Be Like a River: Live with Intention

awareness buddhism intention

Life Gets in the Way

For many of us, Intention is the hardest part. We know the consequences of our actions, and we have strong beliefs and values, but we falter when it comes to turning those into real action. It is easy to let life get in the way to throw us off track.

There is a Buddhist parable about the difference between a layperson's approach to life and that of an enlightened person. The layperson's journey through life can be likened to that of a pilgrim traveling through a strange land. He sets out determined to reach a particular temple, but along the way, he hears that there is a beautiful lake nearby. So he detours to visit the lake, convinced that it would be a shame to miss. On his way there, he meets pilgrims coming back who tell him that there are bandits that way, so he'd better not continue. Deciding it prudent, he turns back, and travels with his new companions for a while, until they pass a large town with its allure of new experiences. The pilgrim pushes back his intended goal with each detour. He eventually dies on the road, having gotten nowhere and making no progress towards his original destination.

The enlightened person, on the other hand, sets out for the same temple, and progresses unerringly towards it. Her intention is so strong that nothing--not danger, bandits, storms, or tempting detours--can persuade her to step off her path. She proceeds straight for her goal. If she should die along the way, her focus is such that her soul's next incarnation continues with her original quest, so that not even death can prevent her from accomplishing her desired end.

Obviously, the Buddhist belief in reincarnation impacts how you might read the parable, but the lesson is clear: there will always be distractions and dangers (real or perceived) to throw you off your track. Whether you actually get anywhere in life or spend your time on this Earth wandering aimlessly, always trying to make up for lost time, is largely a matter of how strong your Intention is.

Do What Needs Doing

More than Integrity and Awareness, Intention relies a lot on stubbornness, persistence, patience, willpower, hard work, sticktoitivness, or determination (choose your favorite term).

Sometimes, you simply have to say, "I intend to do this thing," and go out and make it happen, against all practicality.

Without Intention, we live life at the whim of fate and society. We are buffeted around by convenience and the path-of-least-resistance. Our life energy becomes dispersed, never focused enough to accomplish anything really significant.

Behind the Scenes Intention

Living with Intention doesn't always mean stubbornly ramming through any obstacles that arise. It is more subtle than pure determination. It requires some subtlety, intelligent planning, wisdom, and foresight, as well.

It also involves having the foresight not to get entangled in unwanted situations. If you know you cannot pursue your dreams with children, you owe it to yourself (and perhaps to them) to not take on that responsibility at an inappropriate time.

Intention also means making the best of your situation. If you accidentally do put yourself in a bad entanglement, that is not an excuse to simply throw your hands up and get blown around. You might be further off track than you would be otherwise, but you can still make progress towards your vision.

One thing I've always prided myself on is how little stock I put in my own whims. I've always been good at putting off rewards, ignoring my emotions and discomforts in order to get myself to do the things I believe in. In overcoming depression, I learned to displace myself from my feelings and what motivates me. I use a lot of little mental tricks to get myself to do what I want. If I did these things to other people, I would justifiably be called manipulative, but with myself, the end result is worth the effort.

So, living with Intention also requires that you get to know yourself: what drives you, what motivates you to work hard, what inspires you, and what triggers you to throw in the towel. Intention requires that you create an environment that encourages your own positive behavior, and that you put yourself in the state of mind and circumstances that empower you.

Doing that, requires some Awareness, and a good deal of Integrity.

(Photo credit: A Guy Taking Pictures on Flickr)