Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Power of Intention

This article was first posted at Soulseeds in the Grapevine blog.

What is the difference between a prayer and an intention? Depending on how you think about prayer, probably nothing. They are both proactive and powerful. If you take a passive approach to prayer, however, it has less in common with the power of intention. Take for example the Day of Prayer planned by Texan Governor Rick Perry. His website claims that they are unable to fix many of the problems in America and so they are looking to Jesus to fix them. The event is called The Response which is ironic because they appear to be abrogating all responsibility. Their view of prayer follows the old country song, “Let Jesus take the wheel.” The website says, “There is hope for America. It lies in heaven and we will find it on our knees.”

There are many solutions to the problems in America and Jesus won’t be solving any of them. It is the responsibility of every one of us to be an active part of the solution. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. I can only imagine that if Jesus was around today he wouldn’t be running prayer meetings. He would be at the frontline addressing peoples’ needs in tangible and practical ways.

So what is the role of prayer in America’s problems? Even mainline views of prayer are more balanced than Rick Perry’s apparently passive Day of Prayer event. Take for example the conservative televangelist Oral Roberts who died in 2009. When you fly in to Tulsa Oklahoma you can see the entrance of Oral Roberts University from the plane. At the gates there is a massive sculpture known as The Praying Hands, standing 60 feet tall and weighing 30 tons, the largest bronze monument in the world. At first glance, it appears to be a straightforward image of two hands in prayer pose. But when you look closer, you see that they are not two identical hands. You have to dig a little to find the reason for this, but Oral Roberts himself said, “The Hands represent the hand of a physician using the natural forces of God’s earth and the hand of the prayer partner offering the prayer of faith.” One hand represents prayer and the other hand represents human expertise.

Oral Robert’s view of prayer is closer to the mainstream. It keeps the sense of personal responsibility. Prayer is not an excuse for inaction. Each of us has a responsibility to use our hands, and brains and skills to serve the whole. So what is the purpose of the other hand, the prayer hand?

There is a partial truth in Rick Perry’s Day of Prayer initiative. He says there are some problems we can’t solve. This is true, but the problems in America are not among the unsolvable problems. The problems in American are very solvable if we have the will to do so and work together. There are other things we can’t control. The role of prayer, and this is true across many different views of prayer, is to acknowledge that we can’t control everything in life. Prayer is an act of surrender, humility and intention. Prayer is a way of releasing the burden of control over circumstances such as natural disasters, other peoples’ choices and evolutionary forces. It includes an element of gratitude for forces that hold the universe in place beyond our efforts, and it includes a surrender of outcomes beyond our control.

It’s not so much about “ask and you shall receive.” It’s more about, “express your deepest questions and doubts and at the right time the answer will become clear.” In the meantime, get comfortable with uncertainty, stop expecting that two and two will not equal four and give up what your ego has convinced you that you need to receive. The initiative and the power lie within you to discern between things you can control and things you need to surrender. If you can’t control or fix or change something, then change your attitude to the situation. Surrender to the flow of life, and all that you truly need will find you because it is WITHIN you. You just need to peel away some of the protective layers and pride. Prayer is one way to do this.

My own view of prayer has evolved a LOT over the years. I used to think of prayer as communication with a supernatural being external and apart from myself. Now I think of prayer as communication with the part of myself that is larger than me but still deep within me, my higher power by any name. God is no longer a mysterious OTHER, and is now the mysterious MORE that fills life with meaning and powerful possibilities beyond my small concerns. This mysterious more includes the untapped power of mind, the limitless strength of character, the collective power of shared vision, the wisdom of nature and so much more. There is more possibility in life than our small perspective usually allows us to see. Prayer is one way to tap into this power.

Prayer and Intention

Prayer is less about asking and more about imagining. This is where prayer merges with intention. With intentions, you have the power to imagine the future of your wildest dreams, a future that serves you and others in powerful ways. The power of intention is the ability to think from the end and work backwards. Imagination is your memory of the future.

