Intentionality

prison
The birth of the de-centered self can be profoundly disorienting, it is transcendental and often involves a heightened sense of awareness and connection. The analytical ‘localized’ self can find it fragile, frightening and impossible to grasp…There is a sense of being present to what is seeking to emerge, with intentionality. If you follow your nature enough, if you follow your nature as it moves, if you follow so far that you really let go, then you find that you’re actually the original being, the original way of being. The original being knows things and acts, does things in its own [intuitive?] way. It actually has a great intention to be itself, and it will do so if you just let it. (– from the book Presence, chapter on Letting Go, Letting Come)

Those who advise people to follow their passion, no matter where it leads, are believers in intentionality*. Many meditation programs that advise that imagining ‘success’, what one wants to happen, is the first step towards its realization, are believers in intentionality (the second step, they will tell you, is acting in accordance). Those who will tell you that having the courage to ‘real-ize’ what you were always intended to be and do, by living on the Edge beyond the reach of civilization’s safety net, is the only sane way to live, the only hope for us as individuals and as a culture, are believers in intentionality. And so are the ‘power of positive thinking’ and ‘appreciative inquiry’ proponents.

With all these different groups of people advocating intentionality as the catalyst for Let-Self-Change, and as something that has almost mystical power of direction and self-realization, why is it that most of us remain so skeptical that intentionality is either a sufficient or necessary condition for realization of anything? Have our hopes and dreams been shattered so often by harsh reality that we no longer believe that aspiration matters? Does power, influence, money, ruthlessness, deceitfulness, have more to do with successful achievement than knowing what you want and having the passion and sense of purposefulness and single-mindedness to pursue it, even against all odds?

It is hard, sometimes, not to come to this conclusion. We watch corrupt politicians with enormously powerful and wealthy connections steal elections. We watch horrifically destructive mega-polluters lie and deny in hugely influential media, media that they have bought with their ill-gotten gains. We watch corporate, political and celebrity criminals literally getting away with murder. We watch churches and other social organizations turned into astonishingly effective propaganda arms of devious extremist political groups, in both affluent and struggling nations. We watch psychopathic fear-mongers trump impassioned voices of reason in the war for public opinion. It is easy to get discouraged, to believe that mere intentionality, no matter how impassioned, rational, altruistic and intuitively sensible it may be, is no match for the clout of those that care about nothing, that seek only the soulless acquisition of even more wealth and power, for its own sake.

But then we realize that, in today’s immensely complex world, where the levers of power are increasingly ineffective against multitudinous and asymmetric opponents, and where neither social nor ecological systems can be managed, predicted, analyzed, or even significantly steered, no one is in control. Our world is like a vehicle accelerating ahead on its own momentum and careening wildly from side to side, with no braking or steering mechanism available to the powerful bullies and rich gamblers who still believe themselves to be in the driver’s seat. The rich and powerful are failing in nine out of every ten things they try to do. Their attempts to gain popular support are universally backfiring in the court of public opinion, as the truth comes out despite their machinations to obscure it. Every time they think they have a new ploy or a new technology that will accomplish their goals, its implementation instead creates a dozen new unforeseeable problems that they cannot constrain or even influence, and which takes them even farther from their intended objective.

And we realize, too, that the only person who has influence over our personal ability to Let-Self-Change is us, the lonely, disconnected bag of skin and organs that is the individual. To the extent we let others make our decisions for us, that too is ultimately our choice. And even though our minds are principally in the service of the organisms that comprise our body, and our decisions are mostly made instinctively and subconsciously by them for their benefit, still we have significant influence over what we do.

The word intention literally means stretching toward. The word aspiration means breathing toward. We have the capacity to do these things, to take ourselves away from a life of learned helplessness and addiction to consumption and debt, from relationships that are abusive and stifling, from the ruts we have stuck ourselves in. We have the capacity, by first imagining better possibilities and then by stretching and breathing towards them, to become someone different, someone real-izing those better possibilities.

I believe that my Gift and my Passion and my Genius is imagining those possibilities and helping others to imagine them for themselves. That is why I’m here, in this world where so many live in horrific imaginative poverty, live their entire lives so narrowly, so ‘safely’, with such little variety of experience that they cannot conceive or perceive of what they are missing, of what underlies the terrible emptiness that they instinctively feel inside.

What people do with the possibilities I help them imagine is not really my business. I am here only to unlock the doors. What I am learning, though, is that it is easier to imagine possibilities for others than to enable them to imagine those possibilities for themselves. It is like trying to describe a life of freedom to someone who has spent their whole life in a prison — to them it is frightening. What must it take for such a person to suddenly acknowledge and come to grips with the poverty of their entire life, the shame of not knowing that there was so much more, the agoraphobia of the vast outside, and especially the humiliating realization that all this time the key to escape the prison was in their possession?

I am, of course, my own first and worst customer, still hovering at the exit doors, trying the key again and again and being astonished that it opens so easily, that there is nothing holding me back except me. How much safer and more comfortable it is for me to instead show others the keys in their possession, and to tell stories of how they could be living outside the prison that is their lives!

I convince myself that I am still at the Let-Self-Be-Aware stage that precedes Let-Self-Change. I’m thinking and planning and imagining and worrying. Like all those I’m goading to free themselves to real-ize their possibilities, I’m afraid to let go. I’m stretching toward and breathing toward becoming someone different, but I’m terrified of what lies ahead, outside. I want someone else to go first, and pull me out with them, make my Let-Self-Change somehow partly their responsibility. Don’t try to do anything alone, I keep admonishing others, using my own advice as my excuse for holding back, for not real-ly intending to Let-Self-Change. Break the large, imposing tasks down into manageable chunks, I tell everyone, and take it one small step at a time — that’s the key to intentionality.

