Intention Setting

(Or the art of stumbling into everything you want…)


In Wayne Dyer’s classic book The Power of Intention, he describes an infinite field of potential. All of our intentions exist before we even name them. Everything we desire is already out there in the field, just waiting for us to connect to it.

How do we do that? When this question pops up in our minds, it often takes the tone of the whiny child we once were: “Are we there yet? How much longer till we get there?” From our adult vantage point, things haven’t changed much. A journey always feels longer when we are waiting to get somewhere.

Waiting is a sign of attachment, and Buddhist philosophy – not to mention life itself – teaches us that attachment causes suffering. An old adage also reminds us that “a watched pot never boils.” Indeed, the best things in my life have come to me when I wasn’t “watching.”

My cat Simba was a perfect example. When she got dropped at my doorstep by a friend, it didn’t dawn on me for several weeks that this was my cat. I thought I was just taking care of her until she found a home. Yes, I had been wanting a cat, but this one’s ears were too big. She was too scrawny, and she didn’t have the color scheme I was looking for (as if I were picking out curtains). But that’s the trouble. Whenever we want something in our lives, we think we know what it looks like – and we may not. After 17 years with that magnificent creature, I now know there was not another cat in the Universe that would have been a more suitable companion for me (and she eventually grew into those ears). 

So how do we do both? How do we hold a vision for our lives while not getting attached to the specific shape it will take? How do we intend something without watching – or waiting – for the result?

I’ve found that one good method is to keep several different pots on the boilers. By holding multiple intentions, each one dear to our hearts, we allow ourselves to stumble into them. Because often when we are pursuing Intention A, we stumble into Intention B.

My writing is a case in point. I recently set a strong intention to launch my first children’s book out into the world. I decided to send it to 38 different publishers this summer (got that strategy from Doreen Virtue, although she did 44. Just choose your lucky number). I decided to get the first submission out before I left for Mammoth for Fourth of July. That gave me a week to come up with a snappier title, choose a press, and write a query letter. After a frustrating morning poring over lists of presses, I decided to surrender. The press showed up the next day, when I was Googling something else in search of a title. As for the title, it came to me when I was brainstorming ideas for a query letter. It’s like the Universe just waits until we’re not looking, and then slips in the answer.

This brings to mind that damnable expression “you’ll find love when you’re not looking.” What does that mean, I always asked myself in frustration. How can we not look? Now I know that the expression is not quite accurate: we may be looking for love, but chances are we’ll find it when we’re seeking something else. This is one of the premises in Paulo Coelho’s popular book, The Alchemist. After tiring himself out pursuing an object of affection, the protagonist decides to quest for a treasure instead – and stumbles into the love of his life in the process.

That’s what happened to my friend Nadege. Five years ago, she may have been holding an intention for romantic love, but that’s not why she traveled back to her native home of Haiti. The country had suffered a devastating earthquake, and she was part of a team that was building a small computer lab at a library. Roberde was the IT guy on the job. I’m attending their wedding this Saturday.

This is the power of holding multiple intentions, especially when they have pure goodness at their heart. When lovingkindness follows in our wake wherever we walk, the Universe can’t fail to notice. That doesn’t mean we book a service trip to Haiti because we’re secretly looking for our own Roberde. The Universe can’t be tricked like that. It means we go to Haiti (or that beach cleanup, or that meditation class) because our hearts desperately want us there. We go because something much bigger than ourselves is leading us there. We go because our lives are too rich and too multi-faceted to be contained within any single desire. We all have a field of intentions within our very beings, and each one is crying out for our attention.

Now is not the time to play favorites. Now is the time to hold each of our intentions dear. Rather than waiting for one of them to be fulfilled, we keep ourselves moving in multiple directions, allowing our inner compass to lead the way. And if we keep trusting, we will keep stumbling into everything we always wanted – just maybe not where we’re looking.