We tend to associate the energy of intent with complicated or profoundly meaningful actions that require our full attention and effort in order to succeed. For example, walking a tightrope, taking a test, and taking a vow are all tasks that call us to be fully present and single-minded. However, intent can also be applied to everyday events, like eating breakfast or going to work. In fact, everything we do benefits from the presence of intent, which has the power to transform seemingly mundane tasks into profound experiences. You only have to try it to find out.
Intent is one of the cornerstones of the Zen tradition of Buddhism in which monks work for years to develop the stillness and sharpness of mind to do only one thing at a time. Most of the time we are doing one thing and thinking of something else, or even doing three things at the same time, such as talking on the phone, doing dishes, and boiling water for tea. There is nothing inherently wrong with multitasking, which seems necessary at times, especially in the midst of family life. However, balancing this with a healthy dose of intentional activity can provide valuable insight into the benefits of doing one thing at a time, being fully present with whatever the task at hand happens to be.
From the moment we wake up, we can apply intent to our situation by simply saying to ourselves, "I am aware that I am now awake." We can use this simple tool throughout our day, saying, "I am aware that I am driving to work." "I am aware that I am making dinner." Or even, "I am aware that I am breathing." As we acknowledge what we are doing in these moments, we come alive to our bodies and to the world, owning our actions instead of habitually performing them. We may realize how often we act without intention and how this disengages us from reality. Applying the energy of intent to even one task a day has the power to transform our lives. Just imagine what would happen if we were able to apply that power to our entire day.
Before the World Wakes
Just before the coming of the pale rays of dawn, Mother Nature exists in a state of flux. Earth's energy is stable, free of the disordered vibrations that are a by-product of humanity's comings and goings. In these first moments of day, when the sun's golden light is only just peeking over the horizon, our animal mind remains in the land of slumber though we ourselves are awake. Deep sleep has washed away the impurities of existence that accumulated within us, so our mental, physical, and emotional potential is heightened. To meditate in this peaceful yet energetically charged in-between time is to connect with the divine in an extremely intimate fashion. We discover a new kinship with the universal life force during morning meditations because our awareness becomes a mirror for earthly consciousness—we wake as the world wakes, quietly embracing the joy of being and setting the tone for a serene, fulfilling day.
In the first glorious glow of morning, the light, air, and energy flowing around us speak in hushed tones of the activity to come. While we recognize that another day of being means becoming once again immersed in the challenges of action and reaction, we also understand that we can draw upon the unique energetic qualities of daybreak for comfort, creativity, and vigor. There is bliss in the simple knowledge that we have been given the gift of another day of existence. We are inspired by sights and sounds of the sun's gentle ascension. Birds serenade the luminosity, which grows richer by the minute. And though we may feel a residual lethargy, our vitality returns as our meditation helps us to become one with the stirring of other beings rubbing the sleep from their eyes. At the start of each day, our destiny has not yet been written, and so there is nothing we cannot do.
How we choose to meditate is less important than our choice to attune ourselves to the spirit of wakefulness that travels round the world each and every day. Even the briefest moment of quiet contemplation in the muted light of the sun can put all that is yet to come into perspective. As a consequence of our daybreak reflections, our lives are imbued with the same stability, tranquility, and increased awareness that humanity has long associated with the stillness of early morning.
Having A Picnic
Dining outdoors is a tradition that spans many cultures and has withstood the test of time. A meal eaten under open sky in the company of loved ones is an occasion in its own right. The very character of picnics, by virtue of their bringing together so much that is pleasing to humanity, makes them a wonderful way to unwind from stress, reconnect with people and nature, and create new memories. There is something magical about picnicking. A blanket, a basket, and a landscape pleasing to the eye intensify the deliciousness of food and help us see the beauty of lazy afternoons spent in nature.
Thoughts of picnics past bring to mind images as varied as we are because the experience of dining outdoors with pleasant companions can unfold in myriad ways. We tend to picnic at the park or on the beach out of necessity, enjoying nourishment in the open air to prolong playtime. But botanical gardens, zoos, museum grounds, nature preserves, and our own backyards can also offer wonderful picnicking venues. Similarly, we associate quintessential summertime foods with picnics, though almost any category of cuisine can be enjoyed picnic style. Refreshing, light foods such as freshly sliced fruit and crisp salads are particularly invigorating on hot summer days. Anticipation of and preparing the food can be just as exciting as the picnic itself. Provisions are only one component of a picnic, however. Games of cards, a Frisbee toss, or other simple, traditional pastimes can provide a secondary focus that expands the scope of your outing beyond foodstuffs. Connecting with nature ! during your picnic can be an easy way to fit in a meditation; whether you lay down under a tree to watch squirrels play or sit by a creek to take in the sounds of trickling water. Remember, too, that if it should happen that your well-planned picnic is disrupted by inclement weather, the pleasures of good company and good food are rendered no less enjoyable when savored on a blanket spread indoors.
