Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The inner and outer forces of Being

King Menkaura and Wife

Last night (Dec. 30), my wife and I were driving back from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston when we got on to a discussion about intention and aim.

"...aren't they the same thing?" she asked.

And they aren't.

In order to understand why, one needs first to know that we have different words because they mean different things. 

Second, one must look at the words closely.

Aim is dreived from the Latin aestimare, a root that also gives us estimate. It originally means to evaluate, or something close to that; but, more commonly in today's language, it means to set a mark before one's self which one wishes to hit. It is, in other words, an outward activity

Intention, on the other hand, mean to tend towards inwardly. To tend can mean either to care for or to go in the direction of. In either case, we have a word which indicates an inner action.

One of the difficulties with modern language—and a lack of both aim and intention—is that people get lazy. We live in a world where the internet has created a kind of mob rule of language by fiat; more bad writing, with ignorant spelling, punctuation, phrasing, and meaning has been published in the last fourteen years than in the entire history of mankind up to the end of the last century. We are presiding, in other words, over a massive deterioration in the understanding of what the written and spoken word ought to consist of, in which standards are destroyed and individuals begin to subscribe to the idea that any word can be spelled any old way and that any meaning one subjectively enjoys can be assigned to it, willy-nilly. 

No wonder we don't understand what words mean any more.

In any event, we ought, in inner work (where a more precise language is required), to attend quite carefully to what words mean; and in this case it's quite important.

Intention, you see, is part of my inward effort, and must be understood inwardly, not outwardly. What I intend is what I care for inwardly. 

Attention, let us remember, is also not the same as intention. I need to have an attention toward my intention; that is, I ought to tend consciously inward. 

In addition to this inward effort there can (and should) be an outer aim; and it is when these two forces, intention and aim, the inner and outer forces of Being, work together that a certain kind of force is developed.  Both types of force can, of course, work apart from one another; and usually they do. But there is a synergy when the two of them work together; and the third force of attention helps them to cooperate.

One might, from this, presume that intention is usually more aware than aim; but this mixes things up. Both aim and intention can be relatively unconscious unless the force of attention is applied. Here, as everywhere, the law of three forces applies.



  1. I agree we need to be careful with our use of words. But authoritative definitions only serve to provide fuel for an authority to judge whether they were used properly. Language is not necessarily like pulling fruits from a tree to construct meaning, but more like assembling words to connect with inner experience.

    Each speaker has in mind, so to speak, the meaning they wish to convey. It would, then, be inconsiderate and even failed communication for another to invalidate the speaker for having used the wrong word.

    The essence of communication is what is meant by virtue of the words used. And this, no doubt, varies from person to person, and even from moment to moment by the same person. It is more a matter of the inner experience a speaker wishes to convey.

    In a very real way words are no more than fingers pointing at something. When interacting it is most vital to understand what is pointed at, and far less important determining which finger to use. As inner experience grows perhaps different words are more appropriate, but only as far as they point to some expanded inner experience.


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