Intentions

I watched “The Razor’s Edge” again last night, one of my favorite films of all time. Larry Darrell is one of my favorite characters of all time. (In my daydreams my character is some kind of Larry Darrell/Lloyd Dobler blend. Well, they’re *my* daydreams.)

There was a scene in The Razor’s Edge where Larry was in India speaking to a man washing dishes in the river. The man told Larry that washing dishes was a religious experience for him and that sort of impressed Larry, which I guess is why Larry followed this man up to the monastery on the mountain later in the movie.

What hit me most was the exchange they had that went something like:

Larry: “I worked in a mine for two years to come here.”
Dish Man: “You worked in a mine? What was your intention?”
Larry: “To make money so I could come here to India.”
Dish Man: “That was your reason, but what was your intention. Without intention, it was just an empty action.”

Later that night, several things clicked. (Here’s where Cody finally clues into what must be the obvious for many readers out there.)

In my life, action without intention, or with wrong intention, is just as much a problem, maybe more so, than good intentions with no (or bad) actions. I always thought my problem was simply a lack of proper attention. Turns out nothing is so simple.

Take, for instance, my cake failure the other night. It occurred to me that part of the problem was wrong intention. By that time on Sunday night, I was making the cake grudgingly out of obligation — I said I would do it — and I figured I might as well try out a new recipe while I was at it. A better intention would have been simply to honor my friend. Had I the right intention, would I have paid more attention and would the cake have turned out better? Just maybe.

Monday night, Girlzilla and I baked pretzels from scratch. She had been begging us to stop and buy pretzels at the store so we could have a snack. We made them at home instead. They turned out great. My intention in the process was to spend time with my daughter, teach her a bit about baking biochemistry (“Bread rises because of yeast farts” — try that line on your preteen), and to give her the experience of pride in making something for herself that she’s used to buying at the store. At the end all the intentions were fulfilled and the pretzels were good. Intentions do make a difference.

So this ties in my recent meditations on skillfulness with something I wrote a few months back about the source of my errors in making art. I had characterized my errors in my art as ones of ignorance, frustration, and inattention. Now I can add one more source to the list — wrong intention.

Well, hey, it’s news to me at least. I am a work in progress. Yep, a real piece of work.

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