Importance of Intent

It has been said that your actions are not what matters, but the intention behind the actions is where the real value lies. And in our training of non-judgment, this is probably the most important place to apply the saying.

Intent is the meaning behind what you do. If a man takes a sharp knife and cuts someone, it’s not the act that is good or bad – it’s the intent. The good intent is the doctor using this sharp knife to save a life; the bad intent is the attacker wishing to inflict bodily harm.

What is Your Intent?

It’s important to take a deep look at your own intentions. A very powerful exercise is to ask yourself, “What is my intent here?” For example, when you walk into a room at a social event, “What is my intent?” Am I here to enjoy myself and just let the night flow? Is my intent to find someone specifically to forward my agenda? Am I unsure of my intent and slightly confused what to do next? Is my intent to be seen and allow the world to know I am here? And so on. Most intentions break down to 3 areas:

  1. Intention of Desire
  2. Intent of Aversion
  3. Intent of Confusion

Desire is seeking something you don’t have: a person (soul mate), a goal (business success), or etc. In western society we have many of these intentions – unhealthily so.

Aversion is where we look to put space between ourselves and the other, mostly manifesting in our judgment where we say to ourselves (or even out loud), “Oh gosh, just look at that person… what a _____(fill in blank).” And we already know how poor a perception that creates. Especially in times of conflict, we tend to go here as it gives us greater standing in our small ego mind that “we are right” or feel better than the other with an opposing opinion or way of being.

Confusion is just as it sounds. It’s a lack of real, thoughtful intention and tends to set us back to unconscious autopilot, where we start to do what everyone else is doing. Or wander a bit aimlessly. Or just react to whatever comes our way, whether a person at a social event, or a feeling/emotion that arises.

It’s when these emotions/feelings arise in difficult times that we must get very clear with our intentions. It becomes very easy in modern-day society to fuel reactive aversion intentions and begin to go deep down the rabbit hole of protecting that line of fixed judgment thinking.

When we start to examine our intentions it can be quite an eye opener. For example, you might ask, “What is my intention in responding to this email I don’t like very much?” You might then see that your intention is to defend yourself, or put so and so in their place or to shut them down. Not where we want to be, right?

Many times it gets even more frightening, as our intentions that stem from anger, resentment or deep frustration are actually born from harm. “I’ll make sure he never does that again” or “We’ll see how she feels after I…” We may not say it too loud in our conscious mind, but subconsciously or subtly behind the actions are very harmful intentions. Here we must really examine and go deeper into why we feel so harmed. Even a second opinion from a trusted friend or therapist may be needed. So if your intention in that moment is harmful, it’s important to pause and give it time to pass until you can come from a more openhearted place.

We’ll want to dig deeper whenever we fall outside of one of the most important tenants of mindfulness, non-harming actions.

Intention Judgment

So many times in life we impugn another’s intent. Usually from a place of lacking much, if any, first hand knowledge of intent. Therefore we create a story that fits what seem to be logical conclusions, at least in our mind, but in more cases than not, they’re totally incorrect. This is the beginning of a problem.

We must act with care. With the intention of judging begins a deep and hurtful process that becomes more tightly wound as we view that person or event through this initial “intention assumption” lens. So many of life’s arguments, fights, and wars amongst societies lie in this miscommunication and assumption of intent. We must seek the answer, not our interpretation.

Both our own intentions and our judgment of others’ intentions need to be examined, if only for a few short seconds.

Karma of Intent

Lastly, I’ll note that if your intentions are good then your Karma will be too. This one thing we cannot escape. The ever-powerful energy of the universe. So when you put out good intentions, even if the action is received poorly by the world, you can sleep well knowing the bigger cycle of life will come full circle.

Be pure about your intentions and find the peace of mind that gives a great space for allowing and accepting all the great unforeseen fortunes that life has to offer. In nearly every transition from one moment/situation in life to another, you can examine your intentions. It’s a beautiful way to slow down a bit. To observe yourself, your wild and chaotic mind and be more deliberate about your actions. To stop before you walk into that next meeting and say, “OK, so what are my intentions with this meeting?” or pause before making a phone call and ask, ‘What do I really intend here?” This is why text, email and instant messaging are so dangerous to our human connection. We type and reply so fast to the stimulus of the preceding message, we don’t even stop to think. And many times that causes unnecessary pain and suffering for others.

In the mindfulness world, we would begin to seek intentions of kindness, of compassion and of understanding (or wanting to understand). As the old fable goes, the prince asked his head lieutenant to find a person of pure good in the kingdom. Weeks later the lieutenant explains that he cannot find such a person. Many have good intentions, and have done wonderful things, but none are pure. And so the prince asks another lieutenant to find a person of pure evil. Many weeks later the lieutenant returns empty-handed, saying that he cannot find such a person in all the land. There are many that have done evil deeds but most are done out of confusion, past hurt or misguided intentions, none from pure evil.

The point is, we all have different backgrounds, pasts and challenges, and our actions stem from so much of our history that when left unexamined, they can both be good and evil but never pure. So we leave our judgment at the door and offer a hand of compassion to forgive all, “for we know not what we do” in many cases, as our intentions have not been properly examined before the action.

Find Your Intention

So in your challenging, big moments of truth and your small day-to-day moments of life, we need to take short moment of awareness. A moment to be honest, look deep and make sure it is real. Then a moment to ask: “What are my intentions?”

You may be surprised by the answer.

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