They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I’m not sure that I agree. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiment, carrying out a good deed is much more important than just thinking about it. However, I believe that if we really understood the importance of our intentions, we wouldn’t give them so little credit.
I was first introduced to the importance of intention at a training about 10 years ago. Our instructor asked for a couple of volunteers who were willing to be part of a small experiment. While our volunteers were out of the room our group was given the following instructions:
· When the volunteer entered the room our instructor would give us a secret signal
· Depending on the signal we were to think positive or negative thoughts toward our volunteer and observe his/her response
· We practiced both types of intention and were able to notice the different responses
The results were fascinating. While our group was intending negatively, our volunteer looked visibly suspicious and reported feeling a general lack of confidence. The volunteer that experienced positive intentions spontaneously started to giggle and could not stop smiling. Bewildered at her own reaction, our volunteer wanted to know what was going on. We were all amazed at the influence of our own intention.
Soon after this experience, I learned about a scientist who was finding a quantifiable way to measure the importance of intention. Dr. Masaru Emoto lives in Japan and has been studying water for a number of years. He visually documents structural changes in water by means of his photographic techniques. After freezing water droplets he examines them under a dark field microscope and captures the results on film. Although the actual molecules that make up water have not changed, it is clear that something has changed once it is exposed to people’s intention.
He took water from the extremely polluted Fujiwara Dam and studied the crystalline structure under the microscope. Below is a picture of the results. The water doesn’t freeze in the snowflake like pattern that you see in clean water. He then had a Buddhist monk come and offered a prayer for the Fujiwara Dam. Dr. Emoto took that second sample of water to examine the difference.
Here are the results. Picture on the left is frozen water from the Fujiwara Dam, to the right is Fujiwara Dam after a prayer.
Dr. Emoto has written a book called, The Hidden Messages in Water which documents a variety of frozen water samples from around the world. The portion that most interests me are the experments where Emoto takes distilled water and exposes to a variety of peoples’ intentions. Here are just a couple of my favorites.
Left ‘love and appreciation’ was intended, right is when people intended ‘you make me sick’.
So what is the point of all of this talk about intention? It boils down to practicality for me. How can this impact my daily life and the lives of those around me?
I am the single mother of two children, a 16 years old son and a 7 year old daughter. Despite being a counselor for a living, the relationship with my son has been pretty rocky as he has become a teenager. I know distinctly when things took a turn for the worse. In sixth grade, after changing schools his grades started to plummet. Anxious to solve this problem, I met with teachers, arranged for tutoring and devised a homework plan. I was determined to ‘make’ him succeed.
After several months of hypervigilance in communicating with teachers and working on homework, his grades were only marginally different. I became frustrated and angry. I assumed that my son must not care about school and interpreted his silence during my interrogations as apathy. I can now see that he almost always responds to emotional intensity by shutting down. Looking back at this time, I know that the majority of my intention toward him was anger. Even when I would try to be kind or helpful, behind that facade was a low level of frustration that I was trying to avoid.
At a certain point in the process I had to admit that my efforts were not only ‘not working’, but were taking an awful toll on our relationship. My son would give me feedback like ‘I feel like you are always mad at me’ or ‘all we talk about is school’. So I decided that I would need to do something different, I forfeited my efforts to influence school and allowed his dad to be in charge of those interactions. After that, I had to make a conscious choice to not ask about school, but to create a new pattern of interactions between us. Things did improve, but a lot of damage was already done.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I am at yet another training where the instructor reminds us of the importance of intention. On my hour long drive home, I am a captive audience to God and He causes me to consider my current intentions toward my son. My boy is a full blown teenager at this point. You know, the time when they make choices that are hard to understand. I often think to myself ‘I love my son, but there are times that I don’t like him’. However on that car ride, God cuts through the semantics and I must think deeply about what I think and feel. If I am honest my beliefs about him sound like this, ‘you were so much easier when you were little’, ‘if you would only do ______ things would be better between us’, and ‘I wish you were nicer to your sister’. In this moment God’s wisdom is real. He reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13, ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never fails. Even though I claim to ‘love’ my son, these are not loving thoughts, these are critical thoughts and I have them constantly! God gently turns my mind and I realize that loving my son involves believing the best about him. Instead of focusing on the things that he does that I don’t agree with, I can choose to think about and set my heart on all of his wonderful qualities. This is love.
So I make a new choice. Each time I was tempted to dwell on my son’s negative choices, I decide to look for a positive instead. When Satan tries to tell me how doomed my son’s future is, I choose to believe that my son is fearfully and wonderfully made, that God for him both a hope and a future. So what happened? Of course I noticed a difference in me. I generally became less frustrated, controlling and irritated, but even more amazing were the changes I saw in him. Before I even had a chance to act and speak differently, I saw a difference when my intention changed. My son, who often responds to ‘how was your day?’ with ‘OK’, was talking with me in the kitchen, sharing about interactions with friends and ideas for getting a job this summer. He was noticeably more kind to his sister and even emptied the dishwasher without being asked!
While the Bible does not specifically use the word ‘intention’ let’s look at what God’s word says about this idea...
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above not on earthly things. Colossians 3:1-2
I encourage you to do your own experiment. Instead of trying to say or do something nice try just changing your intention. While I can’t guarantee an emptied dishwasher, I can’t think of a better way to influence the people we encounter on a daily basis. Just imagine what would happen if we intended good things toward ourselves, but that topic is for another day…