Are you living with intention? Do you regularly take inventory of where you’re at, what you’re feeling, and what’s influencing your moods, thoughts, choices, etc.? How often do you check in with yourself to notice what’s really happening internally, and then let that guide conscious intention-setting? If your answer’s not often, or worse – never, you’re missing an opportunity to take serious control of your health and happiness.
Living with intention puts us in the driver seat of our life. Without it, we’re just running on auto-pilot, reacting to whatever happens in the best way we can. We’re letting habits & old patterns that have carved paths of least resistance in our brain set our course. We’re making choices without even realizing we’re making them. But there’s a more engaged, empowered, and effective way to live our life.
This post is part five of my 6 Little Things series, a collection of six simple practices I’m currently cultivating to make my life more enjoyable, meaningful, and supportive of my overall health and happiness. Little changes that are producing BIG results. (If you missed the previous four, you can find them at the following links: Mindful Eating, Mantra Practice, Self-Confident Posture, & Waking for the Sattvic Hour.)
What I’m sharing today is the one I’ve been doing consistently for the longest time. It’s also the practice that has the biggest potential to completely transform your life.
A Daily Practice for Living with Intention
I started this practice about seven months ago out of necessity. At the time, some serious upheaval had unhinged my family’s life. Emotions were high. Stress levels were through the roof. Everyone in the house was feeling it. And worst of all, there was little I could do to impact the outcome.
Looking back, I can see this period inspired significant growth for me in terms of patience, surrender, and faith. But in the midst of it all, I could also feel my nerves fraying. I realized if I were going to show up for my family in the best possible way during this difficult time, I needed to acknowledge my own body-mind-spirit-system’s reactions to it all.
Just stuffing it and pushing through would’ve wreaked havoc on my health. I knew I had to find a way to take care of all these parts of myself every day. And to do this, I needed to be living with intention, not letting circumstances and mindless reactions dictate my experience.
A Yoga Therapy Tool
Thankfully, I found my answer in a technique I already held in my toolbox – something I’d learned years before as part of my yoga therapy training. It’s proven useful to me many times over the years since, helping me access inner wisdom when I’ve needed it most.
In the yoga therapy model I learned, every session begins with a centering process that brings compassionate awareness to what’s happening in the present moment. It’s a powerful process that helps you slow down and observe what’s happening in your body, mind, heart, and spirit. Not with judgment or in an attempt to change anything, but just a gentle noticing of what’s presently showing up.
Sometimes you notice the big things that are right at the surface, clearly asking for your attention. Other times, it’s the things you might be glossing over or avoiding in the ordinary pace of your life that rise to awareness. Either way, you gain a clearer sense of your present needs. And this self-inquiry helps you set an intention to guide the rest of your yoga therapy session.
Seven months ago, I needed that self-awareness and intentionality in my life. Not just once and done, but daily. I knew I needed to be living with intention if I were going to keep myself from getting swept up in the worries and high emotions that kept overtaking our home. So, I adapted this centering process for my personal daily use. Not only did it feel incredibly self-supportive, but I noticed the intentions I was setting for myself each day were consistently becoming my actual, lived experience.
Living with Intention is a Form of Invention
As I engaged daily in this practice, I found myself increasingly and more easily standing in my strength. I gained access to an inner calmness that seemed to fly in the face of everything unfolding around me. And, instead of losing myself in the storm, I developed a profound trust in my ability to navigate it with skill. Not only was I managing to stay healthy and happy despite everything that was going on, I was helping my family do the same. I recognized living with intention was in fact a form of invention.
Now, this wasn’t entirely new to me. I knew, as I’m sure you do too, that setting a goal or intention is a powerful way to actually follow through with it and achieve it. I’m no stranger to the Law of Attraction or manifestation either. I’ve read quite a lot on the quantum physics phenomena that many interpret as human intention influencing reality at the quantum level. It’s fascinating stuff! (If you’re intrigued, I highly recommend the book Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav.)
But the big eye-opener for me was seeing how bringing this practice of living with intention into my life in a disciplined, daily way produced swift and profoundly meaningful shifts. Suddenly, my needs were being met like never before. And not just by me, but by other people too. More and more, my choices aligned with my highest intentions. My well-being at all levels – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual – was being nourished every single day. And that translated to me being in a far better position to do everything I needed to do.
A Useful Practice for All Times
All of this made me realize, this technique’s not only useful for dealing with especially difficult times. It’s an incredibly valuable tool for living with intention and maintaining health and happiness on a regular basis. So when that troubled period passed, as all struggles eventually do, I stuck with the practice.
