Intention: a journey without a destination
Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a wilderness about to set off on a journey. If you have a destination and you’re lucky enough to have a compass and a map, then you get started, and what’s uppermost in your mind is where you plan to go. If you find yourself in difficult terrain, your primary concern is how to get through it as quickly as possible, or even how to avoid it entirely. When you get to a high point, you will look out towards your destination with your binoculars to see if you can make it out over at the horizon. Wherever you are on your journey, your primary focus is on your destination, and only secondarily on where you happen to be right now.
Now, go back in your mind to standing in the middle of that wilderness. Only this time, you have no destination. But you do have a direction. You turn your body to face that particular direction, and you start walking. Now, your attitude to the difficult terrain is different. Since there’s no destination, you’re not in such a hurry. You take your steps more carefully. You might even begin to appreciate the landscape and realize that the terrain isn’t so difficult after all. You get to a high point, and pause to enjoy the view all around you. You begin to realize that every step of the path, no matter how difficult or tricky it appears, has value all of its own. Each time you turn a corner, you can marvel at what you see and what you hear. And because you chose your direction to begin with, you can also feel that every step is worthwhile. Each step takes you in that direction. So you can stop trying so hard. No matter which step you take, it’s the right one. There’s no hurry. There’s no frustration. There is only the view from the current step, and you know that a different view, a different moment on the path, will arise with the next step.
This setting of direction without an ultimate goal is the true meaning of intention. As I described in the previous post, setting a goal is equivalent to wanting something, wanted to arrive at a certain place, which immediately causes you to experience your journey in a different way. But intention isn’t about goal-setting or about wanting. It’s about shifting your direction and then letting yourself go forward at your own natural pace.
Set your intention… then stop trying
Which leads to an important implication about intention. Once you have set your intention, you can stop trying. In fact – now this might be a difficult one to swallow so take a deep breath – once you’ve set your intention, the very best thing you can do for yourself is to stop trying. Because trying is like focusing all your attention on that destination – you will miss most of the value of your journey because you’re never satisfied where you are right now. In fact, it’s when you stop trying, when you become totally and completely satisfied with the particular place you are in your journey at this moment in time that – magically – you are already at your destination. You are exactly where you wanted to be, but thought you could never get there. Once you have set your intention and you’ve really stopped trying, each step on that spiritual path is its own destination.
You already are who you truly intend to be.
This is the most wonderful and liberating thing about intention: you already are who you truly intend to be. All you need to do is to realize it. To truly realize it through the entire structure of your being. To realize that you can actually choose to be who you really are. Which means shedding those constructs within you that have been blocking you from being your true, lovable self. To understand how this is the case, you need to remember that your intention arose originally from that warmly comforting sense of goodness you glimpsed, at some point in your life, deep within your being. It’s a sense you once had that everything was all right, that love is all around you. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to have experienced that frequently in your life. Or maybe you haven’t felt it since you were a little child, and were being held in your mother’s arms. But it’s there, deep within you, and ultimately it’s your intention to get back to that place of love, and to bask in its warmth more consistently.
The reason I can say that with such conviction is that ultimately, we all have the same intention, even though we might all express it differently. Our ultimate intention is to be at peace with ourselves. To love ourselves. To love ourselves unconditionally. For many people, that intention seems so far out there that they’re willing to settle for lesser intentions. “My intention is to stop getting on my own case for not being good enough,” one person might say. “My intention is to overcome my anger,” another person might say. Or “My intention is to have more courage to be who I am.” But ultimately, we all have the same intention of loving ourselves, all the parts of ourselves, even those parts that seem unlovable. To live in the glow of that inner light that we once glimpsed at some time past, and that we would like to have shining within us all the time.
Here’s the thing: that inner light is already within you. All you need to do is to shed the various layers that block it and cause it to be so rarely seen. And when you try so hard to be someone you’re not, all you are really doing is laying down more blockages that prevent your own inner light from shining out.
But all this is not to say that it’s OK to be complacent about yourself, to ignore your spiritual path altogether, to maintain your conditioned responses to things and tell yourself “I’m already there so there’s nothing I need to do.” When you do this, you’re just lying to yourself. You might be pretending to have intention, but you’re not really trying to find that inner light. It’s as though you’re in that wilderness, and rather than step forward into your chosen direction, you keep walking in place, stepping in your own footsteps again and again. That’s an understandable thing to do if you’re scared to go forward into the unknown. At least if you step in your own footsteps, they will seem comforting and safe to you. But you will never discover the possibilities in your life, you will never get to experience the full potential of the path your human existence has made available to you.
You can look inside yourself and know if you have true intention. If you do, you will find that you begin to do things differently in your life. They may not be huge things at first, because your life is probably already filled with previous commitments, and it’s difficult to turn it around overnight. But you will suddenly decide to take one night a week and do that thing you were thinking about but never quite got around to it. A meditation or yoga class, perhaps. Or is it a dance class or a writer’s workshop? Something that feels to you like it’s offering you more of your own light. And it might not seem radical or revolutionary, but it’s a step. A step in the right direction. It’s your intention.
Intention permits you to be kind to every part of yourself
Imagine a circle that’s not completely closed. That’s a bit like how we view ourselves. We might love parts of ourselves, but then there are those other parts that we can’t stand – those are like the open part of the circle. If we could only change those other parts, then the circle would be closed. Then, we could love ourselves completely. Intention is like a dotted line that closes the circle. It may not yet be a fully unbroken line, but it has set down a track, and the rest of the line can be drawn in as time goes along.
And having that intention offers a wonderful gift to you. It gives you a reason now to be kind to yourself. The next time you start going through that cycle in your head that says: “I’m so screwed up. I hate myself because I’m always so [fill in the blank],” another, kinder voice can answer back: “Actually, you know what, you’re not so screwed up after all. Your intention is really good. You’re doing what you can for your self. If you still have conditioned behavior, that’s OK, because your intention is to overcome it and to truly love yourself for who you are.”
And with intention, you can now allow some kindness for yourself along with all that self-criticism And you can rest with that, and begin a cycle of kindness within your being. And nothing is more important for happiness within you than that kindness. Which is going to be the subject of my next blog post.