An excerpt from the forthcoming book Let’s Not Call It Meditation: Practical Information for People Who Think They Can’t Sit Still and Quiet the Mind
Have you ever used the spelling of words to trigger new meaning? By playing a bit with the words intention and behavior, phrases emerge that can help us remember what the words are about on a deep level. From the word intention, we can remember tending to our inner life. We tend to our inner life when we stop to smell the flowers or offer a hug to a friend in need. We tend to our inner life by bringing curiosity and loving awareness to our present experience, whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant. Good intentions (inner tending) lead to changes in our behavior.
How do good intentions cause changes in our behavior? When we have good intentions and are confronted with challenging situations, we practice being more patient, and we are compassionate with our self. When we are more patient and more compassionate with our self, we have more of the same to share with others. Good intentions do affect our actions and the way we treat others.
Another example is the phrase "being with what we have" in the word behavior. Good intentions (inner tending) help us change our behaviors (being-with-what-we-have). When we can be more loving with what we have, we have more to give our self and others. Hence, our behavior is transformed by good intentions! Here’s a story about how good intentions changed the behavior of a woman caught up in a messy situation with her best friend and her husband.
A love triangle
Joan, a school counselor, came for counseling because she was intensely stressed. Her best friend, Carol and her husband, Jack, had been emotionally intimate behind her back. She had found out about their daily contact, intimate conversations and lunch dates, and she let them know how she felt. Carol and Jack had stopped seeing each other and Joan cut off relations with Carol. Joan obsessively checked her husband’s things for signs of his going back on his word. Jack felt invaded, and furious, as Joan ignored his boundaries again and again. Their marriage was in trouble and she knew it.
Joan realized she was damaging their relationship with her untrusting, invasive behavior. She didn’t understand what was causing her compulsion to go through Jack’s stuff, but she knew she wanted to stop before she destroyed what was left of their marriage. Joan had full intention for self-growth, and to heal the pain she was feeling, for herself and her husband. She emailed me that she had a forgiveness issue and asked to meet.
As Joan shared her story, it became clear to me that there was a mistaken belief behind Joan’s fury and feelings of betrayal. I asked Joan to reflect honestly on whom she was most angry. After a brief moment, she realized, to her surprise, she felt more anger towards Carol than her husband. We then focused on exploring the belief underlying her anger towards her friend.
It didn’t take Joan long to realize that she felt betrayed. She had a belief: Women should never betray another woman for a man. Joan’s belief made her feel betrayed and furious. Yet, when Joan explored whether the belief was true or false, Joan realized she felt confused about what she wanted to be true (a woman shouldn’t ever betray a friend for a man) and what had happened. Confusion arises when a belief about the world comes into conflict with the way things are. Carol did what Joan believed no woman should do. With careful, thoughtful exploration, it became glaringly clear to Joan that her underlying belief was based on fiction about how life should be, not the way things are.
Once Joan experienced the truth, rather than how things should be, she was able to shed light on another belief (husbands should never become emotionally intimate with other women) at the root of her feelings about Jack’s betrayal of her trust. Husbands should never become intimate with other women also was a fictional belief, because in reality Jack did become emotionally intimate with another woman.
This is not a moral discussion about whether Jack and Carol’s behavior was right or wrong. Joan found out that her beliefs and deeply upset feelings were based on assumptions about how things should be. Joan reported feeling a deeper sense of freedom and ease. The truth was strong medicine, but enough to provide a sense of relief for the moment, like a splash of cold water on a hot day. The truth had set her free!
Joan’s initial intention to feel better by forgiving Jack had brought her to counseling. She went home with a more honest, compassionate perspective. Joan realized her blame and anger were based on assumptions, not truth. Rather than forgiveness, she realized the most immediate issue was untangling the confusion between her attachments to beliefs about how women friends and husbands should behave and what actually happened. When the truth was seen, her attachments to her mistaken beliefs vanished and she was able to be present.
Joan was deeply grateful for the shift in her awareness. She was able to go home to a husband who had made a commitment to their relationship when he stopped seeing Carol. Joan will now be able to enjoy that fact if she remembers to stay in touch with what’s true, as thoughts continue to arise about the past. Also, there are probably other beliefs about marriage and relationship that will need to be explored as time goes on. Joan’s experience was likely just the beginning of finding out how to live with a new perspective.
What happened to the issue of forgiveness? The issue of forgiveness usually disappears when we stop our blaming reactions by exploring what’s true, as Joan found out.
Intention and growth
Holding an intention for self-growth, as Joan did, is a kind of goal-less goal. All effects from good intentions are non-physical. We can’t hold up what we get from this kind of goal. It’s not like winning an Oscar, or the Nobel Prize for Literature! We can’t even know how things will look when our intention is fulfilled. We simply focus on our inner life and work on changing our behavior at the same time – and we see the results over time.
Intention is the heart and mental strength we bring to the process of waking up in order to flower. When our intention is to be more aware, honest, compassionate, responsible and grateful, we grow. The petals of our "flower" open as we experience our life through clear loving intention. When our heart and mind are connected with loving intention, we open the gateway to our flowering potential. What is your intention? Do you have the intention to wake up and flower?