Intention Week & Doing Better
My low key intention to be timely with my blog this cycle has been thwarted by the many things I have put in front of actually sitting down to write it. Today is Sunday and I’m just getting to the blog that ideally would have been completed last Wednesday--had I followed through on my ideal intention! I could regale you with the cool and/or ‘important’ things that have taken my focus and priority away from writing, but I think that would miss the larger point I’d like to make about Intention: we all want a lot more things than we are able to have. This is not only true for each moment, but for our lifetime. No matter what we are doing, there will always be things that we could have been doing instead. This is where our values list is helpful, since it lets us see a bigger picture about where we want to place our time and energy. It guides us - naturally - beyond the edge of our reactive emotional framework, where we frequently become tangled in one way or another. My busy week kept me from my writing, but it let me lean a little harder into some of my other intentions that were in need of attention. When I look at the whole of what I have accomplished since Wednesday, not what I haven’t, there’s easy forgiveness available for the things I’ve left undone. The more I prioritize my values, the easier it becomes to recognize where my time and energy gets spent in relation to where I’d like to be spending it.
Our intentions come from our hopes, fears and dreams, both positive and negative. They are born into our emotional makeup, riding the roller coaster of twists and turns that we call feelings. There are so many of them floating around in our pool of intentions, that it becomes difficult to remember that we will never be able to see all of them to fruition. This is the very nature of Intention. Daily thoughts, the ones that we tell ourselves over and over again, play a big part in our intentional practice. We intend the things that we want, absolutely. If it is something really important, it is placed at the top of our values list to remind us that we want to put energy towards making it happen. The shadow side is that we fail to recognize all of the ancillary thoughts that affect our ability to stay focused on our intentions. Our random thoughts often lead us away from the vantage point of seeing our own truth in Wholeness. Those undirected thoughts occupy the space between directed attention and affected reaction. We might see this as our wandering mind, or simply the background of our intentional thoughts. Emotionally, we can all stay pretty steady until something comes close to one of our ‘triggers’, then we become defensive without even realizing we’ve flipped that switch. Subconsciously, we feel the need to push back on things that we’d do better to examine more closely, because of our innate boundaries and fears. ‘Running’ from them will become part of our natural process (whether we are aware of it or not) unless we have a plan to ‘do better’ for ourselves and the people around us.
‘Doing Better’ was among the earliest intentions for an ORM practice. I’m sure somewhere in my memory, I had read Maya Angelou’s quote “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better”, but I didn’t recall it or attribute it to her until I’d been saying it for a while. One day, after months of working it into our regular conversations, Camille casually pointed out to me that Maya Angelou said it first. Initially, I felt embarrassment and shame--how could I not have realized that didn’t come from my own brain? How much of this work had I plagiarized and what sort of trouble might I be in for adopting the ideas of others without knowing it? There were so many thoughts and feelings that hit me all at once, that in that teachable moment, I ‘forgot’ several important things: (1) that we are all connected; (2) that several people’s thoughts and ideas become the basis of our own beliefs, organically, all the time; and (3) that even though I hadn’t claimed personal credit for the thought, my ignorance of where my idea likely originated had made me feel defensive inside my body.
My ego/soul eventually reasoned that my version of the sentiment wasn’t exactly Maya’s, so that I was able to complete my thoughts on the matter, with honest, detangled feelings. I could breathe easily feeling a connection to Maya Angelou, not rattled because I had adopted her words without giving her credit. Maya was making a personal comment about herself, and acknowledging her own growth, while I was trying to empower people to act with intention. I felt deeply connected to her words, and saw how they had resonated in my soul and reflected back to me in my own thoughts. Engaging from that depth of self, her writing makes us feel like we are experiencing things with her. She possessed such a natural ability to share her own experience in a way that makes us willing to do the same. Her name is synonymous with Earth and she advised us, in subtle and not so subtle ways, how we might take care of it and each other as we encounter our individual lives. Once my ego settled down around this new information, I reviewed some of her work and I saw where I could take her original intentions and expound on them intentionally for ORM. Action of some sort is generally required to fulfill intentions. If we were to perceive the paraphrased quote “if you know better, do better” as a verb, it becomes a choice that we get to make in our daily lives. We can look at situations more objectively as we make decisions about whether to react, not just how to react. We develop the skill of ‘holding space’, that is, breathing in and around the challenges we face so they become easier to approach.
Past generations of human beings have made a widely-held determination that revealing emotion is a sign of weakness. Holding things in without reaction was a prized skill, and sharing trauma was not encouraged, and uneasily accepted, if at all. Even among close friends and family, feelings were rarely discussed or considered without pity and/or shame in the mix. In my own home, my tears in the middle of a discussion were a signal to my parents that the conversation was over - I was obviously in no shape to properly express myself - and the subject matter was rarely revisited, leaving each of us to heal our own wounds without a solid plan. Intentionally knowing better and doing better, would have given my family (and many others) a more stable platform for sharing uncomfortable things. Shame, ridicule and sarcasm, often disguised as humor, were firmly established as acceptable strategies for emotional situations and outbursts in my home, and many others. They were designed to shove the negative feelings back into our bodies, where (we enjoyed believing) they weren’t disrupting anything, so that we could all go back to ‘being pleasant’, which was preferred, as a general rule.
Of course we now recognize how destructive that can be to our collective psyches. We have watched our beloved elders struggle through illnesses and physical maladies as we have learned, in whispered conversations, about their possible origins. As our mind/body connection became practically undeniable, we began to study the effects of unexpressed emotions on our bodies and our minds. Our findings? Many direct correlations between ‘illness’ and ‘denial’, repeating in nature and circumstance. As a society, we have developed new intentions for our overall health, by taking time for ourselves, periodically evaluating our mind-body connection, and finding creative ways to ‘accept’ our feelings. We encourage our children to talk about how they feel at an early age, and to identify different emotions so they don’t ‘stick around’ for the next challenge. Being free of extra emotional debris helps us operate in that space of ‘doing better’ when the situation calls for it.
We have all been in an argument where one person begins to act childish as emotions flare. The other person then makes a choice, do I ‘take the high road’, or do I join them at the ‘low road’ and assume that level of engagement? For most of us, it’s easy to devolve into childish statements and actions because the door has already been opened and the behavior has clearly been ‘invited’. This is where our established intentions can take the reins and inform what happens next. If we expect to ‘know better and do better’ when someone else gets sideways, we keep our feet firmly focused on the high road. As difficult as the situation gets, if you have placed value in holding space for someone else’s emotion, it’s easy to maintain your intention. Not only does this keep the argument from escalating, it bridges understanding. It allows the agitated person a chance to feel ‘heard’, which sets the stage for emotional transformation. In heated conversation, once we have gotten to ‘make our point’, our stirred-up feelings subside. The crashing waves become a calming rhythm and we can breathe more deeply. Our frontal lobe reattaches and our ability to reason is restored to its ‘normal’ state. These things happen whether we are paying attention to them or not, but since the world never stops moving, it’s easy to overlook.
When we place intentional awareness into our most mundane activities, like breathing and getting enough water into our bodies, we are on the natural road to joy, success and navigating our lives with passion. Intention Week sets up the last four weeks of ORM, where we find the space to manifest what we want for ourselves and for the world. The more awareness we put behind our thoughts and actions, the more intentional influence they have on the environment around us. If they are lined up with things that serve our communities as well as ourselves, we are much more likely to get the green light on our efforts. Becoming intentional is as easy as asking yourself every day what is important to you and then thinking about how to nurture those things.