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Setting Intentions: Expectation vs. Intention

Expectations are ideals we create in our minds of how things should be. They create demands on ourselves and others that are often unrealistic, or not the way things are supposed to be. We might picture ourselves in a particular job, or a certain kind of relationship. We might expect our partner to act a certain way, or that a fellow driver is going to stop at that red light. When we set an expectation, we create a projected image of the future that may or may not come to pass. If it does, we feel good but if it does not, we experience pain and loss.

Expectations are part of our ego-state, the image of ourselves we create in our mind. Identifying with that image creates a false sense of self. From an ego-based worldview, we think of the conditional and ever-changing aspects of ourselves as our true self, failing to recognize the unchanging, neutral soul. We navigate our lives according to the way we think we should be, and the way we think others should be. When our expectations go unmet, the disconnect between what we thought should be and what is, is how expectations cause suffering in our lives.

Rooted in control, expectations motivate us to force an outcome that may not be meant for us. When we think we should have or do something, we direct our energy toward it. We think about it, talk about it, and expend valuable energy focusing on something that is based on a superficial expectation rather than an intuitive intention. The Universe will not let us go down the wrong path, not without suffering, so when we meet resistance, we experience confusion and disappointment. Expectations create fear and mistrust in ourselves, others, and the world around us.

Everyone in my family is musically gifted. Literally……everyone. So it was assumed that I too had musical talent, and as a teenager I decided it was time to learn to play the guitar like everyone else in my family did. I was met with immediate frustration. My fingers didn’t catch the right strings, I couldn’t tell if the guitar was in tune, and I found it impossible to play and sing at the same time. I would practice for hours, and end up feeling frustrated when I didn’t make any progress. Eventually, I had to accept that I had hit a brick wall. I learned five chords which I can still play to this day, but my guitar hobby never went any further than that. I felt like somewhat of a failure.

Years later, I tried to pick up the guitar again only to be met with the same frustration. As I angrily set the guitar aside, feeling like a total loser, I decided to pick up a pen and notebook and write about it. I was already a journal-er, and I knew that it’s often helpful to write out your frustrations to diffuse their energy. I did this, and discovered that I wrote for about two hours without even realizing it. When I went back and read what I had wrote, I liked it. I felt as though it was something I would read if I were an outside party interested in the topic.

I had discovered my gift. I worked so hard to become someone who was musically talented because I had set that expectation for myself. Because of my family influences, I expected that I would be equally talented in that area. When it turns out I wasn’t, even with hard work, I suffered. Once I realized my talent was writing and not music, I felt relief. The reason I’m not musically talented is because I’m not supposed to be. I no longer had to live up to an expectation of something that wasn’t meant for me. Instead, I could focus on the strengths and gifts that are uniquely mine.


The difference between intentions and expectations is what fuels them. With expectations, we are fueled by a desire to appease our ego. But intentions are based in wisdom, and in a deep understanding of our true nature and purpose in the Universe. A good intention comes with trusting your instinct. It is knowing enough about yourself to understand when you’re being guided, and when you’re trying to force an outcome. Intentions are flexible; we envision a certain thing for ourselves but have enough understanding of the flow of life to know that sometimes our path might be different than what we intended.

In many yoga classes, the instructor will invite participants to think of an intention to dedicate their practice to. It can be a state of mind we want to develop like forgiveness, or something we want to let go of, like resentment. Then we are asked to let that intention go. This process of surrender recognizes the flexibility of intentions, and that we cannot know the future. We make our intention with every ounce of self-awareness we have, but we have enough trust in the Universe to know that even if things don’t work out the way we intended, we will be okay.

“When we are ready to let go, we will do so with relief. We will experience renunciation not as a death but as a birth.” – Rolf Gates (Meditations from the Mat)

Intentions come from deep inner prompting, our highest selves guiding us to a place of equilibrium and peace. They are a manifestation of our life force energy motivating us toward something that is meant for us, even if whatever it is might be challenging. Intentions demonstrate a deep level of trust in the Universe, and that we will receive what we need. With intentions we understand the need to be flexible, and to accurately decipher what we’re in control of, and what we’re not.

When I first tried ayahuasca, I felt called to the medicine. I started researching ayahuasca, and read everything I could about it. Something inside of me was prompting me to seek it out, and to find a place to experience the medicine. Once I had picked New Life Ayahuasca, I started to prepare. At the time, I was going through a very confusing and difficult time of life, and I was looking for clarity and guidance. Hell, I was looking for clarity or guidance; any damn thing that would help me fix the situation in my life. I felt deep within my soul that ayahuasca was calling me to experience her healing benefits, and I felt energy guiding me toward the retreat.

My intention for that first ayahuasca retreat was to have some type of spiritual awakening to help me with my current circumstances at the time. I was looking for clarity on a specific situation, and completely expected for it to be addressed during at least one of the three ceremonies. Much to my surprise, not one of my intentions were addressed specifically. Instead, I was given another message, one about loving myself and letting go of fear. As it turns out, that message answered all three questions I had going into the ceremonies.

Luckily, I had done enough research about ayahuasca to know that setting intentions is great, but letting go of those intentions is equally important. Just like life, ayahuasca will show us what we need to see, not necessarily what we are expecting to see. If we set flexible intentions with the energy of the Universe behind us, we’ll be content with whatever the outcome is. In my case, it was my intention to gain clarity of mind so I could handle the situations in my life. Although I expected it to look a certain way during ceremony, the guidance I received from the medicine was much more meaningful and lasting.

Shifting Expectations to Intentions

Getting to know our true selves is not an easy task, but there are plenty of practices out there that help quiet the mind and get in touch with our spiritual nature. Here are a few things you can try to get in touch with your higher Self, the Self that will prompt intentions over expectations:

  • Inventory your expectations. Write out all the expectations you have of yourself, others, and life, and meditate on which ones resonate with you on a deep level, and which ones are out of line with your truth.

  • Seek out practices that aim to quiet the mind. With mental clarity, we create space for wisdom and intuition to be our guides. Things like yoga, meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and sound healing are just a few, but find something that resonates with you.

  • Practice surrender and acceptance. Incorporating these concepts into our thoughts will help us be flexible when things don’t turn out the way we thought they would.

  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you are spending enough time nurturing yourself; this could be healthy eating, exercise, getting adequate sleep, bubble baths, or anything that demonstrates self-care. Honoring ourselves in this way makes our instinct more accessible.

“As the layers of falsehood fall away, an intimacy develops with our own truth.” – Rolf Gates (Meditations from the Mat)

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