Friday, November 5, 2010

Intention

In the imitation of Christ it recommends setting an intention in the morning and reviewing your behavior at night, in part to see if you followed the intention. The practice of generating intention is also found in Buddhism. For example, many sources recommend generating intention before starting meditation so that the intention carries through the meditation. In cognitive psychology we generally understand intention as setting a goal. Human behavior appears often to be goal directed and some believe that we have a special brain module for remembering and managing our goals. So the practice of setting and maintaining intention can be viewed as an attempt to strengthen our ability to maintain a particular goal against our tendency to switch to more habitual goals. Research shows that humans can be extremely clever and resourceful at attaining goals, but it also shows that we are not so clever at choosing goals. This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view since in the past our goals where simpler and more immediate, e.g., get food, get shelter, run away, try to have sex. So our ancestors only needed to be good at achieving goals, the actual choice of goals was obvious. Now we have more freedom but our minds are pulled in different directions by our consumer culture. Setting intention helps us to focus. 
Ritual and daily practices are meant to help us maintain intention. Meditation strengthens our ability to maintain focus and thereby maintain intention, so meditation is very important. There are not many practices for increasing internal focus in Christianity. However, there is the Heart Prayer, which is an excellent practice. A really good source for this, and also an entertaining read, is The Way of the Pilgrim

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way.

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