Intention Requires Attention

inˈten(t)SH(ə)n/

noun

  1. a thing intended; an aim or plan.

If you, like me, are involved in the world of mindfulness, yoga, meditation, coaching, etc. then you, like me, hear it all the time:

“What’s your intention?”

“Set an an intention.”

“Be intentional.”

 

So, what does “intention” actually mean? And why do we do it?

 

I remember, as a newbie yoga practitioner, being introduced to this idea that I could set an intention and “work” on that intention via my yoga practice. And that those qualities would seamlessly integrate into my life, somehow. I just chalked it up to all those mystical, mysterious effects of yoga.

 

At the time, I was working, full-time, on my Master’s degree in Special Education, while student-teaching, full-time, in a middle school for children with special needs. Almost daily, as I stepped onto my yoga mat, my intention would be to cultivate patience. I believed that what I needed most was patience with the children and their various learning processes.  And I would practice that patience by choosing patience in my yoga practice when I felt I was becoming impatient. I often only saw impatience arise when I faced challenging balancing postures, inversions or deep backbends -- you know, the fancy ones. {Side note: looking back, and chuckling to myself, I see now that even more important than cultivating patience with what I deemed to be challenging to me externally was patience with myself, with my own process, and with life, itself; forget the “advanced” poses, my greatest “work” showed up in the simplest of shapes and in the most uncomplicated moments that I had been bypassing in my striving}.

 

But what I didn’t realize, was that the ancient yogis weren’t mystical, mysterious, or magical. They were exceptionally practical. They lived with a determined attention, a willingness to stay attuned to themselves not just in their physical practice, but in their daily actions, in how they were showing up in the world. This way of living was explored in and supported by their asana, pranayama, and meditation practices. Intention didn’t exist in a silo and it certainly didn’t come to fruition without attentive action, conscious choice. We can’t expect that being intentional in our yoga practice will automatically keep us awake and intentional in our lives. Intention doesn’t come to life if we toss it like a coin into a fountain or think it as we blow out the birthday candles. We have to approach our lives as we do our practice. {Enter one of my favorite phrases: how we do anything is how we do everything}.

 

When we set an intention, we make a conscious choice. We are choosing to actively and attentively choose, moment by moment, how to be in relationship with life -- all of life. This is absolutely not passive or inactive. And it certainly isn’t based in illusion. We’re talking about real life, real time, real pain, real struggle, real moments, real choice.

 

What gets in the way of intention becoming reality?

  • Habitual ways of thinking (which leads to -->)
  • Habitual ways of feeling (which leads to -->)

  • Habitual ways of behaving/doing (which leads to --> more of the same)

And all of these things can be attributed to a lack of attention.

 

Life Coaching clients often come to me because they’re discontent or unhappy with certain feelings or behaviors/actions and they want change but feel stuck. When I work with my clients, we often work at the layer of thought (often habitual and patterned). We work to interrupt at that layer since the thought drives the feeling which drives the action. And most of the work we do at the beginning centers around developing an awareness of habitual ways of thinking; understanding, first, that this thought is powerful and, second, that we have ways to work with undoing and not believing the thought. And this requires, guess what(??), ATTENTION. Conscious, wakeful, alert attention.

So, ask yourself: What do I need right now? What would be supportive in my life, from an internal perspective? And am I willing to consciously and honestly stay attuned to life and my response to it? Am I willing to remain alert so I can choose to align with that intention? 

You have, within you, the ability to make any intention become reality. You define you each time you intentionally choose how to be in relationship to life.