Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Living As Intention

When beginning any new activity, some traditions embrace the custom of invoking the sacred to set the stage and the intention. For example, Muslims may say “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” (In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate). Christians might say “In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” In Kabbalah also, the notion of kavanna, intention, plays a central role. The Kabbalist might say: “I am prepared to fully engage myself in what I am about to do.” Unfortunately, good beginnings do not always carry through the whole event. The opening invocation may well be quickly forgotten as the action proceeds by momentum.

We seek instead to bring intention into everything we do: not just at the start, but sustaining our intention throughout. We seek to live in intention, to become intention itself. At any time, even in the middle of some action, we can intend to do that action, and continue intending it as we continue doing it. Naturally, if we find ourselves doing something we had not intended to do, we can change course. But the main thrust of this kind of inner work is to become intention in action. To rephrase the Zen teaching: when eating, eat; when sitting, sit; when walking, walk; when talking, talk; when thinking, think; and when doing anything, do that very thing. Keeping our attention to the task at hand is only part of this: we also continue intending the action.

Intention is an often-overlooked part of presence, a key part because it is the central part. In addition to the energies of sensation and consciousness, presence needs the intention and will to be, to do what we are doing, to engage in life as we live it. Without intention, presence is hollow and unstable. With continuing intention, there is someone in our being who is present.

If we work seriously at this, we will find that acting with intention, that becoming intention, conveys a profound and surprising potency into our inner world. Why? Because free will is both our gift from and our participation in the Divine. Intention in action, moment-to-moment intention, brings us into that invisible stream of will, closer to who we really are, to our own “I am.”

In working with intention, the question eventually arises: whose intention? And the answer is put succinctly in Luke 22:42 when Christ, addressing the Lord, says “not my will, but thine …” The perfection of intention comes when we can be clear enough of our egoism and open enough to the higher will so that it can flow and act through us. Simultaneously open, in our deepest core, to the higher and active toward the more external, we approach the true meaning of life.


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