How to Explore and Study Intention

Intention is a surprisingly important, but rarely explored part of the mind, as its significance is only important after the fact. Only once you've spent time observing it can you find just how it fits in to day-to-day living. Intention is a main stepping stone or foundation of the mind that is important to understand - start exploring it today.


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    Find out the ways you can best view intention as it happens. Meditation, particularly walking meditation, is excellent for this subject, but you can find other means such as observation and consideration in day-to-day activity. You can study the mind and mental themes, the body and body processes, or all of them together if you wish.
    • In some cases this is often referred to as mindfulness, which is probably the most in-depth and practical way to study this subject as it is essentially an awareness of things in the moment as they happen.
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    Consider and try to identify two main types of intention. For lack of better words we could separate them into "body functional" and "emotional/psychological" types for the purpose of exploring this topic.
    • For example, you may feel hungry and intend to find a meal which is aimed at meeting a bodily need, but the choice as to how to prepare the food is a more emotional or psychological one. Consider if you are (for example) hungry and you have a tomato - would you have it in a salad, in a pasta sauce, fried, or in a sandwich? (And so forth.) Once you have decided, you would need to prepare it and gather the right tools (this means there are new intentions behind your actions in gathering the tools) to be able to process the tomato into a meal. But the bodily function doesn't really care, as a tomato is food be it raw or cooked.
    • There are also existing meditation practices devoted to these two types of intention, known as: body mindfulness and mental mindfulness, investigate or try those to see if they help you.
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    Look at the role intention plays in relation to action. Intention runs consistently before action and this can be seen such as when you have no intention to do anything at all – you can easily just sit and vegetate until you feel the need to do something such as eat, go to the toilet/bathroom, or find something to do if boredom strikes.
    • Reaction is not really different as it still does have its own mental processes that still come before the response, they are just much faster due to the urgency. This is often because the mind acts separately without needing any intellectual analysis, preferences or commentary - such as if when a person senses something approaching their head, they typically blink, duck, or block with their hands (etc). This too is a body-functional intention as mental processes do not all run at the same speed - some are much faster than others, but the mind has to intend to blink, duck, or block (etc), as without the mind being aware and being able to knit the information together to make an instruction to the body how to react, a reaction wouldn't happen.
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    Explore how perception shapes intention. Perception shapes urgency, so if it perceives danger or pain, it adds greater importance and urgency to the action. Likewise, if perception informs you not to like something, such as feeling bored, or hungry, perception then influences intention to want to do something about the negative feeling.
    • Likewise consider other things that can affect intention, positively such as insight or negatively such as prejudice.
    • Similarly how perception can receive a sensation (mental or physical), then from that feeling make a reaction, and how our preferences or personal perception & opinions can affect intention positively or negatively should be considered.
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    Think about how intention affects objects. For example, a knife can be used in surgery to treat the wounded, or in day-to-day tasks such as cooking, or in artistic tasks such as carving but at the same time, it can also be applied to harmful acts like killing, injuring or threatening people. The knife itself is just a lump of metal, no more evil or innocent than any other object human beings (or natural causes) have created - in itself it doesn't have a character or conscience before, during or after it is used. Intention in design and manufacture can certainly make it look like it has a character or a power of its own, but it's still just metal that might make other things.
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    Consider why people generally don't notice intention. Intention happens many thousands of times in thousands of little ways. For example, when typing words, the mind intends to type each letter in order, so that it acts very quickly in order to cause the words to be typed accurately by the fingers.
    • This example can be expanded. Knowing where the keys are is important to be able to type each letter so the mind has to intend to move the hands to each letter's space on the keyboard, to press it and release it, then move on to the next letter, all while glancing at the screen occasionally to ensure it is correct and at the same time breathe, see, smell, feel, etc. This is high speed intention to do each part, but the mind does it all on its own.
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    Test this gradually. As each action can be broken down into many smaller actions, there is intention behind each one, and sometimes many intentions happening very quickly. You may intend to move your hand to pick up a glass, but you have to keep the "moving the arm and hand to pick up the glass" intention until you perceive you have touched the glass by sight and/or feel. Then that intention dies away as you don't need it anymore, and a new intention to lift the glass to your lips comes into action (or you can change direction and intend not to pick it up but then let go of it).
    • It's much like a movie. The moving picture displayed on the screen happens because light is shown through a strip of thousands of static images all in an order showing their subtle changes; this strip is put through a projector and run at high speed - high enough to trick the mind to make many still pictures into a flowing, moving image. The mind simply isn't aware that the moving image on the screen is made of a lot of little images, like a day is just a flow of many thousands of little intentions and actions.
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    Find out how far intention goes in the actions it covers. If you don't intend to do something, the body can force you to do it by feeling pain, exhibiting fear, anxiety, or distress, or feeling hot or cold, and so forth. However, intention is a conscious thing. For example, you can manipulate the manner in which you breathe and indeed, you can intend to stop breathing and simply hold your breath, or stop moving the muscles that make the lungs expand and contract. Likewise, you can intend to not use the toilet or bathroom. In each case though, the body very quickly starts to protest at this and forces you to breathe again, or to use the toilet as needed. Yet, at the same time there are certain processes we cannot intentionally change, such as our heartbeat, digestive processes, aging, blood processing, oxygen absorption through the lung tissue and getting rid of carbon dioxide, expelling bodily waste products that soon become toxic through sweating to cool down etc. The body needs to do some of these things to stay alive and healthy.
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    Decide on whether you can influence intention, be it emotional or psychological types of intention, or bodily function types or intention. Given that there are many hundreds of intentions, there are many that can be changed for the better and for the wiser, such as in the case of an intention to be hateful or greedy, manic, or lazy. If you keep observing your intentions until you can see the intention making you think, feel or act, you can also seek to modify that intention, simply by using a conscious intention of a different kind, such as intending to let go of a harmful chain of thought.
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    Continue to evaluate intention. Try to see if some intentions are stronger than others which may trump another intention (such as you may intend to make a phone call, but the intention to go to the toilet/bathroom is stronger, so it trumps the desire to make a phone call). Sometimes unskillful or harmful intentions (such as thinking about a thought that makes you depressed, worried or angry) can be pretty strong intentions, so it needs a gentle, compassionate but equally more dedicated and stronger intention to be both kind to yourself and to enable you to let go of the stressful thoughts or feelings. By observing the process, it's not long before you can be adequately disenchanted with a harmful intention, thought or feeling in order to outweigh it, and eventually this will become your new "habitual" approach to the negative thought or feeling. It is all about building your understanding of intention into a useful tool.
    • As always, knowledge is only of use if you do something with it. Find out if you can shape your intentions in order to make your life more happy, healthy and less harmful. Can you train yourself to intend to be happier, healthier and intend to avoid or let go of harmful things? Only by exploring it and studying your interaction with intentions can you find out.


