Intention part 2 – unpicking the component parts
In part one of this series, we established that the capacity to hone and hold a clear intent is one of our least used – or perhaps most abused – human abilities. We looked at some of the more common ways we can argue ourselves back to the default of setting intentions that weigh us down. And we explored the idea that we could instead work out the component parts of healthy intention-setting and apply them to our own lives. As a friend used to say just before we did something truly insane/dangerous, what could possibly go wrong?
In essence, setting intent goes like this:
1) Decide what you need/want.
2) Shift into a meditative mindset (aka stop thinking).
3) Envision the wanted event/thing/mindset as if you were in a future where it had happened.
4) Give thanks to whatever you hold most dear for the thing having happened.
5) Let go. Stop thinking about The Thing until the next time to set an intent.
That’s it. Easy.
Except, of course, there are a few wrinkles we need to iron out and a few potential banana skins to step round. If it were truly this easy, everyone would do it, right?
Step One: Work out what you want.
Getting past the ‘I don’t deserve anything’ and ‘Simply by asking, I’ll call down bad luck on myself’ is harder than it looks on paper. As we said in the first blog in this series, even without all the internal voices we’ve spent a lifetime cultivating, decades of gleaming people telling us that it’s fine to ask for a bigger Mercedes or a villa somewhere hot with a pristine beach, or a rocket ship, because, ‘Look! It worked for me!’, has tainted things somewhat.
We live in the time of transition when everything is changing and if you’re reading this, I’m fairly sure you’re not interested in buying more stuff simply for the transient dopamine hits. Certainly, in two decades of teaching contemporary shamanic practice, I’ve noticed that while some people come asking for help with core issues like healing our bodies and our relationships (often healing our relationships with ourselves first), there’s been a steady shift these past few years towards asking how to connect more deeply with the web of life or how best to be in service to life, or how to bring the best of ourselves to all that we do. And yes, they’re all essentially the same question. And yes, if you’re looking for an intention to set as a practice run, whichever of these lights up sparks for you is a good one to start with.
Because this is the scale that seems to work: we need to find something that is both big enough and personal enough to feel that it’s worth our time, without being so big that we can’t get our heads around it. World Peace may be a laudable aim, but it’s immensely hard to hold a solid imagining of peace here (wherever ‘here’ is for you) as well as peace in Ukraine, and Iran, and Yemen, and in the heart of Mogadishu and in the hearts of our politicians and in the millions upon millions of homes where small acts of unkindness wreak living hell for everyone concerned. It’s just too big really to get our heads around and one key we need to understand about intention is that focus really helps: in short, we need granularity to be successful.
So while world peace might be too big, if we live in an inner city housing estate then setting the intention to feel safe going out after dark is ideal: it’s clear, and with some work we can begin to imagine on every level how it might look and sound and taste and touch and feel.
So this is the kind of thing that works. Similarly, we might find it tricky to intend absolute super-fitness, but we can imagine how it might feel to breathe freely, or to be free of the fear of a particular chronic illness. In the health, wealth and happiness stakes, everyone wants to win the lottery until they have a difficult medical diagnosis at which point, personal health becomes a far higher priority. And that, too, is a useful intention to set: for health, rather than against illness. We set intentions for the things we want to happen, not the things we want not-to-happen (so: we ask for complete, immediate and lifelong health, not for the Covid virus to leave our lungs/kidneys/bone marrow. This is an important distinction).
Working with other people is good, too. It helps to talk these things through someone else who gets it. It helps also, to intend things for others rather than for ourselves. It’s far, far easier to ask for complete, immediate and lifelong health for our friend – the various internal voices telling us it’s impossible just have far less traction.
So when we work on this in Accidental Gods, forming groups is a key part of what we do: partly so we can create intentions for others in the group and partly so we can air the many voices that are telling us it’s not going to work. Sometimes simply speaking our fears out loud is enough to draw their sting. Sometimes we need to explore them more deeply. Either way, building connections with people we trust can make a huge difference: find some like-minded people and create your groups. See where it gets you.
Step Two: Shift into a meditative mindset.
