Way back in the day, the days of free love and the back-to-the-land movement, I was particularly enamored of the freedom and flexibility of a lifestyle like the one being lived by Scott and Helen Nearing. No bosses, no schedules, nowhere to go and nothing to do. Except by personal, deliberate intention.
I didn’t need a lot of external motivation to set my own intention to work toward getting some of that freedom and flexibility for myself. First on the Freedom List: I would have to learn to build my own house. Since I was working a minimum wage job at the time and knew next to nothing about buying property or housebuilding, the road promised to be a long and winding one. Twenty years worth of long and winding, in fact. Eventually though, I acquired the skills and got the house built (here’s the first page of a story run on the house by the San Jose Mercury News).
At some point during those 20 years I found a quote by William Hutchinson Murray, a member of the Edmund Hillary party who first climbed Mt. Everest. It really spoke to me about pursuing dreams of freedom and independence:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
Though rarely proceeding with anything close to the feeling of boldness, my intention remained strong throughout. But what is intention exactly? And what’s required to set one, and to sustain it. Merriam-Webster defines intention as: “in·ten·tion – noun \in-ˈten(t)-shən\ 1. the thing that you plan to do or achieve ; an aim or purpose; a determination to act in a certain way; resolve; what one intends to do or bring about, the object for which a prayer, mass, or pious act is offered.”
Two things are interesting to me about this definition. One is that intention is generally considered a noun. In my experience it’s more a verb. An action verb. The second interesting thing about the definition is that pious acts are often involved. That certainly seems to be the case with my house getting built. From the mortgage banker who gave me ridiculous, below-market financing, to the retired county engineer who volunteered for free to draw the plat maps and shepherd me through the subdivision process, to the Town Manager who worked behind the scenes with individual city council members on my behalf out of the goodness of his heart (imagine!).
Intention as Magic
But along with those pious, magic acts, something additional was going on – unremitting changes in my heart and in my brain.
Brain cells were coming into being through the process of neurogenesis. And new connections were being made between those new cells as well as with the old. Learning was happening (along with unlearning). And it wasn’t just learning about housebuilding, back-to-the-land, and freedom and independence. It was learning about … me. It was me, without realizing it, continually allowing my life to be drawn towards those things that had great heart and meaning for me. In other words, I was using The Two Perilous Questions as my guiding North Star.
My dream-pursuit wasn’t so focused and single-minded, of course. It was more the way jet airliners, because of air currents and other factors, fly off-course 90% of the journey. The Inertial Navigation System on the plane constantly course-corrects, until the destination is reached. And that’s pretty much how it has turned out that I have been living on an off-shore island for the last seven years with my days pretty much structured the way I wake up and feel they need to be – the result of an intention set nearly 40 years ago!
May the forces of Providence, pious acts and intention be with you. And me.