September 4, 2012

Paying Attention to Intention. ~ Miriah Wall

“With our thoughts, we make the world.” ~ Buddha

The suggestion to “set an intention for your practice” is a familiar expression in the yoga vernacular. In fact, I fear that our yogi ears may be so accustomed to the concept that we run the risk of missing the deep wisdom that humbly rests behind the words.

While we may sincerely and purposefully establish an intention at the beginning of our practice, that same objective has the sneaky tendency to tumble out of our minds sometime around the third round of Sun A.

Like breathing, cultivating intention is something we do easily and recognize the value of doing. Yet remaining conscious of our breathe and our intention throughout our daily practice—both on and off the mat—is a more difficult undertaking.

Due to habituation, both breathing and staying with an intention are actions inclined to slide out of our awareness. When left unattended, our mind moves to focus on fresher and more seemingly vital endeavors.

As yoga inspires us to live mindfully and deliberately in all aspects of our lives, so too must we bring attention back to our intention. It is our charge to rescue this powerful mental activity from slipping into the realms of the automatic and return it to its proper place in the forefront of our consciousness.

By re-emphasizing the importance of setting intentions in all aspects of our lives, we set the stage for that objective to then manifest itself in our lives.

Setting an intention is not synonymous with making a wish on a shooting star. Instead, developing intention, be it for a yoga practice, an educational aspiration, or a relationship, requires commitment and a sincere desire to work towards our aims.

Current scientific exploration is serving to mainstream the idea that our minds have the ability to alter reality in such a way. Research conducted by Alvaro Pascual-Leone at Harvard Medical School is an example of this burgeoning union of science and Eastern wisdom…

For his experiment, Pascual-Leone divided his research participants into two groups. The first group practiced a simple piano exercise everyday, while the other group was instructed to merely think about practicing the same exercise. Both groups showed structural changes in the same areas of the brain in similar degrees.

Pascual-Leone’s research lends proof to the theory that our minds have the potential to change physical reality.

Our brains can be altered just by thinking about something, which holds obvious and exciting bearing on the practice of intention setting. While research in the field is still in relatively novel to the general public, practitioners of yoga and Buddhism are lovingly saying “duh,” as science finally catches up with what Eastern wisdom has been pronouncing for thousands of years.

While our Western, science-oriented minds appreciate the cold, hard facts dispersed by academia, the greatest proof of the power of intention comes for most of us when we see it working in our own lives.

Recently a friend quoted that famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”  And while I no doubt saw the film when I was younger, it is one that I’m sure I have not thought about for years. Yet oddly, since our conversation the significance of the quote has shown itself applicable in numerous places in my life.

In the movie, by building the field Ray was metaphorically laying the ground for his dreams to materialize. In the same way, as we speak our intention to ourselves, we make space in our own lives for that which we desire to see.

When we verbalize and assert what it is we want from our practice (insert: life, relationship, career, lunch, etc) we exponentially increase our chances of discovering it or seeing it.

The quote from the movie is an example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon; the phenomenon of encountering a seemingly obscure piece of information that subsequently proceeds to appear with odd frequency thereafter in one’s life. This has interesting relevance to intention as both sets the mind to experiencing life in a new way.

Its not that the external world or circumstances necessarily change, it is simply that we begin to see what we may have perhaps otherwise missed.

We need to realize our intention is not about magically wishing something into existence. Rather, intention setting is about uncovering what is already there, stimulating work towards an objective, or even learning how to change how we look at that which we already posses.

Deepak Chopra declared, Intentions compressed into words enfold magical power.” A century and a half earlier Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “A good intention clothes itself with sudden power.”

This idea of establishing intention is by no means a novel concept. Yet what if every time we step on to our mats, open our eyes in the morning, or interact with others, we approached it like it was?

Perhaps if we approach the instruction to “set an intention for your practice” with the enthusiasm of a child, we might be more apt to attend to it. This article does not profess to reveal any new ideas. Instead, it seeks to act simply as a reminder to sincerely pay attention to our intention. 

With everything we want in life—health, well-being, love, peace—we need to be willing to put in work. By placing intention in our minds, we take the very important first step towards realizing all that our lives have to offer us.

Accept with grace what life gives, while also deliberately laying fertile ground so as to allow for aspirations to materialize.



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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal

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