We have often heard that we need to set intentions. What does it mean to set an intention? Is this just a euphemism for goal or objective that we use in the yoga community to sound less ambitious? Or is there a distinction between “goal” and “intention”? When we set a goal we are focused on a particular outcome. Our eye is on the finish line. We dedicate ourselves to accomplishing our goal. People who are determined to achieve their goals are considered ambitious. We even say they are goal oriented, or ambitiously driven.
We all know what it means to set a goal, but how is this different from setting an intention? When we set an intention aren’t we also focused on a particular outcome? Let’s look at an example.
I am a woodworker and I want to make a chair to sell. This is my intention: to build a chair and sell it. Once I make my intention, I let go of it. I don’t forget about it, but I don’t focus on it. My focus is on each step, not the result. I have set my intention and written out my plan. When I am building the chair I am focused on my self-expression. Setting an intention is focusing on the self-expression necessary in the moment you are in. It is focused on the connection to the moment and the activity. I may realize as I am building my chair that it would make a better stool. Since my intention is focused on my self-expression I am flexible and can adjust freely, without panic that I may not achieve my goal. My intention is focused on unattached self-expression, creativity that manifests without resistance. Goals and ambition are attachments that cause resistance to self-expression.
The difference between ambition and intention is where you place your focus. You can be ambitiously driven, or spiritually driven. Ambitiously driven is dedicating yourself to a goal. Being spiritually driven is dedicating yourself to the path.
When you dedicate yourself to the path, you commit without desire. You surrender and dedicate yourself to the path without regard to outcome. This is different than striving, or using ambition to focus your will.
Committing is walking down the path and enjoying the walk – no matter what obstacles you encounter. Applying your will through ambition is an attachment; it is focusing on a destination, on a predetermined result. Which one are you going to be discouraged more easily from obstacles? The one focused on the results because when obstacles arise, self-doubt will happen caused by fear of failure. You haven’t committed to the path – you chose a destination.
Give your life to your soul, to its purpose, its self-expression. The opposite is giving your life to your ego, your mind. If you give your life to your ego you are impulse and materially driven. If you dedicate your life to your soul you are spiritually driven. It is impossible to be in the middle. The middle is a justification for a weak will. It is giving into the ego, except where it’s easy to withdraw.
Think of intuition as the gravity of self-guidance, breath as the anchor to keep you in place (present) to feel it, and self-expression as the path to realizing your intentions. Let go of expectations. This attachment can only bring suffering. Dedicate yourself to the path of your intentions. Be spiritually driven. Be free to authentically express yourself.