Lately I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and how much I couldn’t disagree with it more. I’m pretty sure it’s intended meaning is something along the lines of, actions speak louder than words. But what I feel isn’t being accounted for is the connection between actions, and the reason behind the actions.
Actions are indeed an important part of the equation, but it’s not the only part. More so, I feel that intentions are what actions are born from. I feel that when our intentions are in line with our actions, then we are being motivated from a place of integrity, where our bodies are carrying out the deeds of our ideas. And there’s a lot to be said for acting from a place of wholeness. The ease of your intentions aligning with what you say you will do.
I think one of the reasons I disagree so strongly with this phrase has a lot to do with my yoga practice. If you’ve read my post on “self care” you’ll know that yoga has become a part of my self-care routine. I practice at home now, but when I started my practice, I would go to classes at a studio. The instructor would usually start the class with the phrase, “set an intention for tonight’s practice”, and to be honest, I never did.
I thought it seemed silly at the time. “What do intentions have to do with my body” was how I initially saw them. But as my practice developed, and my relationship to myself became stronger, I realized that intentions are really the base of all actions. Another way to put it, you can have an intention without an action, but not an action without an intention. And the more you repeat your intention, the stronger it gets. Just like working out a muscle, your intentions are the “muscles” behind your characteristics, or what you value.
If your intention is to spend your free time in front of a screen playing games, then you will most likely develop the characteristic of lethargy (this is one I’m very familiar with). But maybe it’s not always our intention to get stuck behind the screen, or what if we get wrapped up in something to avoid the difficult work that may be wound around our intended action. If that’s the case, what’s making it so difficult?
From my experience, if intention is the birth of action, and if we’re unable to follow through with our intended actions, self doubt and fear are usually at the heart of our stalling. So if you have an intention already set, all you need to do is to get over the fear and self doubt. Easier said than done, right. So how do we get over these stumbling blocks that are in the way of reaching our intended goals? I’m not sure that we ever really leave them behind, or get rid of them all together, but we can find some ways of responding to them that makes it easier for them to be in the picture. And it starts with a little kindness.
Fear and self doubt are two feelings that we shouldn’t demonize. Too often we use them as a way to beat ourselves up. A good example is, if you’re trying to mend a relationship, but find the work of going through the difficult emotions that are tied up with the process seem too overwhelming, than you may feel as though the relationship is unsalvageable. Or fear that the same breach of trust may happen all over again.
This is precisely where treating our fear of being hurt again, or the self doubt of not being up to the challenge, with kindness will soften the difficult emotions and make space for confidence and strength to grow. So when we treat difficult emotions with compassion, we are sending the message that, we’re here, we care, to ourselves. Which over time, builds up our resilience to what we find difficult to be with. Working out the “muscle” of our compassion.
A good way to look at it is: good intentions, fostered with gentle and kind compassion, leads to compassionate actions; “An intention is intended to flow through our every word, thought and deed“, Emma Newlyn. What I like about this quote from Emma Newlyn is that it illustrates how our intentions are woven around our deeds, actions and words, and over time makes up the fabric of our character. It also shows how connected everything is, words, thoughts and actions. All just extensions of how we are in the world.
The takeaway? Compassion, and lots of practice. And that’s not to say that we avoid the difficult emotions by covering them over with kind thoughts, but rather to respect the emotions that are arising, while staying strong in who we are, from a place of love and kindness. To be conscious enough to act from these places, and not let the difficult emotions take over.
And of course it’s not easy. But hey, few things worth the effort in life usually are. The good news is, it does get easier with practice. This is where I leave you my friends. I hope you are having a safe and joyful holiday season, considering our collective circumstances. So be well, be safe and until next time, peace :]