Today, I’m feeling the most grounded, connected, empowered, and compassionate (toward myself and others) I ever have. And I know without doubt it’s a direct result of this commitment to living with intention. Deeply self-loving, this practice has been one of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself. And that’s why I’m thrilled to be passing it along to you.
How To Practice Living With Intention Daily
A lot of people are talking about intentional living these days. The term is typically defined as living in such a way that your life choices align with your values and larger goals in life. I, of course, love this. And what I’m sharing here today supports this aim. But, it also goes deeper. It applies a micro-approach to this larger goal for intentional living.
To live with intention consistently, self-awareness is key. When you’re not paying attention to what’s happening holistically within you, it’s easy to function out of habit, impulse, or subconscious reactions. Or to simply push forward, ignoring your needs until they start screaming for your attention.
You may value, for example, making your family a priority in your life. But, if you’re also deep-down feeling overextended or under-appreciated, and not doing something about it, your time spent with family will eventually be effected. You might start to harbor resentments that come out in passive aggressive ways. Or, you might feel too drained of energy to engage in a truly present way. Despite your good intention, and the value you hold for your family, your words, thoughts & actions can fall out of alignment.
Self-Awareness Supports Living with Intention
This centering practice helps you check-in with your body, mind, heart, and spirit on a daily basis. It creates a little time and space for you to step away from the busyness of your life. In that space, you’re better able to see – and more importantly, honor – what’s going on internally for you. Looking honestly and compassionately at this reality, you give yourself the information you need to set the best intentions for your day. The ones that will truly support the life you want to be living.
Let’s say, for instance, you’re that person from the example above who loves your family and wants to make them a high priority in your life. But, when you take the time to do this self-awareness practice, you notice your body feels heavy and fatigued. And when checking in with your heart, you feel a twinge of irritation at your spouse for not helping out more. Observing your thoughts, you find a monologue running through the long list of things you need to do. Your mind flashes images of those dirty socks always left on the floor. Why do I always have to be the one to pick them up? What kind of slob does that?! Finally, coming to your spirit, you find it difficult to connect. What’s up with that?
All of these observations are valid. It wouldn’t be helpful to judge yourself for having these feelings. They’re simply the reality of what’s happening for you that particular morning. However, you now hold some useful information. You can take the next incredibly empowering and helpful step. You can set some intentions for how to best support yourself that day, based on what’s really going on inside you.
What Can You Do?
Maybe you’ll make it a priority to give yourself a nap, a soothing bath, or a guided relaxation to take care of your tired body. Perhaps you’ll set the intention to ask your spouse for help in a specific way. If you don’t ask, how will he or she know you need it? And, knowing you’re feeling irritated with your spouse, maybe you’ll also make a point to notice all the things he or she does do, from a place of gratitude. Finally, fueled with the knowledge you’re finding it difficult to connect to your spirit, you might set the intention to do a spiritual practice.
Why Not Just Journal to Support Living with More Intention?
Before we get into exactly how to do this practice, I’d like to address one thing. Writing in a journal is an excellent way to develop self-awareness. I’ve journaled for years and have found it to be incredibly helpful for gaining insight, clarity, and inner wisdom in all areas of my life. If you’re already journaling, you might be thinking you’ve already got the self-awareness piece covered.
However, this centering and intention-setting technique works at a different level than journaling does. Writing in a journal is mostly a mental activity. While you can use a journal to reflect on the holistic state of your life, when you’re writing, you’re actively engaging your mind far more than any other aspect of yourself.
With this centering technique, it’s different. Your eyes are closed. Your hands are still. You’re not doing anything other than observing your internal state. This helps you tune into much deeper levels of self-awareness. And, because it’s a non-judgmental, compassionate process, you’re not forming opinions about anything that arises. You’re simply registering it.
Our minds like to tell us stories about everything. Much of the time, those stories don’t add much value, and sometimes, they can even work against us. With journaling, it can be easy to get swept up in story-lines about whatever we’re reflecting on. But with this centering technique, story-lines become irrelevant. The focus is hyper-zoomed to the present-moment experience, just as it is.
This Difference Matters
Because you’re not writing, which encourages the story-telling function of your mind, you’re better able to stick with your present moment experience. Turning awareness deeply inward, your perception heightens. You’re better able to witness your internal states, including the things that might lie further beneath the surface or be more subtle in nature. You can sit with stillness as you allow awareness to grow.
Take the body for example. When you’re writing in a journal, you’re not paying much attention to how your body’s feeling. Unless you have a physical discomfort that’s really asking you to notice it, you’re not likely to focus on your body experience. This centering technique, on the other hand, asks you to intentionally listen to your body in the present moment. It’s a very different experience that produces different levels of insight.
