Be In The Flow, But Don't Get Swept Away
A phrase we've all heard, and probably used at some point, surfaced in a conversation I was having recently: "That wasn't my intention."
Usually when this phrase is used, it's carefully placed for whomever is saying it to absolve responsibility for the other person's experience. I'm guilty of using it in that sense when maybe I do feel a little bit responsible, like I could have behaved better or differently, but I'm not ready to admit that just yet. My gut reaction to accusation is defensiveness. My emotions are hot and fast, and it usually takes some time after the fact for me to hear what the other person was saying, and that it didn't mean what I thought it meant. Then I feel remorse and wrestle with my pride to decide if I'm going to apologize or hope it's just never mentioned again.
The follow up question for "that wasn't my intention," is of course, "well, what was intended?" Usually this is a head-scratcher. It I didn't intend to be harmful with my words, then what was my intention, exactly? Maybe there wasn't an intention. And that's where it gets sticky.
We often look at the concept of "being in the flow" in life. Not clinging too much to certain outcomes but allowing things to happen and fall into place as they will. I believe in this way of life and it's helped me tremendously. But let's imagine that this flow is an actual river. If we just completely let go, we're going to smash into rocks, get spun under the water by crazy currents, and get really hurt. Of course, we can't completely escape pain and nor should we try, as it's very valuable to our experience. But if we have the ability to avoid things by simply paying attention, staying in the present moment as much as we can, and setting the intention to be kind and do good, why wouldn't we?
Now let's imagine we're in that river once again, but this time we have a paddle. We can steer ourselves away from the rocks and ride through the currents with ease, and all we had to do was open our eyes and watch where we're going. This expands so much wider than our interactions with others. This affects every aspect of our lives. When we don't have intention, when we're not present, we're missing the good stuff.
So how do we get a paddle? We begin with the idea of mindfulness. We bring conscious thought to how we make our way in the world, how we treat our bodies, how we make decisions. It might sound exhausting, but it's a practice. The more you practice, the more second nature it becomes. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga are helpful tools when beginning this process. Writing and journaling can also be eye-opening. Often when I begin writing, I don't feel like I have much to say, and pages of thoughts and emotions will come out that I wasn't even aware I had. Intentions are much easier to hone when you really know how you feel.
Practice sitting in silent stillness for five minutes a day. See if you can stay present for your whole morning commute. Pick up the phone and call (okay, text) that friend you've been thinking about and keep forgetting to reach out to. When you're in a conversation that feels uncomfortable, take a deep breath and really try to hear the person across from you. Start small. Then watch yourself grow.