Thursday, January 14, 2021

Where does my intention begin?


Sept. 10 2020

Where does my intention begin?

The word itself comes from Latin roots that mean to reach for or stretch towards. My intention, in other words, is part of my wish, what I care for. Both care and agency are fundamental and scientifically inexplicable properties of matter; as I’ve pointed out before, even molecules in cells have agency and care about what other molecules around them are doing (see my book Metaphysical Humanism.) It is true to say that every molecule in my body has a wish. The agency of each molecule is its “I”, its individuality, what gives it its self as distinct from other selves. Bound to that at the root of it arising is the wish that comes with it. These inherent properties are embedded in the cosmos and in every particle of it.

My intention, the one that I have on this level, is an emergent property that represents the summation of all the intentions in my molecules. The whole universe works this way; intention (care) is gathered and concentrated in increasing amounts, because it represents the re-collection of the dispersed will of God. I discussed this in another book, The Reconstruction of the Soul, which appears to be about medieval art but is actually about what we are as Beings.

In any event, enough of the book ads. The point is that our intention is a verb, not a noun. It is a living thing that evolves to the extent that it is concentrated; and we even have an intention towards our intention. Intention exists in a tense; that is to say, it is past, present, or future in its own right. If I look backwards towards how my life was, my intention is directed in the wrong way. This creates attachment to the past, something every human being is familiar with. Psychologists and social workers make their livings on that kind of attachment. Or, conversely, my intention is directed at the future. This is how billionaires make their fortunes, and also drives many of the engines of material life.

The idea of directing the intention towards the present is an interesting and different one, and certainly one of the aims of most serious inner religious practice. In order to investigate the question of how this is undertaken, one needs to contemplate the question of where one’s intention is born. Where does it arise; when does it arise? What is my relationship to it now?

One ought to be reminded here that Swedenborg said that the summation of what a human being becomes, all of the meaning they embody and what their possibilities consist of, rests in their intention. In his cosmology, good intentions, and intentions of love toward God and others, lead one to heaven — which is a metaphysical state of loving relationship in community. Bad intentions, on the other hand, lead one to hell, which is a metaphysical state of caring only about oneself and what one has. Human beings, when they are born, are placed in the middle between these two potentials.

I will probably come back to this, though I can’t be sure, as these explorations are fluid. The thought that I had about the question of intention yesterday is that I always end up with my intention after it’s too late to see it born. This is a complex and unfamiliar conceptual reasoning, I know. What I am getting at is that I always want to encounter my intention when it is mature, when it is already a whole thing that has an intelligence of its own and knows where it’s going. Intention that says to itself, for example, I’m going to go to the supermarket and buy some beans. This is, we might say, the intention of the known. That’s what I want.

Yet the intention I am more interested in exploring right now is the intention of the unknown. It is the intention that is born. The intention that arises right now, which senses all the potentials and has its antennae turned towards them in anticipation. What this intention intends is to be there. This is a different kind of intention than wishing (as past – directed intention does) that I hadn’t been there (wherever that was) or wishing that I will be there later. It is a wish, to use a tired old phrase, to be here now. What isn’t tired about this rephrasing of the question is that it proposes a different kind of intelligence towards intention, one that places it firmly in the present.

It occurred to me, last night, when I was contemplating this question that the story of Christ’s Nativity is about exactly this question. Christ represents God’s intention; it is being born in this present moment, amidst animals (our animal nature) in a humble place. It is nurtured by Mary, the pure, unadulterated, generative power of God. It is assigned an extraordinarily high value. (The three Kings.) It has a physical nature (gold), the ability to sense (frankincense), and an awareness of its own mortality (myrrh, used for embalming.) 

The point is that the intention, God’s intention, is discovered in the place where it is born. This narrative is a narrative of intention placed in the present. All of the possibilities for rebirth, a refocusing of being, a renewal of life, are concentrated here.

Perhaps it’s impossible to “locate” intention in me as it is born, in the place that it is born. Perhaps not. One thing is sure: I can conduct an investigation of this question. My intention is, after all, molecular in nature: it is part of the very fine substances that form the grains of Being. I often advise others that instead of dreaming about the stars and the cosmos, they might consider investing much more of their intention and attention to the question of sensing these molecules of Being. The texture of life, its taste and its quality, are located in these relationships and their intentions towards one another. The whole body — and by body I mean all of its manifested parts, physical, intellectual, and emotional — has this texture in it, which can become a sensible (tangible and accessible) part of perception.

The intellect, which is what we usually use to understand life — the use of the word “understand” is ironic, because we actually understand almost nothing of life in regards to what it really is — is a creature of evaluation. Intention directed towards the past or the future evaluates. Its usual dialogue is one of two things: I wish I hadn’t ended up here or, conversely, I wish I was over there. 

Intention directed towards the present moment is not evaluative. It is perceptive. And herein lies the difference: it is not dedicated to the proposition that things should be different than they are. It is dedicated to the investigation of things as they are. The intention is to perceive things as they are. Not inflected by the countless opinions that arise in the past and future tenses of this verb.

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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