“You become mature when you become
the authority in your own life.”
~ Joseph Campbell
Purpose, Meaning, Vision, Intuition, Resolution, Motivation, Commitment, Reason, Wisdom, Significance, Dharma, Sankalpa
There’s a story I love. I first heard it from my teacher, Tara Brach. Eventually I read it in-full in Gangaji’s book The Diamond in your Pocket:
One day a wealthy man visited the jewelry district in a major city. He purchased the largest, most expensive diamond available. A skilled thief, planning to steal the diamond, trailed the man after the purchase was complete. The wealthy man boarded a train and the thief, unable to steal the diamond, continued to follow. For days the thief attempted to make the steal. The thief worked relentlessly day and night. Finally, exhausted and bewildered from his unsuccessful efforts, the thief approached the man and gave himself away, “I have been following you since you left the city trying to steal your diamond but I have been unable to find it.” The man informed the thief, “I knew you were following me so I hid the diamond in a place you would never look to find it – in your very own pocket.” This story reminds us that our greatest desires, our deepest intentions, are closer than we could ever imagine. As close as your own heart, as near as the breath under your nose.
Intentions are touchstones, a place for you to return to for guidance and clarity. Unlike a diamond or hidden treasure, an intention isn’t something you have to search for. Your intention is already alive inside of you. As you embark on this journey toward clarifying your core values, your intention will help to guide and buoy you along the way. In Sanskrit the word for intention is Sankalpa. It means “a one-pointed resolve to focus both psychologically and philosophically…” The practice of intention setting has existed in eastern traditions for thousands of years and while contemporarily it’s been popularized, intentions are by no means a modern invention.
Alan Cohen, co-founder of The Cargo Project writes, “…many tribal cultures had in the basic tenets of their philosophy, the idea that everyone enters this world with a unique gift. The idea was passed to the ancient Greeks and expressed in the writings of Plato…The gift comes with each newborn child, but…the gift is forgotten upon entering the world. It is a most important part of life to discover one’s gift and grow into it. Everything depends on this. Once the gift is known it is an obligation to give it generously to one’s people and the world.” This is the power and the potential of your intention. To give your gift to the world.
An intention helps you remain clear on your path by remaining in touch with your core values and helping you fulfill your purpose in the world. Your intention reminds you not only to return to your path when you stray but also reminds you why you want to return, especially when your journey is challenging or disappointing, as inevitably life will be. Remember – no amount of practice will remove the inevitable hardships of life. After all, the Buddha’s first noble truth was “life is suffering.” We will get sick, lose friends and family members, face challenges and experience global crises. Practice, and a clear intention, help you face these moments with resolve, grace, and strength because lucky for us, from the Buddha to Christ, all of the great saints and prophets believed that the end to suffering is possible in this lifetime, for everyone – including YOU.
In yoga, when your body is well aligned, you feel strong, healthy, safe, and stable. Alignment gives you the ability to move precisely, in a well-informed way. When you practice safe alignment, you feel clear and focused, even if your body is tired or tight or your energy is low. Physical alignment of your body helps you know where you stand in any given moment – it’s a mirror for your present experience, no matter what that experience is. When you are out of alignment, you feel disorganized and unstable, at risk of injury.
A clear intention helps you sense what it feels like to be in alignment, and to know what it feels like to be out of alignment. An intention guides you towards alignment in your body AND in the world, permeating your thoughts, speech, and actions. Living with intention feels like a well aligned yoga posture. It clarifies your next steps. When you have a clear intention there are only two options – one that takes you closer to your intention and one that takes you further away.
Scientists observe that strong intentions are realized more frequently than weak ones. This might seem obvious but it’s worth emphasizing as you embark on your journey to creating intentions because the clearer you are, the more likely you are to be successful, and the whole point of this series is to help you succeed!
The biggest setback we face is our failure to act on our intentions. Our past behavior has become a habit. We end up acting from these habits as a way of dealing with the challenges we face. Rather than acting from your intention, you divert to old behavioral patterns, often without realizing it. When you are emotionally triggered these old behaviors are more likely to surface and your intentions are forgotten. We end up behaving in the same painful way we always have, creating an unending cycle of suffering, frustration, and regret. Sound familiar?
Intentions are only effective if you are courageous enough to change your behavior. And it takes courage to change! It means bumping up against your vulnerability and having the determination to stay with everything you are feeling. It means seeing your desire to react and having the audacity to pause, remember your intention, and respond from the deepest intention of your heart. This takes focus, bravery, and serious spunk. As Victor Frankl so famously said, “between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Wow. Even though I’ve read this quote thousands of times, I still feel it right in my heart. This is what we are going for with strong intentions – our ability to choose our response from an intentional place for the purpose of growth and freedom.
