When we decide to begin meditation, we often have a goal in mind. Some of us want to reduce stress, others want to increase their inner peace and harmony, others want to boost their focus and concentration, and others want to relax and feel at ease, among many other goals
Now having these goals is not bad but when we meditate with the sole aim of achieving these goals, then we lose the essence of meditation and we end up being frustrated with the practice to the point of saying it doesn’t work for us.
Intention is the way to go in meditation if we are to benefit from it. Rather than saying “My goal of meditation is…..” we should set intentions and say “I intend to….” as this is more rewarding than the former.
Here, we are going to look at meditation goals vs intentions, why intentions are better than goal setting, and how to set intentions in your meditation practice and reap benefits from that.
Goal Setting in Meditation And Why it is Wrong
When it comes to goals, we normally set them when we want to achieve something that we most often don’t have. And when we set the goals, our main aim is to achieve them as fast as we can.
So we work towards the goal and put in the effort we are required to while we keep our eyes on the prize we are after. Every time we are working on the goal, we have it in mind and it acts as our daily motivation and reason to put in more hard work than we do in other areas.
Now transferring this concept over to meditation, we can see how goals are not just cut for the practice, from one session to the other. If we set goals in meditation, say we want to be more focused and attentive, or more peaceful and happy or more insightful and wise, we will hold these goals in our minds and we will be constantly thinking about them even as we get into our daily meditation sessions.
And this being the case, we will want to label all our sessions and compare them to what we would want to have, which will lead to frustration, tension, a feeling of failure, and lack of progress, and eventually, we might end up giving up on the practice
Meditation is not a practice that brings about the same experiences with every session. There are times we feel very motivated and in synchrony with the practice and environment, and during such times we feel very fulfilled and have that inner feeling that we are doing things right.
However, there are also times when things go quite the contrary. We find ourselves dozing off through our sessions, or we feel overwhelmed and tense, or feel like we are not doing it right and there’s something wrong.
Keep in mind that these occurrences are normal and almost every meditator has had them. So we shouldn’t feel bad when they come as they are part of our journey.
That is why having goals in meditation is not quite as rewarding. We will set our minds on our goals and hope that every meditation session we have will bring us those benefits. Meaning, whenever we are done with our sessions, we will enjoy the benefits the practice we are doing is known to bring.
And then we will compare each session we have with what we hope for, which will take us out of the present moment, make us more disappointed with meditation when we have unfulfilling experiences.
On top of that, the benefits of meditation can be enjoyed after a few weeks or months or even years of practice. At times, to fully benefit from it, we may need years of practice. Ideally, the longer we meditate, the more we enjoy its benefits.
So setting our minds on enjoying these benefits which are our goals from just one session or two will be setting ourselves for failure as that is not how it works.
Working With Intentions in Meditation And Why it is Good
Unlike goals which are pretty much the desired outcome that tend to distract us from the whole experience of meditation, intentions are the journey of our lives with the practice we are involved with, how we experience this journey in each present moment, and the quality of each moment.
Intentions, generally speaking, are what help us navigate through our daily lives in a rewarding and fulfilling way as we work towards the bigger picture of the goal we want to achieve in our lives.
Intentions are what make achieving our goals much easier and fairly seamless as they help provide little energy to the focus on the actual desired outcome and be more immersed into the daily activities we are required to do and do them in the best way possible that will help us move swiftly through each day and eventually find ourselves having achieved those tasks.
When it comes to meditation, intentions play a big role.
First, intentions help us remain grounded in the present moment. They help us give ourselves up the experience of the “here and now” and be fully involved and get interactive with our meditation sessions. This then helps us feel more present and in synchrony with our sessions. Being present, focused and attentive in our sessions are the qualities that help us have the best experiences with our meditation sessions and even get to learn and be transformed by them.
The sessions may at times be good and other times they may not be as good as we would want them but our intentions help us to not only reduce the occasions of bad experiences but also help us to be more positive during the bad occasions and benefit from them as well.
Second, intentions are known to strengthen our mind-body connection. Since intentions are based on qualities that already exist within us, we are able to tap into those qualities and experience more of them. This then makes the bond between our minds and bodies stronger and allows them both to work together.
