Setting your intention

Apr 06, 2017

“And what is right intention? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right intention.”
— Magga-vibhanga Sutta (An Analysis of the Path)

Spring is traditionally associated with birth and renewal, a welcome freedom after the challenges of winter. This lightening of spirit urges us to embark on new projects, including our own personal aspirations. What do we want to achieve? How do we want to move through the world?

The simple act of setting an underlying intention for our daily actions may help us address these questions. Acting with good intention or resolve can often be more important than a stated goal. As spiritual teacher and meditation guide Chandresh Bhardwaj puts it, “Setting an intention is like drawing a map of where you wish to go — it becomes the driving force of your higher consciousness. Without an intention there is no map, and you’re just driving down a road with no destination in mind.” Or, put a link to the source of this quote.  But what is an intention and how do we set one? The following posts explore intention – how we can ensure that they are ‘right’ and what they may look like in practice:

The Power of Intention
The motivation, or underlying intention, for our actions is very important. Author Sharon Salzberg writes that “Intention is not just about will—or about resolutions we make on New Year’s Eve with shaky hope in our hearts—but about our overall everyday vision, what we long for, what we believe is possible for us. If we want to know the spirit of our activities, the emotional tone of our efforts, we have to look at our intentions.” Read more of her article on Oprah.com.

The Buddhist Concept of Right Intention
A common proverb says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” How do we know if our intentions are true? Luckily, Right Intention is part of the Eightfold Path, so we have some guidance:

“The Buddha taught that there are three kinds of Right Intention, which counter three kinds of wrong intention. These are:

1) The intention of renunciation, which counters the intention of desire.

2) The intention of good will, which counters the intention of ill will.

3) The intention of harmlessness, which counters the intention of harmfulness.”

Learn more from journalist and Zen Buddhism student Barbara O’Brien’s article, Right Intention – Wisdom and the Eightfold Path on ThoughtCo.com.

Goals vs. Intentions
Intentions can be subtle, which is why it is important to investigate our core motivations. Author , teacher and founder of the Life Balance Institute Phillip Moffitt helps us separate our goals from our intentions: “Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are ʻbeingʼ in the present moment…. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.” Read more at Dharmawisdom.org.

Working Intentions into your Day
Setting new behaviors and habits takes practice—or the intention to set daily intentions. In Set Your Intention & Rejoice in Your Day, author Thupten Jinpa urges us to reflect on our intentions at least twice a day, at sunrise and sunset.  In the morning, “Our intention sets the ʻtoneʼ of whatever we are about to do. Like music, intention can influence our mood, thoughts, and feelings—setting an intention in the morning we set the tone for the day.” The evening is more geared for reflection. “At the end of a day, or a meditation, or any other effort we have made, we reconnect with the intentions we set at the beginning, reflecting on our experience in light of our intentions and rejoicing in what we have achieved.”

Suggestions for Setting an Intention
Need some concrete examples? In 10 Intentions To Set For Your Most Authentic Life, spiritual teacher and meditation guide Chandresh Bhardwaj provides a list of intentions to get us launched. Though examples can be helpful, he is clear that our intentions must be authentic: “…an intention cannot be forced. It’s a seed that you have to sow and then let reap on its own. You can’t set an intention that you don’t believe in. If it’s done forcefully, the purpose of the intention is ruined.”

Help a Child Set an Intention
Intentions are good for everyone, especially children. But how do we explain them? Writer and teacher Mira Binzen provides some tips for introducing the concept of intention to children…with benefits for the whole family: “Intentions can be useful to start the day. Children are often rushed in their morning routine, and pressure to get out the door can lead to disharmony in the family. When there is a stated intention, morning routines often go more smoothly. For example, one family has an intention stated on a piece of paper stuck to the refrigerator: ʻI am an active participant in our family’s harmony.’ This is a powerful statement because it puts both parents and children in the driver’s seat of his or her own experience.” Read more at YogaChicago.