It helps to add a clarifying statement to the end of your intention to further support yourself in creating lasting shift. A clarifying statement pre-establishes a strategy for how to keep your intention alive and active in the face of emotional upset. For example, if you set the intention, “I intend to speak to myself in a kind, compassionate way,” you would add, “…and when I’m unkind to myself I will pause and say 3 nice things.” This helps you prepare for the moments when your intention is at greatest risk of being forgotten.
When you approach intention setting with this mindset you’re reminded that cultivating intentions take practice. You will falter in achieving your intention because you are trying something new and overcoming tired habits while initiating a new way of being in the world. You are literally re-training your brain! You’re learning something new and learning a new skill takes time! Your intention will not be perfected overnight and it will take patience and lots of repetition. Trust me. Like any new skill, setting an intention requires that you fall down, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and begin again, and again, and again. The practice of returning to your intention after missteps and setbacks, reminds me of the beautiful poem Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters by Portia Nelson:
1. I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
2. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
3. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
4. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
5. I walk down another street.
Imagine a dirt road. Then imagine a wagon wheel rolling along this dirt road creating a small groove in the path. Over time as more wheels fall into this same groove, it deepens. This is your mind. These are your habits. When you set an intention, you are creating new grooves by establishing new synaptic connections in your brain but those old grooves are deep so it takes time, practice, and incredible patience (with a hefty dose of self-compassion).
In the twentieth century neuroscientists discovered neuroplasticity defined as the “brain’s ability to change, remodel and reorganize for the the purpose of better ability to adapt to new situations.” This means that your brain is capable of changing throughout your lifetime. Prior to this discovery scientists believed that your behaviors were locked in and unchangeable beyond a certain age. Can you imagine being stuck with the behaviors you had at 21 for the rest of your life? I’m not sure I would be here today if that were the case! Thank god (or spirit, nature, science, whatever works for you) we now know you can create new neural pathways in your brain leading to new skills and new behaviors. This research has even demonstrated compassion, empathy, and gratitude are emotional skills that can be learned and expanded through practice. You can become kinder by practicing kindness! How awesome is that? This is why repetition of your intention on a daily basis is so important because as the popular saying goes, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” The more you practice, the more you focus your mind on your intentions, the more lasting change you create.
Everything is made of energy, your body and even your thoughts. Your thoughts lead to a vibration. The quality of your thought will impact the quality of your vibration. Are you high frequency or low frequency? Dr. Joe Dispenza says that when we “…marry a clear intention with an elevated emotion [such as love, gratitude, or kindness] research has proven that by combining an intention with a feeling or emotion, we can change our biological energy – and when we change our energy, we change our lives.” We, humans, are electromagnetic beings. Creating conscious intentions based in our core values creates a ripple effect that extends beyond you and reaches out into the world. When you set and then radically commit to acting upon your intention, you shift your frequency. But, you have to focus your mind again and again on your deepest intention. The mind has a tendency to wander and become distracted. You must be clear in your determination and disciplined in your practice of intention setting. Like an affirmation, repeating your intention throughout the day focuses both your conscious and subconscious mind on the cultivation of your sankalpa in your life and in the world.
You might be wondering, “but how is an intention different than a goal?” Great question! A goal is specific and time dependent. Goals focus on the future, take you out of the present, and sometimes bring attention to what you lack. This isn’t a bad thing! It’s just different. Goals are wonderful, especially when written down and shared, which has been proven to help you achieve them at a shockingly higher rate of success. A goal might sound like this, “I workout three times a week with a personal trainer and by December 31st I have decreased my body fat by 5%.” Notice how the goal is based in the future, focuses on something currently lacking, and has a specific date of achievement.
Whereas an intention might sound like this, “I intend to speak to myself in a kind, compassionate way. And, in the moments when I am unkind to myself, I will pause and say 3 compassionate phrases to myself.” Sense the difference in tone. There’s an open and expansive quality to the words. An intention is ongoing. It’s imbued with feeling and although you might be challenging yourself to break a habit, such as speaking unkindly to yourself (which we’ll get into next week!), an intention doesn’t feel like something you have to strive to overcome or push yourself to achieve. There’s a naturalness to intentions because they flow from your heart’s deepest desire for how you want to show up in the world.
You might set an intention for the day, a yoga practice, or an event such as a meeting or vacation. But like goals, intentions too can change over time. Trust yourself and your ability to cultivate an intention because it comes from both your mind and your heart. Your sankalpa is a vow that’s true in the present moment – and really, is there anything more important than what’s true for you right now? You might hear your intention as a word or phrase, you might see it visually, or you might feel it viscerally in your body. Above all else, know this: you come to your intention with everything you need to fulfill it.
So, let’s begin: what intention are you ready to attune to in your life?
You can follow the practice below or visit Inner Dimension TV and enjoy Day #1 of my program Journey to Yoga for a guided version of this practice.
Read this invocation as you begin. An invocation sets the tone for your practice and establishes intentionality.
