What is the Nature of Intention?

Posted on July 18, 2017
Posted by Jim Sher

For many years, I have heard many people write and talk about the subject of intention. In fact, it is talked about often and in many circles, from new age forums and workshops to business and political ones. In this article, although I will talk about the nature of intention and its relationship to how we can manifest the things we need in life, I would like to focus more on how we can develop the ability to create an Intention. I’m going to start by giving a brief history of how intention was considered in the magickal societies of the last century and then we’ll look at what is involved in being able to cultivate this ability.

Part I

History of Intention in Magickal Societies

Our present spiritual culture in the United States and the West in general has been greatly influenced by the developments over a century ago by the Theosophical Society and the magickal societies that few people are aware of nowadays.  (You might notice that I have spelled the word ‘magickal’ by adding the letter ‘k’. There are several reasons for this, but the most important is that it is meant to create in the mind of the reader a distinct difference between magic as we usually think of the word and the ‘magickal’ societies to which I am referring in this article.) It might surprise many people how much these magickal societies have influenced our present thinking on the topic of ‘intention.’ Beginning with the Golden Dawn and its many offshoots, a unified system was presented that had the primary purpose of assisting the ‘initiate’ to advance in the expansion and development of their consciousness. These systems or societies did have their precursors, as it is obviously impossible to come up with such a complex, holistic system in one day.  In fact these societies evolved over many centuries and in many different cultures.  There’s no clear history, but we do have some history of the more recent groups.  The magical societies were very much concerned about ‘Intention.’  It was a prime focus for them and even part of the foundation of their teaching. The Golden Dawn, the O.T.O., Dion Fortune’s Fraternity of the Inner Light, and many others  were regarded by their founders as “the Yoga of the West.”

In many ways, not only were these ‘orders’ metaphysical and transformative in nature, but they were also influencing the beginning stages of psychology which started in the 1850’s and developed rapidly through the next few decades.  Sigmund Freud began his practice in 1886 exactly when many metaphysical groups emerged. The largest was the Theosophical Society, an international organization that still exists today. Freud was teaching his system in the early 1900’s and was followed by Carl Jung after which many new therapies and psychological theories developed. In many respects the Golden Dawn and other systems like it were not only very aware of psychology, but were making significant contributions to its growth. Carl Jung admitted this in his later years and even wrote a book called “Synchronicity” that was essentially an astrology book.

Magick, Psychology and Therapy

These societies knew something that I found first in the works of Jung. Jung regarded his therapy as transformative in that it engaged a person in a process he referred to as ‘individuation.’ He regarded this process as a difficult and potentially dangerous. So, too, the creators of the ‘magickal’ societies rituals knew that their ‘workings,’ as they referred to them, would bring up a great deal of material from the unconscious that would then have to be processed with conscious effort by the person. They would need to choose to become aware of their unconscious which was considered to be a significant part of one’s growth.  Many of the followers, such as Israel Regardie, felt that anyone seriously taking up any sort of magick, should be in therapy and work on becoming more self-aware and focused towards cleaning up unwanted belief system, neurosis, traumas, etc., which for the most part were buried deep within their unconscious. This understanding began a long time before therapy became popular in the sense we think of it today. And it was independent of Freud and Jung, even though they were influenced by it. So we see that psychology, therapy and magickal work were not considered to be separate by some people. In fact, these efforts led to the development of ‘transpersonal psychology,’ a term that was coined by Dane Rudhyar in 1930.

Why was work in one’s unconscious considered to be so important? Because those practicing transformational were aware of the power of unconscious forces that could become dangerous if a person tried to move to higher consciousness without doing this kind of work on oneself. What they realized is that basically our present life is actually lived to a large extent by unconscious intention. In other words, we are unconsciously intending all the time already, but not with conscious awareness or, therefore, with conscious intention. It is what is making our life what it is NOW. That is why these practitioners were so focused on working to become aware of belief systems and mental structures that create the life we have, without awareness. This is why they connected psychology with spiritual development.

Is it important for a person to know what they are creating NOW before they can begin to practice manifestation through conscious intention? Yes. It is that vital.

Personal work, then, was concerned both with the development of intention along with the development of awareness of our unconscious drives, beliefs and considerations.  This included all arenas of intention from attempting to make something happen in the world to more spiritual kinds of intention.  This means that they were aware that you could not intend or create any kind of real intention until you were quite conscious and ‘clear’ inside.

