How to Use Intentions in Your Spiritual Practice

I use intentions in my spiritual practice to focus on changes I want to make in my behavior or outlook. An intention is an affirmative statement of a change I want to embody. It is stronger than a wish but not rigid. It is fluid and open to changing circumstances. Like a guide rope at a river crossing, it is a point of focus that reminds me where I’m going even when temporary currents knock me off balance.

How should you state an intention? It’s helpful to think of an intention as a working hypothesis you investigate and learn from, tweaking as you go. Let’s start by laying out a process for using an intention in your spiritual practice and showing some examples.

Creating a spiritual intention is done in conversation with your soul. Find a place where you can relax and settle your mind. Give your soul a chance to speak to you and offer guidance on what would be useful in your current stage of growth. Ask yourself (or Your Self) what topics would best serve you. Play with some ideas. Write down some drafts and read them out loud. See if one of them strikes a chord and feels authentic.

The wording of an intention depends on your personal preferences. It should be inspiring and meaningful to you. Here are some guidelines I find useful.

I like to frame it as an active instruction to myself. I avoid being abstract, preferring to be concrete about the actions or results I want to see. “Be more aware” feels too vague, so I might choose “Remember my breathing throughout the day and take three conscious breaths” or “Look for beauty in the world and stop to notice.” Instead of “Be kind,” I might look at a specific behavior: “I will let people speak without interrupting.”

When you feel satisfied with your intention, write it down in your journal or somewhere handy. Reread it slowly and let it soak into the cells of your body. You are committing to this, not just mentally but at a being level. Consider focusing on the same intention for a while, perhaps a week. I usually create a master intention at the beginning of the year, but I also create smaller intentions as the weeks go by.

Try to recall your intention throughout the day and take the action or create the internal state you intended. At the end of the day, go back to your journal and write down your reflections.

This next point is important and needs to be emphasized:  do not be discouraged if you forget your intention all day! This happens to us all. Maybe the intention is not compelling enough; maybe it’s a tricky topic and you are subconsciously avoiding something; maybe you should refine it; maybe you just had a busy day. It’s okay, just write your present reflections from the experiment and start again tomorrow.

Remember that you are using intentions as a spiritual practice to learn something. A curious attitude is much more important than feeling like you are “achieving” a goal. When I used the intention to not interrupt, I was shocked to learn that I interrupt people all the time (my wife was not shocked, but she was glad I finally noticed). This gave me insights into my own impatience and my relation to time. I also had to admit I was more focused on my own ideas than those of others, a clear aspect of my ego self. That’s a good thing to learn.

An intention provides a focus, poking a flashlight into the inner clockwork of our body-minds. By declaring and using an intention throughout the day, we raise a profile in life’s wind tunnel to see what flies. Or why it doesn’t. We gather information, we gain perspective. This is the benefit of using an intention as a diagnostic tool, not a measure of spiritual progress.

And never as a cudgel to berate ourselves for failure. How can we fail if we are learning something new?

Photo by lorimcm on Unsplash

2 Replies to “How to Use Intentions in Your Spiritual Practice”

  1. Thanks Steve. This is very instructive and very helpful! This is a great reminder of how taking small steps is the best and most sustainable way to to continue our never ending journey.

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