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Intentions have great power. In order to harness this power, we must first understand what intention ...
2021-04-19 09:00:00
healthy living

With Good Intentions
On Cultivating Mindful Intention

Drawing from the archives (no. 885/1962)
With Good Intentions
With Good Intentions

For the intention to act to form in our brains, a sense of freedom, will and need must first emerge. It is good if we can recognize each of these.

Read in 4 minutes

As a psychologist, I often wonder what the reasons are behind human behaviour. What processes take place before we act in a certain way? One of the more enigmatic elements of the decision-making process is intention – a seed in our mind, the starting point of all other things. But where does this intention come from? Is there anything that enables or impedes it? What is its use?

In order to understand what an intention is, it is worth examining in chronological order how a decision is formed. Here, our inner sense of freedom is always the starting point. Without it, no decision-making process can take place – whether conscious or not. Second comes will, which is the feeling of knowing that we want something, but we don’t know yet what that might be. Will – contrary to common vernacular – is neither good nor bad. It is the accumulation of pure energy, a potential that we can target in a certain direction. If we consider will as the ability to act consciously and purposefully, then we must simultaneously recognize that, like any other skill, we can either cultivate or neglect it. I consider this extremely important. I think we are rarely aware of this and do not work on strengthening this inner energy of ours often enough.

The third stage is the emergence of a need – a moment of conscious thought- and emotional processes. Need, understood as the sense of lack or non-fulfilment, belongs to the ego, or the part of our personality that relates to the subjective sense of our ‘I’.

Once a person goes through the phases of freedom, will and need, an intention (a motive, a need-induced impulse to act) or a goal can emerge. The question of intention can seem complicated and elusive. On the one hand, it relates to the ego, or the part of personality that is responsible for satisfying our needs; on the other hand, it relates to freedom of choice and the very essence of our being. Intention is what gives character to our will and needs and renders them either kind or envious.

Dangerous good intentions

The problem is that our intentions aren’t always conscious. Sometimes they mask previous hurt and feed on denial. Without understanding our intentions, we may have difficulty taking responsibility for our actions. When a person, unaware of their true needs transformed into intentions, begins ‘doing good’, things can get scary. We have seen how such noble deeds turned out in the past: this is how religious cults and totalitarian states come into existence.

Intentions – after all, they always relate to the fulfilment of our own needs – more or less make us oblivious to the needs of others. A mother who overfeeds her child wants the best for them, because she cares about their health. Meanwhile, the consequences of her efforts may turn out quite the opposite.

What’s more, when someone acts on an intention that they perceive to be good and noble, it means an evaluation took place. Morals and values come into play. Thanks to them, we can judge what is good and what is bad, beneficial or harmful. However, it is quite easy to forget that such estimation is just our opinion – it can never be objective, because it will have always been filtered through our subjective views.

The problem doesn’t lie in intentions themselves, but rather the misconstruction of needs and, later, their inadequate implementation. We must always remember that whatever we think is only our intentions. We mustn’t impose them on anyone, even if we think they are the best intentions in the world. Even if we want to help someone, cure someone, or protect them from misfortune, we mustn’t do so without their consent.

Another thing: the unfulfilled needs that precede our intentions are merely an expression of a lack of acceptance of reality. They reflect a desire for change. It appears to us that we know best how things should be, but none of us can predict the consequences of highly complex actions. Since intention always relates to the future, it is empty – it conveys what is not there. In this sense, intentions maintain the illusion that we have a bearing on the future. They substitute a realistic view of the present – the only thing that is truly given to us. Looking to the future always diverts us from our present life, from the here and now.

Thought equals action

Let us complicate the issue even further and consider whether the mere manifestation of intentions in our thoughts already constitutes change? If we assume that reality is more than its material manifestation, the answer is probably yes. The presence of intentions in the mind is combined with a change in energy. This is not as enigmatic as it sounds. The easiest way to understand this is to observe the change in energy level when looking at our relationship with someone else. For better or worse, we are able to judge whether their intentions towards us are good or bad – even if the communication is non-verbal.

On the one hand, intentions can lead us on with illusions, but on the other hand – because of their connection to ego – they enable us to be who we want to be. Conscious and thoughtful intentions allow us to take responsibility for our life and ourselves. Our individuality also allows us to do what is most important in life: to uncover our true nature and take responsibility for it. Some might also say that this allows us to find and fulfil our talents, recognize our fate and follow it.

Intentions have great power. When we place everything that we think, feel and desire into a given moment, we can grasp the essence of life. Without mindful intentions, this will not be possible. We cannot live our life without this. To live by our intentions means to take responsibility for what we live for.


Translated from the Polish by Joanna Figiel

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