I for Intentions: good is not enough, they need to be clear

Setting clear intentions is a must for sustainability to become the norm in all areas of our lives. Last month, the Dinner Confidential community dedicated some time and space to expand the notion of sustainability. We asked ourselves how we could create sustainable relationships with ourselves, our sense of purpose, with other beings, and with our planet.

What behaviors and habits exist between us and the possibility of creating a sustainable world?

This was a difficult conversation. Those of us who have chosen to actively offset the current crisis (i.e.: embracing the zero waste movement, becoming vegetarian or vegan etc.) admitted they sometimes feared speaking up: What if people misunderstand me? What if they think my actions are too disruptive or extreme? Some noticed the amounts of resistance that emerged just at the thought of sustainability.

A concept that seems to go so much against productivity. Others said they often felt overwhelmed and disillusioned. What control do we actually have over the magnitude and complexity of the systems that still prevent sustainability from shaping our reality?

As we opened up and shared thoughts and experiences, we realized that sustainability represented an exchange between us and everything else. It’s about finding that fine balance; the exact intersection between giving and taking – without falling too much on one side or the other.

How can we become more attuned to that invisible line? How can we find a healthy, long-lasting flow that can nurture all parties involved?

If you’ve attended a yoga class before – or if you practice on a regular basis – you may have noticed that teachers often invite practitioners to think about an intention at the beginning of the practice. In her book Chakra Yoga, American therapist, public speaker, and author Anodea Judith states:

“Each day before you step onto your mat, think about your intention. Why are you practicing? What do you hope to accomplish today? Perhaps you want to dedicate your practice toward some purpose – the healing of a friend, the contribution to a peaceful world, or the resolution of a difficulty. Perhaps you want to calm your mind, heal your own body, purify, or develop strength. Set your intention first, then step consciously onto your mat.”

Intentions are our guide, our why. And since, as Anodea Judith says, “Yoga is a cultivation of attitude that occurs throughout your day”, whatever we learn on our mats becomes even more valuable once taken outside the mat. That’s when the purpose of practicing really comes to life and when true yoga (union) actually happens.

Yet it’s not always easy to know what intention to set for ourselves. Knowing what really lies beneath a certain urge to share or act is not straightforward, and what appears to be a simple task often turns out to be a training in itself.

Yoga is a good school for that too. As I learned in The Art of Sequencing with Chaitanya Mayi, the stage prior to setting intentions is to go through a self check-in: How did I sleep? How is my body feeling today? What’s my mood? What do I need? What does the world need? Only once we are able to answer those questions, can it become possible to pick a clear intention that is in line with our individual needs and those of the world.

Similarly, in Veronica Marquez’s 7 steps method for confident and compassionate conversations, setting intentions is only the third step. The journey starts with looking inward and understanding what is happening within us. What thoughts, feelings, and sensations are present? How am I responsible for feeling the way that I do? Then comes looking outward: What happens when we look at this narrative from the other party’s point of view (this could include another part of ourselves, another being, the environment etc.)? And what if we take a step further and look at things from a third and neutral perspective? Only then can we gain the clarity necessary to set honest intentions.

Then we might get lost. It happens. But just like yoga teachers often send us back to our initial intention; we can always take the time to find our center again, and remember why we showed up, spoke up, or acted in a certain way.

So why does this matter?

Acting without awareness – acting without setting clear intentions – can lead us to hurt ourselves, to hurt other beings, and even hurt our planet.

Having good intentions is not enough. Those don’t automatically lead to good actions. What we need is clear intentions; intentions that require work, deep research, intuition. In short, we need awareness.

If we leave sustainability for others to deal with yet this leads us to hide, develop feelings of guilt or resentment, we are only creating damage. Wouldn’t it be better to at least embrace our position with intention? And if, on the contrary, we preach sustainability, but it leads us to be enraged at those who don’t embrace the cause; it makes us feel isolated or drives us to undergo a burnout – how sustainable is this?

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, sustainability is a balanced exchange between us and everything else. Setting clear intentions matters because they keep us in a healthy flow. It takes awareness to set clear intentions, and it takes clear intentions to act with the consciousness required for sustainability to fully happen.

Journaling questions:

  1. What’s between you and a sustainable lifestyle (work / life balance)?
  2. What’s between you and sustainable relationships and / or partnerships?
  3. What’s between you and a sustainable environment?

Bi-weekly experience:

  1. Over the next two weeks, each time you are about to make an important decision or open an important conversation – pause – and ask yourself: what is my intention? Notice if your intention is clear. If it isn’t, try to dig deeper. Observe yourself: how do you feel? What’s happening in your body? What about the other parties involved?
  2. Special experience for yoga practitioners: try practicing the exact same sequence with a different intention and notice how it affects your flow.


  • Ele Kinchin-Smith
    March 5, 2021 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for this – its a challenging read for someone who has lots of good intentions but isn’t great at putting them into practice – time to slow down a little…

  • Leila
    March 5, 2021 at 11:27 am

    What a great read! If only we all took the time to stop and think our intentions through we would be so much more aware of the consequences of our actions. It is not enough to want to save water, for example, if we are not aware that it doesn’t need to be running while we are brushing our teeth. I need to be more actively thinking when we set our intentions.

  • Veronica
    March 5, 2021 at 8:29 pm

    Thank you, Julie for reminding us of the power of setting clear intentions. Especially around this topic, which can be so triggering for many of us.


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