Starting with Intention
May what I do flow from me like a river
Rainer Maria Rilke
his world was given us to work on,” writes David Steindl-Rast. We each find our individual way to work on this world.
Work forms a part of the day in every monastic tradition, and is approached with the same attitude as meditation or prayer. Steindl-Rast goes on to say, “We learn in the monastery to savor our work as we are doing it – doing it for its own sake, not just doing it to have it done, or to get it over with…. If we add up all the times we have spent in our life getting things over with, it may turn out to be half of our lives.”
Work can be a source of great stress and overwhelm; it can push our buttons, take us to the edge of our patience, and drive us to the point where we simply want to “get it over with.” One way to see ourselves through these inevitable moments that arise in the course of our work is to routinely begin by setting an intention. In the day-to-day flurry of projects, deadlines, and demands, it is easy to lose sight of the motivation or intention that led us to our work in the first place. If we are fortunate, we have found our way into a field of work that aligns with our true passions and strengths. For others, work may serve as a financial means to contribute to the world in some other way – a cause, a community, a passion. Many struggle with finding a stable income in a rapidly-changing economy.
Whatever our current relationship to work, we can place our wholehearted attention for a portion of our day on taking action to contribute to this world in some way, no matter how large or small. We can begin by taking a moment to pause and reflect on our intention for the work we are about to carry out: What was the initial spark of motivation – the seed of intention that led me down the path of pursuing this work I do? Allowing ourselves to settle for a moment of being in our body and feeling our breath, we can simply allow that original intention to drop like a pebble into our being – we can let a felt sense of that intention simply resonate in our body and mind, without words. Having reconnected with the deeper intention that drives our work in the world, we can expand this intention to act as a container, a nest, or a pair of cupped hands to hold our action and our work over the next hours: What benefit do I wish for my work to have at the end of the day? If this were to be the last day of my work, what would I want my lasting contribution to be?
As a child, I spent many hours creating art and playing music. I built my own pinhole cameras and fell in love with capturing the world through photography. These pursuits took me out of time. They connected me to something deep inside of myself that transcended day-to-day life. There was a power and magic that could be felt but not described in words. In my work as an Art Teacher, it is my intention to create opportunities for my students to experience that kind of magical connection in my classroom. Schools are noisy, chaotic, political places. There are many competing demands that can make it challenging to realize that intention in every instance, but re-planting and watering the seed of that intention each day is a powerful way to navigate those demands so that my true intention for my work can rise to the surface.
I wish for my students to be able to imagine possibilities that cannot yet be seen, and to cultivate a sense of wonder in their experience of the world. I have often placed these words on my classroom walls over the years, in part as a visual reminder to myself. I currently have the words imagine and wonder in 3-D letters high on top of a bookshelf, and hanging above the doorway. They are illuminated by a lamp and a string of tiny lights, which need to be switched on and off by climbing up a ladder. Next to the word imagine is a plant that requires water and sunlight from time to time. At first, I regretted these extra steps of maintenance I had created for myself, but now I appreciate that climbing up to turn on the lights of imagine and wonder each day has become a brief practice of Prime – of deliberately beginning my day by re-connecting, even momentarily, with my true intention for the work I will do over the course of the day.
I Believe in All That Has Never Yet Been Spoken by Rainer Maria Rilke I believe in all that has never yet been spoken. I want to free what waits within me so that what no one has dared to wish for may for once spring clear without my contriving. If this is arrogant, God forgive me, but this is what I need to say. May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children. Then in these swelling and ebbing currents, these deepening tides moving out, returning, I will sing you as no one ever has, streaming through widening channels into the open sea.
- This I Believe… How is the work you do informed by what you hold to be true? Write a short statement of core beliefs or principles that guide your work in the world. This is a challenging, but insightful exercise. Explore This I Believe essays of prominent figures in society and common individuals alike, and hear Dr. Anthony Fauci’s essay from 2005 at thisibelieve.org. Use the original 1954 Producer’s Invitation from this NPR program to start your own statement of belief.
- 10-Minute Guided Practice: Connecting with Intention:
- Create a Prime Ritual – Establish a simple way of marking the start of your work or activity in the world each day by calling to mind, even briefly, the intention you hold for the work you are about to do.
- How would you answer the question, “To what do you dedicate yourself?”
- What are the roots of the intention you hold for your work in the world? Did they exist in some form in your childhood?
- Was there a particular experience, conversation, or person that ignited your interest in the work you do?
- What is one aspect of your work that you “savor”
Capture the form and essence of your intention for your work to serve as a reminder at the moment of Prime:
- Visualize your intention for the work you do – capture in color, form, or symbolic imagery the intention for your work
- Work with words: find a word that captures the essence of your intention for your work. Create an artwork or design with this word to hang in your work space as a reminder.
- Write a preamble to your day. Compose a brief statement or oath that you can read each day to start with your intention.
If you would like, share your work with firstname.lastname@example.org, to be compiled on this page at a later date.
Share your own experiences, observations, or insights in the comment section below. Remember to follow these two guidelines:
- Speak from your own lived experience.
- Situate any outside references (religious, spiritual, literary, etc.) within your lived experience (i.e. what experience of your own made those ideas or words of others ring true in your life)