You are what your deepest desire is.
As your desire is, so is your intention.
As your intention is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
An amazing quote from the Upanishads, a Hindu text – it connects desire (deep yearning), intention (forethought), willpower (restraint or ability to act), action (deed) to destiny (future/result).
The sankalpa, intention for the new year has two separate ideas; – one, setting an intention as a goal; which we learnt how to in the previous post. We discovered sankalpa, intention – a gentle sibling to resolution, conveys a similar meaning but is more compassionate and achievable. It helps us to be patient with our mistakes, mindful of our expectations and forgiving with our indulgences.
The second idea of sankalpa is the thought and emotion behind the goal. We must understand that a true sankalpa is not set at the surface; it is a thought, that is born from deep within. This thought is continually coaxing one to explore not just the goal, but also the exact emotion behind which the intention was created. This idea is difficult to dissect, hard to practice and harder to reflect on paper. So, here goes nothing.
According to Paramahamsa Yogananda, between desire/intention (see quote) and destiny, there is free will and action. For example, here is an intention we might make – “I am going to exercise at the gym 3 days a week to lose weight.” Let’s attempt to dissect why this intention is important to us.
Here, intention as a goal is to lose weight. Acting upon it, we choose exercise. Deciding to go to the gym 3 days a week we thought might help establish a routine, hoping this routine will give birth to a healthy habit. The result – weight loss, perhaps fitness as well. Is it possible that choosing to act via exercise means you want to honor your body with the gift of long term health? If it is, then, isn’t this your “true intention”? Does this sound like an realistic ‘thought’ behind your goal?
There’s no question whether or not an intention exists in everyday interactions. More importantly, are we aware of this intention? An intention as forethought, exists for every action; meaning – behind every action there exists an intention of thought to execute, to will the act to happen. For the goal of intention to succeed it must be set in motion. There must be some energy that lights the spark of effort. Then, intention – through the ability of will, becomes the power that fuels the thought into action. This is the source from which a true sankalpa, is born. An intention, then can be viewed as a thought behind a thought, or the thought that powers a thought. It is not easy to intellectualize this thought process.
Gurus and yogis say that primary intention, a singular thought is having the Highest Purpose, God or the yogic union, Samadhi, alone as our object of intention – free from all self-centered interests amidst living with integrity. However, to attain this primary intention, they prescribe a path strewn with many secondary intentions.
Secondary Intentions are many smaller intentions that are needed to achieve the primary intention. It is similar to having many short term goals for one long term goal. Eknath Easwaran says that the mind is habitually distracted and divided, filled with forgetfulness of the Divine. Secondary Intentions are those baby steps you choose to act upon and practice constantly until you become habituated in spiritual remembrance. Being able to set smaller intentions through ongoing reflection using the tools of Raja Yoga helped to enable my practice of policing intentions.
Many teachers say it can be a learning experience to bring your intention to the surface after an event. How many times have we regretted an action after the fact and wished we had done things differently? I have a long list. Here, spiritual teachers say it is more enlightening to create a positive intention before an interaction so that it can guide us in empowering actions. This takes immense practice, for we usually move about our daily activities on autopilot. Even then, there always happens to be that one intention in an important interaction that is unfortunately overlooked.
Everyday intentions are a mixture of selfish and selfless thoughts. These thoughts lead us to act on behalf of ourselves or our family and friends, co-workers and even strangers. They may be routine thoughts and actions that we operate on autopilot or thoughts set at an instant due a reaction to a situation or event. Often it so happens that a primary intention is good, but it is spoilt by a secondary intention which is not so good or imperfect.
For instance, I agree to babysit my neighbor’s kid (primary intention) because I want her to return the favor (secondary intention). Or am I covering a peer’s yoga class with an intention that she will cover mine when I need help? Or should I hold the elevator door open for the next person or let them take the next one? Should I take the last loaf of sourdough bread in the bakery aisle, instead to giving it to the mother of 2 waiting in line for a fresh batch? Wait – there is more. Should I stop to help pick up the fallen boxes of tissues knocked down by a senior’s grocery cart? Should I tell the customer service desk that a Chevy Malibu has its lights on in the parking lot? The list is endless. We have all been in similar situations at least once.
