I walked aimlessly into a bookstore in Central London. I was dazed, punch-drunk from what had been happening to me. The company I had built had already crashed and burned a couple of years earlier. Now, the person I had devoted my life to, whose love had been the core, underlying meaning of my existence, had turned into someone unrecognizable. The love that had been the foundation of my entire value system had disintegrated on me, and that value system had come crashing down like a shattered bell jar.
But for some strange reason, I wasn’t feeling as bad as I should have been. There was a sense of freedom arising in me, a hazy beacon of potential liberation glimmering through the fog. I just wasn’t sure where it was pointing to. I looked around the bookstore, dazzled by the countless books about everything in the universe, and I let my feet lead me where they wanted. I found myself in a section of the bookstore I’d never frequented before – the Spirituality section. Before too long, I was at the cash register, walking out with books on yoga and meditation – subjects about which I knew virtually nothing. I had no idea at the time, but this moment was the beginning of an entirely new direction in my life – a direction that has brought me to who I truly am, to a place of love for my self and for others. As I look back on that moment roughly seven years ago, I am profoundly grateful to that person who pulled those books off the shelf. He knew they contained something important within them. But he just wasn’t sure what it was. That was the seed of my intention. The beginning of the spiritual path that I have been traveling on ever since, with ever increasing joy.
Intention is the beginning of your spiritual path
Intention plays a crucial role in anyone’s spiritual path. In fact, I would say that in some ways it’s the most important part of the entire path, because it’s the beginning of it. You’ve stepped through the entrance gate to your spiritual path when your want turns into intention.
Everybody wants stuff for themselves. People might want to feel secure, loved or powerful. They might want to get rid of their self-hatred about aspects of themselves. They might feel these things, but that doesn’t put them on a spiritual path. Many people spend their entire lifetime wishing they were different, all the way to their dying breath. But they never intended to be different. The thing is, wishing you were different from who you are should not be confused with intending to be different. In fact, the difference between the two is so extreme, that in some ways wanting is the opposite of intending. When you want to be something, then by definition you are not whatever it is you want to be. A want is the lack of something. If I want to be happy, that is because I’m not happy right now. If I was already happy, then I wouldn’t want it.
But intention is different from all that. Intention begins with a recognition, no matter how faint, of something within you that feels good, even if it’s only for a moment. There’s something deep inside, only a glimmer perhaps, but something that emanates a feeling of warmth, love and goodness within you. It’s an unforgettable moment, because it feels so good. You may not remember the specifics of the moment, but you remember the felt sensation. You remember that, for that moment, you felt good about yourself. For that moment, you loved your self. And when you form an intention for your self, it is ultimately an intention to feel that experience again, to feel it on a more consistent basis. You may not verbalize your intention in that way, but that’s ultimately want you want.
Intention begins with the realization that you can choose who to be.
That recognition of something so good within yourself is only the precursor of intention. The moment intention arises within you is the moment that you recognize that you can actually choose who you will be. You can actually choose to become someone who feels that goodness more of the time, perhaps even all of the time. At that moment of intention, a voice arises in you that says “I intend to feel more of that goodness I recognize in myself.” And now you are setting out on a path. A journey to become who you already are, deep inside your self. A journey that involves shedding the layers of conditioned behaviors and responses that have grown around you, and that have blocked you from recognizing your true self, from feeling that connection and love with your inner being.
There’s something about journeys, though, that needs a little more discussion. Most journeys that we take in our day-to-day existence have destinations. And the goal of the journey is to get to that destination, usually as quickly and directly as possible. And when you set out with that goal, the journey can become quite miserable if you get blocked from achieving it. We all know the misery of being stuck in traffic on the freeway when we need to get somewhere by a particular time. And we all know the frustration we feel when we take a wrong turn and get lost because we’re trying to get to some place we’ve never been before. When you begin your spiritual journey with intention, it might seem that it’s similar to beginning a journey with a destination, but that’s actually not the case. And one of the causes of suffering that many people experience is precisely because they think they have a destination on their spiritual path, and therefore get frustrated when they never seem to be getting any closer to that destination, or even feel that they got lost on the way.
So how can you be on a spiritual path if it doesn’t have a destination? That’s what we’ll explore in the next post.