By Thea Iberall
We do things by habit so that we don’t have to think about them or because we feel safer that way. We were taught to dress ourselves, cover up our torsos, legs, and feet for comfort and modesty. To brush our teeth for health and social interactions. To comb our hair, to feed ourselves. Day after day, year after year, habit prepares us to face the world.
Habit is the opposite of being intentional. Shirley said something yesterday that I can’t stop thinking about: my intention drives my experiences. When I am being intentional, I consciously focus on the issue or action, and I make choices. I have awareness. And it drives the experiences I have.
Sometimes I wonder where my intentions come from. I mean, sometimes I set intentions like New Year’s resolutions and I don’t always follow through on them. Which are the ones I do follow through on?
Some intentions are created by a need. My spouse and I need to know what each is planning and doing, so we created a joint calendar that we both accurately keep. It makes our filled lives work smoothly. And in the morning, I check the calendar to see what’s on the schedule. This sets up an intention for what I will do during the day.
Other intentions are created by a commitment. When I'm not focused on doing my projects or reading, my chatterbox can start up. This chatterbox used to beat me up with negative thoughts, but I made a commitment to stop it. This commitment led to me reprogramming my brain. I find that now, if my chatterbox starts randomly obsessing about things, I counter it with mundane things. I intentionally don’t let my mind wander. I stay in the present. I count cars or cracks on the sidewalk or think about the composition of the dishwashing liquid as I do the dishes.
I can make a commitment to anything I want. I became aware that I eat more than I need to, using food for pleasure and for overcoming anxiety. But I want to weigh less. Something had to give way in these conflicting wants. By realizing that weighing less is actually a need, I set a daily intention to eat three small meals a day and nothing in between. And I do whatever I can to support this intention: journal about it, talk with others, read stories.
My intention does drive my experience. These intentions help bring serenity into my life for my health and daily activities. But what about bigger things like beliefs and values and my determination to support good things in the world? How can I set an intention for that?
When I realized as a white person, I never have to think about race, I also realized that makes me part of the problem of systemic racism. So I asked myself how can I intentionally think about race every day? I can’t change my skin color but what do I change every day? I decided to turn one of my daily habits into a daily reminder of race. This is why I wear two different color socks. A black sock on my right foot, my dominant side; a white one on my left foot, my non-dominant side. This reminder keeps me aware. As I dress, I am preparing to face a world where systemic racism must be overcome.
My intention does drive my experience. Through my intentions of maintaining a calendar, keeping my chatterbox in check, eating three meals a day, and placing myself in the bigger picture, I experience life through awareness. And at each juncture, I choose serenity, one day at a time.
I appreciate your reading. I was moved by the two socks. I do a lot of racial justice work. Sometimes we are so unaware of what we can be called to be aware of. That goes for our personal lives and in what is going on in society. And it takes an extra effort to say 'I will be awake' and to allow ourselves to say 'I didn’t know anything about that'. I appreciate the range of awareness and I thank you for the reading today.
You are welcome. I used to wear a button saying ‘Ask me about my socks.’ It was a way to start conversations about race.
That is white privilege, that we don’t have to think about it. Every single day, people do have to walk in the history, the legacy, and the treatment.
Your words about intention got me thinking more about intention. About intention driving experience. There are steps to change, like I can have the awareness about something but not have the intention to change it. Not being ready to change it. What is necessary to make that jump to have the desire to do it? I’m wondering about that in-between space.
Thank you for the reading. In terms of where intention comes from, I think it comes from need or pain or fear which are good driving motivations. I’ve also had enough pain around my weight that I’ve wanted to make a change.
Thank you for the reading. I can relate to the calendar with everything I’ve been going through lately. Blocking out my day can alleviate the stress. I also just made an intention to have a good day, every day. Thank you for the reminder.
It’s a commitment to how we want to treat ourselves. That sounds like a commitment to treat yourself with love.
In terms of intention, I was struck by the power of words (see May 24 blog). I took away the word ‘gentle.’ I am intentionally bringing it forward and thinking gentle. The thought resonates in my body. Something happens when I think of the word gentle. I’m making the intention to treat myself kindly and also for other people to hear it.
It’s why Shirley says it every day, so that it slowly seeps into our brains.
When I first started in the group and for a while afterwards, I was saying feel the fear and do it anyway. And I’d have thoughts from that. The past few months, I’ve tried not to get down on myself as I’ve stopped saying that. There are intentions for the future I’d like to put out there, but I’m so tired and down about my family situation that I can’t do anything. It all gets muddled in my head. Do I criticize myself? Do I tell myself to give myself a break? I do like the word intention and the meaning behind it.
Thank you. Saying feel the fear and do it anyway is an intention. Life is about choice. But it is very hard to do things when I am depleted and exhausted. I made a choice the other day when I felt weak, and I spent the day in bed reading and enjoying my time. I gave myself permission to take care of myself. Intentions can start small. They can start with the awareness that we can set an intention, and not set it then. I learned something from a mentor when I was facing a big project that I was too scared to do. She said just make a list of the things you have to do. Make the things small, like sharpen my pencil and look up a phone number. Don’t do anything on the list, just make the list. It relieved me of the burden of trying to do the big project. Making the list was easy. I didn’t have the energy to do anything on the list, but I didn’t have to. The next day, she said just do one thing on the list and then go back to bed. I did. And before you knew it, I had the whole project done. I couldn't do the big project, but I could do it one miniscule step at a time. Sometimes that’s all intention can do for us.
Sometimes it’s a question of listening to my body and my intentions override that. Sometimes my body is smarter than me and it takes over. Sometimes it’s not that I am letting myself down but I am paying more attention to my body.
My setting intentions creates awareness so that I don’t reach that point of depletion. I treat myself with respect and love.
Thank you all for joining me today. Thank you for participating and giving yourselves 15 minutes of reflection and silence. You come here with intention, so you all have at least one intention every day that is for your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health to spend 15 minutes in meditation. I hope you all go out and have a gentle, blessed day that is filled with love for yourself and with good thoughts.