  • Consider studying how intention is treated within different disciplines in order to broaden your understanding of it. For example, in law "mental intent" is important to establish whether or not someone meant to do wrong. In many jurisdictions, it is considered that children under a certain age (around 10) cannot form mental intent to do a criminal wrong on their own.
  • Ultimately then, all a person who truly wishes to live with care can do is train and observe their mind to be aware if their intentions are not what they would prefer to do so that they have a choice to change it. To say we never had a choice in our actions is often just because we never knew, generally or in the moment of that choice, or because we never wanted to know the choice was still there to act, for it gives us new, unavoidable responsibility. Compassion is a great medicine, but frightens, unnerves and bewilders many, this is so often a scarred, sometimes angry mind not forgiving itself for its wildness and the repercussions in the past that give pain then and now. Sometimes as well there is fear that letting go of the pain in the past and present presents a change to the status quo and identity, a new unknown. So the mind stays in its pattern. Compassion has to start somewhere, sometime for it to do anything, compassion needs intention to be.
  • The complication, perhaps the greatest challenge of all, is the point of how intention is simply not obvious. It is very, very hard to see before, during and afterwards, especially in the heat of the moment. However, intentions still come from a person's mind always prior to their action. This thrusts responsibility of a sort upon the individual for their actions, even if they aren't aware of them, especially if they let their mind run wild and in the flare of emotion do something as wild. But if the person does not know their intentions due to being so unaware, are they truly responsible? Emotions can flare very quickly, too fast to be recognized by the conscious mind at times. However, the scar in the mind remains, sometimes without ever healing. That's the price that is paid for acting wildly on intention/emotion.


  • Take things a step at a time, this is understanding a major part of how the mind works and reacts.

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