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Lions Roar : January 2017
IN THE TIBETAN TRADITION, we recognize compassion as both the highest spiritual ideal and the highest expression of our humanity. Even the Tibetan word for compassion, nyingje, which literally means the “king of heart,” captures the priority we accord compassion. In Compassion Cultivation Training, an eight-week program that I developed, we begin every session with a practice called setting your intention. This is a contemplative exercise adapted from traditional Tibetan meditation, a kind of checking in where we connect with our deeper aspirations so that they may inform our intentions and motivations. In everyday English, we often use the two words, intention and motivation, interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, but there’s an important difference: deliberateness. Our motivation to do something is the reason or reasons behind that behavior, the source of our desire and the drive to do it. We may be more or less aware of our motivations. Intention, on the other hand, is always deliberate, an articulation of a conscious goal. We set and reaffirm our best intentions to keep us inclining in the directions we truly mean to go. But we need motivations to keep us going over the long haul. If our intention is to run a marathon, there will be times when we’ll ask ourselves, quite reasonably, “Why am I doing this?” We need good, inspired answers to get us over such humps. Conscious or unconscious, motivation is the “why,” and the spark, behind intention. At the Beginning of the Day: Setting Your Intentions Your intention sets the “tone” of whatever you are about to do. Like music, intention can influence your mood, thoughts, and feelings— setting an intention in the morning, we set the tone for the day. You could do this intention-setting exercise at home, first thing in the morning if that is convenient. You could also do it on a bus or a subway on your commute. If you work in an office, you could do it sitting at your desk before you get into the day. You only need two to five uninterrupted minutes. First, find a comfortable sitting posture. If you can, sit on a cushion on the floor or on a chair with the soles of your feet touching the ground. Once you have found your posture, relax your body as much as you can, if necessary with some stretches, especially your shoulders and your back. Then, with your eyes closed if it helps you focus, take three to five deep diaphragmatic or abdominal breaths, each time draw- ing the inhalation down into the belly and filling up the torso with the in-breath from the bottom to the top, like filling a jar with water. Then with a long, slow exhalation, expel all the air from the torso. If it helps, you can exhale from your mouth. Once you feel settled, contemplate the following questions: “What is it that I value deeply? What, in the depth of my heart, do I wish for myself, for my loved ones, and for the world?” Stay on these questions a little and see if any answers come up. If no specific answers surface, don’t worry; simply stay with the open questions. This may take some getting used to, since in the West, when we ask questions, we usually expect to answer them. Trust that the questions themselves are working, even— or especially—when we don’t have ready answers. If and when answers do come up, acknowledge them as they arise and stay with whatever thoughts and feelings they may bring. Finally, develop a specific set of thoughts as your conscious intention. You could think, “Today, may I be more mindful of my body, mind, and speech in my interaction with others. May I, as far as I can, avoid deliberately hurting others. May I relate to myself, to others, and to the events around me with kindness, understanding, and less judgment. May I use my day in a way that is in tune with my deeper values.” In this way, set the tone for the day. Once we become more familiar with intention setting, we can do this practice in a minute or less. That means we can find opportunities during the day to check in with our intentions. We can even skip the three-phased formal practice and do a quick reset by reading or chanting a few meaningful lines. You could use the four immeasurables prayer: May all beings attain happiness and its causes. May all beings be free from suffering and its causes. May all beings never be separated from joy that is free of misery. May all beings abide in equanimity, free from bias, attachment, and aversion. At the End of the Day: Making a Dedication The intention-setting practice is paired, in Tibetan tradition, with another contemplative exercise called dedication. The role of this exercise is to complete the circle, as it were. At the end of a day, or a meditation, or any other effort we have made, we reconnect with the intentions we set at the beginning, reflecting on our experience in light of our intentions and rejoicing in what we have achieved. This is like taking stock at the end of the day. It gives us another opportunity to connect with our deeper aspirations. At the end of day, for instance, before you go to bed or as you lie in bed before sleeping, reflect on your day. Briefly review the Today Will Be a Day of Love and Joy What does your heart really want today? The twin practices of intention and dedication, says Buddhist scholar THUPTEN JINPA, help make every day one of love, benefit, and joy. THE PATH OF ENLIGHTENED INTENTIONS LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2017 56