Wholesome Intentions, by Dr. Rick Hanson

Becoming more aware of our intentions, observing their effects and becoming more skillful with them is an absolutely fundamental and powerful source of benefit for ourselves and others. Through establishing our intentions, we have tremendous influence over our life. Therefore, our intentions bring us both great responsibility and great opportunity.

Our intentions arise, are represented and pursued in the brain. The brain is like a committee, and the frontal lobes are like the chair of that committee managing executive functions: plan, organize, monitor, and direct. Those executive functions are very important, but balance is everything. Are you tilted either way: toward an excess of executive functions, too much “head” and not enough “body” or “heart, or too much influence bubbling up from the bottom, not enough self-control? So, when you see which way you are tilted, then restoring greater balance – and becoming stronger and more able with the other aspect of the psyche – can become a strategic goal for growth. Held in a proper balance, establishing clear intentions – which are a way the frontal lobes call the other members of the committee to order and establish what the agenda is – is a powerful, skillful means to getting anything good done either inside your own head and heart or in the outer world.

Once your intentions are clear, expressing them usually helps create real clarity in your mind. There are many ways:

  • As an image–A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, and pictures in your mind of your intentions – including both the path toward them and their fulfillment – are very valuable.
  • In writing– as in a to-do or, as affirmations. These are complete sentences, positively stated, with the result already existing in the present. Like this: “I am healthy, happy, and whole.”
  • As a collage with words and images
  • Through physical expression, posture, movement, dance
  • As a sense of being– you could get the feeling of the intention in your body, and rest in that sense of being.

Do you express the intention as a goal or as something already realized? Is it about progressing toward an enlightened state, or is it about uncovering the enlightened condition that has always been present? Both are true. Of these two, aim and actuality, it’s usually best to emphasize the latter, the sense of the intention as already realized. For example, one thing that makes the affirmation form of verbalized intentions powerful (whether written, spoken, or thought), is that they are expressed in the present.

We are such a goal-directed culture, and there are so many associations of striving, frustration, and disappointment related to pursuing goals , that there is often greater openness inside to intentions expressed as already true. We are already that way. Our circumstances are already that way. This also points us to a greater recognition of, and gratitude and appreciation for, what is already good and working and wholesome and wonderful inside ourselves and outside, in our world. It directs us toward resources we may have missed, both inside and outside. There really is a profound wisdom and peacefulness already within us – in Buddhism, sometimes called Buddha mind, or bodhichitta. And a beautiful, wonderful harmony latent in the world. Perhaps take a moment to see if you can sense into your preexisting Buddha nature, inner goodness, spark of the Divine within.

Then, last, how firmly do you pursue your intentions? Again, neither too tight nor too loose a rein. The importance of this side of the balance – of perseverance guided by goodness – is seen in the teachings of the Buddha, describes worthy practitioners as “ardent, resolute, diligent, and mindful.” The wise course is to be clear-eyed, even-keeled, and encouraging with yourself, continually focused on your learning and growth, on how you can become a little better person every day. For yourself. For everyone around you. And for the whole wide world.

imageRick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author.  He is founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. He has been an invited speaker at several major universities and taught at meditation centers worldwide. He offers the free Just One Thing newsletter with over 120,000 subscribers, plus the online Foundations of Well-Being program in positive neuroplasticity that anyone with financial need can do for free.