Intentions: They’re More Than You Think

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 :]

Image Credits: “Woven” by arbyreed is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Speed and Efficiency aren’t Always Correlated: Taking Care of Our Need to Achieve by Slowing Down and Being Kind to Ourselves

The drive to achieve in us humans is great. And it’s not such a bad trait. Collectively, we’ve developed and discovered a great many things that are wondrous and breathe taking, and some that are bland and scary. But we continue achieving anyway, regardless of what the outcome is. We can expand our views and ideas to accomplish deeds greater than the scope of our own lives, or we can narrow our view and focus on changes in the self and shades between as well. Whichever mode of how we choose to accomplish something isn’t inherently more virtuous than any other.

They say it is good to be selfless and act on behalf of those who can’t for themselves, but it is also said that to effect real change, you must first change yourself. However, there may be some pitfalls along the way. If we’re not careful they could cost us our desire to achieve something, either for the greater good or for our own greater good.

One trap we often fall into is wanting to obtain our desired outcome with our own clear map in mind and black and white thinking to navigate the way there. This often leads to dead ends and with a lack of willingness to vary our course to get to our final destination, when we eventually need to vary our plan because our map hasn’t accounted for unknown circumstances, we find ourselves lost and without direction. One of the ways we get caught in black and white thinking is to confuse speed with efficiency. Believing that that alone will lead to success.

This sort of speed equals efficiency and we need to be as efficient as possible, doesn’t usually give us the expected results we think it will. That being said, there is something about working with a quick, controlled focus. Like when you watch a master at his or her craft, moving with agility and dexterity, to create something unbelievably satisfying. But this type of speed and accuracy isn’t necessarily correlated with efficiency. More so it is due to the ten thousand hours the master of their craft committed to their task. And yes they move fast but they are also agile enough to change course if need be. And they are more than likely experts at that as well. Staying fluid.

So if it’s the fluidity of the work that is so impressive to watch in action, while speed is a product of repetition and practice, where does that leave efficiency? From my understanding efficiency is achieved after trying a varying degree of deviations from the main method and being able to adjust for the current circumstance in real time. How do we get there? By trying a bunch of different techniques and seeing what works and what doesn’t. A.k.a, lots of mistakes. The Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show comes to mind, singing along while blindly bandying things about until something is created.

I’m joking, but doesn’t it feel that way sometimes? Like we’re just throwing it together and praying that it comes together? It does for me for sure, until I get a few successful attempts under my belt and then the confidence starts to build. And this is true for most endeavors. From trying a new recipe, to taking a new yoga class, taking on new responsibilities at work, or life responsibilities… there is always something calling for our attention. Something new to try.

And in turn, something for us to make mistakes at. And this isn’t news to anybody for sure. We know by now that to “make an omelette, you must break a few eggs” but sometimes the line gets hazy as to where we feel the acceptable amount of the aforementioned eggs to break is drawn. Or if our plan says to break them a certain way and it doesn’t pan (sorry) out the way we expect it to, or it works but could be tweaked a bit for better results, if we can’t deviate from our plans then we miss an opportunity to stay fluid in our search for mastery or efficiency in our tasks.

One of the ways we learn new paths and stay fluid and where we’ll find another pitfall is working with others, collaborating. Often time we view mistakes as embarrassing and where speed is priority, wasting time can be something of a sensitive subject. Especially for those that feel as though they have to be good at everything they do on their terms to be as efficient and successful as possible.

So in the search for being efficient and where speed is a value and mistakes are seen as an embarrassing weakness, we will often times reject help from others. Or insist we have to do everything on our own in our own way, too proud to ask for help and being seen as someone who can’t handle their tasks. But it is this very instance where two minds coming together to understand and approach a problem from different perspectives that allows for the type of growth that implements change for the positive. In other words, more efficient.

I work with someone who exemplifies this sort of speed is priority above all else. And what was so eye opening about watching them work and actually hearing them say, “we have to be as efficient as possible”, is how much they reminded me of myself, not to long ago. My co-worker is a reasonably amicable person, but when they have something set in their head on how things should be done they don’t pull any punches. I’m a baker by trade and an example of this type of mindset in action is I feel encapsulated by one of our interactions we’ve had fairly recently.

We were making baguette, shaping the familiar cylindrical loaves we know and love as the iconic french bread. When I was flipping the dough from the pre-shaped form to the middle of the bench, crusty side down so that it didn’t stick to the bench, my co-worker asked, “could you please not flip the bread when you move the pre-shapes”. When I inquired why she wanted it done this way she responded with, “the crusty side is down, so when someone shapes, the crusty side will be on the outside of the loaf.” She was already anticipating that someone was going to make a mistake and wanted me to adjust for the person who may shape the loaf incorrectly. This made little sense to me since everyone on the team was experienced.

