Written by Kate Pauley
This is part of a 3-part series on experiencing growth through traveling from the perspective of a therapist.
For a long time I have wanted to solo travel, and with COVID, grad school, life, there just never seemed to be a “good time.” So eventually, I just committed. I decided that as a therapist, I need to expand my view of the world, meet new people, learn new perspectives, and grow myself as an individual. This series covers some of my reflections on traveling from the perspective of a therapist.
When I left the United States on this solo adventure, my intention was to learn. I didn’t set my expectations on learning anything in particular, I just wanted to learn. I had some ideas about what I could learn, but I didn’t set hard and fast expectations. I purposefully kept my intention simple and to the point. I know that expectations lead to disappointment. They create rigidity and don’t allow for the free flow of life. Expectations also create attachment. When you have a specific expectation, there is a strong likelihood that you will become “attached” to that exact outcome. Now, your trip must look one way, and if it looks any different it’s not right, it’s not good enough. Here is a simple example of this: say you’re headed on a beach vacation, you create an expectation of “laying on the beach under the sun to relax.” When the sun doesn’t shine, you become miserable, complaining that there is no sun, frantically checking the weather app to see if the forecast has changed for tomorrow, feeling sorry for yourself. You stress so much about the weather, that it ruins your trip. You don’t relax and you are disappointed that you didn’t get the perfect blue sky, blue water picture that you so wanted. Now imagine instead, that you set your intention to relax. Period. There is no expectation on how that relaxation needs to look, but you know that what you need right now in life is to relax. What the vacation offers you is a chance to get away, to distance yourself from your stressors. It offers you rainy days that allow you to do nothing. It allows you a chance to rest and be cleaned by the rain. It instills silliness and creativity – dancing in the rain, crafting inside, who knows. Your vacation becomes full of possibility. When we get so specific and so attached to an idea, we close the door to all other possibilities. We leave no room for spontaneity, creativity, freedom.
The next time you go to set an intention, think about the underlying feeling. Ask yourself this question: “how do I want to feel.” Start building your intention from there – from the underlying feeling. An example of this may be: I want to feel relaxed. I want to feel inspired. I want to feel jovial. When starting out, allow your intention to be that simple allowing for spontaneity in how you actualize this feeling.
You can also set basic actions like, I want to learn. Or, I want to nourish my body. Keep these intentions broad. They are not meant to be so detailed and specific: e.g. “I want to nourish my body with a fresh fruit smoothie every morning, salad for lunch, vegan dinner.” What this specificity does is create an attachment to a particular outcome. Now, if you can’t find a fresh fruit smoothie one morning, you are disappointed/frustrated/angered that you can’t achieve your goal. If you crave something else, a brownie let’s say, but it wasn’t a part of your “plan,” you must deny yourself the brownie – something that actually may have been very nourishing to your soul. By keeping your intention simple, “I want to nourish my body” you have hundreds of different ways to accomplish this. You could eat healthy, eat intuitively, splurge on tasty treats, detox, fast, eat vegan, eat keto, the world becomes your oyster, full of ways to achieve your desired intention.
Once you have an intention set, come back to it often. Allow it to be present in your mind- create some room for your intention to drift in and out of your awareness freely. When you think of your intention, check in with yourself. How is it going? Are you aligning yourself with your intention? Making choices that support this intention? Or possibly, does your intention need adjustment? It is ok to change your intention as your life moves forward. Just because you set a particular intention at one point, does not mean it needs to be your intention forever. By that same token, notice whether you are living in alignment with your own thoughts/desires/needs. For example, maybe you set an intention to “nourish your body on vacation.” But, you are on vacation with friends. They want to drink by the pool for their vacation, but you want to nourish your body. Day 1, you decide to lay by the pool and party. You figure the rest and fun could be really good nourishers. Day 2, your friends want to lay by the pool again, but when you check in with yourself, this doesn’t seem like it would be nourishing to you. This is a decision point: do you ignore your own needs for the good of the group, to not disappoint your friends, to not miss out, etc. or do you follow your intuition and intention and do the thing that would feel good to you: go on a hike, move your body, and have an alcohol free day.
The things that typically get in the way of sticking to an intention are:
When you check in with yourself on your intention, notice the thoughts and feelings that come up, e.g. “It seems like too much work to go on the hike, so I guess I’ll just stay here and drink.” Simply notice, this is the thought. Once you are aware of the autmoatic thoughts, you can make a choice. If you aren’t aware that this is the thought pattern, you can’t do anything about it, and will probably end up laying by the pool and drinking. If you are aware of it you can say to yourself, “no, what I really want for myself is to feel good in my body, I’m going to put a little extra effort in and go on that hike.” Or, maybe your thought is, “I can’t go alone” – notice the fear coming up, then make a choice about whether this hike is too dangerous to do alone, whether you could find someone to join you, or go ahead and do it alone.”
Setting intentions is a really great way to be intentional with your time. It also allows for you to stay in alignment with what really serves you. I can happily say that I fulfilled on my intention and then some. I learned so much while I was traveling; about myself, about others, about relationships, about holistic healing modalities, about my body – it was amazing. I learned so many great life lessons that I would love to share with you. Most importantly, I learned that I really love to learn- learning brings me genuine joy, and so potentially, I’ll set this intention again for myself in the future.
I’d love to hear from you on what tips you have for intention setting; what works for you? I’d also love to know what intention you will be setting for yourself right now. Sit with the idea until a clear intention comes to mind and then leave a comment with what you’ve come up with. I’d love to support you on your journey to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. Be well dear humans :)
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