The opening editorial from our January 2016 issue, “The Path of Enlightened Intentions.”
Sometimes, you just can’t meditate.
Or maybe, for one reason or another, you won’t meditate.
Maybe you don’t have the time (though there’s always some time). Maybe it just doesn’t seem like your kind of thing. Maybe it’s more complicated than that.
I hear you. Even people who love meditation struggle with it now and then.
But if you’re not meditating—and also if you are!—here’s another great thing you can do to work with (or some might say on) your mind. It’s simple, and can really change everything. It’s paying attention to your intentions.
Paying attention, of course, is a key part of Buddhist practice. It’s called right mindfulness, and it’s one of the eight aspects of the path that the Buddha embodied and championed. Also among these is right intention, or right resolve: The aspiration to act with correct intention, doing no harm.
Working with intention makes room in the front of our minds for what we really value.
Makes sense. Thanks to his own practice-borne insights, the Buddha came to understand firsthand the power of thoughts: that they can so easily control us, and that we can, with practice, take back some of that control. We do this not by wresting it away, but by letting go of what leads us to do harm and consciously fostering positive traits like friendliness, steadiness, and compassion.
This jibes with something we all sort of know but don’t necessarily keep in the front of our minds: our interactions and experiences seem to go better when we’ve spent some time looking at our minds, intentionally cultivating them so that they’re more attuned to connection with others and a true appreciation for life—including even its difficulties. Working with intention makes room in the front of our minds for what we really value.
And no, this is not The Secret. So expect no rewards for your altruistic thoughts and good intentions. Intention doesn’t work like that. Not doing harm and putting others first isn’t self-help. It is, to use a joke that’s become well worn in the Lion’s Roar offices, non-self help.
You’ll likely find it harder to be grouchy or hard on yourself or impatient or self-important when you’re regularly dedicating time and mind-space to being anything but.
Ideally, we’re getting out of our heads and over ourselves—at least a little. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t feel good sometimes. There’s a meaningful satisfaction that comes with knowing that, whatever life hands you, you’re making room in your mind and heart to accept it. And then to let it go. Try it. You’ll likely find it harder to be grouchy or hard on yourself or impatient or self-important when you’re regularly dedicating time and mind-space to being anything but. Our good intentions don’t lead us down the road to hell but toward a more enlightened way of life.
Before I go, I want to share one of my favorite statements of intention, as rendered by Sharon Salzberg. She recommends closing each meditation session by reciting it, and it’s good for that, of course. But if you change “I” to “we,” it’s good for dedicating anything, so why not this editorial?
May the actions that we take toward the good,
toward understanding ourselves,
toward being more peaceful,
be of benefit to all beings everywhere.