What it came down to for them was whether or not they could trust their co-workers. Or rely on someone else to do the right thing when called upon. I was working from a collaborative perspective, anticipating what would be most convenient for the team. When you have the mindset that everyone around you isn’t trustworthy, then you take on the role of responsibility for the outcome of the entire team. This is not only unreasonable but also unhealthy. What was and is so shocking for me is how much of my former self I see in my co-worker.

I remember having a tough night at a bakery I used to work at when I got into an argument with the owner about something. What I’m not to sure of now but knowing me it probably wasn’t a big deal. But I know I made it out to be. In the middle of our argument I told the owner that my bake looked like garbage when actually it was a very respectable bake. He said so himself. I think a few loaves may have been misshapen, but I blew up those two to three loaves into a complete failure for the entire night. It was this type of black and white thinking mixed with the impossible standard I set for myself and others which isolated me from those I worked with. And something I see so clearly now in my current co-worker’s actions.

This is a very isolating place to be and the only way out is through kindness, to ourselves and others. My former self and my current co-worker had/have the best of intentions. But that’s just it, they always have to be “the best”. There is no room for error and anything “less than” will be dealt with swiftly and with extreme prejudice. This is the very definition of passive aggressive behavior and turned inward, can result in self harm in negative self talk.

It’s like being in an abusive relationship, only there is nowhere to run where you won’t find yourself. You are always there to pick apart whatever perceived failure or mistake you see and there is always an underlying feeling of something being off. Like you’re not quite safe but can’t figure out why. From my experience this was the attitude that is cultivated by being in this passive aggressive state. Hyper vigilant and distrustful of yourself and others. No question a very isolating place to be.

But again the way out is kindness. It’s amazing how much a little self care goes toward reversing this critical state of being. Self care and kindness towards yourself and others begins to cultivate a loving attentiveness to the spots that get sticky when we want to pick ourselves apart. Staying with those feelings and being kind to them, but also staying with the feelings that come up when we experience them by observing them in others.

Because when we see these emotions in others, judge them as weak or unsavory in some way, we distance ourselves from them and become guarded against them. Or we actively are hostile towards them.

What I wasn’t taught and what I imagine most people aren’t who are in most need of this advice is these are not emotions specific to the individual that we are judging as other or less than. They are human emotions. You can’t kill or completely rid yourself of select emotions. Being human means that you sign up for the entire package. Pleasant and difficult emotions alike and all those shades between. So when you judge another for being in a certain emotion and when you eventually feel that emotional state, you will judge yourself with the same harsh scalpel you did another.

Furthermore, the more we practice this aggression towards others and self, what immerges is a low self esteem and self doubt. The Buddha said “what we think, we become”. It stands to reason that if we are filled with angry thoughts and those of aggression towards others, we become outwardly hostile and unpleasant to be around. The Buddha also said, “hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed”. So the more kind we are to ourselves and others, the more we cultivate a loving state that is capable of healing our fragile, wounded selves. Creating a space that is able to support the healing of ourselves and others.

So the more we judge ourselves for not adding up to the plans we’ve laid or when we eventually have to change course because something unpredictable happens, the more we get stuck in our ridged ways of being that become a source of frustration. A roadblock to what we truly want. Usually this means to be productive and good at what we do, efficient and capable. But the more we slow down in those moments of harsh judgement and see ourselves as honesty as struggling or lost with a lack of direction, and the more kindness we are able to bring to that lost self, the easier it will become to pull ourselves out of that state and into a place that is more flexible and understanding. More loving.

In the end, we will accomplish more by slowing down and bringing a loving attention to the places in need, than by any form of criticism or judgement. And it all starts with bringing kindness to what’s happening in the moment. With the feelings that arise.

A good way to loosen the grip of the harsh judge is to come up with a resource list. This is a list of things, places, people or events and activities, that you enjoy doing or being around or participating in. This is a good place to go when you need to bring some warmth and kindness to yourself. Because it’s not always easy to think of taking care of yourself when you’re in the midst of tearing yourself down. I have one in my Bullet Journal and it’s nice to look at even when we are in need of a quick pick-me-up.

So now that we have the resources we need to show ourselves some kindness when we don’t feel we, or someone we know, is adding up to the standard that may be a little unreasonable, who knows what we’ll be able to achieve. Peace 🙂

An update on my relationship with my co-worker. Our relationship has changed for the better due to me actively listening with kindness to what was bothering them. The more kindness we bring to our interactions, with self and others, the better off we all will be for it.

Image Credits: “Stress” by topgold is licensed under CC BY 2.0