Not that long ago I didn’t know much about the word “intention” other than hearing it in the occasional yoga class. What were my intentions for the class, for my practice? That’s about as far as it ever went.
Today, the word gets tossed around as much in the yogic world as it does outside of it. We set intentions on everything from the new or full moon to a corporate meeting to a date.
And yet, we work on ourselves 24/7 and often find that we end up stuck in very familiar situations that are nothing like what we intended them to be.
Do you thrive in creative environments, yet spend most of your time alone? Find the energy of a city super stressful, yet live smack in the middle of one? Can’t figure out why you end up in the same relationship, the same apartment, the same job, or stuck in the same rut?
You may have vision boards full of vision, but if your actions say something different to your intentions, then those boards might as well be drywall.
Many years ago when I was living in Bali after finishing up my yoga teacher training, I met an Australian life coach. We used to get together and hang out, swim, eat, drink, and vent. Until one day he stopped me during my usual midday wallow to tell me he’d had enough. After spending a bit of time with me it was clear to him that even though I had been refining my intentions for what I thought I wanted in my life, my actions were still a reflection of where I had come from — and so no wonder I kept getting stuck in the same old places!
He asked me to make a list of 10 things I wanted in my life, from big picture to abstract. Among the top items on my list were things like teaching yoga daily, finding a grounding home I was happy in, and finding a boyfriend who didn’t have a drinking problem.
Then he made me list the 10 things I do on the daily. Among them were self-practice of yoga (alone), driving all over to find places to hang out so I didn’t have to be at the apartment I hated, and going out drinking at night with anyone who invited me anywhere.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out my actions were never going to get me anywhere other than where I already was. At the time I didn’t really get it, and we ended up parting ways soon after that — no doubt in part to his frustration with me. Over the next few years this little life lesson was thrown in my face time and time again while I stubbornly crossed my arms and tried to ignore it.
It wasn’t until this past year that it really sunk in while I was listening to a podcast where the host was interviewing an actress about her life choices. He asked her to explain one of the core lessons she learned growing up and how it has propelled her to be a successful, grounded, and respected actress and mother by her peers. While I was tempted to judge the source, the lesson was resoundingly familiar.
With each decision she is faced with, no matter how big or small, she pauses and considers if the outcome of the decision will bring her closer to her intentions or farther away from them. For example, if she is offered a job filming in another city and will have to leave her family the answer will be no, because for her, the biggest intention is to be a mother to her children. If the production will allow her to bring them, then she goes further into the situation and keeps asking questions until the answer is clear one way or another.
The point being, no matter how tempting it may be to choose what is easy — money, sex, companionship, a job, an apartment that falls into your lap — if it doesn’t match up with your true intentions for yourself, it will not bring you fulfillment. It will only keep you in the current loop.
Another example taken from my own life would be my living situations. I have moved a lot. Way more than the average human. And if you ask anyone who knows me — from my parents to my friends to my landlords — they will all say that I am never happy with any place that I live. However, if you take the problem and interject it into the “intention versus action” equation, it’s pretty obvious why. No matter how many lists of desired factors I have made, I always always end up taking an apartment I know I don’t like out of fear of not finding the right place.
Fear is the underminer of authentic action.
Think about any decision made that didn’t end up giving you what you truly wanted and fear will be at the heart of it. Saying yes to the job you don’t really want, the apartment, or the relationship are all fear-based choices — the fear of not having enough money, not finding the right home, being alone. How many of us have thought “He’s not Mr. Right, but he can be Mr. Right now.” If your intention is to find a healthy long-term relationship, Mr. Right Now probably isn’t going to take you there.
If we take action out of fear, we are almost certainly going to create painful consequences in the end for ourselves and be no closer to our intentions than we were before. We need to ask ourselves with every choice, “Am I choosing out of fear or am I choosing out of my highest intentions?”
Eckhart Tolle says the more we choose out of the higher place, the less power the fear will have on us, and the easier it will get to make those higher choices.
So next time you’re faced with a choice, be it what to eat, where to live, or who to see (or not see), try to remember to pause. Ask yourself ‘Where will the result of this action take me?’ If it isn’t closer towards your intentions, practice saying no and walking away.
It’s not always comfortable — but at least that discomfort probably means you’re going to end up someplace new.
Michelle Lipper spent the first half of her life immersed in the world of acting and entertainment in Canada and LA. Thus far, the second half has taken her all over the world in pursuit of healing, spiritual growth, and the meaning of home. She’s rode motorbikes through rainforests in Thailand and Bali, learned to meditate in India, became a kundalini yoga teacher, survived cancer, and adopted the world’s best rescue dog. She has found a way of using her voice in her writing to uniquely communicate and interpret what she has learned into our day-to-day realities. Michelle currently resides in Florence, Italy where she consumes vast quantities of carbohydrates whilst plotting her return to the entertainment industry and Los Angeles. You can follow all of her adventures on Instagram at @lipmich.