Many of us spend our days awake, but following the usual patterns we have developed over the years. We move from task to task, doing the tasks at home, on the computer and mobile, at work on autopilot. We act as though we have no choice, but this is not true. We can build an Intentional Life, a life in which everything is done with a conscious intention. Actually, when we look more deeply, many of the things we do have some kind of hidden intention. Washing the dishes, making our bed, walking to work, eating, reading a book… all of those small acts always have an underlying intention. However, when we repeat these actions every day, our conscious awareness of these underlying intentions fade into the background so that we are hardly aware of them.
What would happen if we were very aware of the intention of our actions? How would this transform our actions and our lives?
Intentions are thoughts or impulses that lead to behavior. The resulting behavior can be conscious or unconscious. When our intentions remain unconscious, we can end up “passing” through life instead of “living” life. Intention determines “why” we do something. Intention gives meaning to our actions and marks direction in the way we think, feel and act in the world.The intention behind our actions is like an invisible force — a thought, decision or impulse — that sets us moving in one direction or another. When we stop to understand what the intention behind it is, we are able to prevent a behavior that may be unhealthy and result in more distress for ourselves or others.
For example, let’s say it’s 10 PM and you are still at work, trying to finish a report that was given to you because another department is short on staff. You’re upset with yourself because you didn’t set limits with your boss. It’s 10:00pm, and your husband keeps texting, asking when you’ll arrive home. And suddenly you find yourself walking in zombie mode to the office refrigerator and nibbling on the piece of cake left over from your colleague’s birthday celebration. If you can pause, and become aware of how upset you are by the task assigned, you may be able to notice, even choose your intention before opening the refrigerator. Perhaps your intention is to eat something that will give you energy to continue until you get home? Perhaps you wish to eat to sweeten the bitter time you are going through? Or to comfort yourself when you are alone at the office and cannot be at home with those you love? Or perhaps you are feeling rebellious, and just want to say to hell with it and just indulge in the pleasures of the mouth. But later you will feel worse and end up recriminating yourself for your “lack of will” and the inner critical voice will remind you of what a disaster you are. This may make you eat for comfort again — beginning a cycle that goes round and round endlessly.
In all three cases the action can be the same, eating a piece of cake, but the intention completely changes how you can live with the result.
Each time we delay the unconscious reactions and impulses that arise in the face of inner unrest, we increase our ability to be present with what is unpleasant. We strengthen the muscle of contentment and inner strength. This increases the possibility of choice. And this is the true definition of freedom. Without consciousness there is no choice, only habitual reactions. Within consciousness there is choice, and choice can bring freedom from suffering.
As you sit down to eat, consider: What is my intention for when I pull open the refrigerator door? What is my intention for my meditation practice? What is my intention when I think about signing up for the gym this season?
Cuca Azinovic, Spain