When you practice with intention, you breathe and move with purpose and on purpose. When you live with intention, your actions, thoughts, and words are in clear alignment with your core values. An intention is not something you have to search for – it’s already alive inside of you. An intention comes from both your mind and your heart. It’s a vow that’s true in the present moment. You might hear your intention as a word or phrase, see it visually in your life, or feel it viscerally in your body. As you come to a clear intention, continue to rest your awareness on this intention with every breath you take. Take a moment here and ask: “What intention am I ready to attune to in my life?” Allow yourself to rest here for several breaths as you come to a clear intention…With your intention in place, take a deep inhale through the nose….exhale out the mouth…Enter the flow of your practice following the sound of Ujayi
Child’s Pose (hold 10 breaths)
Table Top Pose
Cow/Cat (5 rounds)
Plank (hold 5 breaths)
Cobra (3 rounds)
Downward Facing Dog (hold 8 – 10 breaths)
Step Forward to the top of your mat and rest in a forward fold, separate the feet hip distance (hold 8 – 10 breaths)
Roll to stand
Bring the palms to Prayer at the Heart, Anjali Mudra
Reaffirm your Intention
Flow through 3 rounds of Sun Salutation A
Flow through 3 rounds of Sun Salutation B, add Humble Warrior after Warrior I each round
Warrior I (hold 5 breaths)
Warrior II (hold 5 breaths)
Reverse Warrior (hold 5 breaths)
Straighten front leg
Triangle Pose (hold 5 breaths)
Half Moon (hold 5 breaths)
Step Back to Warrior II
Cartwheel hands to the mat and step to Plank
Lower the right knee to the mat and spin the back foot flat for Modified Side Plank (hold 5 breaths)
Step back to plank and move through an optional Vinyasa
From Downward Facing Dog step to Malasana at the top of the mat (hold 5 breaths)
Forward Fold (hold 5 breaths)
Rise to Stand
Place the palms together at the Heart and recall your Intention (hold 5 breaths)
Tree Pose, lift your right foot to your inner left thigh or calf (hold 5 breaths)
Return to Standing
Step to Plank
Optional Side Plank on the right side
Repeat the sequence on the 2nd side
Supta Baddha Konasana / Reclining Butterfly Pose
Pranayama (Inhale 4, Pause 2, Exhale 4, Pause 2 – Repeat 4 rounds)
Bridge Pose (hold 5 breaths)
Reclining Pigeon/Thread the Needle (hold 5 breaths each side)
Easy Twist (hold 5 breaths each side)
Savasana / Final Resting Pose (stay for several minutes)
You can read through the meditation instructions below or download my FREE audio meditation course, 7 Days of Meditation, and listen to the Day 1 meditation for a guided version.
Begin by closing your eyes or softly resting your gaze….Become aware of the places where your body is in contact with a surface – your sitting bones on the cushion or chair beneath you…the places where your outer legs or feet meet the earth…From these places of contact, draw into yourself a sense of being both grounded and deeply connected…
Turn your awareness to your breath…Invite these next 2-3 breaths to be a little more full, a little more deep….Over time allow the breath to become natural and effortless…Trust that your body knows how to breathe…your cells desire your breath so simply rest your awareness on the organic movement of your breath in and out of your body….
What is your intention? What qualities are you ready to welcome throughout your life?….Maybe it’s love, peace, contentment, health, or abundance…Ask the question again: What is your intention?….What are you ready to align with?…
Trust that your intention is already within. All that’s required is that you listen, feel, or see what arises…
Internally and silently begin to repeat your intention. An example might be, “I am healthy and full of love,” “My creativity flows effortlessly,” or “I am connected and steady.” Internally and silently repeat your intention…when your mind wanders, simply begin the repetition again, allowing your repetition to be unhurried, inviting each phrase to land like a healing hand over your heart…
As you continue to repeat your intention, you might feel it physically in your body, hear it repeated, or visualize your intention coming to life in your day. Whatever arises for you, focus on your intention, the energy you are ready to align with, and each time your mind wanders, return your attention back to your affirmation, repeating to yourself, “I am (that which you’re ready to align with…”Sit this way for 5 to 20 minutes (depending on the time you have available today).
Allow any images or words that might be in your mind to slowly fade. Pause here for a moment, noticing your breath once again and the steadiness of your body. As you prepare to enter your day, repeat your intention and align with your highest purpose and greatest vision. Your intention is here to support you. As you move through your day you have 2 choices in every moment – one choice will you closer to your intention and one that will pull you further away. Choose to move closer to your intention with everything you’re thinking, saying, and doing.
Remember, the work in this series is made meaningful by your willingness to commit to each part of the process. Be radical in your promise to see each value through to completion, then share your experience, I would love to hear from you. If you feel inspired, share this post with your friends and invite them along. Next week we’ll explore Part II: The Core Value of Growth.