific about the reasons or details. It’s needed when you don’t know someone’s gender or gender presentation goals.

Many people identify as “GNC” as an identity or attribute, especially because it can describe both cis and trans people across all genders.

Gender non-conforming is also an important label for those who consider themselves cisgender, yet behave in ways associated with other genders.

The only thing I don’t like about “gender non-conforming”, for myself, is that it can also describe people who do it unintentionally, or naturally without any particular agency. I don’t just happen to be non-conforming, I put effort into my disobedience.

I am gender disobedient

I love “gender disobedient” as a label because it feels like the active form of non-conformity. Disobedience is something I do, not just something I am. 

I reject the common gender system as it exists today, and I want to subvert it with my own style and behavior. I accept that the rules exist, but refuse to abide them.

 Disobedience in other parts of life can be dangerous, and obeying is important for everyone’s safety, but when it comes to gender presentation, I think breaking the rules is safe and wholesome.

Not all rules were meant to be broken, but some of them must be.

Gender norms burden and oppress us.

DISOBEY THE CISHETEROPATRIARCHY!

About Jer and Gender

TL;DR My name is Jer and I am not a man

My gender is non-binary, which means I am neither male nor female, the two states possible in the gender binary. I identify as agender, which means I do not believe in my own gender and/or don’t have one. Both of these mean I am genderqueer, because they are weird.

I was assigned male at birth (AMAB) with the name Jeremy and the pronouns he/him. I feel like I have been failing my male assignment my whole life and have decided to drop the class.

Jer is my real name. Most people call me that and it makes me happy. Jer is also much more gender neutral than Jeremy so it’s important to me that Jer is considered my full name. 

Please use they/them as my pronouns to talk about me in the third person rather than he/him. Usually you should just say “Jer” instead of he or him and “Jer’s” instead of his like “I say Jer’s name the first time I mention them in a sentence.”

I will not be mad if you forget and I am happy to answer questions if anyone has them. I’m hoping you will accept me as I am and do your best to respect my identity.

This shouldn’t be a huge shock to my friends

If you know me well, this information is probably both news and ancient history. Here are some things that most of my friends take for granted:

  • You should call me “Jer”, it’s shorter, it’s more fun and it’s what I prefer.
  • I don’t fit into masculine stereotypes about most things.
  • I often come off as a gay man and love it when people mistake me for one.
  • I also wish I was a lesbian.
  • I’m a raging feminist and SJW about almost everything.
  • I wish everyone was gender neutral.
  • I’ve never felt like I am a real man, or wanted to be one.

Maybe that last one is a bit heavier than most conversations get, but it’s been true since university, when I learned that gender and sex didn’t have to mean the same thing.

At the time no one told me about non-binary, genderqueer or agender as identities I could have for myself, just the option of being binary-female if I wanted. That option didn’t and doesn’t have much appeal to me, it would just be another kind of drag like the male drag I’ve been doing my whole life.

Recently I’ve been reading about gender and the different labels and definitions people use to describe themselves. The more I read about gender non-conforming people, the more I realized I was reading about myself.

What makes me non-binary?

This list isn’t necessary, but I’m including it for anyone curious what, in particular, being genderqueer means in my own life.

  • When people say “him“, “guy” or even “Jeremy” about me, it reminds me that my internal understanding of myself doesn’t match how people think of me.
  • When people use male language like “handsome” to describe me, it feels inaccurate.
  • When people use female or unspecific language like “beautiful” it makes me feel good.
  • I tried growing my hair so it would look more feminine and I love it.
  • I tried nail polish for a goth party and loved it so much I wear it most of the time now.
  • I tried dresses and skirts and it made me feel really happy.

I don’t know how I will present in the future, but you can expect me to do things that “men shouldn’t do” with my fashion, grooming, behavior and everything else. This is okay both because I’m not a man, and because men can do anything they want whether they are trans or not.

Maybe in the long run I’ll seem “normal” and everyone will assume I’m a man, maybe I’ll be perfect neutral androgynous and everyone will be confused. It seems very unlikely, but maybe I’ll get to a point where people think I’m a woman.

Either way I suspect I will always be non-binary inside, and I plan to live that reality in public.

Thank you for your attention if you’ve read through all of this, and for any understanding and patience you can bring to the challenge of honoring my identity and wishes.

Readings

agender pride flag
Agender pride flag from Wikimedia

Humblenoia: A fear of ironic compliments

If you are truly humble then someone giving you a complement makes you feel a little bit humblenoid.

Humblenoia is that feeling when you hear something nice about yourself, but you don’t believe it.

The humblenoiac is often found refusing compliments and, paradoxically, arguing against their own merits.

Readings