Eightfold Path — Right Intention

December 3, 2010 § 2 Comments

Well it’s been a bit tough for me to find time to do anything like read or write lately, LOL. Starting this post while at home with a sick child and home from work. Definitely having a hard time sitting still and being idle. I’ve cleaned about as much as I can, so, going to see if I can catch a few moments here and there to read a bit on Right Intention and write about what I’m finding. The way things usually go with this though, is that I’ll start it today, and not be able to finish it up until Thursday or so hahaha. Ah well, at least I’m finding the time, right?

My main sources in reading about Right Intention are from the Access to Insight web page and from The Big View (click on their names for direct links to the articles I read from), although I have read some from “What The Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula on the topic as well.

When it comes to Right Intention, my main observation is that we’re talking about a domino effect type of situation. When we take care of how we view the world, how we interpret people and events (Right View, first part of the Eightfold Path), Right Intention naturally arises — or so the theory seems to go according to Access to Insight. It’s a little of the “chicken or the egg” question, I think, but I think I see the point being made. If you think right, you act right, if you act right, your next thought/idea etc. is more apt to be right.

I sometimes wonder how much of this “Eastern thought” actually does influence our everyday thinking, and I do see it popping up in surprising ways here and there. For example, reading up on Right Intention, it made me think of a poster that hangs outside of the Guidance Office at the high school in which I work. To paraphrase it, it goes something like this:

Watch your thoughts,
as they become your words.
Watch your words
as they become your actions.
Watch your actions,
as they become your character.

That’s not 100% it, but it’s the idea, and it is a similar idea shared in what is written on Access to Insight about Right Intention. I’m also not sure if this is attributed to anyone in particular … I’ll have to check that out and credit them if it is 🙂

Basically, it’s the idea that our words and our actions are more than just our words and our actions, it’s practice for future words we choose to use, and future actions in which we choose to engage.

Since starting my active practice/study of Buddhism not so long ago (about a year, off and on perhaps?) I have seen evidence of this phenomenon. What’s frustrating for my Type A, “I want everything neatly pigeon-holed and to happen in an orderly fashion” mind is the ‘messiness’ of the practice, of the path. There’s no real linear progression — you kind of pick up what you can as you go along. Grrrr! You jump in where you are, start SOMETHING — picking up a book on Buddhism, joining a group, talking to people, reading this blog (haha), then naturally, other parts of the practice fall into place, which cause other bits of it to happen, and you try to catch it all as you walk along.

While that has indeed been a point of some frustration for me, what has been deeply satisfying is seeing this “If you do A, then C might happen, X is not far behind.” It’s a progression that follows its own order, but it is progress nonetheless. I really started to actively practice when I began meditation, or practicing more mindfulness, which lies at the bottom of the pile of the Eightfold Path. Regardless, somehow Right View started to show up, which, as is said, brought Right Intention along. So when it is said to jump in where you are, to start with anything — that’s why. It doesn’t really matter, because one action begets another, then another, and another.

That’s not to say most of us do not have Right View or Right Intention all along in our daily lives, without practicing Buddhism. The question is, however, how many of us are actually MINDFUL about it? Do you actively choose the right view? Or do you act without reflection, and smile when it happens to be the right thing, or alternatively, fall into dismay because it wasn’t?

Do you stop, pause, and ask yourself the questions “What will this do to me? To those around me? Is this RIGHT?” Do you examine your thoughts, your view, your approach, your intent? That’s where the difference has lain for myself. I find myself pausing more often now, before letting my mouth open to let the words out. I stop myself before pressing that “post” or “send” button and ask myself, “What is the purpose of these words? What am I trying to accomplish with this action? With these words?” I so often find myself deleting things now, or changing what I have to say.

It has also shown up in my work — as a teacher, I pause to observe my students more often. Instead of reacting instantly, I find myself taking an extra second to pause and think about my reaction. In that split second, I’ve changed my course of action to opt either for silence, or, to ask a question rather than make a statement. What a difference that has made! Instead of the “Well that homework was due yesterday, so it’s too late,” which used to be my stock answer to students handing in late assignments, I’ve taken to asking not a more confrontational “Why is this late?” but rather, “What happened?” The question changed in that split second pause I made myself take, because I wondered in that split second, what is the purpose of my question? To berate? Or should it be to truly investigate the cause of this student’s situation?

The benefits have been immeasurable. In changing my question to “What happened?” I found the capacity for more compassion for my students, which offers them the opportunity to try their assignment again, or in a different way perhaps, and therefore, sets them up for more success in my class. More importantly, I’ve taken a step toward being what a teacher ought to be — a guide, a mentor, a firm but guiding hand .

Big difference! Please don’t think that this action has me taking long meditative pauses in the middle of a lesson, or in my day. How odd would that be? Rather, the act of meditating seems to have trained my mind to have the ability to quickly press a ‘pause’ button before I react, think quickly about what my reaction should be, then again quickly press the ‘play’ button on my  mouth. It’s a literal split second moment, but it MATTERS.

So, next time, before you react, ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” It takes far less time than you think, and the effect is tremendous.


§ 2 Responses to Eightfold Path — Right Intention

  • Ted says:

    “… our words and our actions are more than just our words and our actions, it’s practice for future words we choose to use, and future actions in which we choose to engage.”

    Beautifully said!

    As for being mindful about those intention choices, that comes with practice, like the rest of it. Mindfulness is the expanding of that moment, so we have that pause you talk about.

    • Thanks Ted 🙂 I agree about how being mindful about intention choices comes with practice — I think starting the active part of my practice with meditation first really helped me. Not sure that’s how it works for everyone, but that’s when I felt that the ball really got rolling for me.

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