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Is the intention a goal or already realized?

golden hourDo you express the intention as a goal or as something already realized?

This gets at a recurring question, even a debate, in Buddhism (and also in psychology and in some religions): Is it about progressing toward an enlightened state, or is it about uncovering the enlightened condition that has always been present? I can’t do justice here to the nuances of that consideration, but I can say what many wise people think is at the marrow of the matter: both are true. (Darn that middle way.)

In other words, it is powerful to focus on intention both as an aim toward a target, and as something that is already the case. The phrasing, “May ____________ “ is a nice way to accomplish this, since “May I be happy” or “May the world be at peace” both embody an aim and an actuality.

And of these two, aim and actuality, it’s usually best to emphasize the latter, the sense of the intention as already realized. For example, one thing that makes the affirmation form of verbalized intentions powerful (whether written, spoken, or thought), is that they are expressed in the present.

We are such a goal-directed culture, and there are so many associations of striving, frustration, and disappointment related to pursuing goals in the minds of so many of us, that there is often greater openness inside to intentions expressed as already true. We are already that way. Our circumstances are already that way.

This also points us to a greater recognition of, and gratitude and appreciation for, what is already good and working and wholesome and wonderful inside ourselves and outside, in our world. This feels good in its own right, which is very good for your brain! And you! And others!

And it directs us toward resources we may have missed, both inside and outside. There really is a profound wisdom and peacefulness already within us – in Buddhism, sometimes called Buddha mind, or bodhichitta. And a beautiful, wonderful harmony latent in the world.

For example, the “resting state” of the brain has a neurological coherence, a quiet hum of relaxed readiness, and a saturation with mildly positive emotion. That is what you return to when something is resolved, and that is what you return to if you start with a positive state and then jiggle it, such as with EMDR or other psychological techniques.

All this means that the universe and mother nature and spirit are all on your side. So, in a sense, a lot of what anyone of us is really trying to do is to re-access a sense of the innate nature of the brain – of our own nature as beings – and settle ever more deeply into that always already true and present condition. Kind of like settling into a cozy comforter in our bed that is home base.

Perhaps take a moment to see if you can sense into your preexisting Buddha nature, inner goodness, spark of the Divine within – in whatever way you experience or name that.

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About Rick Hanson PhD

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Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. He has several audio programs and his free Just One Thing newsletter has over 100,000 subscribers.

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Comment from zaran
Time: July 26, 2014, 8:19 pm

Hi! Rick, first time to your website and blog, impressive. I look forward to delving more deeply into your offerings. One thing that surprises me in the above article is that in “May______” is a nice way…. connotates (to me), a future activity, not one already accomplished. Unfortunately, wishing for something in the future is setting up “possibilities” for an occurrence, but in an unknown timetable, and therefore perhaps never, for example,

“May I have a piece of cake?” “Maybe, did you eat all of your carrots?” Questioning and conditional…

Wouldn’t it be more subtle and positive to “just” assume what we are targeting, as in “I am happy!” or “I am in a peaceful state of mind.”

Final point, It is also important to be realistic in our goals, if we are to believe in what we say or think, yes, we all want, your example of world peace, but there are about seven billion others who also have a say in this, so it is a little presumptuous to express this as a “fait compli,” but in our own heart (or mind) we can say, this is me, this is the way I am. “I am Peace and will radiate this sense from me in all directions like a lighthouse’s beacon and all that come into my contact will on some plane or level of awareness perceive this message of openness, humility, appreciation, and yes, Peace!”

It’s not enough to just take aim, one must pull the trigger…

Like yourself I believe in the power of self suggestion and feel strongly that self affirmation is a powerful part of a potentially successful meditation program. Thank you for this moment to meet you and your wonderfully inspiring work.

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