What is Intention?

In our spiritual work, we so often utilize the words “intention” and “intent”. We set an intent for what we’d like to heal. We carry an intention for something in our lives to change. We decide what we’d like to manifest (such as a new job or a new house) and set an intent around that.

I’ve used the words myself for years and years. I use the words casually. I unconsciously weave them into my inner conversations and my conversations with clients. I never question the merit of or motivation behind setting intent or forming an intention. I simply believe the process has value and assume that the understanding of the concept of intention is universal. However, this belief is now changing in me.

First let’s look at some definitions of the intent, and then we’ll look at how human nature puts intention to use in spiritual practice.

Definition of Intent

“Intent” originates from the Latin word “intentus” which means an extending, attentive to, and strained. It is a past participle of “intendere” which means to direct attention.

The most simple modern day definition of intent is an aim or a purpose.

“Intent on” means to be:

  • Resolved or determined to do something
  • Attentively occupied with
  • Showing earnest and eager attention

In criminal law, intent takes on a deeper meaning which I include here simply as a way to show that this word can be used to describe both a helpful and a harmful state of mind. Understanding that intent is a word strong enough to convict someone of a crime allows us to start unveiling the power behind our intentions.

Intent is a “determined and purposeful state of mind accompanying an act. While motive is usually not a deciding factor in determination of guilt, an intent that designs or manipulates means to achieve a foreseen unlawful end always is. Intent implies inevitability of a consequence, a natural or probable consequence is not considered intent in law.” – http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/intent.html

If you read that correctly, you will understand that intent is more powerful than motive in criminal law because it implies that a person has made up their mind to commit the crime no matter what and that the crime would not happen without their intending it to. Motivation simply says this is something we’d like to do or like to happen, but intent has enough drive behind it to make it “inevitable”.

What is Intention?

Intention has a number of contexts but the most common two are “an act of determining mentally upon some action or result” or “the end or object intended”. Intention is also a medical term used to describe the way a wound or fracture is healing. It is less important to know the exact use of the medical phrase and more fun to see this linguistic connection between intention and healing.

In her work in Medicine for the Earth, Sandra Ingerman discusses how a group of people coming together and setting an intent for healing polluted water can actually cause a change in the chemical makeup of the water – for the better. Her pivotal teaching is spreading across the globe and creating a living web of light with the sole purpose of healing the planet. It is an outstanding body of work that is making great change in the world.

There has been a good deal of research done around intention and how setting a mental intent can affect people’s health and success. The book The Intention Experiment covers a wide range of scientific experiments that show how intention can cause a hastening of healing and aid change in other aspects of the physical world around us. For those who believe in the power of intention, this book gives the precious proof that we are looking for when trying to explain why we value setting an intention.

Masaru Emoto’s work in The Hidden Messages in Water is overflowing with images of how our intentions can affect the formation of water crystals. As you flip through the pages, beautiful photos of water crystals labeled “love” and “peace” demonstrate the power of words. Reading his book is like standing in a snow storm and making out the snowflakes on your glove. The melting of the snowflakes mirrors the disappointment of learning how our hurtful words create ugly, malformed crystals. Here, we see how intention is a two way street.

Intent and Prayer

I think just about everyone of us has had someone say to us at some point in our lives, “I will pray for your healing.” How did that make you feel?  The inner response can range from gratitude to resistance depending on a person’s feelings about religion and spirituality. An atheist may very well may resist and distaste the offering, possibly seeing it as an outright offense. A devout Christian may be deeply appreciative of the gesture, feeling it as the greatest gift. An independent spiritual seeker may get a bit defensive or brush off the prayer, worried that the prayer is an attempt to convert them.

Outside of religious communities the word “prayer” has fallen into disuse. This has happened for a number of reasons, and most of them have to do with the counter-movement to organized religion. There are a number of dissenters who left the church and what they felt as an oppressive, restrictive belief system. In leaving the church, they left the language behind. There are also people that never found the source of grace they longed for in a temple, so they never picked up the language in the first place.

Regardless, I am proposing that despite the loss of the use of the word prayer, that the concept has still found its way into many spiritual circles disguised as “intention”. Now instead of praying for our own healing, we are intending for it. Psychologically, spiritually, and energetically it looks strikingly similar. Set a book on the power of prayer next to the power of intention, and you see that the logic, the stories, and the evidence are nearly interchangeable.

The main difference that prayer has an implicit spiritual context and intent is not necessarily attached to spirituality. By involving angels and spirit guides as well as conversations about metaphysics and energy in our intention setting, we have linked the two and, thus, brought intent much closer to prayer.

Continue Reading about this topic in my next article on How to: Setting Intentions

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.

Stacey Couch

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch is a Spiritual Advisor who supports creative seekers learning as they go on the spiritual path. She serves beginner and life-long students of the soul. Her compassionate and collaborative approach honors the humanity and value of each person. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. Through meeting with Stacey, lost souls find refuge. Connection to the Divine is realized. Belonging comes. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. Learn About working with Stacey
6 replies
  1. Trudi Jones
    Trudi Jones says:

    Thank you for our work around understanding the concept of what intention is and how we may weave intention into our every day life and professions. Really useful stuff.

    • Stacey Couch
      Stacey Couch says:

      You are most welcome Trudi! I’m glad this article brought some additional insight for you and I look forward to staying in touch! Many Blessings, Stacey


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