Your Complete Guide to Setting Intentions
Intentions. One of the words that everyone mentions, but rarely has a deeper definition for when asked.
It’s a term anyone who has explored the psychedelic therapy space will be familiar with, whether hearing it from a friend, being asked for one from a Guide or Clinician, or reading about it on forums or social media.
“You need an intention.” “Set a strong intention.” “Hold your intention in your mind and heart.” “Be intentional with your use.”
Why are they important? What do intentions help you do? How do they contribute to the process of healing and assist psychedelic therapy protocols? What do “good intentions” look like?
This is an overview of the art and science of setting intentions for psychedelic therapy.
What is an intention?
Briefly defined, an intention is an aim or goal you are holding for the experience, for your healing, for yourself in your session, and for the treatment protocol overall.
An intention may be:
- An outcome you want
- An experience in the session you wish to have
- Asking for insights or healing in certain areas of your life
- Hoping to see or develop characteristics in yourself
Intention setting is the first step you take when showing up for the healing dialogue between you and the medicine, you and the experience, and/or you and your inner healing intelligence. It’s a demonstration that you’re taking the work seriously, that you have things you wish to work on, and an acknowledgment that you are up for doing the work within your control.
Everyone is unique, and the healing and outcomes that each person needs will be different. This applies to your intention as well.
What an Intention Shouldn’t Be
A few notes on what an intention shouldn’t be.
An intention isn’t a requirement for the experience: “Either I get this experience/sensation/insight or the session didn’t work.”
It’s also not an expectation for the experience: “This is going to come up!”
And it’s not a prescription for yourself: “I know this is exactly what I need.”
Once you set a firm intention, let go of it. You have done your part, and showed up for your end of the bargain. You put effort into the things you can control, and asked for what you would wish for.
It’s time to let go, trust the experience, and open yourself to what will arise.
What do Intentions Do?
There are a number of uses that intentions have before, during, and after your individual dosing sessions.
They help you to “show up”
As we mentioned, setting an intention is the first step in really “showing up” for this process.
Psychedelic medicine is not a “magic pill,” or a passive process. It is an active process that requires your involvement. Alongside setting up your set & setting, setting your intention is another example of this.
They inform the medicine / experience / subconscious
The medicine and experiences are on your side, everything that happens is happening for your benefit, for your healing and your wholeness.
Through your intention, you can further assist this process by telling the medicine, telling the experience, and telling your body and inner healing intelligence what you think is most important to focus on right now.
They ground and recenter you
If at any point throughout your session you feel challenged, unsure, or otherwise resistant to the content or nature of your experience, coming back to your intention can help to ground and recenter you in the experience.
It can help you make sense of the content of the experience in the moment, and it gives you an anchor, a point of rootedness to return to should you ever feel the need.
They help frame the experiences
Sometimes the experiences and insights you have in a session connect directly and obviously to your original intention. Other times the connection isn’t as clear, but in recalling your intention, you can use this as a framing to help further explore and understand the nature of your experience. Intentions help the integration process by giving you the starting frame of, “If this session was helping me enact and realize my intention, why did the experience unfold as it did? What is it trying to tell/show me?”
Given the wide range of utility and value that intentions bring, there is a good reason why they so frequently come up in conversations around psychedelic experiences and psychedelic therapy.
The psychedelic experience is good at highlighting to us what exactly we can and cannot control in our lives. When it comes down to it, we can really only control our thoughts and our actions. We can’t dictate how the experience will go, we can’t control how others will act, but we can control what we do.
And setting intentions is firmly within our control. It is an input variable that we have access to. And if we can, we will! Setting intentions, alongside cultivating a conducive Set & Setting, are powerful levers you have in your domain to help steward your psychedelic experience in the direction you would like to go.
What Are “Good” Intentions?
As is so often the case with psychedelic therapy, the answer here is “it depends.” It depends on who you are, and it depends on what you need as part of your healing journey and experiences.
To begin, it’s important to note that just the act of thoughtfully setting an intention for your psychedelic therapy program, and your individual sessions, is itself an extremely powerful act.
The simple act of setting an intention is just as good as the content and specifics of whatever intention you will set.
Though it is possible to get more specific (without being prescriptive) on how you can form conducive intentions for your experiences. There are 3 core factors to this process.
