Moving Beyond Best Intentions

Early in my career, I enjoyed reading Melanie Bush’s book, Breaking the Code of Good Intentions: Everyday forms of Whiteness. Many years later, I had the opportunity to get to know Melanie and experience her devotion. Melanie hit upon an important theme–how often our best intentions don’t manifest in reality. This is especially frustrating when our best intentions have the potential to improve our own life as well as the lives of many. How can we strengthen our best intentions so that our vision is likely to materialize?

An intention is a thought about a change we want to make. It is an idea about what we want to improve. We become motivated to make a change when we have insight. When we experience pain, suffering or a void—we get insight and want to make a change. A chronic pain in our wrist gives us insight into how we tap at the computer all day, for example. Loneliness and depression give us insight into our social routine. The loss of a top employee gives us insight into office climate or a business strategy. Insights can also come from positive experiences. When we experience joy, pleasure or an unexpected lightness of being, we want more. If you meet someone and feel inspired and energized, you get insight into the type of person you want in your life. Playing a good game of tennis may give you insight into a new hobby. Feeling calm and peaceful at the ocean gives insight into your ideal setting.

Once you have insight, we reflect on the experience. An intention comes from an insight that endures and there is clarity. An intention statement will be direct, simple and clear. I adjust my posture at work to alleviate the pressure on my arm, for example. I go out and socialize on the weekends. I assess and improve the climate in my office. I prioritize connecting with people that energize and inspire me. I clear space in my schedule to make room for tennis. I’m saving money to buy a house by the sea. All of these are examples of robust intention statements.

There is research to suggest that practicing mindfulness meditation is a viable tool to strengthen a positive intention for change.1 By way of concentrating on a thought and paying attention to it daily, we can gather power, motivation and momentum that cause a rippling affect in how we communicate and behave. Furthermore, mindfulness meditation enhances the executive functioning part of our brain responsible for initiation, planning, organizing and regulating behavior—all of which further our ability to start, prioritize and follow through.

There are several approaches to meditation but they all have a common thread which is to reduce suffering that comes from lack of awareness (insight) and to develop the capacity of the mind. No matter which approach you choose, making a commitment to a daily practice is what matters.

I recommend sitting in meditation for at least 20 minutes a day starting by stating your intention in your mind. In this way, the intention is like a mantra. It is a clear and precise statement that reverberates. I find that setting aside time in the early morning right after you wake works best. In the historical Buddhist context, the term meditation in Sanskrit connotes the notion of “cultivation,” or “causing to become.”2 For this reason, I suggest you pay attention to every detail of your routine because you’re cultivating something of value. Take the time to wash your hands and face with cool water and sit in a comfortable but erect position in a quiet, clean setting. Your ritual and posture matter. In each gesture and detail of your meditation practice, you’re establishing respect and dignity for yourself and your vision. You’re exuding conviction and trust in the process through your personal space and conduct. Later, if you have time, you can repeat the process in the evening before going to bed.

Don’t be surprised if your beginning practice is bumpy. Often, we get invaded by a rumble of thought, discomfort, bias, lack of commitment or disbelief. Stick with the practice daily. If you miss a day, return to it the next day and be gentle on yourself. The best intentions don’t go away and you will be pulled in by this force and care for the outcome.

If you’re curious about your progress, keep a journal of your activities. Keep it simple and brief. Write down your intention and each day document the following:

• your meditation time
• what you noticed about the experience
• how you felt after energetically
• change in behavior and communication with others

Enjoy and please feel free to reach out with your stories!

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[1,2] David R. Vago* and David A. Silbersweig, Self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART): a framework for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, October 2012

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