I’ll admit, my first reaction to hearing the word intention around this time of year usually triggers me to the point of wanting to put my head in the sand. From glittering Instagram posts meant to be inspirational to shiny Facebook ads about weight loss and “New You Intensives!”, the word begins to sound like a sugar coated form of disempowerment, calling me to look for myself outside of myself. A quite undercurrent of shame for not “intending” a better life in the previous year. Ironically I actually put a lot of stock into intentionality, and it appears I’m a touch protective of the way the word is used. So for the sake of diffusing my momentary holiday trigger and allowing curiosity to take back my sense of inspiration, I sought out the etymology of the word intention. Before we dig deep, let's explore what it means to set intention.
In the broadest sense of the term it’s similar to setting goals, for example “I intend to be more patient or my goal this year is to be more active.” A desire is brought to the forefront of the mind. With dedication and willpower the goal or intention is approached, but this is where their similarities end.
"An intention is more dynamic than a goal, infusing itself in one’s actions and thoughts, on going."
- Krystal Meyer
A goal is finite. It’s very creation is brought about to be met, finalized. An intention is more dynamic, infusing itself in one’s actions and thoughts, on going. It’s not to say that intentions cannot be fulfilled similarly to achieving goals, simply put, intentions are internal and goals are external. We set goals outside of ourselves to be reached. We reach into the world with our intention, we reach into ourselves. This distinction is important in its cultivation. Learning how to set meaningful intention can change the shape of our lives. It empowers us to lead a heart-full life and even beckons us to set richer goals. Now onto the wordy roots of intention!
From the Latin action Intentio:
“To turn one’s attention”, Literally “To stretch out.”
From Middle English:
“Emotion, feelings, heart, understanding.”
From the late 12th century entencion, french:
“purpose, aspiration; will; thought.”
I’ve heard intention described simply as conscious intent. So to pull from the Middle English root, it could also be read as conscious heart. When we reach into ourselves to pull out an intention we become conscious of our hearts. “From the heart, to the mind, to the hand...” This is the path of intention. The heart unfurls with a feeling, a desire, maybe an understanding. The heart turns our attention toward this. With conscious intent we create a focal point for the mind to set it’s sights on. It seems a kind of magical alignment takes place when the heart and the mind entwine, the proverbial hand follows to carry this desire through.
Cultivating intention is like saying and doing, at the same.
The french entencion draws me into a similar alchemy. Combining the middle english use of ‘emotion’ and the french use of ‘thought’ intention becomes a mixture of action and feeling. Familiar with the expression, “Easier said than done?” Cultivating intention is like saying and doing, at the same. For example, this new year’s eve I could feel myself getting a little anxious about the clean slate the new year brings. So bringing my curiosity a little bit deeper into this feeling I became aware of my need to slow down, to be present. This heart knowing led my mind to create an intention, “I am patient, I am present, there is no need to rush.” While creating this intention I’m simultaneously arousing the feelings of patience, presence, slowness in my body. The heart calls the mind responds, together they create a single thought and the body takes action resulting in physiological responses. In this instance I could feel my heart rate decreasing, my breath deepening, my nerves relaxing. By following a natural inclination to ease my distress, to change an aspect of my momentary reality the use of intention shifted my experience almost instantly. And it was free ;). What a powerful tool!
Setting intention is like making space.
Setting intention in a sense is making space, or rather a container for space. Space that allows us to search new possibilities, space that makes us ready to receive the fruition of our intention itself. Setting intention is like casting a net, woven with our aspirations, woven like our connective tissue, expanding with our conscious desires. This is where the use of the latin intentio can be seen. As we cast, we are ‘turning our attention’ towards the very desires our hearts are calling for. We ‘stretch out’ spreading open our minds, stretching toward possibility, making space in our hearts to receive. Think back to the last time you stretched. There’s sensation, sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s subtle. We can’t help but notice, it demands our attention. When we set an intention our minds eye can be drawn in a similar way. We’re called to notice it, drawing us into it’s cultivation, simply because we placed it there. We begin to take up our space in the world with bold declaration by our very way of being, saturated with our intention, our conscious heart, our purpose.
At the dawn of a new year when resolutions run rampant, take a moment to dive into the potent stillness of winter, taking heed of your heart. Remember that when and where you set intention is limitless, just as the beautiful things you intend for yourselves and your lives! Here is a little exercise I use when setting little intentions for my day:
Get into a comfortable position, lying on your back or sitting with your feet on the floor, grounding in, settling the mind, feeling the body settle into the present moment.
Now with neutral curiosity ask yourself a simple question, such as “How do I want to feel, right here, right now?”
Take the first, or most resonate word that bobs up to the surface, and hold it in the forefront of your mind, maybe it takes a color or an image, maybe it sets a landscape. You can imagine the feeling of your word(s) growing as you inhale, infusing every cell, spreading to your fingers and toes. Let this new sensation settle in.
When you feel like you’ve become as saturated as you can, gently notice your surroundings, bringing this feeling with you into the next moment, planting it’s seed so you may notice it’s presence again soon.
Krystal Meyer & the VWS Team