A 4-Step Practice to Awaken Your Intention

A strong intention is like a rudder to navigate us through stormy seas. Wendy O’Leary offers a practice to reflect and return to our personal intention, no matter the weather.

Photo by Martin Schutz / Adobe Stock

Though I deeply appreciate how my mindfulness practice provides me with tremendous support in the midst of current challenges, it is specifically the questions around intention that have deepened that practice and enhanced my capacity to choose how I relate to this moment. What is my intention in these unprecedented times? And how does my practice help me orient in that direction?

As wise teachers have said, everything arises at the tip of intention. This has never been more evident to me than it is right now.

The reality is, I can do virtually nothing about much of what is unfolding.

What I can do is cultivate the ability, moment by moment, to choose how I relate to this experience. One element of consciously choosing how to relate and respond to the world means I’m frequently asking myself, again and again: How do I want to respond to these challenging times? What is my intention in the midst of it all, and how does my practice support me? Can I “let be” and relax with this level of uncertainty and how does my intention support me in doing just that?  

Can I cultivate self-compassion and compassion for others as we all navigate this uncharted territory? And can I begin again when I feel that I have strayed from my intention (which, if I am being totally honest, has certainly happened countless times)? The reminder here is that intention is pointing in a direction, it’s a north star, not a destination. If I am paying attention when I get off course, which will inevitably happen, I can always make a course correction.

When I see fear arising, instead of being hijacked by my fight, flight, and freeze reactivity, can I calm my nervous system and see the common suffering and relate to it, and to others, in a way that is consistent with a dedication to deepening kindness and compassion? Even if those “others” are exhibiting behavior that is making me feel threatened and concerned (dare I say, even if they are not socially distancing as I deem appropriate)? In choosing a compassionate response, I remember to feel my feet on the floor or take a few mindful breaths or even remind myself, with a hand on my heart, that I am doing all I can to keep myself and others healthy, safe and well.  

When the news is so sad that I just don’t think I can bear it, I remember to consciously and gently touch into the deep sadness with kindness, compassion, and equanimity.

When the news is so sad that I just don’t think I can bear it, I remember to consciously and gently touch into the deep sadness with kindness, compassion, and enough equanimity to hold it in my heart without getting lost in itCan I attend skillfully to all the feelings as I work to navigate my days with more grace and ease, reminding myself that all feelings are welcome and to hold them with mindfulness and compassion? And can I let this support me as I try to make clear and conscious decisions about how to most effectively respond amid our societies’ racial issues, divisiveness, and pandemic pain?

Here are 4 steps to support working with intention:

1. Identifying Intention

Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, inviting the body to soften and the mind to calm. Breathe in and out as if the breath were moving through the heart center, the center of the chest, with a gentle invitation to be receptive to whatever arises there. Begin to imagine and connect with your wisest self and ask “What is my deepest intention?” Know that a true, deep intention will feel light and open in the body and mind. This is not about goal setting and achievement. An intention is an ongoing direction in life not something to be “accomplished.” Examples may be living with more presence, being more compassionate, living in alignment with your values, or something else. 

Just sit with the question, even if no answer arises, as you gently incline the mind in this way. 

2. Setting Intention

Begin each day reminding yourself of your intention. Simply saying to yourself each morning before getting out of bed “May I be…” and add in your intention. Kindly pointing yourself in this direction with some clarity and conviction can help to cultivate the conditions for staying in touch with your intention as you move through the day.

3. Checking Your Course

Periodically check in with yourself. In particular when you feel there is suffering you can ask yourself a few questions. What is happening now? How does this align with my intention? Or, especially in a tense or uncertain moment, how can I respond from my deepest intention? How may this moment, whatever it brings, serve to support my intention? 

To course check, we need to know what is happening in the moment and be present for our experience in a kind and receptive way. When intense feelings or challenging situations arise, be gentle with your self and name the feelings with some sense of allowing before asking yourself, “How can I respond from my deepest intention?”

4. Course-Correcting as Needed

When you realize you have gotten off track—maybe you reacted in a way that wasn’t supportive of your intention—begin by practicing a bit of self-compassion. Remind yourself that this is hard, and just as others do, sometimes you will get blown off-course, and then offer yourself a gesture of kindness. End by checking in again to see if your intention still resonates and, if so, recommitting to it in a kind and gentle way. 

These questions and others serve as daily reminders to support my capacity to work with my feelings so I can see more clearly and have some choice in how to respond. And, if like me, you find intention helps to guide you with some meaning and clarity, you may consider how you want to navigate these uncertain and challenging times. What is your north star as you set your course through these stormy seas?

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