Moving on, the second part requires some form of meditative practice. This can be as simple as knowing what it feels like to shift into the dream space, or it might be deeper. The key point is that you stop thinking. Because what we’re doing is not Head-Mind stuff. Linear, reductive thinking is what got us into this mess. If you could think your way through to clear lungs, or a quiet neighbourhood where people look after each other, you’d already by there. We need to suspend our Head Minds. There are a thousand different ways of doing this, and many of them are pretty much cast iron guaranteed repeatable. Find one (or several) that work for you and practise them regularly enough that your neurophysiology is wired for shifting out of head mind. What fires together, wires together. Do it often. Do it cleanly. Do it so you know it works. And then it becomes habit, which is what we’re after – not all habits are bad for us.
Step Three: Envision your intention as if it were already happening around you
The third part is the bit that people enjoy most: actually envisioning what it is we want. The key here is that we give it as much detail as we can in all of our senses. What does a friendly neighbourhood look like, sound like, smell like, taste like? How does it feel both with our our bodies and internally? Scene, by scene, image by image, feeling by feeling we need to build this until it’s as real as any of our self-created nightmares. It needs to resonate with every part of our bodies, fill the textures of who we are. We need to be in this place of congenial neighbourhood so that when we step out of our imaginal front door, it’s right there.
Like everything else, this takes practice. It might not happen the first day you sit down to do it. That’s fine. It’s normal. It’s probably useful because you can see where the holes are. Take the wins as you find them and expand on them – did you see flowers growing in window pots? What did they smell like? What colours were they? What did the petals feel like? Build these in next time. Did you see people picking up litter? Did it feel good? Maybe next time, they’re picking up all the needles and putting them in sharps pots and the whole street is shining. Build it in and build it up until you have a whole 6-dimensional movie happening inside your head, till you come away from it with your heart exploding (in a good way) and a smile on your face. Build it until every cell of your body shimmers so that it feels as if it already exists in your own corner of reality. Do this for at least 10 minutes, more if you can. (Though if you need to start with just a minute and build up, that’s fine too).
Step Four: Give thanks for this already having happened.
So now, still in the meditative mindset, offer thanks to whatever you care most about.
This can be one of the deities you work with, or the All That is, or the Web of Life or The Powers that Be or the Heart Mind of the Universe…whatever you reach to in the dark nights, reach to it now and offer the deepest, fullest, strongest, clearest heartfelt thanks for the fact that this has already happened.
This is important. Getting our heads around the fluidity of time is one of the hardest parts of setting intention and a point where our head-minds find the most ‘this is impossible’ traction. We’re completely happy with imagining horrific futures for ourselves and our kids and we are broadly on board with the idea that where we put our energy is where we get to…and then we’re asked to imagine something we actually want and express gratitude to the gods as if this has already come to pass…and we fall over in a cranky heap. So please, just let go of the crankiness. Test it out. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to thinking of a dozen ways your life is going to fall to bits. But in the meantime, give this everything you’ve got.
Step Five: Let go
That’s it. Just… stop thinking about your neighbourhood being friendly or your lungs being clear of the virus. Particularly don’t think about the opposite. Do whatever you can to let your head mind run riot on other stuff. Because, truly, if you spend twenty minutes imagining the wonder of clear lungs, and five minutes giving thanks for them being clear—and then the next twenty three hours and thirty five minutes explaining to yourself how damaged your alveoli actually are and there’s no possible way they can clear because the latest article you picked up on the internet is a feast of horrible lung-crashes…guess which reality garners the most power?
This is hard. We know it’s hard. That’s why in the six steps of the work we do to connect with the web of life inside Accidental Gods, ‘Letting Go of all we believe to be true’ is a section all on its own. And maybe one day we’ll get to running workshops in that, too. But for now, we’re focused on intention and you need to take on board that just letting go and getting on with other stuff is as important as any of the previous steps.
Don’t even think about your intended thing until you come back to doing your half hour meditation tomorrow. Forget about it – until you find yourself in your imagined future. Then you can think about it. And give thanks again to the gods that guide you. And set a new intention for something different for yourself or someone else so that the world becomes a more congenial place and you walk in it a little differently. This is how we come through our time of transition: each of us growing into our own sense of place in the world and feeling able to take it wholeheartedly because we trust all parts of ourselves to be pulling in the same direction. And setting intents, feeling our way through the process time and time and time again…this is an integral part of the process. Let’s do it, people. What have we got to lose?