This post originally appeared in two parts on the original ThatThinkYouDo blog, resurrected to the new ThatThinkYouDo, and then the ExpandedAwareness blog. I’m reposting it here as a single entry for a friend.
I’ve been studying people who are “living with intention” for about thirty-five years now. Originally I found them due to my cultural anthropology studies. Now I’m finding a few of them in the modern world.
“Living with intention?” you ask. “What does that mean, exactly?”
Hmm…the simple answer is “Living with Intention means paying attention to everything you do” and that’s so weak, so minimal, that only a western trained mind would offer it, so I apologize.
It means being in the moment…while appreciating (not quite, not exactly. English is limited in its ability to express this concept. Or I am limited in my ability to express this concept)…feeling?…every moment that came before you and will come after you.
It means doing whatever you’re doing as if it the fate of the universe hung in the balance…while being able to laugh at yourself regardless of the outcome.
It means focusing all your attention on each individual task…while being aware of everything else that’s going on around you (and recognizing that “around you” can be very, very big).
It means taking complete and ultimate joy in everything you do…while understanding it may be the last thing that you do.
It means being aware of everything going on around, in and through you each and every moment…and being at peace with it — not necessarily enjoying it or hating it, just being at peace with it, accepting it (because there’s a difference between liking something and accepting something).
And this list gets longer and longer and longer the more I attempt to put into words what can only happen deep inside the individual (because part of intention is being able to keep two completely opposite thoughts in your mind simultaneously, penecontemporaneously).
As one of my teachers said to me, “I can help you find your door. Only you can open your door and walk through. But walking through, there’s no walking back.”
Brushing your teeth. Pay attention to what you’re doing. To how you’re doing it. Be aware of the feel of the brush in your hand and the bristles on your teeth and the taste of the toothpaste and the brush’s movement on your gums and … and be so aware of the fact that you’re doing all this that it becomes a game to you, something to delight in, something to rejoice in, something to be thankful for, to be prayerful about.
But those last words imply something religious and nothing about being intentful is religious. Sufis live with intent but sufism isn’t religious in philosophy, only as it is practiced by some.
Some will read this and think, “Oh, Zen,” and while lots of zen practitioners live with intent the former doesn’t imply the latter. Some will think “Oh, Yin Yang” and to think that demonstrates not knowing, a lack of understanding.
Where does a wise person hide a leaf?
Some of the people I’ve studied have been Catholic, some Baptist, some Lutheran, some Evangelical, some Jewish, some agnostic, some pagan, some aboriginal, some Sufi, some shamanic, some Hindi, some Muslim, some native american, some Buddhist, some …
I have noticed commonalities. Regardless of anything else, they’re all remarkable listeners. They’re all remarkably patient, kind and giving. They all have incredible boundaries. They’re self-aware in ways most people can’t imagine.
Imagine kissing someone simultaneously passionately and casually, kind of like kissing your partner when you see each other, a gentle “hello I missed you today” kiss, yet having all your feelings about that person, all your desires and hopes for them, all your wanting of them, delivered in that little, possibly public kiss.
I’m writing this and recognizing that I could be writing this with intention, too.
Everything slows down. I focus on each word, each phrase, each expression. I recognize what’s important before I type the words themselves.
I focus on what I’m doing so I can also focus on what you’re doing. Will you slow down? Will you read with intent?
When you wake up tomorrow, will your first thoughts be that the day is yours, completely yours, to do with what you will, truly Carpe Diem and that your first thoughts dictate whether you seize the day or the day seizes you?
I have been practicing living with intent. It’s not easy for me. I screw up quite a bit and blame it on this modern world. Yet I know others who are living intentionally and are in this same modern world I am in; they’re not living in communities where everyone is devoted to intentional living and each person helps each other person live intentionally.
For myself, the moments when I do it are like the best physical exercise — a definite sense of exertion along with a sense of fulfillment, of well being, of peace. An endorphin rush for the mind, emotions and spirit.
