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Intention matters in why we do what we do

By - Dec 12, 2010 - Category Articles - Print Print

In order to gauge the ethical quality of our conduct, there are many factors to be considered, such as the motivation and intention behind a certain course of action. But how does our intention matter, if in most cases we are not even sure what it is? In what sense can intention affect our spiritual growth? These are delicate issues. Here are some reflections from one of our readers that we found worth sharing.

In a world where we value results and often seek immediate gratification, it’s easy to lose sight of why we do the things we do. Sometimes, we act abruptly, habitually, and carelessly. In other words, we may not even realise the reality of the intentions behind our own actions.

Every action, however, stems from some sort of intention that drives it. The exception may be an instinctive act where one is in danger, in which case it’s a matter of survival with little time for thought. Still, even then, with the proper education of thought and preparation, we are more likely to instinctively act in a way that is compatible with a correct intention.

In Medicine of the Soul, Bahram Elahi discusses the power of our intentions. Intention, by itself, can draw positive or negative energies. Our actions are sustained by various motivating forces, such as pleasing other people, gaining their attention, or showing off. Some of these intentions of “causal” nature, satisfy a desire of the imperious self and hinder the progression of our soul. A metacausal intention, on the other hand, is one where we only seek God’s satisfaction when performing an action. This would allow us to do what is in the best interest of our soul, and not to simply fulfil ephemeral earthly desires.

One may argue that it is almost impossible to act with the sole intention of attracting God’s satisfaction. It is true that decisions are multi-factorial and it is certainly difficult to eliminate all the temptations we face while in this world. But, analysing our thought process as well as the general feeling before and after the decision can help us gauge how close we are to having a metacausal intention.

Most likely, we already reflect on the decisions we make in life, thinking about the pros and cons, weighing the resulting consequences and the way they will affect us and those around us. But, let’s also consider the following: What is the real reason I want to carry out this action? What is my genuine motive? Will this attract God’s satisfaction? Will this help to further the positive growth of my soul? Reflecting deeper into our intention and examining it as objectively and honestly as possible brings us one step closer to truly understanding ourselves.

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  1. Niki Dec 13, 2010 3:07 pm 1

    I really liked this article because it is very practical. I would like to try to use the questions at the end of the article in my thought process during my daily interactions with people and that is the area I need improvement. I am sure it takes practice. This is what I am hoping to do with the help of God “analyzing my intentions by asking these key questions in my thoughts specially prior to my conversations”. Thank you.

  2. MA Dec 13, 2010 3:50 pm 2

    Please just accept my sincere thanks for helping me know myself and improve the “self” in me!
    I hope I can put it into practice in my daily behavior!

  3. juneone Dec 15, 2010 6:15 am 3

    I have many social scenarios in life that force me stand up and question my intentions. Often I feel like a loser because I can’t go into these situations without feeling like I am headed into battle: why can’t I just grin and get through it with grace? When I do, at least, attempt an intention for God’s satisfaction, I am comforted with the thought that I will grow the most just because I am looking at my motivations. I somehow also have the belief that if my intention is in the right place, but my actions don’t come out as perfect as I would like, that those around me might be spared some negative impact…at least I hope so.

  4. happi Dec 20, 2010 5:39 am 4

    I can relate myself to the paragraph about “pleasing other people, gaining attention or showing off”. I know how emotionally draining it is when I forget God’s support.
    Basically, at the core of it, approval seeking is wanting other people to like me. Sounds pretty innocent, but there are a lot of hidden dangers behind it. First, I want to manipulate them indirectly so, I say what they want to hear and I behave so as to please them. Next, I expect they like me and when they don’t I become resentful and I feel disappointed and not appreciated. On the other hand, when I am kind to people for God’s satisfaction I am relaxed.

  5. neuro Dec 20, 2010 5:53 am 5

    One thing that is hard for me is to remember that what really matters is my intention. For example, if something does not go well in school or work, or if someone is unkind to me even if I try to be nice to them, that this does not matter since I had a good intention. That is, sometimes I forget that the reaction to my actions are secondary and that having a good intention makes my actions mean something….

  6. YS Dec 22, 2010 5:48 am 6

    This is a great article. I do have a question however. How do I change my intentions if some of my intentions aren’t for God’s satisfaction. Let’s say it’s the right thing but not an intention that is asked for. For example a guy exercising just so he can look good and get compliments instead of having and keeping a healthy body that was given to him to satisfy God. Or let’s say a person tries to do good things in life because they are afraid of the outcome after they die. They do the right things but with the wrong intentions. Also how do we change this intention?

  7. Nina Z Dec 24, 2010 10:27 am 7

    @YS: You might refer to “Medicine of the soul” page 55 and 56.

  8. YS Dec 25, 2010 9:28 pm 8

    @Nina Z: Thank you. I will do that.

  9. notodogma Dec 30, 2010 1:47 am 9

    I would say: do the right thing. Worry about the intention later.
    It’s hard enough to do the right thing.
    Once you do the right thing, you can progressively try to detach yourself from the outcome, whatever it might be, and try to do it because it’s the right thing to do, not for this or that reward, in this world or in the next (if you believe there is a next).
    But don’t expect to become a Saint overnight. Or ever. You would either fall into despair, take the difficulty as an excuse for not doing what is right at all, or become the most arrogant person around.
    As the devil said in the movie “The devil’s advocate”: “Vanity, definitely my favorite sin.”
    We all fall for vanity.
    With regards to pure intentions, in my poor experience, we can only take baby steps.
    Good luck!

  10. NN Dec 30, 2010 4:11 pm 10

    It is hard sometimes not to carry out an act without gaining something for yourself in return. @ YS I had the same question because I feel like I lose sight of performing an act for God’s satisfaction. The motivation of attracting divine energy and knowing everything that happens to me happens for a reason truly helps me. Understanding ourselves better and truly delving within will give us a better understanding of what it is we are doing, and how we can better things in our lives.

  11. David Dec 31, 2010 1:48 pm 11

    Just the title of this article is great! I must say i have learned some valuable lessons in the past weeks; and that is that one should try to have a metacausal intention in WHATEVER one does.
    The example with if one is nice to someone because of egoistic reasons: if your intention is not metacausal, you will either be hurt (which is unethical) or you will have many expectations in return from that person (which is also unethical).
    Happy new year everybody.
    @Notodogma: good to see you are still active in this site.

  12. Noel Jan 02, 2011 4:59 pm 12

    Holidays and family. Yes, expectations were still there this year but the good news is that I was more aware of them and as a result got to know myself more deeply. During this process of self-discovery, as different layers of expectation were revealed, I learned more about my real intention and then tried to self-correct. Meaning that I worked to correct my attitude, thoughts and behavior when I became disappointed that my family had not acted according to my expectations. This process was very useful in keeping my reactive responses in check and as a result my interactions with my family remained cheerful and positive.

    This article and comments are very helpful and motivating as I continue monitoring my intention and trying to act for God’s satisfaction without expecting a result. Thank you to everyone who contributes to this wonderful site!

  13. YS Jan 05, 2011 4:15 am 13


    Thank you for helping find an answer to my question. I will definitely put it into practice, and hopefully create a good habit out of it.

  14. holly Dec 13, 2011 12:41 am 14

    I always” knew” that intentions are vital in getting us closer to God – but only in theory – i kind of lost track as to how important it really is – for getting us closer to God and how much it is needed to develop the soul – I hope I can become more honest with myself and God – as to what my real and true intentions are for some of my so called good actions .

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