Paying Attention



I have the intention of speaking four times a year at our Church. When I realize the time for a talk is approaching, my first thoughts are “What am I doing? Why did I agree to do this?” Then I remember that I go through life focusing on the daily drama and missing out on the bigger picture, the more important lessons. Preparing and giving a talk, calls me to look beyond the daily drama: to recognize, record, and remember important experiences.

There are two definitions of Intention that I think are important. The first is: Determining mentally upon some action or result. I think that this is really about Life. As an Engineer, I can easily identify with this definition. Using it, we become focused on things such as actions, outcomes, and results. We also look for leaders that are successful in these areas. Often our attention becomes focused on goals. Achieving a goal can become our intention.

When thinking of intention, most of us may remember the saying: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” This is thought to have come from St. Bernard of Clairvaux about 1150. What it is thought to describe is how some have used good intentions to hide Evil actions. One person said, “If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it is partly because that is the road they generally start out on.” In other words, following good intentions is not the problem; it is using them to hide less worthy or selfish motives.

The second definition of Intention is: “Determination to act in a certain way.” I believe that this is part of Spiritual Traditions. That is, good intentions are attributes such as kindness, compassion, or serving others. And then actions can arise from these good intentions.

However, actions may have unintended consequences. Thus, even if we genuinely hold good intentions, there can be bad outcomes. That is why I really value the following saying from Buddhism: “We are responsible for our Intention, not the outcome.” This means that we need to consciously hold to a good intention. It also means if we hold a bad intention, and some thing good happens, we are still responsible for the bad intention.

Our culture is about retribution, getting even. You can often see this in our entertainment. We feel it is wrong if things are not balanced out. This can result in our holding a bad intention to try and get even.

Sometimes when I am confused and not sure what to do, I ask two questions: “What is my intention? What should it be?” When I remember to ask, it can help me make sure that I have good intentions. These can result in good actions.

Stories: I would like to share some stores that have helped me understand more about intentions.

The Dalai Lama was questioning a Buddhist Monk that had been imprisoned, beaten, and tortured by the Chinese. After years of horrible treatment, he was able to escape and make his way to India. The Dalai Lama asked, “Were you every afraid?” He said, “Yes.” And the Dalai Lama asked, "What was your greatest fear?” And he answered, “I was afraid that they would get me to hate them.”

This story reminds me that holding negative emotions and memories that generate negative emotions can harm me, perhaps even kill me. I now believe that holding resentment and negative emotions contributed to my having Bladder Cancer a year ago.

My Father was the best person that I have personally known. When I was about 10, I worked with him part-time at our family service station in the northeast end of Seattle. Its official name was Gray’s Service Station. My father held the intention that we would, “Treat all Customers the same.” So we would serve, be kind to, and be friends with anyone who drove in. I never learned the words, phrases, or stores of discrimination. Our station was in a white area of Seattle, but we had customers from other areas. Like my father, I enjoyed getting to know people and really did not think much about it. However, I knew that some races were not welcome at the service station across the street. Having traveled through part of the South in the 50’s and as I followed the events of Civil Rights in the ‘60’s, I was aware how different things were elsewhere. My father was born and raised in Southern Illinois on the Ohio River. In his words, not in the South, but you could look across the river and see the South. He said that if you crossed the river you were in Kentucky and if they played Dixie, you stood up. His family left there when he was 17 and took the train to Seattle.

Near the end of his life, my father had Alzheimer’s and it stripped away his mental control. What happened is that sometimes he talked and said things that he learned as a boy. This was a shock, as we came to realize that he had grown up in a very bigoted and racist environment. He had risen above this and taught me by being kind to everyone. My father taught by example and to me this is a vivid and powerful example of what holding a good intention can do.

My Father also taught me that feeling happy is a decision. When I am happy, I smile. I have found that when I am not happy, I can smile and that will help me feel happy. I smile at people as I go through life and often they smile back. Sometimes they even say something like “Hello”, or “How are you today?” I think, “What a nice person”, and then remember that I know nothing about them. That is the power of a smile. I think that holding the intention to smile is a powerful thing and that it can do a lot to spread happiness. Laughing is also very powerful. I don’t laugh enough. Carole Glenn does a good job of this and when she does, she raises the vibration of those around her.

My Father taught me that, “There is good in everything.” However, sometimes your have to look for it. You will find and see what you look for. I had an accident with our LEAF yesterday. I backed into a post. Before too long I realized that this was a chance to walk my talk. To change how I was feeling by holding good intentions. I decided to smile, especially when I looked in a mirror. I started looking for Good. While I was still affected, I feel a lot better.

My Father taught me to Assume Good Intentions of others. Here are two quotes that speak eloquently to this:

“The importance of cultivating assumption of the best intentions in others cannot be over-estimated. Fostering this principal of, "goodness of intent,” and committing to seeing others and the world through this lens makes for a successful, happy field of vision. This enables us to put our focus and energy to positive, productive outcomes. It lends to a spirit of cooperation and encouragement which is highly effective and satisfying for most people most of the time…”
― Connie Kerbs

From the Dalai Lama - “When our intentions toward others are good, we find that any feelings of anxiety or insecurity we may have are greatly reduced. We experience a liberation from our habitual preoccupation with self and paradoxically, this gives rise to strong feelings of confidence.”

My Father saw things as improving. When people asked him, “How are you today?” He would say, “Even better than yesterday.” I really saw how he lived a longer and happier life because of holding this belief.

What are my intentions in coming to Church? One is to feel better. At one point in our lives we realized that we came away from Church feeling worse than when we arrived. So we decided it was time to leave and actually attended Seattle First Baptist Church in Seattle. It was a huge commitment, but one that really worked for us and really changed our lives.

Another really good person that I knew personally was Carole’s Mother, June d’Estelle. While she taught me many things, one that I really value is to hold the Intention of the Highest Good. I feel that this is very powerful, and it opens me up to unknown possibilities.

Bottom Line (for me):

Holding Good Intentions is really important – pay attention

Assume the best Intentions in others

Smile – Be happy

Look for Good in everything

Hold the Intention of the Highest Good for all.

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