Articles About Conscious Relationships
A Question of Intent
I have a new client whom I really like, mostly because she's taking counselling very seriously. She's been in twice — in the intervening week, she's tried out new behaviours with her husband.
An example: she was writing out the ubiquitous Xmas letter, and printed out a test version. She decided to get her husband to read it over before printing out enough for the teeming masses. Her husband read the letter, agreed it was OK, and he attempted to print a bunch. The program gronked. The printer?
He tried to get the printer to work. She suggested maybe the printer was out of ink. He 'colourfully' declared that she hadn't the least clue about computers — and that she couldn't be right about what was up with the failed printer. He fiddled some more. Failing, he swore and jumped up and down, blamed her for breaking the printer, wiggled some stuff, then stomped off to his room, refusing to speak to her.
Wondering why she's in therapy?
Anyway, in the past, my client's "normal" behaviour would have been —
- to get really small,
- to try to disappear,
- to agree that she, indeed, had broken the printer, and
- to do anything to get him to stop being mad at her.
"That's what I learned to do when my dad got mad."
Well, yes. We do learn behaviours at our parents' knees, and we learn from our tribes, and we build and build on what we learned. In a situation like this, it does feel "normal" to want to do what I've always done.
Until we "question our intent."
This is the part my client learned from our first session. As she felt herself shrinking, she asked herself, "What's my intent here?" She realized that there were two, and both were intents she could fulfill all by herself — without anyone else being involved.
- Her first intent: she wanted to print her Xmas letter.
- Second, she was curious about her husband's anger.
She also realized that, in the past, her intent would have been to ' fix things' by doing anything she had to, to get him to stop his behaviour. This would be an intent to change someone else — an impossible task. She would have followed him to his room, begged his forgiveness, and endured his silence while blaming herself.
This time, she wished him a "Good night," and decided not to take his anger personally.
The next morning she went to an office supply place, bought a new ink cartridge, inserted it and printed out her Xmas letter. First intention met.
When her husband got home, she said, "Guess what! I fixed the computer!" He asked her how that was possible. She replied, "I replaced the ink cartridge, and printed off the letter."
Now, I know. You probably thought that she "should" have said, "See. I told you so." But by simply stating the replaced ink cartridge part, she didn't escalate the episode from the night before. This gave her a window of opportunity — to invite her husband to talk with her about his anger. Second intention met.
I can easily become aware of my own intent. It is also so that, without asking, I am ignorant of the intent of others. I can pretend not to know my own, while imagining I have others all figured out, but when I go there, I am lying to myself.
Dar and I gave a chest freezer to a friend last weekend. We had to do some vehicle maneuvering to get close to our friend's house — then we hauled in the freezer, moved some furniture, and carried the freezer down a staircase with a bend in the middle, and deposited the freezer in the basement. Our friend commented that she'd never seen two people move something like we did. No yelling, blaming, fighting. Just teamwork. Darbella said, "We've had a lot of practice."
Indeed, that's true. Our present house is our 8th residence since we got together in 1986. But I also know we've never squabbled over moving something.
I said, "Yeah, and we hang wallpaper together, too."
The reason we can do this is all about intent. Our intent was to get the freezer to the basement without hurting ourselves, the walls or the freezer. Our intent was not to:
- be in charge
- be right
- be short tempered
- have a fight.
It really is this simple.
We "do" our life in the same way.
Prior to moving the freezer off of the porch, we walked through the house, moving things out of the way. We looked at the stairs, realized they were slippery, and therefore left our boots on. Interestingly, there was a point, trying to get the freezer around the 90 degree bend, where I rested it on my boot.
After picking the freezer up, Dar said, "I'm going to put both hands underneath." At that point, she had one hand under, the other hand on the back of the freezer. She let me know this so I could compensate for the weight shift when she briefly let go with one hand to move it. I had to stick my head out around the freezer, to see her hand and watch — then I could compensate precisely when she let go. I then decided to do the same with my hands, so she watched me.
As we moved the freezer, we checked with each other as to our "tiredness." On the stairs, we got jammed up a bit on the turn. We found a way to rest the weight evenly, while having a discussion about what to do. One of us would suggest, then we'd try it to see if it worked. Three tries, and around the bend she went.
Now, we could have gone to anger or frustration or whining, but this wouldn't have accomplished our intent — to get the freezer into the basement.
Life, as I said, is the same.
- If my intent is to deepen a relationship, then I need to evaluate my actions and choices and words on the basis of that intent.
- If my intent is to be intimate, I need to discipline myself to move closer, not back up.
- If my intent is to implement a change , then I need to focus on the change. Everything I "do" will hinge from my intent of making the change.
Far too often
- we fail because we spend all of our energy trying to figure out why others don't approve of what we are doing, or we spend endless energy trying to figure out the mood and motivations of others.
- we fail because we figure out one way of explaining ourselves, and expect everyone to get on board with our language, forgetting that being a great communicator requires a different approach with each person.
If my goal is good communication, I will be aware of what works and what doesn't — with each person I'm trying to communicate with.
When I talk with Darbella, I choose to communicate in "Dar-speak" — knowing which ways of saying things work with her — and which ways she chooses to annoy herself with. I need to get over myself and any thinking that she should just "put up with me" when I misspeak myself. I'm an adult, and if I'm aware of my intent, I can choose not to provoke when my goal is good communication.
Far too often, we allow the dramas in our heads, the "I know what you are intending" thoughts, to dominate. We then go off half cocked, missing clues to the contrary, digging holes for ourselves. The dramas are just that — plays we invent for our own amusement. Being truly alive means shutting the inner TV off once in a while, and simply moving forward toward our intent.
If you are always in your head, imagining what you don't have (and think you really want,) you tend to miss what you already have. By staying present, being in the moment — I have the best chance of being real. I can celebrate this moment in my life — and why not? It's all that exists.
What do you want for your life? In all of that wanting, what are you missing that you already have? In your wish to be right, are you living a fulfilling life? In your quest for perfection, are you failing to notice your wholeness — the good, the bad, the indifferent? What would happen in your life if you had wholeness, presence and clarity as your clear intent — and lived each moment in the moment, living and breathing your intent?
Maybe living your intent and celebrating your intent would be, well, enough.
At the very least, the freezer would get to the basement — and elegantly at that.