This process, they realized, must include a process by which a student must learn to understand how the dualistic mind works and find ways to move into a non-dual state. In one moment one wants this, then it wants that, or then it decides it doesn’t want any of it. That’s the nature of the dualistic mind. It’s binary.  Those in the magickal systems knew this was in play and had to be handled before any success would be possible.  To effectively intend anything, one would have to have great clarity, and that would be impossible if one was only operating in the mental realm of this-that, back and forth, to and fro, etc.  They understood that the question that one must face is – how can one intend clearly as long as the dualistic mind is operating?

An interesting aside is that they developed a variety of techniques to either bypass the unconscious mind or use the forces of the unconscious mind in order to gain some kind of clarity that would allow for intention to develop.  They became experts at finding ways to plant new types of intention into the unconscious so that their lives could grow in a more positive way. They found at a certain level of the unconscious, clarity was possible.  So they began to see that if they could create intentions within the unconscious mind, they might have success. To do this, however, they knew they had to bypass the conscious mind.  For many this was their strategy.  They gave up on making the conscious mind work well.  So they planted a seed in the unconscious, which the conscious mind could not interfere with.  There are a variety of techniques that they used, one of which was the use of sigils?

For others, however, and this is more important to me and to the School, the solution was to work on transcending the dualistic mind more directly.

Part II

Does the State We’re in Matter?

Imagine that you’re in a quiet, calm state. You’re not worried or afraid of anything and you’re feeling open and relaxed, yet alert. You think about your life and contemplate what the most important things are to you. Your mind drifts and you feel certain about what direction you want to take. You’re not forcing anything, not trying to be anybody in particular. But in that state, clarity emerges within and you know it is coming from a true place that feels right. Then in this state, you make a decision. You decide that you need to move in a certain direction and you cease to think about it anymore because you’ve truly decided.

For our purposes, it doesn’t matter what the decision is. The point here is that in order to be able to create a clear and conscious intention, one must be in an unusually clear state. This is the necessary state one must be in to create an Intention. This kind of intention is pure and it comes from a knowing that is real. In life, there are, of course degrees of this level of clarity or knowing. Yet, most people have had moments like this where a kind of certainty exists that is not mere logic. Nor is it ‘justified’ by reasons. It does come out of a deep or even ‘soul’ need rather than a mere liking or disliking. The esoteric societies trained the ‘Initiate’ to enter a state of total clarity and to be able to intend so purely, that nothing could stop that intention from manifesting.

For the untrained person, though, the mind is scattered, busy, confused and uncertain, that one finds it very difficult to manifest anything, as they may not even know what it is that they want to manifest, much less be clear enough to successfully bring it about. Can one create an intention when one is in this level of chaos? No, it’s not possible. One isn’t even able to clearly choose anything. One’s mind goes back and forth such that no decision can be made.

Further, what happens when one is influenced by unconscious programming? One thinks they should want something, but in fact, they do not want it. They may want to want it, but it’s confused and jumbled. The truth is that one doesn’t know what they want. Have you been in that state and want to push past it by forcing yourself to decide even though you’re not really ready? That state dilutes or even destroys any chance of being able to create an intention.

Increasing Consciousness

One of the fundamentals in all magickal systems is to learn about these principles. In the beginning one must first discover more about the issues I am presenting here. One must learn about the nature of the forces one must handle before one attempts to create a conscious intention. The practicality of these issues is not to be underestimated. Too often, people believe they are not able to manifest what they need in the world without realizing that they just haven’t yet gotten to the state they must be in to be ready to create a clear intention. They don’t know that there are too many competing considerations within them that are obstructing them.

To go further however, this understanding shows that one’s entire life, all of the issues we face, must be approached with these principles in mind.

The Value Of Presence

It becomes important to know where we are, to know if we’re ready to create intention. Then we can begin to ask the first and necessary question – ‘What must I do to become able to ‘intend’? The first step is to develop presence. Meditation is one tool that can make the mind clearer and this leads us to the state of presence. Not only do we feel better when we are calm and less reactive, but that state can strongly impact the quality of the choices we make in our everyday life. I suspect that this aspect of contemplation and meditation is not recognized as much as it needs to be. There are several reasons why this is, but perhaps the most obvious has to do with the power of ‘presence.’ If we make decisions based solely on the past, we necessarily will only be following our programming. That is not a creative state. It is a reactive one. It means we are not able yet to look at our present situation and know what is needed now. We are still controlled by that programming and the belief systems within them. We are not yet open to new approaches.

If we want to make better decisions than in the past, or learn to see new options we have not seen before, we will need to operate in a new way. This is when intention can become possible. In other words, when we are operating based on the past, we are not able to create a real intention. We are merely repeating the same programmed or conditioned responses, goals, and way of being that got us to where we are now. That doesn’t require intention. It is automatic and unconscious. Intention is not automatic. I suggest to the reader that ‘Intention’ can be thought of as a ‘Being’ act. One is creating something totally new, totally in response to one’s life as it is now. The past no longer applies. It is outworn, or even dead. In the state of presence, every moment is new and will be met by the person in that light. Only now can we create a new movement, one that can transform us and our life. This is what ‘Intention’ can be and in its purest form what ‘Intention’ really is.

