"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." So says Dr. Wayne Dyer in his best-selling book The Power Of Intention. This single phrase seems to sum up the message of most of the so-called New Thought teachers, regardless of their religious or spiritual background.

"You have the power to create your reality," cry the motivational speakers. "Live your dream and the money will follow," say the financial gurus. "Tithe and get rich," comes from evangelical leaders. And always, always think positively. Never let facts or reality get in the way of what you desire. Use the way you perceive those facts or reality to change them.

It all sounds so easy. All I need to do to change my life, or parts of my life, is to change the way I think or believe about them. If I continue to affirm that I am thin, I will be thin. If I visualize and live as though I am wealthy, I will be wealthy.

This philosophy is similar to "you can choose how you want your life to look." Don’t like your job? Choose another. Don’t like your spouse? Choose another. Simple. We have the power to choose, to create, anything we want. Do you feel hurt when someone says something unkind to you? No problem. You can choose to feel loved and affirmed by that person.

Along with "choice" and "intention," we also have "as if." Behave "as if" and it will come to be. "As if" is summed up in a song from an old Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I: "Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid. Make believe you’re brave, and the trick will take you far. You may be as brave as you make believe you are."

Everywhere we turn we are told that all the good things in life, and the bad if there really is such a thing as "bad," are the result of our beliefs and thoughts. This is a double-edged sword. It feels very good to say that I intended financial prosperity and this month’s bills got paid, while it’s something else entirely to have my house burn down and have to deal with thinking that I intended it, or that a loved one died because she or he chose cancer, or heart disease or whatever.

While I know that the basis of intention is true, and that changing my thought patterns can make a real difference in how my life plays out, I am becoming increasingly concerned with the presentation of intention as something easy, almost magical. Too many people seem to come away from the books and lectures believing that the changing of the thought patterns, and repeating the mantra of their intentions, is all that is required to achieve whatever they desire.

Whether it is making money in real estate or pyramid sales, using hypnosis for weight loss or smoking cessation, Americans have been saturated with motivational, medical and religious leaders who have convinced us that we all can have extreme wealth, and that we can all become movie stars or Pulitzer prize-winning authors, through the quick-fix of intention. We tend to forget that you have to be able to carry a tune to be a singer. If you don’t have a wealthy relative, chances are you will have to work to make money. And so it goes for most things.

This may come as a surprise, and it certainly goes against the grain of current teaching, but there really is such a thing as LUCK (and please don’t tell me that I make my own!). Whether we choose our life circumstances prior to birth is an arguable point (for purposes of this article, it doesn’t matter unless you need another thing to feel guilty or resentful about). As Americans, we are lucky to live here rather than in a third-world country. Our standard of living places us at the top of the luck heap as far as lifestyle, opportunity, education and potential. It has also helped us to believe in those quick fixes, and in our own "divine right" to happiness and prosperity.

Some people are lucky to be born into wealthy families, or physically attractive families, or families with Mensa minds. Some are born with incredible talent in sports, music, art, writing or acting. Most of us are not, and it is unfair to lead people to believe that there is a magical way to become something they are not. Intention is not a wand that can be waved over my checkbook while saying, "abra-ca-dabra, I have a million dollars."

All things begin with an intention. This I do not dispute. I also bow to the fact that I constantly make choices that affect my life. I know that how I think about things makes a huge difference in the choices I make. I know that I am a co-creator, and that I can influence the outcome of many things. However, I know that it is not easy and it is not magic. Intention is only a first step.

For example, if I intend to retire without debt and with sufficient money to support me for 20-30 years, I had better get crackin’ on figuring out how to amass that money. If I have an average income, and my spouse has an average income, there is no way this will happen. We can only save $1,000 per month if we stop paying bills and stop eating. I used to think that when we sold our house and moved to something smaller, that would help. Unfortunately, it now will cost us more to buy or rent something smaller than it does to stay where we are. I did not intend that this housing market would explode, making even "starter" homes out of the average person’s range. So, I need more than Intention here. If we allow the television ads pushing world travel and endless golf to set our retirement standard, we are indeed in for disappointment, because no matter what we do, the fact is that it is unlikely that we will have sufficient funds to retire in that style.

There is such a thing as reality. Money does NOT grow on trees. Individually, we do not, and cannot, control everything. Everything comes with a price, whether in emotional or physical terms. Choices beget other choices, often for many years. Some things JUST ARE AS THEY ARE.

I am not saying to give up, or expect the worst. I AM saying that we need to recognize reality, acknowledge limitations and prepare to WORK to bring our Intentions to life. Intend, visualize, allow yourself to FEEL the outcome. Then, make a plan and work toward your goal.

Most importantly, understand that intention, choice and "as if" are all part of helping us to be comfortable with whatever happens. They have everything to do with our response to life. They place us in the "now" and give us the tools to maintain a serene outlook. Buddhist monks, contemplative Christians and all who seem to be "above the fray" are using these tools. They INTEND to find the good and the blessed in all things and all circumstances. They BEHAVE AS IF their circumstances are transitory (which, of course, they are), and they CHOOSE to accept life as benevolent. St. Paul spoke of being happy in circumstances of wealth and circumstances of want, knowing that both states have their own unique blessings. Paul was able to maintain his serenity, because he was secure in the knowledge that nothing could separate him from God and God’s love.

We can maintain that same serenity. We can rest in divine love and in the knowledge of our connectedness with all things. Within that love and connectedness, we can use the tools of intention, choice and "as if" to change our belief system, which will change our outlook and change our responses to all that life holds. God, under any name, is good – life is good – and I intend to live with those certainties regardless of how anyone else’s intentions may intersect with mine.

The good news is that if we all use our best intentions for everything, that massed power would change the world. Now that’s an intention!

Gretchen Eckes is co-founder of Shekinah, an organization dedicated to assisting people in developing their personal spirituality through story, ritual, workshops and wisdom circles. A graduate of the Center for Spiritual Guidance Training Program, Ms. Eckes also has a private Spiritual Direction practice. For information on spiritual direction, wisdom circles or other Shekinah activities, call Gretchen at (763) 535-4261 or e-mail Shekinahmn@hotmail.com Copyright © 2005 Gretchen Eckes. All rights reserved.

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