Begin with intention
Every day when I wake up, I have some questions: What’s the weather doing? Who’s making the coffee? What’s for breakfast? Should the dog go out now or should I let him sleep?
For the past two years, I wake up with some big questions, too: When will the pandemic end? What will become of our democracy? What is the fate of our planet?
So I begin the day not sure if I should attend to routine thoughts and tasks or if I should give my attention to urgent, worldly matters.
But rather than begin my day in a quandary, I try to begin with intention to set myself in a good frame of mind. Not just any intention, of course, but right intention. Right intention is a part of the Buddhist eight-fold path, guiding us in healthy desires, the cultivation of goodwill toward all, and the commitment to doing no harm to any sentient being.
I think right intention might be even more, however: I consider what I wish to bring to this new day in my life. Compassion and caring? A non-anxious presence? Light-heartedness? Patience and mercy? Courage? Loving-kindness? In this way, I come to understand that intention is not a goal to achieve but a way of being in the world.
With right intention, I can then honestly ask myself, “What can I do? What should I do? What I can and should do is begin where I am and attend to the tasks at hand: Look at sky, make coffee, eat breakfast, and take the dog for a walk — making vital the present moment. Perhaps the good I seek is right before me. Perhaps the big questions are answered with right intention and small, mindful actions — not because intention and practices change the world but because they change me and allow me to engage more fully in the world so that I might be more present, more compassionate, more effective in my service, especially as I go out into public life and do my part as a citizen of this nation and world.
In that same spirit, I try to allow the world to engage fully with me — even when the tasks are difficult and the rewards are few. The people and the world around me have intentions, too, though not always the best intentions.
In this way, I believe, my doing and being intertwine: I need a measure of both and each informs and enlarges me. I cannot live in pure being in disregard of the world and its urgent needs. Nor can I live wholly in service to the world in disregard of my own spiritual needs.
Often, when the world is too much with me in my daily newsfeed and the challenges of my ministry, I try to re-center and re-generate myself within the moment I am living and amidst the people living beside me — returning to the intention with which I began the day.
The weather, coffee, breakfast, and the dog: I attend to these immediate things and, with right intention, I am equipped and ready to go out and engage in the despair and hope of the world.
Photo: Joe Clark Brook, Preston, Connecticut