I used to teach my 6th graders about the 8-fold path of the Buddha when we were investigating Eastern religions. Together, we practiced meditation, and discussed profound precepts such as Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Intention. I wonder if you would predict how these privileged, well-educated (up till this point) children reacted to such lessons?

Well, not only did they instinctively grasp the concepts, they eagerly embraced the practices, at least to the extent that they gladly meditated before tests, after recess, before performances, and closely monitored themselves and each other in the pursuit of the 8-fold path… as they understood it. Even they grasped what Buddha reassured us of – that no one is perfect and that we can only try our hardest. Being exposed to these ideas, even on a rather rudimentary level, it was as if they suddenly had a new lens with which to view the world of middle school. If a classmate said, “I’m so stupid,” 6 voices would chime in: “RIGHT SPEECH!” Why is that important, I would ask? Someone would explain, “Say what is true. You are not stupid, you are smart.” Or: “Your words have a lot of power, you know.”

What about intentions? How do we know if we are living in positive, healthy intention? What if our “best intentions” come to nothing? Is that possible if we are “doing it right?” I had a student tell me once, “As long as everyone truly intends what is good and what comes out of love, how can they really hurt anyone?” I believe that is true, oh wise 11 year old. If my intention for myself (I can’t actually have an intention for anyone else – and trying to is just about control or manipulation, isn’t it?) aligns with my true values and comes from a place of love (including self-love), I will be in a good place. In the words of Phillip Moffitt, my happiness “will come from the strength of my internal experience of intention.”

A client of mine recently sent me an awesome article by the guy I quoted in the last paragraph — Phillip Moffitt — the founder of the Life Balance Institute. I’d never heard of Phillip Moffitt before, but I’d heard and/or absorbed and/or been exposed to the concepts he explores in his piece – about the difference between intentions and goals. He said what my student said, only not quite as well: “You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.”

So yeah. Whether I’m throwing the Tarot or blowing intentions into sticks to burn in a ritual fire, or simply lying in bed focusing on a way of being in this moment and the next and the next, somewhere along the line I became a person aware, at least on an intellectual level, of the value of setting intentions, and how doing so helps create my desired reality (both inner and outer). Easy? No. A valuable exercise? Yup.

Maybe kids, unadulterated and pure, understand instinctively that living inside intention is a “practice that is focused on how you are ‘being’ in the present moment” and that when you do, “your attention is on the ever-present ‘now’ in the constantly changing flow of life” (Moffitt again). Children are all about the “now” and no one can be in the flow like they can.

I want to live by “right intention” and I want to live with abandon, joy, and love. (I’m not at all ambitious.) So one thing I started trying to do a few years ago is this: I look into the eyes of everyone I meet, even if briefly in a check-out line. As a native New Yorker this is something I had to teach myself, for sure, having been taught that avoiding eye contact preserves a stranger’s privacy. Screw that!  The results of this exercise are inevitably  incredible. People can open like flowers or shut down like vaults when faced with a stranger’s open, seeing eyes. But I do try to see each person as a person. I think about the lives that stretch out behind all these people whose paths cross mine. It is not that hard to love them—on some level—and have compassion for them, their unknown plights, their unrevealed gifts. If I can look at everyone and myself with this kind of intention and love, every day, I will be a little closer to something meaningful.