Intent. It changes everything.

But what is it? It’s not a thing, not something added on at the beginning or end. It’s an underpinning, a condition of the act being at all. Intent, or lack thereof, is constitutive.

Intention and Attention are related, but not identical.  Attention is the conscious presence that maintains the space for things & relationships to reveal themselves. In my view, this makes it sacred: it is an ontological, or constitutive, condition for other things, relations and conditions.

Intention is specific attention. Focused Attention. Focused attention, or the lack thereof, is how we create meaning and the lack thereof. There are many different levels on which to focus your attention, and it is characteristically Western to focus it on a thing or an event: a goal.

Often, I think, we think “goal” when a teacher asks us to “set an intention”. Open hamstrings, clear heart chakra, world peace, love in my life.

When we create intention at the beginning of yoga class, we are invoking sankalpa. The usual translation is merely “intention” or “resolve”, but we are really invoking a second order of intent: conscious intention, or intention about intention. What do we want to want?

I suggest we think of intention as a clear, quiet, neutral place to stand. Imagine a platform in the deep, deep forest. Like that from which a biologist might watch. But we are scientists of ourselves. We need a clear, quiet place from which to watch the thoughts frollick. Our sankalpa is an expression of why we practice,  a touchstone to which we can return when we get lost among our thoughts and desires.

But how to find our Sankalpa? How to set an appropriate intention? Well, think of what you’d like to have. Even an old fashioned goal or egocentric desire. Be really honest. Good. Now, what conditions have to be present for this gift to manifest? And what quality would you ascribe to these conditions? It’ll take a few moments to let the mist settle and see what emerges like an island from the surf.  But that quality, the quality of the conditions which enable the manifestation of your deepest desire, that’s a good candidate for your Sankalpa.

Now that’s an intention worth your attention.

4 thoughts on “Intention

  1. I mentioned in an earlier version of this post that I was listening to an audio seminar on intention by Lynne McTaggart, and was not finding the level of clarity and analysis I had expected from Sounds True, but I’d get back to you.

    Well, I won’t be getting back to you after I’ve finished because I’ve thrown the towel in! When she argued from an example of a cancer patient whose condition was correlated to his belief in his diagnosis to the absolute INEFFICACY of treatment… I was done. Two hours and forty-two minutes of the rambling skiddishness of this mind evidentally completely uninterested in the most basic rules of communication was enough for me!

    I’m profoundly sympathetic to what I think her premise is: intention is constitutive of our worlds. However, this in & of itself is not so controversial as it once was. The details of how our intent and consciousness shape the worlds in which we live are really, really juicy and interesting. I’m still looking for a book of good research on that connection, though.

  2. I’m with you on this whole connection between intent and reality and I’m very distressed by those who use it as a weapon against the sick and the afflicted. That whole “you are dying because you don’t believe the right things”, is at best ignorance written in large script and at its most malevolent, cruelly abusing those least able to defend themselves.

    I think it’s instructive for all of us to remember that our intentions do not come with money-back guarantees and that the Universe will unfold as it will, with or without our permission. And I think we set ourselves up for severe disappointment, if not worse, if we lull ourselves into some false hope that it is our intentions that govern the universe.

    That said, intention is a very powerful tool for governing ourselves in the realms over which we do exercise some control. My intentions may not *cure* my disease processes but they help me live with my disease processes in a more graceful and much more complete manner.

  3. Kate, so well said! I think intent is powerful and complex and that understanding the network of intending individuals and collectives is a formidable undertaking. I love your phrasing “graceful… and … complete” .

    And your comment that intentions don’t come w/ moneyback guaruntees is both funny & insightful… and a propos! I downloaded the audiobook in which I was so disappointed – Living with Intention – from SoundsTrue. I wrote them, and they’ve fully refunded it. They actually stand behind their money-back guaruntee!

    I believe the art of working with sankalpa – intention – has to do with careful listening to what we really, really deeply desire. It’s usually not a thing, but a quality or condition.

  4. Interesting point… I need to expend some more skull sweat on this idea of sankalpa… I suspect it’s related (or maybe just in my brain) to the notion of Ishavara pranidana — surrender to the will of God/the Divine/ the Universe — pick the icon you’re comfortable with.

    I’ve been kicking this concept around for a couple of decades now. I first starting exploring it when I was studying the holy texts of our Muslim brethren and that whole principle of “submission to the will of God”. The question is, for me, what is the will of God? How does one know it is the will of God and not the machinations of men seeking power or the seductive call of ego? I’m the first to admit, I find it hard to distinguish, particularly with the ego bit. I’m way better at spotting your kleshas than I am at picking up on my own.

    Again we come back to the idea you bring up…careful listening. I’ve always drawn the distinction between prayer and meditation as thus: prayer is when we talk to God; meditation is when we shut up and listen.

    Again, I am drawn to your words, “a quality or condition”. Although I can’t yet articulate it, I sense there’s a very powerful pointer there to something that’s been perking in my brain for a while.

    Ahhhhhhhhhh, it’s all fuel for the mat, isn’t it? I hope you’re having a simply splendiferous day.



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