The notion of intent goes back millennia. Wisdom traditions from around the world talk about intent as the driving force of creation, and the concept plays a significant role in a number of religious creeds, including Hinduism and Buddhism.
Intention in Sanskrit is Samkalpa, or an idea formed in the mind or heart. “Right intention” is the second element in the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, the teachings that describe the way to end personal suffering and achieve enlightenment. Right intention says essentially: treat yourself and others with kindness and compassion while living in alignment with your deepest values.
While I fully believe that intention is a powerful tool for personal change, I also know from those in our community and my own experience that putting the concept into practice can feel confusing. Is there a way to make it clearer and simpler? As I was writing my book and trying to sort out the issue, my practical, analytical left brain kicks into gear.
For the next few days, I keep a pen and paper handy, and every time I come up with a word that helps define intent or seems to be an important part of the intent process, I jot it down. I wind up with about twenty words and ideas, from “meditate” to “network with friends” to “pay attention to coincidences.”
A fan of acronyms, I start playing with some of the core concepts to see if I can come up with a sort of road map for fulfilling intents. Eventually I hit upon six strategies that can help us all find our way forward, INTENT: Incubate, Notice, Trust, Express, Nurture, and Take Action.
Quiet your mind to tap into your deepest intentions; see where this leads.
Become mindful of your thoughts and actions and pay attention to what they tell you about what gives you meaning and a sense of purpose – and look for signs that can point you toward your true path.
Have confidence in your inner knowing – and in the messages the universe sends you – and allow that knowledge to guide you forward.
Write down your intentions, say them out loud or share them with others to fully embrace them and help you move ahead in your journey.
Be gentle with yourself as you try to find your way. Intention isn’t always a straightforward path, just as life isn’t. Giving yourself opportunities to try – and fail – is often part of, and even crucial to, the process.
Once you’ve identified an intent, or even multiple ones, don’t sit and wait for it to magically manifest; instead take the practical steps that can make each become a reality. It may be easiest to choose one intent first, and set short-term goals to help you get started.
Intentional Living: Reflections and Practices
Below are some things that have helped me as I clear the obstacles from my path. I share them in the hopes that they might inspire and help you as well:
1. Go for a walk outside. Notice and appreciate how intentions plays itself out in the universe – how a flock of birds turns at the same time or how an army of ants marches to its own rhythm. It is powerful just to notice and appreciate what’s around you, without feeling pressure to do anything more. For some, writing down free-flowing thoughts or observations in a journal is a great exercise for continued quiet reflection.
2. Plant a seed in your garden or in a pot on a sunny windowsill in your home. It can be any type of seed – flower, fruit, or vegetable. Take responsibility for watering it daily and exposing it to sunlight. Enjoy its beauty and your nurturing power when the seed blossoms into its own unique expression.
3. Identify a person in your family or your community who is living daily with intention. It may be anyone – your mom, the postman, or the clerk at the grocery store. Appreciate the important role that person plays in the lives around her or him