April 19, 2009

Mindful of our Intentions

This past week, I was given an exercise as homework by my meditation instructor. The theme for the class is intention and the assignment was to be aware of our every intention every moment of the day (mindfulness). In other words, I had to constantly ask these two questions: What is it that I want? What is it that I want to stop?

I performed this exercise on the train ride home and it gave me a headache after 1 minute because the list, I realized, was infinite. The conversation in my head sounded something like this: I want the a/c on the train to stop, I don't want the class to end so late, I want the people on this train to get off, I want that lady's handbag, I want to eat, I don't want to gain weight, I want to get home faster, I want to get off this train, I want that man to stop playing his iPod so loud, I want a child, I don't want a dog, I don't want this music on my iPod anymore, I want more music on my iPod, I want to be happy, I don't want to feel angry at my ex boyfriend anymore, I want....... (and it went on non-stop - all within a span of a minute) Have you ever paid attention to your intentions? Try the exercise yourself.

There will always be something to want or not want....something to want to grab onto (cling) and something to push away (aversion). This is the nature of our mind and is never-ending.

This exercise was a way to sensitize ourselves to our intentions. So when I had an urge to write an email to an ex-boyfriend sharing how I am so excited about expanding my business, I asked myself what is my real intention here because my ex and I are not on speaking terms. Why, all of a sudden, do I want to send him this email? Finally, I realized that my real intention was to make him proud of me. Then I realized that I do this with every ex-boyfriend after the breakup. I communicate with them only to share milestones reached. While I don't want to get back together, I just wanted them to be proud of me.

This made me remember how my parents never said they were proud of me when I was young. I don't know if there is an equivalent to this phrase or sentiment in Burmese language/culture. When my parents finally said it to me in college (and in it happened to be in English), it struck something in me and I'll never forget it.

Now, there's two things I want to say about this.

1) How interesting that majority of the time, we just do things or say things without even being clear of what our intentions are! We just DO things. We just SAY things. Only to later regret it sometimes. Meditation is an exercise to shut down our autopilot and to start becoming more MINDFUL. The fact is that there is a negative impact on others as well as ourselves when we do or say things without being mindful.

2) I was looking for something in return when I completed this action. I was hoping for him to reply back saying how great it was and that he was proud of me. To put it another way, I was banking my happiness on him. When we think that our happiness comes from another person or something outside of us, we are destined for unhappiness. Because we have no control over another person or anything else outside of us. We only have control over our mind.

Consider your intentions before saying something to a co-worker. Pause before you text a friend and ask yourself, what is my intention behind this message. Just notice your intentions with every move and start becoming aware of your mind's habits.

*Meditation classes are available at the NY Insight Meditation Center in Manhattan.
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