[[this was posted originally on 11 May 2012 to the old ThatThinkYouDo blog. I’m resurrecting it here for some friends.]]
I’ve been studying people who are “living with intention” for about twenty-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.
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.