Living with intention takes commitment. And acceptance. I accept that my mistakes are merely part of appreciating my commitment to living with intention. From those I study I know that the recognizable commitment fades because the commitment becomes part of the intent.
Where does a wise person hide a pebble? On a beach. Where does a wise person hide a leaf? In a forest.
I’ve been living with intention for six years now.
Correct that: I have been living with conscious intention for six years now.
Or correct that: I have consciously been living…
I have been consciously living…
The above are not edits, these are attempts to use language to describe what I do not yet have language for. Each sentence has a slightly different meaning, each slightly different meaning fails to reveal the whole that I mean.
Living with Intention is challenging. The challenge is both frustrating — when I allow it to be — and rewarding — when I allow it to be. Living with Intention is the razor’s edge Maugham wrote about.
Part of living with intention means slowing myself down to the point that the universe stops moving around me. Or maybe moving so quickly that I move with the universe, hence remain fixed in it. Phrased differently, Living with Intention means recognizing that you are a verb and can only become a noun through effort.
I pay more attention to what I eat. I pay more attention to my eating. I take time to savor whatever goes in my mouth (and whatever comes out). I find that paying attention to the tastes allows me to taste more of them, to become aware of subtleties that I didn’t know were there yet obviously were, waiting for me to experience them.
As my awareness expands, my calmness grows. I find myself more restful while being readier (for anything) than I’ve ever been before (that I remember, anyway).
I discover selves I no longer need or can comfortably use. I thank them for their efforts and invite them to rest.
I’m now 64 years old, I was taught these things in my teens and early twenties and I’m just beginning to understand that it was Living with Intention that my teachers were talking about.
I practice guitar differently now than I did…even months ago. Once the recognition of intention is made, it grows and encompasses everything. At least for me. Practicing (anything) was a chore at some times, an obligation. “I have to practice x minutes/hours each day.”
For whom? That’s the question Living with Intention causes me to ask now.
I focus more on the individual movements of my fingers. The movements become natural, fluid, far faster, more elegant than they were in the past. I laugh at my mistakes (that alone takes practice). Recognizing that they’re simply mistakes comes from living with intent.
I recognize that I’ve lost my focus when things frustrate me. I remind myself, slow down. Relax. Learn what the frustration comes from. Deal with that, not with this. This is the agent that reveals. Thank it, go on, continue.
Relationships take both less and more work. I question my motives for interacting with people, both as individuals and as groups. I don’t question their motives, only my own. In questioning my own motives, in understanding my own goals, I realize and understand theirs more clearly, more cleanly, more obviously, more quickly and easily than I did before.
I question more because questioning more leads to more understanding. And questioning. my own. What is my goal with them? What is my desired outcome? Do I want to be friends? Am I capable of friendship? Is that person capable of reciprocating in a way that I’ll be satisfied with the exchange? Did they fail or did I set them up for failure by creating an expectation they couldn’t meet? What shall I do if I recognize that this relationship will never be what I want it to be? And then recognize it’s easier to end that relationship than continue being dissatisfied with the interactions.
Because I’m paying attention more, because I’m doing things consciously and that means more and more of what I do becomes non-conscious.
But part of Living with Intention involves becoming more aware of what I do non-consciously, discovering which of my behaviors are in conflict with my desires and why and what I can do to resolve those conflicts.
I exercise differently. I’m more aware of my movements, of my limits, my goals shift, my reasons for exercising become more self-directed than other-directed.
And I learn to be increasingly honest with myself. Even when self-honesty, the necessary sister of self-realization, hurts.
Learning to be a noun means learning to be a gerund because there are times when the energy around you is different from (unequal to?) your own and you must match it before you can work with it. Intentionally
Writing this, I recognize my strengths and weaknesses. I focus my intention on what is obvious to me because the obvious is easiest to recognize, but “the obvious” means “the surface” that I haven’t integrated into myself such that it exists and is unknown, unrecognized.
It is the unknown, the unrecognized, that truly requires my focus, my intention, because the unknown and unrecognized that are parts of who I am are the most dangerous to both myself and others.