The magic of intention

You don’t have to be a wizard to change your world, says Tanya Meeson
Woman&Home, January 2023

When I was a teenager, one of my favourite reads was a high fantasy series written by David and Leigh Eddings called The Belgariad. Although I remember very little of it, one of the main story devices lodged in my brain and stayed there: the concept of ‘the Will and the Word’.

Sorcerers in this world would harness the power of ‘the Will and the Word’ to affect the world around them, mustering their intent towards a specific purpose and then saying a word to make it so, transporting themselves here or there, burning or flooding this and that.

While I had enough sense to know that I was unlikely to ever conjure a helpful sprite or spontaneously combust my enemies, there was something about the idea of this power that felt somehow within reach. But real life carried on and there were dramas to attend to and so I didn’t give it much further thought.

Fast forward almost two decades, and The Secret was suddenly barrelling onto the New York Times Bestseller List injecting the concepts of ‘law of attraction’ and ‘manifestation’ into the zeitgeist, Oprah was talking positive affirmations and intentional living, and suddenly the idea of ‘the will and the word’ was back to tickle me. Since then, it’s become something of a constant inquiry for me.

Turns out, like almost everything in life, nothing changes but for the telling of it. The concept of putting power to intention through word and deed is ancient. One of my favourite examples of this is ‘abracadabra’, a seemingly a nonsense word made up by stage magicians but whose origin of meaning is often attributed to its Aramaic roots: ‘avra’, meaning ‘I will create’ and ‘kehdabra’, meaning ‘as I have spoken’.

This kind of intention-setting with all its ‘positive affirmations’ and ‘manifesting your life’ yadda yadda might seem nothing more than high fantasy to most, but new research into the brain is revealing that how you think and what you think really can transform your world.

Simplistically speaking, neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to rewire itself and grow new neural pathways as a response to internal or external stimuli – is a lifelong capability in service to whatever inputs it receives: form unhealthy habits, thought patterns and attachments through trauma and repetition, and those neural pathways will strengthen; form healthy habits, thought patterns and attachments through intentional focus and perseverance, and those will strengthen.

Far from ‘just’ being able to engage in continuous learning, the real magic inherent in neuroplasticity is that the many harms of life can be healed.

Astonishing work documented by psychiatrist and researcher Dr Norman Doidge in his two books The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing has shown that you can change your life and how you are in the world – and by extension how the world is to you – by changing the way you think about things, the way you visualise your life and your body, the words you speak and actions you take to support this. Where pharmaceutical interventions play a role in alleviating symptoms, this brain work is about getting down into the root causes.

But for this to work, the intention and the action to follow through is key: the will to change and the perseverance to do so – and to do so even if your current state is so different to your desired future state that you think it almost impossible to change.

The word ‘intention’ actually hints at this. Its root is the Latin intendere or intentio, meaning ‘stretching’ or ‘purpose’; the ability to go beyond the now, to imagine a new state and then to strive to create it. It’s the intangible made tangible, it’s thoughts to things, the will and the word. It’s almost magic.

As the new year rises to meet you, what intention will you set for a future as yet only imagined, and where in your brain will that first step towards it be taken?

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash