At this time of year, when we turn the corner on the light as well as on the calendar, it makes sense that “intentions” are on my mind. 

How are intentions different than goals?  What work can they do in our lives? Is “the road to hell paved with good intentions”?  These are some of the questions others have asked of me over the last few weeks as I have been bringing up this question: What intentions do you have for the coming year? 

Intentions do different work than goals. For me, intentions are about pointing in a certain direction, with a certain spirit or embodied state.  They might be lifelong projects (e.g. I intend to be a more generous person, or I intend to be more focused).  Goals strike me as something attainable, achievable, and something to accomplish and move beyond.  Goals might even help operationalize or enact your intentions (e.g. I will invite people to the house for dinner that I cook, I will cull my project list).  Goals are important because they are actionable.  However, they do not inspire me – they feel like another thing on the to-do list, and taken by themselves, I forget why they are important to me.  Staying connected to intention helps me remember the “why” and how these actions may fit into a bigger picture of who I am and the life I aspire to lead. 

Intentions are not actions (which is why the road to hell may indeed be paved with them).  And yet, actions without intentions risk becoming busy work or instrumental clutter in our lives.  I need to weave together the myriad of things that I do personally and professionally to see what kind of life I am enacting through this whole series of choices, projects, and ways I choose to spend my time. 

One of my most familiar – and necessary – practices around intention comes again from yoga.  At the start of each practice, after starting with some grounding movement and breath, the teacher invites us to set a personal intention for the day.  Sometimes they suggest one (a cue to me that sometimes the best or most needed intentions come from outside ourselves).  Taking this moment to set an intention for my practice allows me to check in with where I am and assess what I most need now.  It can be strength, focus, embodiment, presence, open-heartedness, quietude, energy – very dependent on how my day, week, month is going.  This is part one of meaningful intention practice – it begins with self-assessment: what do I need?  Part two comes 20-30 minutes into the yoga practice when the teacher reminds us: “Come back to your intention. Reset.” This invitation acknowledges that we drift, we distract, we forget, as we get caught up with movement, doing, and our monkey minds.  Moving this part of the intention practice into daily life, it says to me that intentions are aspirational and need to be revisited, refreshed, recommitted to at periodic moments.  Forgetting an intention for awhile isn’t a failure leading to rejection of that intention, but rather, an opportunity to commit anew and take fresh steps to enact this intention. 

My intention to write a new blog post once a week became once a month and then life got busy and full in December and I missed a month.  Disappointed? Yes.  Failure? No.  I commit anew to a writing practice as this blog enacts my intention to be more reflective, mindful, and articulate, and to move ideas forward into practice rather than have them swirl and get lost in the sea of a busy life.  I am grateful to the conversation partners in my life who so inspire and shape the ideas that I attempt to put into words within this space. 

Conversational Credit: Rita Burke, Glenna Chang, Kathleen Farrell, Claire Fraczek, Tori Karpenko, the Morning Conversations group, and Casey, Jamie, & Matt from CorePowerYoga.  Photo credit: James Koski.

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