The first time I was asked to set an intention, in a yin yoga workshop, I went all in: ‘I surrender to my highest Self’. I later started to work with more specific and tangible ones but in a way my first attempt symbolises what intentions are all about. We state where we want to be, because in one reality we are there, or we are that.
An intention is usually phrased in the personal, positive and present tense; it may begin with ‘I am’. One that I often suggest in the gong space is: ‘I am open to any wisdom which arises’.
This mental seed (a ‘sankalpa’) is full of potential for the unfoldment of who we are; unlike a resolution which is often more about trying to change our circumstances. Because from a yogic perspective we are at our core: truth, being, bliss. The rest is layers of conditioned knots (or I am not….s).
The sankalpa is supported by practise (‘sadhana’) which removes the obstacles to its growth; some we don’t even know are there. Through regularity and discipline of practise we create energy or power (’Shakti'), which we can direct towards our intention. By overcoming our mental or physical obstacles - like getting up at 6am to meditate every day when we are usually a late snuggler … or taking a vow of non-harming thoughts - we free up a lot of this shakti, which can be channelled into will and action.
So the sadhana and shakti meet the sankalpa and strengthen our ability to fulfil it!
It may seem strange but, for me, setting an intention is also a powerful way to see where I am out of alignment with my wishes. For example, if I state: ‘I am love’ every day I more readily see where I am acting unlovingly, giving me an opportunity to make changes. An intention is therefore a work in progress (as are we) and we need to be aware of judgement or dejection creeping in. The more we peel away, the more we see.
There is a last element of intention and that is surrender. Of not knowing all the answers, or all the causes. Of not being attached to the outcome, simply allowing the work that we do to create space, which invites grace to guide us home. ‘Manifesting’ can become ego driven, about getting what we want, while surrendering opens us up to what we need.
Why set an intention?
The yogis worked on the principle that wherever awareness goes energy follows. For example, the more we repeat that we are ‘not good enough…’ the more energy we send to that belief, and circumstances will follow to support it.
As we cultivate a spiritual practise, even in simple ways we start to create more and more from our thoughts and will, as our awareness becomes more concentrated and less cluttered. The right people and opportunities may appear to support our growth.
It's not so much about judging what happens as 'right or wrong’ but consciously directing our awareness. The intention is our anchor amid the streams of energy and awareness.
How to create your ‘seed’
Hence the need to frame the intention positively, rather than repeating and strengthening the things we wish to transform. Remember the key words of personal, present and positive.
I recently worked with a client who was experiencing some old energetic blockages. Rather than saying: ‘I am releasing the blockages in my body’ we shifted his intention to: ‘energy flows freely through my body.'
When I’m feeling unclear about my direction I find it helps to free scribble around different areas of my life: family, work, health etc and a few key words of what am I looking to achieve or transform. Then to highlight any commonalities: are there qualities or patterns that overlap these areas?
Or, if it all feels overwhelming and disparate, is there one action I can focus on right now? This wisdom crystallises into the intention statement.
Sometimes, its the other way round; I immediately see the intention and make a spider diagram of everything that spreads off from there, for example qualities or actions that would support it.
Can an intention be shared?
There are times when we might want to create collective intentions, for example as a couple or in a work collaboration. When more attention and resources are focused on the intention it gains power. Sharing our deepest wishes can be powerful and supportive in the right setting while in some situations we may feel we diffuse the energy we’ve created.
When to plant it?
The start of a new cycle is an obvious time to seed an intention, a new moon or Spring for example, or the planning of a new project. However, it’s also helpful to have a little bit of clarity and energetic reserve before setting an intention ... which may not always coincide with the new moon (and very unlikely with the new year!).
Helping it grow
As we said what we focus on gains power so we want to repeat our intention regularly; full of faith and from the heart. The start and end of our daily practise is a great time to water the seed that we planted. Sometimes I ask clients to set an intention at the end of a healing session when some clutter has been cleared, rather than when they arrive straight from the busy-ness of their day.
As well as inner repetition, at times when we have less mental chatter, it may resonate with you to speak the intention aloud, write it down, or work with an object that symbolises it. After all the intention wants to come into form eventually.
The more we’ve planted and cultivated its growth the more likely our intention is to pop up when we need it. Or we can consciously reach for it as a tool. For example, when I feel myself reacting to someone’s words I remind myself of my intention to be calm and witnessing.
I may also find ways to tailor my practise or daily routine to fulfil my intention. For example, if I know I want to cultivate ‘witnessing’ I would choose a meditation about observing and letting go. Or I would make time for meditation full stop, if I see that my life is about running around fire fighting. If I wanted to cultivate focus perhaps I would work with a specific number of rounds of mantra per day for a set period of time.
And finally the letting go part: my personal favourite is to write down and sit with an intention … and then burn it, symbolising both transformation and the release of attachment and grasping.
Is it ok to change an intention? There are times when we know that an intention has been fulfilled and we can move on. However, there may be overarching intentions (such as the surrendering ego example) as well as shorter term ones which may span from this; for example, setting an intention for the duration of a retreat, to work on one quality that feels pressing.
If we find ourselves jumping from intention to intention but not getting anywhere we may wish to look at this pattern; does this reflect what’s going on in our lives, and what is the energetic impact?
Happy intending. With love & blessings, Ali x