Now, I’m not suggesting you give up your practice of journaling, if you have one. In fact, doing this centering practice prior to writing in your journal can produce a powerful combo to support living with intention. It’s just important to understand the two practices aren’t interchangeable.
How To Center & Set Your Intentions
The process for this practice is fairly simple. You’ll need a quiet space where you can take a comfortable seated position. You can also lie down, if that feels more supportive for you. With eyes either closed or cast downward, start by turning your awareness inward and beginning to notice your breath.
Take a few moments to feel your breath moving in and out of your body. You don’t need to change it or make it any certain way. All you’re doing here is noticing the sensations and features of your breath. This is mindful observation, and you’ll want to bring this kind of attention to all parts of yourself as you move forward through the process. Just witness, without trying to change anything. You can think of it as a fact-finding mission.
After observing your breath, bring awareness to your body. Notice how your body is feeling in general. Linger a little while, with curiosity, on any parts of your body that seem to be calling for extra attention in some way. Then, once you have a good feel for what’s presently happening in your body, set some intentions for how you’ll take good care of your body throughout the day. If you have some long-term goals for your physical health, reinforce them through your intention-setting here.
Next, begin to notice your heart center. Note that it can take a few moments to shift awareness from your bodily sensations to this less physical part of yourself. We feel emotions in our body, but they’re also connected to our thoughts. So your perception has to tune into a slightly different frequency. You might notice your emotions first as a sensation in your body that then leads to an emotionally-charged thought. Or, vice versa, you might have a thought come up that triggers an emotional sensation in your body.
Whatever arises, label it. Acknowledge that you’re feeling it. Sit with the feeling for a bit to see if it grows, shifts, or perhaps leads to an even deeper feeling. When you have a grasp of your present emotions, set an intention. How can you support your emotional health, given what you’ve noticed? Again, if you’re working toward any long-term goals, like maintaining healthy boundaries or developing more gratitude, reinforce them here.
Move next to your mind. Start with simply noticing your general mental state. How’s your mind feeling overall? How active or inactive is it? Then, gain a sense for what’s on your mind presently. What thoughts pop out at you or seem to keep coming up?
Based on what you’ve noticed, set an intention. What can you do to take care of your mental well-being? As you do this, consider what thoughts are truly serving you and which ones you might want to get more intentional about simply letting go.
Lastly, connect with your spiritual self. Again, this transition can take some time as you adjust to the subtler level of awareness. Be patient with yourself. And remember, if you’re having difficulty connecting to your spirit, that in and of itself can be worthy of note. The point is to gain a sense for how your spirit is feeling. Disconnected might just be that feeling. Conclude with an intention for how you want to support your spiritual health that day.
The Order Matters
Moving from body to heart to mind and, finally, to spirit supports a gradual refinement of your perceptual awareness. We begin with body first, because it’s the easiest to observe. Your body holds the most substance and is heavier energetically. Emotions manifest as both a physical and a mental phenomenon. That’s why we shift next into awareness of your heart center. Layer by layer, we move from the most physical to the least physical levels of self-awareness. We finish with the spirit, because it’s the least physical, lightest dimension of your self.
By following this progression, your perception becomes more and more acutely attuned to your internal states. You’re better able to tap into the layers and subtleties of awareness through which each part of your self expresses itself and can be experienced and known.
This practice for living with intention doesn’t require a lot of time to complete. How long it takes for you really depends on how much time you want to give to it. And, how long it takes for you to be able to observe each part of yourself. For me, it typically involves no more than fifteen minutes. That’s fifteen minutes incredibly well spent.
Setting deeply insightful intentions for your whole self every day not only sets the course for your day, but it also promotes self-growth over time. You come to know and love yourself at deeper and deeper levels. And, as you see yourself following through on your intentions, you come to trust yourself more too.
You can do this practice on your own. However, I’ve found a guided version helps me focus more on my internal experience. I don’t have to lead myself through the process, which means all my attention remains on my self-observation. If you’d like to use a guided version of this practice, I have one you can download for free here.
I hope you find this practice as rewarding and empowering as I have found it to be. And that your love, compassion, and trust for your self grow exponentially along your way. May you be perfectly aligned with your highest intentions for your self.
Tell me what you think in the comments section below! Can you see this practice making a difference in your life? And don’t forget to check back next week for the final installment of this 6-part series. This one’s all about getting out into your community to nurture your spirit through connection, adventure, & joy!