But there are steps and there are steps, and the important steps, even the small ones, are bold ones, with no turning back. These are the steps that we only take when we must, when we have no alternative, when the pain of going forward is less than the pain of staying where we are. Those who profit from our inaction, our lack of true intentionality, our fear, are counting (with good reason) on the fact that, for most of us, we have not yet reached that tipping point when we must act, must Let-Self-Change. They keep us distracted and addicted and comfortable enough with our prison life that escaping is never urgent enough.

My weblog is, more than anything else, a diary for talking myself into practicing what I preach, for convincing myself that I must act. Help convince me, it says to my readers, who are impatiently hoping for me to convince them. How to be a model, I write. Won’t somebody be a model for me, I am asking, to those who want and rightfully expect me, the advocate of Let-Self-Change, to be the model for them. My audience is dwindling as so many get tired of all-talk, no-action. So we sit here, by the exit doors of the prison, talking about possibilities and trying to talk each other into real change, to make each other bold.

But despite what the self-help pundits of all stripes say, intention is not enough. We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. We are not yet persuaded that we must take that first bold no-turning-back step, and we know that step won’t be easy and that it may not be fun.

We will only leave the prison when someone, probably inadvertently, with the best of intentions, or accidentally, sets it on fire. Maybe that’s what we’re all waiting for.

* The discipline of philosophy has appropriated this word and given it a limited, passive meaning of ‘aboutness’. I mean it instead in the sense of’purposefulness’ — having an intention.

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11 Responses to Intentionality

  1. Mariella says:

    I know people that do what they want when they want…. sometimes I belong to this group, and sometimes to the group that does when they must…….. ¿What is my identity made of when I do what I WANT? ¿ What is my identity made of when I do what I MUST? ¿Is my “intention” built with the same materials, with the same structure in both cases … ?? ¿Can I level up my “when I MUST “me” “, to my “when I WANT “me” “? The resource is in us….. ¿Can we model our own resource….. that leads our intention into action?.

  2. David says:

    Hello Dave.Funny that you write about your dwindling audience “as so many get tired of all-talk, no-action.”I’ve been left with that very impression, just today, having received no response to the email I sent to you Sunday afternoon … a message meant to initiate precisely the bold step(s) you’re calling for.Do you want to Change the World (for the better) … or just write about it?Do you want to search … for the sake of searching … for a better way to live and make a living? Or, are you actually open to ‘doing’ and achieving the much needed changes/results?There are enough academics out there continually talking/writing about the problems and the need for solutions. The time is long past due to actually ‘real-ize’ the solutions. So, frankly, I was expecting more of you – especially someone with a business background to actually become ‘busy’ making things happen (instead of just ‘busy-work’ of blog writing). Yes, I will gladly be a model for you. Indeed, I present the model business in which to achieve the various results you call for … intentional commerce: one aspect of which includes the commercializing of intentional communities as a new industry. What is needed is a new global ‘Eco-corporate’ entity … one which can/will truly inspire people … with massive employment (re-deploy people away from problem industries/companies) while generating a massive financial flow (intentional wealth for deliberate redistribution).Are you brave enough, Dave, to take that bold step?Is there anyone else out there, reading this now, brave and bold? D.

  3. Tom says:

    Dave, Sounds like you

  4. Good, good, good Dave…Regards Philip

  5. ~C4Chaos says:

    “I believe that my Gift and my Passion and my Genius is imagining those possibilities and helping others to imagine them for themselves.”well put. and that, my friend, is what The 8th Habit is all about :)

  6. Mike Bennett says:

    Hi Dave

  7. Mariella says:

    Hi again, Mike, I tune in with your post, I read a couple of “on line” chapters of Spiral Dynamics and found interesting the way one can construct the structure of the desired intention adding all the sensorial modalities needed to feel comfortable to act out your intention.——– My take is that to be able to bring to action a thought, to materialize an intention, we need a bunch of sense made, metaphores, (the ingredients that make the cake)…. backing up our desire….. while we collect them…. our brain is searching (for what is needed to complete the “sense”), as Mike says : “

  8. ~C4Chaos says:

    looks like some people on this thread have already discovered Spiral Dynamics. awesome. allow me to add another model: AQAL color altitude. both models use colors, both models are useful depending on how and where you use them.my two cents.~C

  9. Digambar V. Behere says:

    You are what your deep,driving dsire is,As your desire is, so is your will.As your will is, so is your deed.As your deed is, so is your desitny.Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.4.59th century BCE

  10. Zane says:

    Hi Dave–I think part of the answer is for us not to beat ourselves up. I believe that intention, combined with attention, is the most important piece of change, and is the biggest challenge we all face. Intention is a kind of seed, but it needs space and time to develop into a plant, a flower, and a fruit. For example, I felt like I was also in a situation where I talked and wrote about sustainability and community for a long time,but I didn’t feel like I was living the core of this belief. A year ago, that all changed very quickly. Now most of my days are spent building community and building a place–and it gives me lots to write about, when I have the time. I couldn’t have imagined the syncronicity with which my intention was manifest in the world, but it happened in the right time. How could it not?As a final note, I think you attention to physical emboodiment and attention recently is part of the path. I beleive when we are attuned to our physical presense in the world–how we breathe and move and dance through life–then we are also much closer to fulfilling our intentions and our aspirations.Anyway, best.

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