Last weekend, I hosted a photography workshop in Niagara-on-the-Lake and we focused on pausing and focusing with intention. Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore this topic in more detail, beginning here with an updated post from 2014.

“You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” ~ The Upanishads

According to this quote from The Upanishads, desires and wants are intentions. This is true, yet there are also intentions underneath those desires. These are your purest intentions. And, it’s important to understand what they are so that you better understand why you do what you do.

Attention and energy follow intentions, whether consciously or not.

For example, I loved to ice skate when I was a kid. I had a strong desire to be on the ice as much as possible and much of my attention was focused on skating. I don’t think I was aware of this at the time, but what lay underneath this desire was a need for freedom, flow, and presence.

It’s good practice in self-awareness to ask yourself about the underlying intentions behind your actions. Why do you photograph? Or, go on Facebook five times a day? Or, do the work you do?

Setting Intentions

You can also set intentions. These are not the same as goals because there is no specific outcome. Intentions provide structure and point you in a certain direction but where you end is up for grabs. For example, in my online classes we often set intentions for a general subject, like spending a week noticing light in all its guises. We are noticing light but don’t know exactly how it will show up for us.

You can set an intention for a certain mindset, for example, to be open or kind or curious or adventurous. You can set an intention for the highest good or for presence or for solitude. In a relationship conflict, is your intention to be right or to understand?

This way of being works better than setting goals because so much of life is out of your control, except for yourself. You will always need to adapt to changing circumstances. But, you can always control how you show up; how you respond in any given situation.

“It is our conscious or non-conscious intention that is the focal point and determines where our energy goes, not necessarily the object, person or situation on which we focus, but rather the intention behind the focus.” ~ The Power of Intention

Egoic versus Nourishing, Liberating Intentions

Tara Brach is a meditation teacher and my mentor in seeing for the Pause section of the Adventures in Seeing Book. She is the founder of the Insight Meditation Community in Washington, D.C. and offers a weekly talk there, which is recorded and freely offered online.

One of those talks is called Nourishing a Liberating Intention. In it, Brach describes two types of intentions – egoic (based on fear or surface desires) and nourishing, liberating ones (based on our deepest desires). I don’t know about you, but I want my intentions to be the latter.

How do you identify your deepest desires?

1. The content is in line with who you are innately.

2. You feel a big yes in your body.

3. There is a sincere, innocent quality to it.

4. It is about the present moment, not a future goal.

Via Tara Brach

For example, when I thought about my intentions for the weekend workshop, egoic intentions included: making money, being liked, and having everything go as planned. I would certainly not want to make any mistakes and be humiliated.

When I took the time to think deeper about my nourishing, liberating intentions, on the other hand, they were:

* That each person would have the space they needed for contemplation.
* That this space would allow them to discover their own deepest intention for coming.
* They would see the value of pausing and focusing with intention in their photography.
* I would roll with and adapt to whatever happened and accept whatever feedback came my way.

Those intentions feel so much better than the egoic ones.

“Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.” ~ John Cage, Where the Heart Beats by Kay Larson

How aware are you of your intentions?

Next Week: Intentions in Photography

Watch the video of Tara Brach’s talk here. Access all of her talks here.

Read: The Power of Intention

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