Is there a right or wrong answer to these questions? Only we know our motive, the state of consciousness we are in – i.e., are we truly in a hurry or do we have the time to clarify our motives before we act? The instant you answer this question, then the decision to act will happen accordingly. When you know what your true intention is, that knowledge alone activates the power of intention. Spiritual intentions then, are well thought-out, conscious motives that have the quality of discernment and detachment, are wholesome and pure, lucid and simple.
But we start here – finding our true or pure intention, is first and foremost, a purification exercise, Shaucha, (first Niyama of Raja Yoga). To acquire purity of intention spiritual teachers say we must continually watch and police our motives in order to avoid not only those that are obviously bad, but even those that are imperfect. Here is where it gets tough. Using the tools of Raja Yoga we must meticulously peel the layers of unwanted debris of motives to reveal our true intention. This process of discernment has to be done before each and every action. This is the yogic practice for purity of intention.
The bottom line; we are working from the inside out. For instance, if I set a positive intention that I am “open and appreciative” in a certain situation, I have directed myself to be in a particular state of consciousness. Being in this state of consciousness suggests certain behaviors; although no specific actions are necessary in order to be in that particular consciousness or attitude. However, once I establish myself in this state of consciousness, I go about my daily activities, observing my interactions and hoping it will last forever. Before long, life happens and suddenly I am reacting, instead of responding from the depth of my sankalpa. Yet, I cannot have attachment or aversion towards any of these outcomes.
Rishi Pathanjali in the Yoga Sutras, alludes that attachment, raga, or aversion, dvesha, are based on ego, fear and insecurity, while detachment is belief and surrender in the power of the true Self, Ishvara Pranidhana. The yogic word for detachment is Vairaagya. The Yoga Sutras tell us that we have to be prepared to relinquish our rigid attachment to the outcomes of our intention and live in the wisdom of uncertainty and change. Moreover, Paramahamsa Yogananda and Shri Easwaran, both affirm that practice of meditation will take us beyond the ego-mind into the silence of pure consciousness. This is the ideal state in which to plant the seeds of true intention and detachment.
I want to believe that if my intention is pure, then every interaction will be perfect. Of course, I have no control over how people will perceive or receive my communication. Still, if my intention is pure, and I have faith in it, the result should be pure – right? Yet, if the result created animosity – then, instead of playing the blame game, I must revisit my intention, reflect deeply and clarify it before the next interaction. Regrettably, the damage may be done – many relationships are destroyed due to misunderstandings of perceived intention. But they say that time heals. In the meantime, I am working on perfecting my intentions, year after year, trying hard to catch the subtlest, deepest thought in the net of wisdom before it is willed into action. So far I’ve caught only a few, but sadly, lost many.
The best practice I have been told is to identify a wide variety of subjects or situations, little and big, emotional and neutral, fun and serious, at work and at play. To become proficient at this, we need lots of practice – with forgiveness and patience, and with awareness that misunderstandings are opportunities to reframe our intentions. We may get good at it as we understand the process of purification. Of course, the gurus will remind us of a little something called sankalpa avinaya, intention arrogance, – when we decide we have mastered it all – only to fall hard. I can give you many instances where I have fallen and bruised my ego.
Then watch carefully — the power of your intention, your purified forethought, impact all aspects of your life. Each time you decide to start over by reconnecting to your thought before you act, you are taking one more step toward finding your authenticity and freedom. Sages and mystics say that true intention lies in the deepest part of the human heart. And, to discover it fully, we must be practised in the art of reflecting on our soul, examining its hidden motives, and penetrating its deepest recesses (Easwaran).
When the intention of making Raja Yoga, the 8 fold path, as part of my lifestyle was born, I did not anticipate that I will be working on it for the rest of my life. So each year, I attempt to reframe and purify my sankalpa and keep moving forward hoping that there is one less misunderstanding and one more selfless interaction, leaving the burden of misunderstood perceptions to God and my Gurudev.
Easwaran, Eknath. 2010, Third Edition. Conquest of Mind: Take Charge of Your Thoughts and Reshape Your Life Through Meditation. Niligiri Press, CA
Salzburg, Sharon.2002. Loving Kindness: Revolutionary Art of Happiness. Shambala Classics