I am reading a wonderful book by Jack Kornfeld (http://www.jackkornfield.org/), The Wise Heart, A Guide the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, where he discusses the distinction between intention and result. I am sometimes put off by the seeming futility of the result of volunteering or contributing to a cause or helping people. You know, the road to hell and all that. But when I read in The Wise Heart about this distinction and the importance of intention, something I have struggled with for a long time became suddenly clear.
If I come from an open heart and my intention is love or compassion, that is what I bring to the situation. In the moment the transaction, the gift, the act is imbued with my intention. Of course this takes mindfulness, self-knowledge, and humility. And knowledge that I don’t know what’s best for another person, and that they have the free will and choice to do what they want with whatever I bring to them. This is as true on an emotional level as on a physical level, and on a personal as well as a societal level.
I recently emailed a student I was tutoring to ask if he wanted to come to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. This is not something I ordinarily do and I thought about it before extending the invitation. Not only did the student not respond, he has stopped making appointments for tutoring. I felt embarrassed about this and wondered if my invitation had somehow been inappropriate. My intention was to extend our family’s hospitality to someone who might have been alone on a holiday. The invitation didn’t have the result I hoped for, and in fact, may have felt intrusive and may have had the opposite result. Nevertheless, I can at least know that my intention was positive.
Many examples of helping come from a place of wanting to control the outcome. This is particularly true of parents wanting to help adult children. We feel that we know what is best for our child. This also happens with spouses. I used to do this a lot with Jim. I still do, when he’s not eating as much as I think he should or not spending his time the way I think he should. But as my sister has reminded me, people have their own higher power and it’s not me. I can bring love, compassion, and kindness as my intention. Being aware of my intention helps me to refrain from wanting to control what happens, which is an illusion anyway. We can’t control a result. We can only control ourselves and our intentions. Knowing that makes what we do less fraught with our own baggage and provides another opportunity to bring love and compassion to the world.