“Right intention has to come from the depth of the heart, not from its turbulent surface.” Ajahn Sucitto.
When in Bali, I walk a lot. I pass Ketut as she cooks in her open shop, Wayan as he waits to drive his taxi, Kedek sipping his morning tea, Puspa sweeping her front walk. Each person pauses, smiles, and greets me: “Selamat pagi! Good morning!” A common custom is for each of them to add a second part to the greeting: “Mau ke mana?” “Where are you going?” I often pause and chat a bit longer in greeting and response.
“Mau ke mana?” “Where are you going?”
Westerners can sometimes be offended by that question; to our ears, it can seem a rude intrusion into the specifics of our day’s plan. I have learned, however, that, in Bali, that’s not at all how it’s meant. It’s not really about my physical destination. It is, rather, a deeply kind question, more like a friend back home asking “How are you today? How is your heart?”
“Selamat pagi; mau ke mana?” “Good morning. Where am I going? How is my heart?” Asking myself is a reminder to remember. How am I now? What is my intention? In this moment, this circumstance, what is the inclination of my heart?
I thought of those Balinese greetings this morning as I sat to meditate. I can so often misunderstand the teachings on “right intention” and can turn them into expectation of some particular accomplishment in my daily practice. Rather than simple guidance, I can find my mind offering relentless goals or harsh insistence that, to be worthy, today’s meditation must unfold in some particular way or must culminate in some particular outcome. Then, too, my mind can be full of judgment: “Not there yet! Not yet quite good enough!”
Intention as an inquiry into the quality of my heart brought me to a more kind balance. How is it now? Might there be a letting go of whatever is leading to struggle or affliction? Might there be kindness? Recognition of goodness and gratitude and wholesome progress? Compassion for limitation and turbulence? Allowance for mistake and confusion? I think of the Buddha saying that he only taught about presence and awareness of suffering and its end, not about having some imagined destination that I must drive and judge myself toward.
I reflected on it later when I poured my coffee and read the newspaper and fed the kitty and made my bed. I thought of it when I worked in the garden and took out the trash. How is it now for me? What is the inclination of my heart just now?
I thought of it still later today when I made a mistake. It’s was not a big-ish mistake; I just messed up our team’s work and schedule in a way that caused confusion for everyone: an ordinary day in this very human life. No dead bodies lying around…all of this, just run-of-the-mill pleasure and pain…. gain and loss…praise and blame…. fame and disrepute…Nevertheless, there was an ouch for me and for others as we, together, lost our balance a bit. Dukkha. Ouch.
What’s is interesting, though, are my brain’s continued shaming thoughts and opinions about it all as that small pain strikes an old and deeper wound: “You have now just ruined everything,” my brain reports. Understandably, at that news, my body freezes and my emotions and thoughts explode further in a crushing avalanche as I tumble into the reactivity of a four-year-old. Wow. I’ve now Ruined. Everything.
Then my brain switches to blame as I conjure all the ways that others might have misunderstood my intentions or stumbled in their own harsh response. I then watch as my mind becomes even more busy trying to get out of all of this, imagining some future or better or more spiritual experience, rather than the confusing and unpleasant one of now.
“Mau ke mana?” Where am I going? Wise intention invites me now to move below all of this turbulence, to a simple awareness and a kind heart that lets go of all that is not so helpful here. I see that dwelling in thoughts of shame and blame seems more linked to habitual patterns from long-ago traumas than to anything real or useful in the present moment. It’s time to let go of giving energy to those thoughts.
What is the condition of my heart? My practice invokes a kind and compassionate investigation of what might lead to more balance and more ease for my human-y self and all those human-y others. I pause and stop to chat with myself a bit, looking deeply into the body’s experience, accepting what is, breathing with it.
“It’s like this.” Is there unnecessary suffering? I inquire. With a kind heart and with compassion for my very human-ness, I explore simple and quiet presence, listening to see what’s needed that will lead toward the end of suffering, here, now, with all of this.
“Mau ke mana?” How is my heart? My friends in Bali remind me.