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Mindful Intentions – From Pressure to Growth

Everything we do, say, or think is born out of intention. Behind every action, even something as small as thought, is a motivation. There is intention in the hands-on actions of eating something or going for a walk, in any conversation we start and even in the subtle decisions of paying or not paying attention to something. 

Meeting our intentions with mindfulness reveals what actually drives our actions. With surprise we discover that our true motivations. It can be very insightful, once we see why we cannot let go of a thought, cannot stop a certain habit or prevent ourselves from going down the same emotional pathway again and again. 

The Buddha fully acknowledged the connection between intention and action as one which shapes our lives to a great deal: 

“Intention (cetana), I tell you, is action (kamma). Intending, one does action (kamma) by way of body, speech, and intellect.” (AN 6.63)

Luckily enough, our relationship to intention is a two-way street. We can mindfully observe what is driving us. We can also set intentions which have the potential to enrich our lives and replace those which bring harm and pressure. 

At this point, though, we need to proceed with great care, else we run into the danger of falling prey to other forms of suffering: idealism and perfectionism. If we set intentions because we think of ourselves as not being enough, incomplete or damaged, any ideal turns into pressure. We start a painful comparison with whom we think we should be and suffer from the perception of not being “there” yet.

Ideals themselves are unproblematic, they are products of the mind – fantasies, images, concepts. They are much like the bright sun. How we handle them decides whether they support or hurt us. The sunflower lifts its head towards the sun and grows into the direction of the light, with no need to reach it. We would never claim that the plant is only complete if it could touch the sun. We see instead, that it is the striving, which brings forth the growth from within. 

Ideals are not something to “possess” or “conquer” but a source of inspiration, nourishment and beautification of our lives. The following questions can be a potential way to build a bridge from an aloof ideal towards an embodied mindfulness practice of healthy intentions:

  1. What quality, concept, technique or practice might enrich your life? What attitude or perspective would lessen the pressure, agitation, or stress in your life?
  2. Reconsider your answer to the first question – is this quality truly something which adds something positive, or is your choice motivated by a sense of obligation or pressure? Stay with the first two steps until you found a quality which resonates with the depth of your being. 
  3. Take this quality into your daily life and reflect regularly how you could embody this quality into your actions of body, speech and thought right here, right now.