Michelangelo once said about his masterpiece Statue of David: "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." It existed first in his imagination, as if he was carving it out of his memory. It began in his unconscious mind, and then came to birth in the marble.

Some people argue that the unconscious, or most ancient, parts of the brain have no way of distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. There seems to at least be some truth to this statement. Anyone who screamed out loud in Spielberg’s new movie Super 8 knows what I’m talking about. Our brains have the ability to feel fear about things that are not real and may never be real. We also have the ability to imagine futures that are incredibly exciting. To the extent that this is true, you could say that if you focus on imagined fear your brain will think this is real. If you focus on an exciting future, also imagined, your brain will think this is real. Either way it’s a choice.

This is how intentions work. You look out to an imagined end point and work backwards. You train your brain to believe that your future is a reality and begin to take steps to live this reality. There is an awesome example of this from Shell Oil Company. Oil companies need to project a long way into the future, including the price of commodities, global forces and unrest in the Middle East, to name a few. In the early 1990s, when they were projecting an oil price of $20 to $30 per barrel let alone the $120 a barrel we now have, they contracted a surprising support person. Betty Sue Flowers is a PhD in English, and worked closely with Joseph Campbell on the Power of Myth. She was contracted to write stories for Shell. She participated in meetings with strategists and economists and crafted their numbers and strategies into story form. Every day she revised the stories and circulated them to the team.

Eventually they created a series of scenarios about how the future might play out. The scenarios were based on scientific predictions but included some wiggle room for uncertain forces. The team was then able to choose their preferred scenario. In an interview, Flowers said this, “when you tell stories about the future, even if you're not claiming to forecast, there's some sense...that actually the future is the story you choose. Now that is very un-economic in its basis. It's not the "invisible hand" working out invisibly, like a machine. Its human beings coming in and saying "I choose Scenario A, not Scenario B." It's a different emphasis--it puts the human being more in the center, in very nuanced ways, instead of these huge impersonal forces. It's very subtle. But it makes a big difference.”

They learnt some important things that relate to intentions.

1. You don't know the future- but you can create scenarios that make sense and CHOOSE one.

2. The scenarios don’t necessarily have straight lines and fixed outcomes. You can rewrite them as you learn and experience more of life.

3. Use your preferred vision of the future to create the present that you want.


Visualization is one way of practicing the power of intention. You can actually visualize the future you want and begin to make it a reality. Try it out. Choose something that comes from your deepest sense of purpose.

Visualize a powerful intention for your life or for the world. Let it come from your highest purpose where what you want, what others need and who you are, are one and the same thing. Picture it in your mind with as much detail and clarity as you can. Feel it in your body. Be it with all your might. Frame it in a scene that is full of blue sky and light. See yourself in the vision, looking strong and fulfilled.

Now let it become part of your present reality. Let your intention loose. Let it unfold. Let it be a path on which your dreams can travel.

Consider adding an affirmation to your visualization. Something like this-

A vibrant and exciting future is unfolding in perfect order.

Unlike the view of prayer where you let Jesus have the wheel, this view of prayer is empowering and full of personal responsibility. You have everything you need, right within you, to both create the reality you desire and surrender the parts of life that you can’t control. It’s all within you, waiting to be liberated like Michelangelo’s angel in marble. Carve the life of your wildest dreams out of the raw material of your humanity; your memory which has more knowledge of past, present and future than you could imagine, your strength that is shaped by life’s challenges, your skill that is honed by years of practice and your wisdom that knows what to change and what to surrender.

You are connected to the source and power of intentions, your own and others. It is a power that no single religion possesses. It can't be possessed. Religions can hint at this power with stories and metaphors, but this is far bigger than any religion. This is a global awakening. Imagine the revolution when people unite their loving intentions for the good of all. There is no limit to what can be achieved.