Every morning at the end of my meditation, timed by the Insight Timer app, I respond to any messages from companion meditators — little notes of ‘Thank you for meditating with me.’ This is such a sweet feature of the app, reminding us we are not alone in our practice, even though we are sitting alone in our homes. Most days there are a few messages, but on January 1st there were dozens! That is Intention in action
A new year, and especially a new decade, makes people set the intention to begin, and hopefully continue, with daily meditation since the science is in: It works! May they all keep that intention alive and well throughout the year. But wise intentions aren’t just for the start of a new year.
We are deep into our exploration of the Noble Eightfold Path, the Buddha’s prescription for what ails us all. We have been looking at Wise View intensively because it is the touchstone the other aspects refer back to again and again. All eight aspects together enable us to live with wisdom, skillfulness, ease and deep appreciation.
What is Wise Intention?
It is not a goal. A goal is a desired result set in the future. A wise intention is alive in this moment. It is a beneficial way of being in relationship to all that arises in our experience.
Each time we sit to meditate, we set the intention to be present in this moment and to be compassionate with ourselves when we discover we haven’t been present at all. Each time we discover we aren’t present and each time we notice we’re being rude to ourselves, we simply reset our intention…again and again and again.
Beyond meditation we still maintain the intention we have practiced in our sitting practice: To be fully present in this moment just as it is, cultivating compassionate awareness rooted in Wise View, the understanding that there is no separate self we need to defend and fortify; and impermanence is the nature of all matter and our tendency to wish it otherwise causes suffering.
The Reset Button
Unlike New Year’s Resolutions that get broken and discarded, Wise Intention is like a reset button that is always available in every moment. We don’t have to give up or wallow in remorse. We just get right back into awareness and compassion.
Part of our practice of awareness is discovering that we even have a reset button. Who knew? We can get so caught up in the urgency of desire that we don’t recognize that we have the ability to pause, stand down from the craving with a physical release of accumulated tension, and then recenter ourselves in this moment just as it is. Voila! Now we can remember our wise intention and reset it. All of this without any self recriminations.
Not all our intentions are wise
We operate from intentions all the time, just not necessarily wise ones. In any given moment, but especially when we are feeling troubled or are about to do something unskillful, we can ask, What is my intention here? Such a skillful question to ask ourselves! It allows us to shift into more skillful behavior.
Learning from our mistakes
It’s obviously preferable to pause and check in with our intention in advance of being unskillful, but even afterwards, wondering how things turned out so badly, we can ask, What was my intention there? We can learn from our mistakes rather than habitually repeating them. One thing we can be sure of is that if things turned sour, our intention was rooted in fear. That fear comes from the assumption that we are separate and permanent. As we have been exploring in Wise View, neither is true. So an intention rooted in fear will activate unskillful behavior causing suffering for ourselves and others.
The intention to live with integrity
Although most of us think of the word integrity as moral uprightness, integrity also means wholeness. Most of us were raised to feel that morals are rules imposed from external sources and that to stray from living by these rules brings about punishment and even eternal damnation.
But if we live from a deep awareness of the wholeness of all life and care for all life from that awareness, then we are living with true integrity. That shift changes everything in how we go about our lives. Think of the difference between thinking: I better not do that because I’ll get in trouble, or knowing that: Doing harm to any being is the same as harming myself because we are all of a piece.
When we are fully present in this moment we can feel that sense of wholeness, and quite naturally compassion arises. We can delight in any perceived differences as interesting variations in the fabric of life without getting caught up in overly identifying with the particular thread we’re weaving. Can we see the beauty of the whole and celebrate our co-creation?
If our awareness is anchored in Wise View, feeling the joy of being alive in this integral experience of this moment, then we radiate a warm fearlessness that puts others at ease around us. They sense we are not a threat to them because our intentions are not fear-based, so they can relax and perhaps discover the joy of awareness as well. We are not forced like Atlas of Greek mythology to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. But that’s often how we feel when life just gets too much. When we live with integrity, that deeper understanding based in Wise View, then the world feels more buoyant and supportive, a dynamic field of interactivity.
Wise View & Wise Intention work together
These two aspects of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path work hand in hand. Wise View without Wise Intention could create a practice and a life that is more spacey than spacious. Wise Intention adds a level of precision, mindfulness and active engagement.
You might think of it this way: It’s a bit like playing an instrument in an orchestra. Your life is the instrument you’ve been given. Wise View lets you see that your instrument is part of a great orchestra, and you have the opportunity to co-create this unique symphony, never to be repeated. Wise Intention tunes your instrument. Without Wise View, there is no symphony. Without tuning of Wise Intention, the music is discordant.
What makes an intention wise?
As meditators and Buddhist practitioners, our intention is three-fold:
- Develop a regular practice of meditation.
- Attend to the present moment, both in our meditation and in our lives.
- Cultivate infinite loving-kindness for ourselves and all life.
In the practice of meditation, it is Wise Intention that brings us back again and again to the breath or other sensation, anchoring us in the present moment. In our daily lives, Wise Intention reminds us to be grounded in Wise View, to be kinder in our interactions and more present for this rich experience of living.