The Challenge of Intentions

Like many, the results of the election shook me in ways I didn’t expect.  As a result, I’ve found my fighter tendencies surging forth, pushing me to do more, to stop sitting on the sidelines as the world moves past.  I know I’m not alone in this, which is good.

I also know, because many of those I know or interact with, that many of us who feel highly compelled to act, to change the world, to try and resist the shift we now see happening around us are feeling discouraged and ineffective.  How do we keep going when it seems nothing is working, nothing is changing?  Is it worth the effort to keep fighting?

Of course, I believe it absolutely is worth the effort.  I believe in our ability to make change in this world, but I also know that the change comes slowly.  That’s usually how change works in life.  It very often feels that we’re struggling against the tide, making little or no progress, until one day we catch sight of where we used to be and realize how far we actually have come.  Maintaining the will to struggle, however, is easier said than done, especially when the goal is so far off that it seems unattainable and the forces working against our progress are unrelenting.

In thinking about this, I was reminded of some very valuable discussion I had early in my forays into paganism regarding magic and intentions.  Essentially, when one sets out to do some kind of spellwork, the first step is to define the intention.  No matter how you imagine the mechanism of the universe works to bring your wishes to life, you have to be able to precisely define your wishes or you won’t get the result you really want.  You may want to be wealthy, but the concept of “wealth” is not precisely defined.  Defining what you mean by wealthy leads to profound questions about what you want to use your wealth for and how you believe it will change your life.  And that should, ideally, get you to think about why you think those changes are the priority in your life and whether there are other ways to manifest those changes without a sudden windfall.  In the end, as you follow the train of thought to its root, you’ll come upon your true intention.

As a personal example, I used to put a lot of effort into becoming successful and well known for some kind of artistic endeavor on my own part.  I wanted to be a successful artist, both in terms of financial security and having a place of respect in the art world.  Eventually, through a great deal of soul-searching born of repeated failures and overwhelming self-doubt, I realized that what I imagined was that reaching that place of fame and fortune would allow me a particular lifestyle which included the resources to support my hobbies and whims as well as the social position which would bring me a circle of friends and an active social life.  When I realized that, it became quite clear that what I wanted was quite attainable by many other means.  My real intention was to make a decent wage at a job which allowed me time and freedom to do what I wanted to do in my off time, and to cultivate strong friendships with people who had similar interests to mine.  I didn’t need to be wealthy and famous to get friends if I simply put the effort into my relationships that I’d previously put into chasing success as an artist.  And the amount of money I needed to make to buy craft supplies and take a trip here and there and have a living space where people could come hang out wasn’t really very large.  Furthermore, all the force of will I put towards the original intention would not have likely brought me what I wanted.  I still needed to cultivate relationships and I would have been battling against the demands of creating art to fund my lifestyle.

This idea dovetailed really well with a discussion about pagan ethics, particularly the idea that “doing no harm” is not as straightforward a concept as one might think.  What might be a benefit to one person, for example a windfall of money for someone struggling to pay debts, might be damaging to another person, for example that same windfall to someone with a gambling or spending problem.

So what does this have to do with feeling helpless and powerless?

When we feel like our efforts to change the world aren’t getting us anywhere, maybe it’s time to look at our goal.  How are we wanting to change the world?  What does progress look like?  Exactly what did we hope that our efforts would bring forth?  If we dissect those hopes and intentions and dig down deep, it’s likely that much more reachable goals will emerge.

As for me, I’ve decided that I must pick small things, small goals, and focus on those small steps.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that, if nothing else, my goal has to simply be to not be quiet.  To make my voice heard.  I believe that perhaps the biggest changes in our world come when those who are used to being shouted down raise their voices and make themselves visible, because as long as we are quiet and invisible it’s easy for others to discount us and disenfranchise us and brush us aside.  So I want to be loud, and get others to be loud.  And that’s it.  Setting my intention at “be loud” rather than “remove injustice from the world” makes it far easier to stay motivated and in motion.

The world will never be perfect.  It will never be what each of us wants it to be.  And if we set those ideals as our goals, failure is assured and it will always feel useless to try.

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