Though a solitary picnic can be a treat, picnicking is an activity best shared with the people you care for. Spending time outdoors with others to eat and to play and to be merry will revitalize you, reminding you that life's most sacred pleasures are often the simplest. When was the last time you enjoyed a picnic?
The Paradox of Spirit
Language of the Soul
Each of us has a spiritual self that animates our bodies and infuses our thoughts and feelings. Our language is limited to the world we know for descriptions of something that perhaps cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind. Therefore, only metaphors approach the expressions that give us a true sense of our spiritual nature. The paradox lies in opposing concepts, all of which are true at the same time. And in harmonizing the opposites, we begin to know the wonders of the spirit.
The self is not small or big but is both at the same time. Our spirit is like a drop in the ocean of spiritual energy. Although our spirit seems like a small, disconnected part of a larger whole, it is still made of the same things and can become part of the vast ocean once again. Our individual spirit seems to inhabit our bodies like a passenger in a vehicle but at the same time is not bound by our bodies. Spirits can reach across the miles to touch the heart of a loved one or expand to become one with the universe. We may feel small and perhaps insignificantly young when we look up at the stars, but we are made of the same basic elements. Perhaps looking at the stars is merely a reflection of what is going on within each atom and cell of our being. We are a universe within a universe. Our spirits are ever renewing, yet ageless and eternal. So the self is not new or old but both at once.
So our spiritual self is not small or big, new or old. We may experience life as good and bad, right and wrong, happy and sad, but this is the experience of the material world of dualities, not the truth of our spritual nature. By going within to touch the eternal and changeless energy at our center, we can go beyond the contrasting metaphors to the experience of oneness. And in that connection we can know big and small, new and old, movement and stillness. By accepting the paradox of spirit, we open ourselves to the fullness of our own being.
Embracing New Information
Living in an information age, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the constant influx of scientific studies, breaking news, and even spiritual revelations that fill our bookshelves, radio waves, and in-boxes. No sooner have we decided what to eat or how to think about the universe than a new study or book comes out confounding our well-researched opinion. After a while, we may be tempted to dismiss or ignore new information in the interest of stabilizing our point of view, and this is understandable. Rather than closing down, we might try instead to remain open by allowing our intuition to guide us.
For example, contradictory studies concerning foods that are good for you and foods that are bad for you are plentiful. At a certain point, though, we can feel for ourselves whether coffee or tomatoes are good for us or not. The answer is different for each individual, and this is something that a scientific study can't quite account for. All we can do is take in the information and process it through our own systems of understanding. In the end, only we can decide what information, ideas, and concepts we will integrate. Remaining open allows us to continually change and shift by checking in with ourselves as we learn new information. It keeps us flexible and alert, and while it can feel a bit like being thrown off balance all the time, this openness is essential to the process of growth and expansion.
Perhaps the key is realizing that we are not going to finally get to some stable place of having it all figured out. Throughout our lives we will go through the processes of opening to new information, integrating it, and stabilizing our worldview. No sooner will we have reached some kind of stability than it will be time to open again to new information, which is inherently destabilizing. If we see ourselves as surfers riding the incoming waves of information and inspiration, always open and willing to attune ourselves to the next shift, we will see how blessed we are to have this opportunity to play on the waves and, most of all, to enjoy the ride.
Letting Life Unfold
Present in the Progression
Our lives are guided by natural rhythms that are particular to each of us and cannot be altered by force of will alone. Life itself is a journey made up of processes and events that manifest before us only to be swept away when time marches on. Whether we envision ourselves creating a career, building a family, or developing the self, we instinctively know when the time has come for us to realize our dreams because all that is involved comes together harmoniously. When the time is right, the passage of destiny cannot be blocked. Yet as desperate as we are to touch these beautiful futures we have imagined, we cannot grow if we are not fully present in the evolutionary experience. The present can be challenging, uncomfortable, and tedious, but life unfolds as it will, and the universe will wait patiently as we make our way into the unknown.
The fate that awaits us is not dependent on our pace, which was preordained before we ever appeared in human guise. Therefore there is no reason to rush through life to reach those pinnacles of development associated with the paths we have chosen. Enjoying and fully experiencing the journey of life is as important as achieving goals and reaching milestones. There are lessons we can learn during those moments that seem immaterial or insignificant that we cannot learn at any other time. Appreciating these takes patience, however, because human beings tend to focus on the fulfillment of expectations rather than the simple joys of being.
Like many people, you have no doubt longed for a device that would give you the power to fast forward through certain periods of your existence. Yet haste is by its very nature vastly more stressful than serene fortitude. When you feel yourself growing impatient because the pace of your development is deceptively slow, remember that everything that will occur in your life will occur in its own time. Quelling your urge to rush will enable you to witness yourself learning, changing, and becoming stronger. There is so much to see and do in between the events and processes that we deem definitive. If you are patient enough to take pleasure in your existence's unfolding, the journey from one pinnacle to the next will seem to take no time at all.