“We don’t need another ruler. All of my friends are kings.” -Janelle Monae
I’ve never much liked the word ‘intention.’
‘What are your intentions for this week/month/year?’ ‘Let’s set our intention for this meeting.’ ‘My intention is to be loving to my family this holiday.’
But I’ve felt like an asshole for not liking the word, because it is such a part of psychology, spirituality and self help.
I’ve been reflecting on my dislike. Here is the crux of why I think we should toss this word out: The word ‘intention’ is mental. It’s not embodied.
And therefore it is a movement of fear.
I’m going to unpack it from my recent experience doing our Embodied Together meditation here in Chicago. It was June 30th and I was recently back from two weeks in California. I had been on retreat with Kiran Trace for a week, and then I had a week of integration/vacation in the redwoods of Santa Cruz.
The idea projected onto me (by myself and others) was that the meditation on the 30th would be extra special—I must have really ‘gotten something’ from retreat, so I would be, like, transmitting some quality presence.
And I bought it!
In part because I was revitalized coming home; the retreat was a blissful, sweet experience. I felt very clear & grounded, and I started thinking ‘Wow, I have so much to share. I really want people to ‘get’ awareness. I want to help them wake up & embody. Yeah! Let’s do this!’
I had the good intention of helping. (God help me).
So I show up at the meditation and I get chatty. I start over-explaining things, going into my head. I’m trying. Trying to help. Trying to teach. But in the famous last words of Charles Bukowski (literally carved on his gravestone): ‘Don’t Try.’
Our attendees went into their heads. They lost touch with their direct experience. They starting thinking about the meditation—which took them out of their bodies, out of the moment.
They were out of the moment because I was out of the moment.
The meditation itself went well—only because I honestly don’t know how to teach a meditation if I’m not doing it myself. But I had to drop my intentions in order to actually guide the meditation, to just be in it. That is what (eventually) made it good.
Intentions subtly steal the juice from an experience. They are gussied up agendas. An agenda is the plural for the Latin word ‘agendum,’ which means "something to be done." But …what am I doing? And how would I track if I’m doing it?
An agenda, an intention is out of the moment. It is away from what’s happening, an attempt to get to some future moment, to get something done.
But, ultimately, how can I know what the moment has in store for us? And what if it holds much more magic and fun than my agenda/intention?
My own direct experience—my presence in the moment—is the only thing I have to offer. In the case of the meditation, I simply have fun exploring embodiment, music & silence with my friends. I didn’t create this monthly meditation to get something done. I created it because it is fun to meditate & simply be together.
When we have an agenda or intention, there is a distrust in life. Intention is fear, very well masked. We are playing God with intention—just that tiny bit of mental control we impose on the moment.
‘But, but but!’ you say. ‘Aren’t agendas & intentions useful for board meetings?’ ‘Or flying airplanes?’
But even then—wouldn’t you want your CEO or your pilot to hold their agendas lightly? To be ready for a different conversation or a different flight path?
And wouldn’t you rather have your CEO or pilot love what they do? To enjoy the people they work with, including every aspect of the job?
Doesn’t it sound strange to ‘intend’ to land the plane on the ground? Because you actually want the plane to land on the ground. Not conceptually or mentally, but actually. Love of the work itself. Inner, embodied knowing. A deep desire for the moment as it is…these feel much safer, much juicier to me than good intentions.
What if we asked ourselves not what our intentions are, but what do we really want? This question is to be asked of our bodies, in this moment…with the courage to hear the real answer. And the answer will feel effortless—or, in Kiran’s words: delicious.
I can start with myself.
What do I want with this community meditation? I want to have fun. I want to sit with others and share silence, share the communal experience. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
But if I do the meditation from my good intentions (for me it is to be ‘helpful’)—well, it’s bullshit in the end. The illusory separate self is the one attempting to be helpful (see my ‘I and She, Not Me’ blog). The separate self has to be something, has to do something—it needs to be helpful, smart, wise, funny.
It needs to have good intentions.
The helpful, meditative, spiritual, good-intentioned somebody is an especially sneaky agenda—a very gussied up separate self (ego).
Kiran has pointed this trap out to me, but I missed it this time around. I fell for being the helpful one again because the conditioning of my childhood would say that I’m not safe, accepted, ok if I’m not helpful. It’s so subtle and sneaky, because I was deeply reinforced for being helpful as a child, for being something, for getting something done (so many of us were).
I’ve held the unconscious belief that I am not safe if I am not helpful or well intentioned.
Worse—when I’m being the helpful person—well, now I need someone in the role of needing help! This is the real problem with the therapist-client set up, with the ‘helping’ professions in general—both myself and my client are now in set roles, with set intentions, playing out mental storylines. No real enjoyment or nourishment in sight.
And in reality, I don’t wanna help these folks. I don’t even know what that is or how to do that. There’s no reality to it. It’s all concept.
My clients and the folks at meditation don’t need my good intentions. Really, they need me to live my truth, and to point out their in-built ability to do this for themselves.
This is what we all need—the presence of another who wants the best for us, but without an idea of what that is. As Byron Katie says to the folks she works with: ‘I just want what you want.’
I don’t know what you want, what you need. And I don’t believe you need ‘help’ in the sense we usually mean it. I just want to explore what’s here. The pain, the frustration, the joy, the peace.
I just want to be with you.
The road back from hell is to drop our good intentions.
Doesn’t that feel good?
Our next Embodied Together meditation is on July 28th at 10am at Tied House. (i promise i won’t bring any good intentions).
Join me in utilizing Kiran Trace’s tools. Her work will change what you thought was possible in your life. I’ve got a discount code for her book & classes here. Also, when you sign up for her newsletter, you will get some free tools on how to access what Kiran calls your delicious yes (what you really want). Sign up for her newsletter here.