Tuesday, January 28, 2014

True Intentions

Witness the surgeon who spends long hours in the operating room saving lives through delicate brain surgery.  Witness the Peace Corps volunteer who gives up the comfortable life to live and work in minimalist, perhaps “near-primitive” conditions improving the lives of others.  Witness the CEO who works long hours bringing the company back from near-bankruptcy.  Witness the home care-giver juggling time among family, career, and the elderly disabled parent in the home.  Witness the many everyday busy people who somehow manage to always show up at the latest charity function or civic project.

We are rightfully taught to admire and respect people such as these accomplishers.  Those who toil long and hard, sacrifice extraordinarily of themselves thereby benefiting others, and create good outcomes.  They are passionate about all that they do.  But passion can mask many diverse Intentions, and hide inner truths even to ourselves.  So there is a nagging cautionary note that tempers our admiration, nudges us into a deeper look beyond what our eyes, ears and mind may initially perceive.

Reconsider that brain surgeon who believes that his ability to save lives allows him to have a superior dominating power over life itself, an undue sense of invincibility, a condescending attitude towards assisting staff and his patients.  That Peace Corps worker out to save the world driven by hatred for the difficulties of Life, and a near-desperate compulsion to eliminate those realities.  That self-aggrandizing CEO who demands an exorbitant salary for having saved the company by eliminating jobs or reducing compensation for the very employees who translated the strategy into successful actions.  That home care-giver who acts out of a sense of duty, not loving giving, and does so with an embedded expectation that his children will one day do the same for him.  That charity worker who gives time and energy in order to be publically recognized with loud acclaim.  That over-achiever who forsakes time and attention with friends and family.  It is as with the deceit of jealousy: it begins as a warm feeling to be so passionately loved; but over time we realize that it is really about someone seeking power and control over us.  Seemingly good Intentions disguise a life being lived in turmoil.

As we are called to examine more fully the underlying Intentions of others, so also are we required to turn the lens inward to assess our own Intentions.  For we each have an expansive capacity to ascribe positive motivations for each action we take.  We give unsolicited advice; freely tell supposed truths that do not require being spoken; give service that may or may not be wanted or helpful; continually tell others how to live their life.  We tell ourselves that we do these things “for other people’s benefit” even though we are primarily driven by our own needs for expression and fulfillment.  We are as easily blinded to ourselves as we are to others.

This is not intended as a cynical view of the human condition or their interactions.  For upon close examination we find many of pure heart who interject themselves cautiously and give of themselves freely without making compensatory claims for reward.  We experience joy and reassurance from such people.  But we understand that passion can flow from two different well springs: from the pure well of humility, where the giving does not create a debt to be repaid; or from the polluted well of arrogance, where the giving expects expansive attention, a position of power, or public affirmation of one’s goodness.  The well of humility provides the pure taste of genuine joy and lasting spiritual peace.  The well of arrogance gives a taste as of salt water – only temporary happiness, yielding to mental exhaustion as one never-endingly moves on in relentless pursuit of the next triumph, one after another, with only temporary fleeting satisfaction.

Our secular culture teaches us to either admire or condemn outcomes on their face.  But our spiritual teachers ask us to also look deeply at one’s Intentions and true motivations before we judge, before we bestow honor upon another.  Outcomes result from the convergence of many different external inputs.  Intention lives only in the single heart.  “God knows what is in people’s hearts,” the Koran says repeatedly.  So we look closely into those hearts before choosing who to admire, who to listen to, and who to follow.  It is in Intention that one’s real personal Truth lives.

©  2014   Randy Bell


Anonymous said...

Well, you've nailed another one right on the head! Well reasoned and well written. And a good cautionary for all of us - reminds me of the Jesuit self-examine - that starts with the individual knowing themselves first - making it considerably easier to "spot" self-aggrandizement or false humility in others, having faced it in oneself first!

Anonymous said...

I love this one. I constantly look inward when I am about what I feel is God's business lest it be about "my" business. Christianity has gotten a terrible reputation because not enough of us have looked at the logs in our eyes instead of the splinters in the eyes of friends, family members and society in general. Sometimes I just have to do, pray that it is with love in mind, and ask forgiveness later or I'll get frozen in intent arguments inside my own head. Thank goodness I believe in Grace.