Words That Changed My Life: Intention

Note: This is the first in a series exploring words that have had an impact on my life, either by changing my perspective or by helping me to grasp a concept I had struggled to understand. The series will appear periodically, interspersed with other posts. For those of you thinking about a guest post for the “Sunday Roast” series, one option is a post about a word that changed your life !
From the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.”

I am a word person. I always have been, though for much of my life I relegated the power of words to my heart – by which I mean that I understood their power to affect my inner life and to stir emotions, but I didn’t fully comprehend them as vehicles for the outward thrust of energy. I didn’t know that some words could affect my daily experience.

In graduate school, we spoke about the need for educators to create “intentional” programs, designed to challenge and support our students in their personal development. Rather than throwing together a hodge-podge of experiences, think and plan carefully with a particular goal or goals in mind.

Goals. I learned how to write them, how to operationalize them, how to assess progress toward them. I just couldn’t get the hang of actually having them.

And then the idea of “Intention” (and it’s sister concept, “The Law of Attraction”) exploded on the scene. The New Age Movement meets Quantum Physics. I watched “What the Bleep”, read Lynn Grabhorn’s “Excuse Me, You’re Life is Waiting” – there is no shortage of material out there which says that we can create our own reality and attract into our lives the things we want, by “setting our intention”.

I liked these ideas, despite the fact that much of what has been written is tinged with magical thinking and focused on achieving material abundance. Although I’m not bent on earning my first million, I am attracted to the concept that it might be up to me whether any day is a good day. I have tried several experiments with the idea of intention. One notable example ended up with me getting free meat at the grocery store – it was a fun experiment, but the free meat has not been a replicable outcome.

What has and can be replicated is the intention to manage my own choices such that a positive outcome is practically guaranteed. I remember the first time I approached an annual event, one which I had annually dreaded, with this specific intention: “Today, I will be calm and open to every person who approaches me. If there is a problem, we will resolve it with compassion and respect.” I wrote the intention down, and said it aloud. Each time throughout the day that I began to feel anxiety or my composure began to slip, I would remind myself of the day’s intention.

In the end, it was a great day. In the end, I learned that the power of intention isn’t magical at all. It simply requires two things: the intent (in this case a short-term goal for the day) and the willingness to remain consciously focused on aligning your behavior with that intent. Simple, but not easy. Not easy, but what life-changing behavior ever is?

This may be one of the reasons the Gospel of John is my favorite. It’s first sentence “In the beginning was The Word” is perhaps my favorite sentence of all time. Then: The Word was with God and was God, and it was focused outward with a mighty intent. God’s intention created everything – how amazing and powerful is that? And the light created by that intent has not and cannot be overcome by darkness.

In my life, I try to use intention to reflect some small measure of that light. Simple, but not easy. Some days, I set my goal/intention for the day and my focus never wavers. Other days, it unravels or comes apart in shreds as I lose control of my attention, I get pulled in too many directions, I am unable to stay centered. As with every change we try to make in life, practice is called for and perfection is a million miles away. But I have more successfully intentional days now than I did five years ago, or five months ago. And that has, indeed, changed my life.

4 thoughts on “Words That Changed My Life: Intention

  1. Great submission today, Jen! It really helped me to put into focus the end-of-the-year challenges we all face. Good luck going into the weekend. It comes way too fast and we have to teach ourselves to “enjoy,” hard for those of us who are on-fire Type A’s!

    1. Thanks, Anne! You are definitely an on-fire Type A. Just to clarify, I am not – though I aim to be more like you in the enthusiasm and warmth you bring to your days!

  2. We can, and should, change our attitudes to affect the way we deal with reality. However, I worry that if I believe that by changing my intentions and managing my own choices well, a positive outcome is practically guaranteed, I will be disappointed. You see, I cannot be perfect. And I cannot go anywhere without myself. I fail me and everyone else. And other events well beyond my control intrude upon this lovely vision. The reality of life is that some of it stinks, no matter what your attitude is.

    My source of comfort is that passage in John 1 (i also LOVE it!) That Word is the cosmic Logos, the Logic of the universe, Truth with a capitol “T”, a meta-narrative I can sink my teeth into. And that Word incarnate is a man: Jesus Christ. Hope in that God-man, who died for my sins and failures though He was capable of perfection, is much to be preferred over a nebulous idea like intention, as important as intention is. I will eventually fail myself with my best of intentions. But Jesus is outside of myself, objective, and yet within me. What an amazing God to work in such a way: transcendence and immanence all rolled into one.

    Just rambling and interacting with your well-phrased thoughts Jen. Hope today was an excellent day.

    1. Chris: I love that you visit and interact with my blog posts! I don’t really disagree with anything you’ve said. I would clarify, though, that for me the ALMOST guaranteed positive outcome is completely about how I address myself to the situation. The reality of life is that some of it stinks, and there’s not a thing I can do about that. In response, I can wallow in the misery of that, I can lash out at others because of it, I can cast my values aside and use that as an excuse. When I don’t do any of those things, and I manage somehow to stay authentic and centered I count it a success. Intention is one of the best ways that I have found for me to do this. It’s like having an escape plan in case of fire – so that when the fire erupts, you already know how you will get out of your house. And you’re right, I will sometimes fail and succumb to my own imperfection. However, my life is very different today than it was 20 or even 5 years ago – I am not more perfect, but I do respond better to life’s exigencies.

      Love you, sis! Wish we could have more of these discussions in person rather than in writing! I miss you 🙂

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