Monday, June 19, 2006

Reflection on Intention



Intentions can be good, and they can be bad (so what’s new?) Well, of course — they are neither good nor bad — they just are. It just depends on what you value at the moment as to how you will gauge their benefit or regret. Consider the following:

If I make the “intention” to do no harm to sentient beings, that can help guide me, and prevent “reactions” that would be contrary to that intention — for example, killing a mosquito, ant, or fly.

Also, if I make the “intention” to live in the Now, to be present to all possible experiences as they arise, I will see life and its beauty in a flowing stream, a blazing crimson sunset, a blustery cold November day that takes your breath away. Life will become the tree frog’s song as it crescendos above the orchestra of crickets, or the purple martin’s erratic flight as it scouts and snatches insects for its young.

That’s the good news, so to speak.

The bad news, so to speak, is if I make an “intention” to get all of the things on my “to do” list accomplished today (especially when there are many more than can reasonably be accomplished). What then happens to the free moments when I’m not actually working on my chosen task. I’m thinking of my other tasks, or rushing to get on with the next activity. In such a world, I might be curt with the receptionist (hey, I’m on a mission). I might not notice the box turtle about to cross the road, and rather than stop and enjoy his visit, and steer him toward safety, I might be simply oblivious and — worst case — run over the 40 year-old turtle. Oops.

Now don’t get me wrong here. Since there is no absolute “good” and “bad”, the more practical intention of getting things crossed off my to do list is not inherently “bad”. When you make a conscious (with full awareness) choice to get those things done, you are putting your mind under your control, and accomplishing what you set out to do. This is what time-management experts get paid to tell us to do. But many of us have unwittingly stepped onto a treadmill, which manages to simply produce more “to do’s” than you can ever accomplish. And so, we keep working harder, going faster, and in the process, mindlessly missing life.

Here’s another consideration. What “should” you be doing right now? I hope you should be reading this blog. But if not, then you are not fully present. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there is “something else” you should be doing. You realize it when that latent intention takes control of your mind, and you start thinking about something else while you are reading this blog. In that case, your mind just became the master, and you are now the servant. Thinking what it wants, rather than what you want. (BTW, this can also be “good” if it is a spontaneous new thought that was triggered by what you read.)

Take another example. Have you ever been working inside an office on a beautiful spring day, and decided that you would take a break to enjoy the outside. Once out there you breathe in the fresh air, perhaps revel in the sun’s warm rays. Maybe you notice some spring birds gathering nesting material. Just as you start to really get into the present moment, a nagging thought comes into the back of your mind -- “I really ‘should’ be working”. Doesn’t that rather spoil the experience you are having? Once again, your mind has commanded, and as the servant, your are now responding. You need to make sure you keep your mind as the faithful servant. So when you take that break, be fully present to enjoy the experience. It will be much more refreshing and rewarding.

So consider your intentions. What behaviors do you wish to exhibit? Pick them very carefully, for they can help govern your existence. And that can be “good” or that might be “bad”.

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