The Heart’s Intention – Finding Happiness in the Here and Now
As we look forward to the New Year, many of us pause to look backward and forward and may find ourselves setting goals for ourselves in the coming year. I read an article in Yoga Journal by Phillip Moffitt who spoke about the subtle distinctions between goals and intentions. Personally, I have experienced this distinction in a powerful and transformative way.
When I went back to school to earn my MBA, my goal was to become a nonprofit Executive Director. I dreamed of changing the world, making my mark, putting my energy and practice toward a greater worldly goal. As I became the E.D. of a community based organization, my goal and the outer world collided. ‘Changing the world’ is a big project and involves changing others. I sunk deeper and deeper into the task of trying to manage, lead, teach, persuade, and change others, encountering more and more resistance the further I went. My anxiety rose, I worked 10 hour plus days, and became so stressed that I spent weekends in bed and was often physically ill. I began to deeply feel a conviction that I would fail at my goal, my life’s dream to change the world. I struggled on for another three years, trying to ward off the failure, until I could see that there would be no hope for a positive outcome. I had to leave—to preserve my mental and emotional health. I had to let go of my goal.
I embarked on a year and a half journey through unemployment, applying for jobs half-heartedly while trying to figure out what to do with my life—life after my complete failure to achieve my professional goal. What does this failure mean? Do I have something to offer to the world professionally? What is my next step? What is my next goal? Why am I here on this earth? The answers came over time, one by one. I found volunteer work, giving my time and skills to community organizations. I assisted in the formation of a meditation group at a local church and found that leading in that way was really nourishing. I found within myself a spiritual intention to deepen my inner sense of peace, to develop my concentration and mindfulness. I began to see that I would never be able to accomplish the goal of “changing the world,” but I could change myself, and thereby have a powerful effect on those I would come in contact with, creating change one interaction at a time.
These days, my career approach is different. I want to excel in my work, but I focus on intentions: breathe, smile and enter every client meeting with grace; offer clear but kind communications; enjoy each work day; do my very best but let go of the outcomes; and support others in their success. These intentions bring me happiness every day.
In Yoga Journal, Phillip Moffitt writes about goals and intentions. Both are important, but they are different. Goals pull us into the future and may or may not bring happiness. Whether we are making New Years’ resolutions, working towards career advancement, or planning the family gathering (that we want to make perfect), we may find that our goals lead to frustration or disappointment. Intentions can help us open up healing and awareness in our life. Living with intentionality, setting a positive tone for our life, we can be happier today.
Our goals—our ideas about how the future ought to be—pull us away from the present moment. Phillip Moffitt writes, “Goal making is a valuable skill; it involves envisioning a future outcome…then planning, applying discipline, and working hard to achieve it…With goals, the future is always the focus: Are you going to reach the goal? Will you be happy when you do? What’s next?… They involve living in an imagined future and are not concerned with what is happening to you in the present moment.”
The job promotion, for example, involves a long time planning, looking forward, and working towards our advancement. Then there is the brief moment in time where we are actually in the boss’s office hearing the good or bad news. After that, we are pretty much either looking forward to our next goal or looking back to celebrate or ruminate the outcome. Yet we know from our yoga and meditation practices that the present moment is exactly where we find happiness.
Intentions bring us back to the present. “Setting intention,” Moffitt continues, “…is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are ‘being’ in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present ‘now’ in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.”
When we think about work, what if we approached our job with the intention to treat others well, practice mindfulness, smile, listen deeply, and make our very best effort for success while not taking the outcome personally? What if our plan for the family dinner was to hear the joy and suffering of each person, let others be exactly where they are, and treat ourselves very gently in the process? And if we don’t live up to our intentions, what if we could give ourselves a break, practice forgiveness and return to that direction? We would feel happier, act with greater freedom, and most likely be a better person for others.
Living with intention, we will see the world differently, experience the world differently, and take steps toward happiness. Moffitt writes: “In Buddhist psychology, intention is the mental factor that most determines your consciousness in each moment. Literally, it is your intention that affects how you interpret what comes into your mind.”
Something I love about Street Yoga is that is an organization based on intention. We open every board and staff meeting with a meditation or centering exercise. We make the intention to act with mindfulness, compassion and service as the center of our practice. We make goals too, but they are informed by love, and that makes them worth working toward.
Intentionality is a different way of living in the world. It can help us to be kinder and more free. For an in-depth look at this wonderful practice, you can read Phillip Moffitts’ full article in Yoga Journal.
Street Yoga Board Member