'Making an intention' is often an important and much discussed part of the process of partaking in Ayahuasca/plant medicine ceremonies and other energy healing modalities. The intention clarifies the participant's reason for attending the ceremony or receiving the treatment, and what they hope to receive from it. “What is/was your intention?” is one of the most common discussions I have heard taking place in medicine retreats and surrouding medicine ceremonies. But for some, the intention can also be a source of stress: ”I don't know what intention to make.” “Is this the right intention?” “Is my intention okay?” are all common worries, and people can spend many hours choosing the right intention for the night. This article explores the intention, the reasons for making it, and some useful ways to approach it. And although this is focussed on plant medicine ceremonies, this process of intention making can be applied to any healing modality or practice where there is room to direct the purpose and outcome of the treatment.
Why make an intention?
In truth, there is always an intention. Your intention is the reason that you are doing it, it's whatever motivated you to show up and put your time and energy into attending the ceremony. With that in mind, there is not necessarily any reason to think about it any more than clarifying to yourself what brought you to the ceremony that day. That's it. It is also a good practice to be aware of why we are doing anything in life.
One important reason for knowing our intention and why we are in the ceremony is that it can help us to navigate challenging times without getting completely lost or overwhelmed. Reminding yourself why you are doing it, if the ceremony gets difficult, can help you to regain focus and find the strength and motivation to move through your challenge. If you don't really know why you're there, it can be much more difficult to find clarity and strength during those challenging moments. Again, this is also true for life – if you know why you are doing the things you do and making the choices you are making, it makes it much easier to move through difficulties and challenges than if you have no real sense of purpose. For me personally, this is the most important reason for having an awareness of an intention – if things become a little crazy or chaotic, you can remind yourself of why you are doing it, and use that sense of purpose to see you through the challenge.
Often the reason for drinking is very clear to you – there is something you want to heal, a situation you need a new perspective on, or a problem you are looking to solve. But just as often it can feel as if you have no real intention. Perhaps you are drinking out of curiosity, because you heard some interesting or positive experiences from others and want to see what the fuss is about – that's fine, but it can be helpful to dig a little deeper into your curiosity. What is it that you are hoping to discover? Are you exploring the possibility of there being something more to life than you are currently experiencing? Are you curious to get to know yourself more deeply? Do you have questions about life or the universe you hope to find new perspectives on? All of these are worthy and courageous intentions, and can be useful lifelines to return to during the ceremony, if you need to.
Do you always get your intention?
Maybe. At this moment in time I do not have any lingering requests or issues that I have asked the plants about and not received guidance or resolution on from the medicine, but I have also not received a clear answer or resolution for every intention I have made during the ceremony I asked it in. Sometimes that happens and the healing, insights or perspective shifts have been granted as I requested (although the grace and willingness with which I received these is a whole other topic..) but other times intentions have been met more subtly, or over time. I clearly remember one ceremony where my intention was to explore an anxiety-based issue, and the experience I had, although incredibly profound, appeared to be irrelevant to that issue. However, when I looked back on the experience and applied the insights and messages I received to the original problem, I realised that I had been shown exactly what I needed to see, just through a different story. I also had a long string of ceremonies where I was hoping to receive clarity on an aspect of my life direction and none of my experiences came close to touching upon it. Then a while later, when I was focusing on a completely different topic, the answer just came in.
It's important to remember that the medicine is conscious and intelligent, and it knows what we need much better than we do! Often the root of a problem is not what we think it is, and upon exploring what we are shown, other issues heal or resolve by themselves. Sometimes we do not know where to look for our deepest healing until the medicine shows us. We are given what we need, not what we want. Time is also an important factor to consider and new perspectives, realisations and understanding can arrive seemingly spontaneously, or very subtly, weeks, months or even years after the ceremony.
I also find it interesting to consider that sometimes it may not be in our best interest to receive the answer to our intention on the day that we make it. Perhaps a quest for an answer or understanding will lead someone on a profoundly fulfilling and life-altering journey that could never have happened if they were given exactly what they were looking for at the time of asking.
I have found the medicine to be extremely generous and fair, but it certainly doesn't provide a magical solution to all of life's problems, and it is much more useful and beneficial to receive and reflect upon the wisdom and healing that is given to you than to over-focus on an intention that seemingly wasn't met.