But here I want to add that there is an additional fundamental principle that the ‘initiates’ of the magickal societies knew about and sought to achieve. It was referred to as aligning with one’s “Holy Guardian Angel.” There are so many ways for this idea to be expressed. And the understanding of the meaning of this movement is a big part of the transformation process. But to make it as simple as I know how to make it, the transformation process is a movement away from ‘ego’ and ‘fear’ and having any goals that come from those motivations. It is a turning towards a purpose that is evolutionary in nature. It moves us toward greater and greater participation in the evolution of not only ourselves but of the world and perhaps more. It also moves into a state of awareness that ‘knows’ that we are all connected with one another and with the larger Life.

When one is in this state of ‘Being’ one’s intentions become aligned with a much larger purpose than one’s small, self-centered perspective. And with this level of awareness, one finds that one will have no confusion or uncertainty about what to ‘intend.’ One will have total knowing. One’s Will is aligned with the divine Will.

Here one ought not to be dualistic and think there is a conflict between the needs of one’s life, including the material ones, with a spiritual one. In a state of presence, every aspect of Life is seen as One, a unity, and all of our life becomes equally purposeful. The questions are about what is motivating us. This is when we must be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. And if we do not know what is truly driving us and the desires we feel, then all we can do is the best we can. Sounds silly? Not to me. Constant effort to inquire into our deepest motives and purpose can lead to presence and the knowing that that state engenders.

Here are a few hints at questions you might ask yourself to determine if you have real intention or not.  You can simply look at what your focus is on.  Is your focus on what you are going to lose or what you’re going to g bain?  If you’re focused on something you might lose then obviously there is a degree of fear. Further, if you are focused only on what you might lose, you’re not intending anything at all. Your actual intention is to avoid something. You are not affirming anything. You are still confused and uncertain, therefore incapable of successful intention.

Let me give an example. A friend tells the story of going through many setbacks, all of which were created by their own behavior. At a certain point, this person took total responsibility for what was happening and truly vowed, intended to not let the same things happen again. It wasn’t mere words. This resolve was not just framed in the negative. It came from deep within, as an affirmation of willingness to work towards a new way of life. Within a short period of time, things began to change. One day this new set of intentions was tested. On the way to a job interview, the person was delayed through no fault of their own and they feared they wouldn’t be able to get to the interview in time. Suddenly a stranger appeared and offered help to get to the interview in time. It was a magical moment that in many ways was earned. It was earned by intention. It is true that sometimes synchronicity appears in our life without our seemingly earning it. But it seems that it happens more to those who have created some kind of intention and are backing that intention up with definite acts or changes of behavior. How powerful it can be to experience this kind of magickal moment that tells us that we are ‘seen’ in some way, that our life matters, and that we can access magick in our lives if we live with intention at whatever level is possible for us.

It’s true that we are not the source of everything that is happening to us. We live in a world with others and each person is intending whatever they are intending. In in that sense there is no such thing as intention if you want to use it that way. However, there is a moment that some people can have where there is an upsurge that says “I MUST do this.” And it’s so clear.  Even though you don’t know how it’s going to manifest, it is something that a person might experience. The only powerful word I have for moments like this is ‘Intention.’

Once you’ve experienced intention at any level, you now have an experience of it in some form. You might then be able to create with intention something new. You then have the opportunity to do even more of this and understand how this process works.  The way I’m defining intention is that it’s not ordinary in the way people think of it. It is a conscious creation and it can lead to becoming more in touch with our deeper purpose. The moment when we have experienced the sense of this is very significant. It is not the result of mere thinking, which is dualistic. It is arising from our ‘soul,’ from the part of us that knows. We now can affirm and do so with clarity because we are beginning to be aligned with what the ‘magicians’ called ‘one’s Holy Guardian Angel’ which in actuality is one’s Self.

I hope the reader can see that intention the way I’m defining it assumes self-awareness at a significant level. I realize that people make intentions all the time to be rich, popular, powerful, etc. And a kind of intention is in play when a person does that. But if it’s not fully conscious, then it is not what I am pointing to in this article. I refer to the moment when there is a full ownership aspect to this, a self-awareness that one is saying YES to something.  That’s what makes it different as opposed to sleep walking through it.  Can a person get a promotion and sleep walk through it…yes.  Can a person get a promotion and have great intention…yes.  You might not know externally if there is an internal intention on the part of a person.  My guess is the more you cultivate intention the more you’ll be able to notice the difference between when you are intending and when you are not.

