Reclaiming Intention Setting
approximate time to read: 6 minutes
as the calendar we follow transitions from one year to the next we celebrate, get filled with hope, and get starry-eyed about what is yet to come in the year ahead!
part of this process is resolutions—and the politics of them—illuminating my feed. “why you shouldn’t make resolutions,” “how to hack your brain and follow your new year’s resolutions,” “who should and shouldn’t make new year’s resolutions,” all become a milieu of conflicting advice and insight. it is a bit of an exhausting way to start off the new year!
knowing that this would be buzzing within folks’ minds, we decided to make intention-setting the topic of discussion for January’s craft night meeting (a monthly, durham-based magic meet-up that gina from incandescent and I host). what followed was a beautiful, exploratory conversation that I wanted to share some components of so you can wade through the waters of launching into the new year and even just using things like intention-setting (vs. resolution, which we will discuss) in your day-to-day magic practice, and more!
resolution vs. intention
our conversation started with some of the basics, such as, what is a resolution, anyways, and why are we compelled to create them every year? what is the difference between a resolution and an intention?
based on our discussion, we described resolutions as being goal-oriented, sometimes formed due to feelings of obligation or shame, and are based on the idea that individual will can and should overpower any other influences at play. from this focus on individual will, success and failure are the only two outcomes for resolutions. success can only be defined as attainment of your specific resolution in the way you imagined it whereas any other resolution or outcome, whether changing your mind or not meeting a particular benchmark, is deemed as a failure of both the resolution and your own will.
in contrast, we decided that intentions are flexible and act as mental focal points or a point of orientation. with this focal point, it allows the relationship between yourself and aspects of your life to be uncovered, explored, and understood. they are journey-oriented rather than goal-oriented and often focuses on the idea of “leaving space,” reception, and listening rather than just the exertion of the will. there is also a balance between forces that you can control and others you can’t, which stands in contrast to the idea that you should be able to control everything through your own will in the case of resolutions.
capitalism & intention-setting
even once we made this clear distinction between the two, as our conversation continued it revealed how even intentions are often invaded and corrupted by societal pressures to set goals, perform, and produce. to me, these are manifestations of capitalism and how it influences our psyche. after all, capitalism prizes production, equates your worth to your labor and productivity, and prioritizes and rewards exertions of the personal will overpowering other systems and people.
under this influence, intention setting is no longer an organic, private, personal process that’s subject to change and exploration. instead, it becomes like the resolution, focused on attaining specific results in a set timeframe without any allowance of outside factors interfering with our success, as that too is a failure of our will. as a result, we feel pressured to predict the future when setting intentions and only choosing those we know we can perfectly attain to avoid said failure.
in our discussion, many of us also expressed feeling pressured to choose intentions based on the opinion’s of an outside onlooker rather than to address our own needs. as a result, instead of looking inward at what we need or choosing to release control and get experimental with choosing intentions, intentions would be based on lack, shame, and feed into the constant perceived scarcity that capitalism feeds us. let’s not forget that there’s an entire industry trying to sell us what “self-care” looks like in the form of commercial products that I know you could just name in your head: face masks, bath bombs, etc, intentions are just as susceptible.
as a result, we export solutions to our needs from our own inner wisdom and desires to what we have been told is the “right” way. under this system, abundance is no longer about financial stability and being able to tend to your community, it’s about becoming a boss and hoarding wealth. furthermore, we felt the need to perform the results of said intention for this outside audience as well through miraculous stories and transformative experiences—proof that we too could perform the spiritual equivalent of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.”
as a result, systems of spirituality that are meant to facilitate exploration of the self and enhance our inner-knowledge become corrupt. astrological systems are used to tell people with fire sun signs that it is not worthwhile to set intentions or resolutions because they will change their minds, aka fail, rather than to explore the relationship between those two elements and see the result. tarot becomes goal-oriented, each card a barometer for success and failure in life by drawing “good” and “bad” cards for the year, month, day, instead of a guide or conversation partner.
reclaiming intention setting
where do we go from here?
how do we return intention setting to be a creative and personal practice that helps address our real, felt needs and wishes rather than satisfying the hunger of consumerism?
we must slow down and focus on process.
by this I mean getting critical and compassionate about the intentions we set. critical in the sense of evaluating why we are choosing particular intentions—is it out of obligation and shame or is it something that you truly desire to explore? compassionate in the sense of letting acceptance of your current state be part of the process and also understanding that working with intention can be a winding river and that there is no failure. i’ve written about this before, but just the act of selecting an intention can be a challenging but healing, revealing process within itself!
as we get critical about the intentions we set, we can also be incremental about the intentions we select. perhaps we’d like to work on getting our finances together and saving money so we can be financially stable. while you can certainly set a goal of saving x amount of money as a resolution, you could otherwise set the intention of listening to the feeling that arise when you want to buy clothing you might not really need. here we see that division again between resolution and intention: one is about forcing the will through whereas the other is receptive, personal, compassionate.
once you learn about how buying clothes makes you feel like you can fit in, you later can set another intention about finding acceptance in new, unique ways. without the previous step, we may have embarked on the journey of self-acceptance that is sold to us as part of wellness culture without knowing what we are really trying to resolve and accept within ourselves, instead just buying into the idea that somehow we are deficient and we can champion our insecurities. instead, we can skip that judgement all together and see our experiences with neutrality and compassion. we can still love buying clothes, but perhaps we can strike a balance between our finances and our desire to go shopping. instead, purchasing new clothes can come out of need rather than trying to heal an emotional wound.
as for myself, I've decided to embark on a little bit of a journey to challenge my control issues when it comes to these topics and get experimental with my intentions!
i’ve often had issues of trying to only choose intentions where I could predict the outcome or feeling ashamed when I didn’t have a crazy, miraculous story to tell based on an intention I had work with. I also was thinking of ways I could more regularly work with the cycles of the moon in 2019—something that I think anyone who is just busy struggles with!
as a result, I’ve formed a little experimental challenge for myself. i’ve selected intentions for the next three lunar cycles. these intentions aren’t so much based on the process of dropping in and seeing what I need, as i’m more interested in getting outside of my comfort zone and trying out intentions I wouldn’t otherwise consider (really an intention in itself, ha).
with the new moon starting tonight, i’ll be working with the intention of clarity until the next new moon. February I have chosen vision; march is illumination.
so we will see what emerges and perhaps it will be a practice I want to stick with!
in the meantime, let me know what your intention setting practice is, what this new moon means to you, or questions you have—I would love to hear from you via the comments below, instagram, or by writing me a note!