Think about a scenario where we set the intention to free ourselves of tension and the mental and physical burden of carrying other people’s pain before we begin our meditation. After setting the intention, we may find that our hearts are lighter and we gain more mental clarity and feel physically lighter to the point of experiencing deep peace and falling asleep easily.
Intentions begin in the mind and they also influence our bodies and get them to combine forces to make the intentions and their forces powerful in our lives.
So working with intentions on a daily basis and letting them set the pace for your meditation experience and life, in general, helps you enjoy the practice and also the process towards achieving your goals.
The Only Time Goal Setting in Meditation is Good
While setting intentions is good, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have goals for our meditation practices at all. We all get into meditation with the hope of benefiting from it. Some people wish to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, others want to gain more insight and wisdom, and so many other goals. And while that should not be what we focus on entirely as we meditate, it helps us works towards a certain aspect in our lives we feel are needing.
Before we get into meditation, goals help us choose the style of meditation we should work with. If we wish to be more kind, generous and loving toward others, we go for loving-kindness meditation. If we desire to be more compassionate, we choose compassion meditation. If we want to increase our level of mindfulness, we do mindfulness meditation.
These are the goals we work towards with each meditation style we choose. However, it is recommended that we only focus on our goals during this phase of choosing our best match in terms of meditation style. From there, we should stop giving much attention and time to these goals and now aim to meditate for the sake of meditating. That is, meditating while keeping ourselves open to the possibilities that our practice presents to us.
As we meditate and focus on intentions, in good time we will have the benefits we have set as our goals start to sneak in on us and have them permanent in our lives. And we will have the double benefits of enjoying the practice of meditation, sessions by session, and also achieving our goals in the process.
It is also worth noting that, when we say we should meditate for the sake of meditating, we mean giving ourselves up to the experience of meditation in every meditation session. It doesn’t mean to just let ourselves off the hook as far as what our meditation practices ask of us. We are supposed to be aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as we meditate, and if our minds wander away, we should redirect our attention back to our practice.
We should keep doing what we are required to do even as we open ourselves to the whole meditation experience. That is the best way to increase our chances of enjoying the practice and fully benefiting from it.
How to Set Intentions in Meditation And Benefit From Them
When it comes to the process of setting intentions, there are a series of steps we have to take to ensure we set intentions that are positive, realistic, authentic, reasonable, and which also resonate with us at a deep level.
Here are the steps we should take to set intentions:
Step 1. Answer within yourself a few questions related to your meditation practice which will help you discover and understand your intentions well. These questions include what your deepest desires are when it comes to doing meditation, how many days every week you are genuinely prepared to set aside for meditation, how many minutes you are ready to spare for meditation per session, and what you deeply desire with every meditation session.
These questions require straightforward answers. For example, you can say your deepest desires for doing meditation are to be calm and more composed, you can spare 5 minutes per session for your meditation practice, you can genuinely set aside 3 days or 5 days or 7 days every week to meditate and you deeply desire to be aware and open in every meditation session or you desire to allow a given feeling or sensation in your session or any other desire you may have.
Step 2. Write the responses for each question down on a piece of paper and then read them out loud as you observe how you feel about each answer. What feelings and thoughts does each answer provoke and how does that tell you about how genuine your answer is.
Step 3. Turn the answers into statements that answer the questions in the first step. For example, you can say “I will meditate for 5 minutes every day” or “I will become calm and more composed” and then change them into affirmative intentions by rewriting them in the present tense and taking away the “I will” or “I can” and rewrite them as things you already do. For example, instead of saying “I will meditate 5 minutes every day” you should say “I meditate 5 minutes every day”. Saying you do something has a deeper effect on your mind than saying you will do it.
Step 4. Now work with the intentions you have just made for yourself in each of your meditation sessions. Before you meditate, as you meditate and after you meditate, repeat these intentions within yourself with certainty and depth and you will see them work wonders in your life.
Ideally, letting ourselves get lost in the practice of meditation and focusing on the experience we get from our meditation sessions rather than having a goal in kind as we meditate, helps us to not only enjoy and interact deeply with each of our sessions but also allows us to reap the full benefits of meditation.
We should aim at being aware and open to what meditation has to offer and set the intentions of meditating to see what happens afterward.
And as we learn and perfect our setting abilities of meditation intentions, we will slowly notice improvements in our practice, and in our lives generally. And then we will begin to make good progress and get better at meditation and feel at home with it.