The Difference Between Goal-Setting and Intention

I need to make a distinction between the nature of Intention and goal-setting. From the perspective I am presenting here goal-setting and intention have little to do with each other and in some respects, are a completely different way of operating. In the table below there are six examples describing how they are different. By using the concepts expressed in this table, one can determine if they are creating an Intention.


Goal-Setting Intention
Formed as a mental construct. One must remember one’s goals Is not a mental construct, so it does not need to be remembered. It arises from  one’s inner knowing.
Focuses on how one should make it happen.  

Leaves the specifics of how it will develop to the Divine.


Makes effort to achieve pre-decided upon goals in a step by step manner.


One does what is needed in the moment to move one’s Intention forward.


Makes evaluations on whether pre-made goals are achieved. Thinks in terms of success and failure.


Responds to what is developing and fulfills what is demanded in the moment.

Specific, pre-planned. General or abstract, open to modification.

This method forces one to live in the past and further, to keep the past alive. Ritualizes the past.


Knows that the key to keeping the Intention alive is to live totally in the moment.

Part III

The Deeper Esoteric Meaning of Intention

Perhaps the first question a person on a transformative path will ask is what I call an ‘essence’ question. There are many such questions but I regard the most fundamental of them to be the question – “Who or What am I?” No such question will be asked unless the person suspects that there is much more to the game of life than is ordinarily thought about much less a question to be taken seriously. But when one does feel the need to ask such questions, a new game has begun for them and with this game comes many new questions.

The next set of questions that can arise now are such questions – why am I here, what is my purpose, and what should I do with my life?

The School offers courses on a variety of topics, but has one underlying purpose. It is to help those of us who sense that they are more than bodies to experience the Truth of this and to then have an opportunity to explore with others what new questions must be explored as a result of this new knowing. When one experiences the truth that one is not a body only then does the term ‘Being’ become a necessary one, (or some other term, if one doesn’t like the word ‘Being’).

From the ‘Being’ perspective, now the question of why am I here must arise. At this point, however, it is not a mere intellectual question, something to pass the time or something about which to be curious. What emerges is a profound need to find out. For me, the answer is that I am here to evolve and that includes finding out what evolution on a ‘Being’ level is. As we enter an awareness of our real nature, as a Being, new considerations will emerge for us. Some of the new issues one must face are:

  1. Consequences of one’s actions now become very important as they carry over into the future. If you think about it, life becomes more serious if we know we live on after this body dies. Why? Because we see there is no such thing as escape.
  2. Our sense of purpose changes. It will expand enormously in terms of the way we think about timeless existence. An important paradox is now recognized. On one hand, time is less important than before as one’s purpose line extends beyond just one lifetime. On the other hand though we are not as limited by time, we must simultaneously know that we are in a reality where time is always an important factor. We don’t have forever. Once we start down the path of a purpose line, we must take entropy into account. We must develop resolve and hold to and act upon our clear intention. We must be dedicated to constant engagement with one’s conscious decision to fulfill one’s declared purpose.
  3. Purpose is no longer for oneself alone. We become participants in the evolution of reality itself and also the forces or ‘Intelligences’ (the term used in the Kabbalistic system) that create and sustain this reality. Think of the nobility of this. By that I don’t mean the silly notion of nobility we often define in terms of class and entitlement. The kind of nobility I’m talking about arises from a sense of honor to be able to serve the larger reality.
  4. On a personal level, there is great joy in pursuing whatever we love. Here are a few examples. One ‘Being’ may choose to return to eras of great wisdom, retrieve the wondrous principles of that era, and bring them to life in the present era. Another may choose to bring new thought to modern quantum physics and bring together physics and metaphysics into one, unified field. Tom Campbell is doing this. Perhaps you can think of similar examples.
  5. All of this is possible only if the ‘Being’ is capable of great Intention. Can intention survive the death of the body? This is an important question for those of us who are inclined to engage with such a profound and important matter. What we can know however is that if we are to develop that level of intention, we must develop the creative ability to intend as much as possible in this life. After all, this life is all we have to work with at the level we’re at NOW. Perhaps one reason for being in this reality is to learn how to do this very thing, to develop the ability to intend so that one can evolve into being able to hold a much deeper Intention that lasts beyond body death and allows us to serve ‘Forces’ beyond anything we can conceive of in our present state.

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One response to “What is the Nature of Intention?”

  1. dbalsz@aol.com' Donna Balsz says:

    Wow! Simply and powerfully stated. I feel this class can have an impact most aren’t considering possible. There is no time like “now” to take up and apply the power of Intention.

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