If you are setting an intention, consider how you can make it relate to the present moment, and make it positively-oriented.
Examples of this might be “show me my power,” or “help me see the happiness inside of me.”
Because it is possible to have very direct experiences of your intentions, it’s helpful to avoid more challenging intentions around negative emotions or experiences. If you have the choice —and you do, it’s your intention!— choose positively-oriented intentions.
Make a Specific Ask/Request
There are two important components here: specificity, and asking. Remember, an intention is not a requirement, guarantee, or expectation.
It’s about coming to your healing discussion and asking the medicine, “This is what I’d like to experience, heal, or work on — what do you think? Can you help with that?”
Making it as clear as possible, and phrasing it as a specific question can assist you in making clear, powerful intentions. Sentence stems such as “Show me…,” “Help me…,” are easy ways to get started.
Get to the Root
Addressing the root of the problem, confusion, or trauma is helpful, instead of the surface level manifestations. The medicine works on personal behaviors and ideas and blockages.
Instead of asking “Show me how to make more money…,” you might try something like “Show me the peace and acceptance I already have.”
These 3 factors, when taken and combined together, can help you create clear, powerful, and direct intentions for each of your sessions. The more focused you are, the more you show up for the things within your control.
You know what you want or would wish for. You may not always get something that relates directly to this, but that is an outcome out of your control. What’s important is the practice of investing in the things you can control, and clear, direct intentions are one of them.
What If My Intention Didn’t Happen?
It is possible that despite your best efforts to put together a clear and direct intention, the medicine and the experience may have some other ideas. The experience may not have apparently related to the intention at all! It could be something entirely different, and this can be off-putting or upsetting within the session and during the integration process afterwards.
There are a few ways to approach this if this does occur for you:
The way your mind and the medicine communicates experiences and insights to you is not always straightforward. It’s not always a linear answer in clear language.
Continue to reflect and explore the nature of your experience, look for creative, cheeky, or alternative ways of interpreting your experience.
As an example, if your intention was “Show me what I need to heal,” and nothing happened in the experience, instead of thinking it missed the mark, that can be a way the medicine tells you that there is nothing to heal or you are not broken. Keep exploring the experience deeper.
Stay the Course
If you set an intention, a potential destination like “show me my power,” and it doesn’t happen, it might be because there are other milestones, or destination points that you need to arrive at before you’re ready or able to see that one.
Said differently, the intention you set might be Point D and the medicine first needs to bring you to points A, B, and C first.
Trust in the experience, and try to unpack what the message/lesson of each session was, trusting that it is all helping move you in the direction of your original intention.
T.L.O In Practice
The medicine, in partnership with your inner healing intelligence, is deeply intelligent. This is the Trust, Let Go, and Be Open (T.L.O) mantra in practice: trusting the experience, letting go of your intention, and being open to the fact that the medicine and the experience know what you need and how to help you.
The experience might be entirely unrelated to the intention you set, and this is okay. It is still moving you, always, in the direction of your own healing and wholeness.
Can I Use the Same Intention More Than Once?
Yes and no.
To address the idea behind the “no,” you are constantly changing. The person you are now is different from the person you were a year ago, a month ago, a week ago, even a moment ago. As a result, it’s fitting that your intention should grow, shift, and evolve just as you grow, shift, and evolve moment to moment.
The idea behind the “yes” is that you can keep the same theme, or the same area of focus. It can be helpful to try your best to set a new intention, whether the particular focus, the emphasis, or the wording is different. Just as psychedelic medicine is not a magic pill, it is not a “set it and forget it” process. It requires active involvement throughout the entire protocol and process.
The intention you have for your first session can and should be different from the intention you have for your third and fourth sessions. Even if you are still working on the same core material, the same core theme — trying to adapt your intentions to get more specific, more pointed, is part of continuing to show up for the process.
Intentions and intention-setting deserve the importance and the praise that they receive throughout the psychedelic and psychedelic therapy worlds.
They are a critical part of the process that you have direct control over and influence in. They have value and benefit across all stages of the therapeutic program (pre-, during, and post-sessions), and they can be powerful drivers of your healing process.
As such, doing your best to show up and take this seriously, give it your time and energy is powerful and important. Direct, positive, clear requests addressing foundational areas of focus will take you far.
Here’s wishing your next sessions have strong intentions and positive outcomes.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
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