Making useful intentions
Intentions can be very specific or very general: neither way is any better or worse than the other, it really depends on your reason for drinking and what you are hoping to receive from the experience. If you have an illness or an addiction, or if there is an emotion you find especially challenging and want to explore and work on, or if a very specific problem or issue is holding you back in life, it is useful to make your intention for the healing, exploration and resolution of that problem. This gives you more clarity and focus as you enter the ceremony, and sends the message to the medicine that you are ready and willing to address the issue.
If you don't have one major thing you wish to focus on, or if you are unsure of where the best place to focus is, a more general intention can be helpful. Asking the medicine to “Show me what I most need to see” is a wonderful and open intention which acknowledges the intelligence of the plant to give you what you need. My friend and teacher, Shipibo Curandera Lydia. advises simply to ask for healing – the medicine will take care of all the finer details, all you need to do is be aware that you are there to heal and be open to receiving it.
Unhelpful intentions are those which lack the clarity or focus to see you through the potential challenges of the ceremony, or which lack the potential to inspire any significant internal change. Going in with a long list of issues that relate to a diverse range of topics is potentially unhelpful as it dilutes your reason for being in the ceremony and gives you less of a focal point to come back to if needed. It is unlikely that you will have the time and energy to explore all of those issues in any depth in one ceremony, so it would be much better to make the intention for one thing at a time, or to establish an understanding of a more general theme to explore which several of the points are a part of.
Another unhelpful intention is one which is less focused on yourself and more focused on the outside world – questions about conspiracy theories, aliens and the mysteries of life may be explored and enjoyed, but are really a waste of time and energy that would be much better spent on your personal healing and well-being. Often when the focus is this externally motivated, it is an indication of an avoidance of something internal that needs to be addressed, and I have observed situations where intentions surrounding these external preoccupations have resulted in uneventful ceremonies. If something 'out there' is distracting you enough to feel the need to make it the main focus of your ceremony, it would be wise to explore the driving emotions and anxieties behind your need to know an answer, and to perhaps make the intention to explore what this is showing you within yourself, rather than just looking for an external 'truth.'
Journalling for intention setting
To clarify your intentions before a medicine ceremony or retreat, journaling to explore some of the following topics can be a useful way to discover what you most need to work on. Upon answering and exploring some of these questions, the most relevant things may become very obvious to you, or you may notice patterns arising that indicate the areas that would be the most useful for you to understand and explore in more depth. You may find that you can form an intention around the answer to one question which is important to you, or you may find that your answers guide you to a deeper emotion you wish to explore, or a to topic that includes several of your answers.
Health and Wellness
What physical, mental or emotional conditions am I experiencing that I wish to heal?
Is there any past or present health condition that I am looking for a greater depth of understanding around?
How do I feel about my overall level of health?
Am I well?
Do I know how to take care of myself?
Relationship with Self
Am I in tune with myself and my emotions?
Are there any emotions I find challenging and wish to explore?
Are there any challenging emotions that are holding me back in life?
Do I trust myself?
Do I trust my intuition?
Where do I compromise myself in life?
Trauma from the Past
Are there any events from that past that still cause me to feel intense emotions when I think about them?
Are there unresolved events from my childhood which are holding me back today?
Are there any past events that I know I need to heal from?
How do I remember my childhood?
How has my past influenced the challenges I experience in my life today?
Relationships and connections
Am I fulfilled in my friendships and relationships?
What are the biggest challenges I experience with my family?
What do I find most challenging about interacting with other people?
Do I have any unresolved breakups or endings of friendships/relationships, that I haven't gotten over?
What would I most like to change about my closest relationship?
Do I have a clear sense of purpose and direction in my life?
What brings me the most joy in life?
What do I most want to change in my life/?
What do I most want to do/achieve in my life?
What brings me the most fulfilment?
The most important thing to remember
Where making an intention is useful, it is not the be-all-and-end-all of the ceremony! The medicine knows what it is doing and how best to help you, and it is counter-productive to become stressed over making your intention. You are doing more than enough just by showing up and drinking. My personal intention, which I currently make the most often right before drinking the medicine, is just to say “thank you.”