Intention as Prayer
About the same time that Sreejit invited me to post here, for his “Walking With Intention” series, I read a spiritually oriented blog discussing free will verses destiny or karma. Some days later I realized that there is a connection between the two that is worth writing about. The debate over free will is an ancient one and concerns whether or not we have the ability to really change our lives, at all. This blog was referring to spiritual changes; that is, choosing to do things that develop a permanent sense of peace and joy; but the issue is the same for worldly changes (gaining or losing solid objects in the world).
Some might argue that everything is predetermined; that is, our life is writ-out beforehand by our DNA and the conditions into which we are born. The illusion is that we have any choice at all, those of this camp might argue. Or others might argue the same point using the concept of God; that is, God has created everything, including the sequence of events that occurs in our lives, and so, whether we get “saved” or not, or whether we become “enlightened” or not, is not in our hands. It happens automatically if it was pre-destined to do so by the original Creator.
There is another argument on the side of “destiny” that involves the idea of Karma. Karma is the idea that everything that happens to us in our lives is a result of past actions that we have taken (including those from past lives). And so, even our ability to choose one thing over another comes from predilections that were created from past choices. Those past choices were also the product of choices that came before them. With this argument we run into the problem of determining how this process all began. Did we originally have free will when we made our first choices (totally unencumbered by karma)? And if so, how did we make that first choice if we had no karma to determine it?
Pre-destination by karma differs from pre-destination by God by its lack of victimhood. If everything in our life is a result of past action than we are only getting what we deserve and we are never a victim of others’ actions. If God is the writer of our script then we might claim to be victims of God’s unfair distribution of fortune and misfortune. If our predestination comes from DNA and the circumstances of our birth then we could claim to be victims but of what exactly we may never be sure. How did we get the DNA that made us poor students in school or prone to cancer? Even if that DNA was inherited, how did our parents’ get it? With this DNA argument it is difficult to find a cause or to place blame even though we could feel that it is justified to blame someone, somewhere. Maybe our great-great grandfather ate a poisonous mushroom that permanently altered his DNA and gave us our vulnerability to alcoholism. But then, was it the instructions within his DNA that led him to eat that mushroom?
This debate over free-will versus predestination is connected to “Intention” if we think of intention as a choice. The word itself seems to imply that we can choose different intentions. The idea seems to contain the hope that one day we can wake up and set a “better” intention for our day or even our life. That “better” intention would then have an impact and improve our lives through its inherent power. That is the motivation behind talking about or walking with intention. We are willing to consider intention because we believe that it matters that we do so; that is, intention is one way of describing choice in our lives and that the choices that we make help to steer us towards either success or failure, so we assume.
When we fail, we are most likely to wonder whether there is power in intention, or in other words, whether we really have free will. When things don’t work out the way we want them to, we are prone to wonder whether it really matters what we intend. We wonder whether we have the karma (or the DNA or the family wealth/intelligence in our upbringing) to really succeed. We then consider whether it is possible for us to succeed when it is our predestination to fail. Is there anything we can do to change our fate? Is our failure and success really out of our hands and in the hands of our life karma, our Creator God, the limitations of our upbringing or our body’s molecular structure? Is our only real choice to accept this fact, to surrender to this fact? But then again, do we even have the self-power to make this choice to surrender?
The other side of the argument is that every moment is nothing but free will and that there is no limit to what we can create out of our lives. This argument says that every moment in its entirety is created by a million-zillion choices (some semi- or unconsciously made) that we make over and over again. If we manage to change even one of these choices (and the patterning within us that habituates this choice) then we can change our lives in a second. This argument states that there is only one power in the world and that is our intention. Everything follows our intent, maybe not immediately but eventually. And so, the most important thing we can ever do in any moment is to consider what our intention is and to refine it if possible. Working on intention to make it clearer and more precise is the most important work of life.
There are, of course, middle grounds to this age old debate and there are even arguments that claim to transcend the question entirely. The point I would like to make without going further into the various possible stances on this question is that to think about intention is to believe at least somewhat in free will and the power of our choices.
For me, there is a responsibility to consider all the choices that are currently open to me. I believe I have a responsibility to consider my intention and re-consider my intention not only because it is the most powerful thing I can do in life (assuming that I have any power at all) but also because my intention is what impacts others the most. Whether I believe in free will or not, my choices impact others, causing them either joy or pain, and so, I have a responsibility to refine my intention if I can. I may or may not have the power to “improve” my intentions each day but I certainly can try. In a world with so much sadness, so much confusion, so much pain I can’t see any other worthwhile use of my time than trying to improve things through the power of intention. If I don’t consider my intention carefully each day then my un-examined intentions will still impact others, possibly contributing to their pains. If those around me increase in pain because of my unexamined intentions won’t that bring me more pain in life in return? I don’t need to debate the question of free will versus predestination to know the truth of that. Experience teaches me that what I give affects what I receive, how I interact with the world affects how the world interacts with me.
And so, even if I side with the pre-destinators privately I side with those who believe in free will publicly. Even if I believe that God controls everything I still act as if what I do matters. Even if I believe that I am limited by my DNA and my upbringing I still work every day to walk with intention in a way that makes me stronger, wiser and more compassionate knowing that whether or not I am capable, I was born nevertheless to try.
KILAYA CIRIELLO writes a blog that he describes as “Spiritual Thought from Many Traditions.” www.kilayaciriello.wordpress.com Although he is currently compiling a version of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras there, his favorite subject is considering the spiritual implications of quantum mechanics and string theory. If you corner him on a particularly sunny day you might hear him talk ecstatically about either Krishna or the teachings of Don Juan. His un-digitized life involves giving astrology readings to benefit the charities run by his guru, Amma
Written for Walking With Intention. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more info here: Walking With Intention. But first leave a comment and let Kilaya know how you feel about what he said, and be sure to visit him over at the Kilayaciriello blog when you’re done.
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