Setting Intentions for Psychedelic Sessions

Setting an intention is something every serious psychonaut does as part of their session preparation. The process of creating and setting intentions not only helps to gain clarity on our motivations, but also allows us to take an active part in setting course for the journey ahead. But how to set an intention? And how specific should one be?

Keeping an Open Intention

What we think might be the highest priority when we’re heading into ceremony might not be what is truly needed for us to work on. The depths of the unconscious that emerge in the session reveal to us what really needs to be addressed. These inner depths are known as our inner healing wisdom. Each and every one of us holds this within us.

What needs to come up will come up. Leaning into that trust is an important part of psychedelic work. 

Having thoughts like “this isn’t what I’m supposed to be thinking about” or “this session was not supposed to be about this, I wanted to work on x” are counterproductive. This is resisting the experience. This is not allowing, not being open, not letting go. It isn’t dropping into the flow of experience. It isn’t trusting our inner healer.

Consider that it may be happening for an important reason.”
– The Zendo project, on difficult experiences

Holding a more general and open intention allows space for a wider spectrum of experience to be fully embraced. It allows for a greater flexibility and a wider range of interpretation. 

Sometimes the meaning of the content will be clear and obvious. Other times it is less straightforward. It can also be downright confusing. Unpacking and integrating afterwards is especially necessary for more opaque experiences.

Crafting An Intention

The process of creating an intention can be broken down into 3 steps:

  1. Start with your honest why

To start, we can simply ask:
‘Why am I doing this?’

The simple act of taking a moment to answer this will reveal basic motivations.

Try not to pass any judgement on the answer that comes up. All is valid.

If the answer that comes up seems shallow, overly specific, or otherwise inappropriate, this is the opportunity to change course or reframe. This might be a process of refining the motivation, or just looking at it from a different angle.

Other useful questions to help formulate an intention are:

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What are you looking for?
  • What is working in your life? What isn’t? What would you like to change?
  • What are you curious about?
  • What would you like to learn about?
  • What would you like to understand more?

These questions can then be followed up with ‘why?’, until you reach a satisfactory point.

2. Use further whys to dig deeper

Maybe your intention is looking at a specific problem or area of your life where you would like some answers. When we start the process, it can be as specific as we like; continually asking more whys helps us get us to the root of it. The process here is digging deeper. Doing this, we uncover motivations that sound more and more general. 

3. Refine into a single, simple sentence

Once we have dug deeper, we can collate and distill our answers to form a single pithy line.

To illustrate, here is a rough walkthrough of a previous process of mine, when I was using psilocybin to quit smoking.

  1. Why am I doing this?

I want to quit smoking tobacco.

2. Why do I want to quit?

I am experiencing contradictory thoughts about my smoking habit. I feel guilty about smoking, but I still do it sometimes. There is a lack of clarity here. I want my mind to be clear. 

Quitting smoking is the #1 obvious thing I can do for my health. I enjoy leading a healthy lifestyle and place high value on my health. I want to be healthy. 

I’ve already quit twice in the past and the tobacco monster always finds a way to sneak his way back in. I’m tired of being on this merry go round and ending up back in a place where I’m doing something I don’t want to be doing. I experience a lack of self control and I feel ashamed of myself when I end up smoking in front of other people. I just want to be free from this addiction, once and for all.

3. Taking the key points from each of my reasons for wanting to quit, I ended up with my final intention:

‘I am clear, healthy and free’ 

My Experience

A few years ago when I was working at Myco Meditations psilocybin retreat in Jamaica, I remember a team member saying that he often heads into a session with the approach of: “show me what you got”. This is a casual way of putting it, but a general and open intention. 

To give a final personal example, my intention for my most recent session was: to listen and learn. Setting such a broad intention meant that there was no real way to fight the experience or not accept difficult parts when this was brought to mind. Whatever was going on, there would always be an opportunity for me to listen. This could be interpreted in many ways: redirecting my attention to the music, tuning in and ‘listening’ to my inner voice, listening to my body and the physical sensations I was experiencing. Including ‘to learn’ gave me a good reason why I should listen carefully. It helped me to hold and steady my focus at various points on the journey.

Intentions For Integration

Intentions can also be useful in the integration stage. After reflecting on the experience and identifying key themes, it can be worthwhile to set an intention for the next phase of life. This might be for the following days, weeks, or even months.

Some examples:

If you have realised you would like to be less guarded, you might make an intention to be more open.

If you have been keeping things to yourself; it might be to share more.

If you’ve been giving too much of yourself; to practice saying no.

If you take up a lot of space; to listen.

An intention might even be just for the day after. ‘Self care’ or something thereabouts is one I always use on the integration day directly after a session. This allows me to be kind to myself and prioritise self care, but also to do integration work such as journaling, as making that investment of energy when the experience is still fresh helps me to gain the most benefit from my session and therefore caring for my future self. 

These types of integration intentions help give us direction in our lives. Their looseness means they can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways and require us to use our intuition. They can be used as a compass for action in all kinds of situations throughout the days, weeks and months that make up our lives.