Yesterday I rode 50 miles on my bike to watch an Australian rugby team beat a New Zealand rugby team. Not that there’s any rivalry between Aussies and Kiwis :). But it was a glorious day and made extra special by being with the only Kiwi I know in America. Isn’t it funny the way we feel some sort of pride when our team wins? As if I was on the field……
Just in case my head swelled too much to fit into my helmet, I was brought back down to earth with a thud on the ride. I thought I was doing pretty well until an 80 year old man pedaled past me like a streak of light. He was pulling two kids in a buggy behind his bike, and they were stopping at garage sales along Lakeshore Drive. Every time they stopped at a sale, I rode past thinking to myself, “How do you like me now old timer?” Sure enough a mile or two down the road, he flew past me again, now with dolls houses and scooters from the sale piled on top of the kids in the buggy. It was my ride on the inner roller coaster called “Ego”. This was supposed to be a relaxing ride on a beautiful summer’s day and a nice time with friends. That was my intention. But a tiny word with a massively sinister plot threatened my enjoyment until I realized what was going on.
Intentions are so much more powerful and effective when you are aware of the role of ego. This is part 4 in a series of articles on intentions. First I described the power of visualizing an end that excites you and then working backwards to make it happen. Then I wrote about perseverance, where you find whatever resources you need to continue moving towards your vision and no matter what the obstacles you keep going. Third, I wrote about creative inspiration when you tap into a power that is within and around you with effortless effort. Now I want to take the conversation a little further by looking at the role of ego in setting intentions.
What the world needs now, at this troubled time, is for many people to step up with bold intentions that serve the common good. Too much of what we see right now is ego driven. The news about Rupert Murdoch closing down his News of the World paper is an example of egotistical intentions catching up with a business. His intention to run a media empire of epic proportions led him to compromise acceptable standards of ethics and stoop to hacking into private voice mail systems, a strategy that interfered with the investigations of missing children. What began as a worthy intention, ie to inform the public, was hijacked by ego and led astray by an insatiable desire for power and profit.
Modern day capitalism is a brilliant and worthy intention. In itself it is not egotistical. It supports economies and efficiencies that have the ability to create common wealth and serve the common good. But when ego takes over, in the guise of an insatiable desire for size and power, capitalism becomes a destructive force; industries fix prices, companies avoid tax, bribe officials and control the outcome of elections. In these cases, ego gets in the way of the intention of running an efficient and profitable business and comes back to haunt all of us; such as banks that have to be bailed out because their collapse would destabilize global systems.
It happens at an individual level as well. The desire for control in relationships is insatiable. When one person sets the intention to get what they can from a relationship or a work colleague, no matter what they have to do to get it, it becomes destructive.
There are other subtle ways that ego infiltrates intentions. Setting intentions based on prestige or appearance is another example of the ego’s insatiable desire for importance. If you desire more money or prestige because you think it will complete you as a person, this is a trick of the ego. Ego says, “If only I have this amount of money, this property, or this partner I will be happy.” You need to turn this sentence around for healthy intentions. Once I get happy with who I am right now, then I will start manifesting my highest intentions.
Healthy intentions follow the golden rule. If you are looking for more money, then be more generous and participate in the easy flow of money. If you are looking for more acknowledgment, then acknowledge others and participate in the easy flow of praise or encouragement or positivity. Whatever you are looking for in life, start by giving to others and you will avoid ego’s traps.
Enough of the ego driven intentions. We’ve had enough destructive intention, enough corruption, enough violence- enough EGO. Whether it’s the imperial intentions of media magnates or the personal intentions of individuals like you and me, the world is crying out for intentions that serve the common good. The first step is to ask some questions of your intentions. Shine some light on them to see why they are important and who they are serving.
The Motivation for Intentions
We get some clues about this from the world of super heroes. My favorite super hero has always been Wonder Woman and not just because of her star spangled spandex speedoes. She was a ground breaker, bringing women into the super hero realm and paving the way for Zena Princess Warrior and Lara Croft and others. One of Wonder Woman’s secret weapons was her Golden Lasso, an unbreakable rope that corrals the truth of out of people like a cattle herder. When her mother gave her the Golden Lasso, she said,
This is the Golden Lasso. Besides being made from an indestructible material, it also carries with it the power to compel people to tell the truth. Use it well, and with compassion.
Maybe in the past you were taught that God is like a cowboy in the sky, ready to lasso you if you slip up and bring you back into line. God as John Wayne or Gene Audrey, and you as the cattle. That’s not what I’m talking about. The Golden Lasso is a personal thing. It’s also known as your conscience. Swing it round in your mind and consciousness like a lasso and it can garner all the inner truth you need. Use it well and with compassion.
The Golden Lasso is the foundation of the Golden Rule. Once you realize at a deep level the truth that you are one with others, you transcend the ego’s delusion of separateness and set intentions that benefit everyone involved. The Golden Rule becomes completely natural and effortless.
Lasso the truth of your intentions’ motivations. Are they self serving, or do they take into account the broadest circle of concerns possible? Be truthful with yourself, listen to your inner motivations, and act on your highest intentions that come from a place of self awareness and an authentic desire to see the world change for the better.
Healthy Sense of Self
When you set intentions, the point is not to remove your ego. The point is to have a healthy sense of self. Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki said, “How much “ego” do you need? Just enough so that you don’t step in front of a bus.” That’s a good starting point, but I think we need more ego than that. You need enough ego to get out of bed in the morning. You need enough ego to believe that you can make a difference in the world and you need enough ego to trust that you have a unique calling in the world.
Where ego becomes a problem is when it tries to convince you that you are a self made person, separate from all others and that your actions don’t impact others. You aren’t a self made person. You are made up of all sorts of other people. Ego becomes a problem when it convinces you that your intentions are more important than other people’s intentions, or that your intentions don’t affect other people.
I remember being in a prayer meeting in rural Australia many years ago. Someone in the group prayed for a dry day so that they could enjoy their family picnic. This was in drought stricken territory where another dry day would mean the loss of another farm. This is an example of an egotistical intention.
A more extreme example was something I heard about after the Columbine shootings in 1999. It was a chain email written by a girl who was in the school on the day of the shooting. Even though she was in the firing line, miraculously bullets sprayed around her and she was not shot. She claimed it was because she was part of a prayer group which met in the school and as the shooters moved around the school she was praying for protection. If her assessment was correct, this would mean that God caused the same bullets which narrowly missed her to, in turn, hit and kill 13 other teenagers.
However you understand God, it makes no sense to me that God would play Russian roulette with people’s lives choosing for some people to be saved while others die. However you understand the universe of intentions, it’s egotistical to set intentions that don’t include the widest group possible. The universal field of intentions wants good for everyone, even if we don’t always understand the timing or unfolding of events in our life. Regardless of your perspective on the cause and origin of intentions, set intentions that serve the greatest good for the greatest number.
It’s Not All About You
When it comes to setting healthy intentions, it is always about more than yourself. Occasionally I play a game with the kids when I drive them to school. We set the intention to drive all the way to the school without stopping. There is only one rule- it has to be legal. This sometimes involves slowing down well before a red light so that it changes before we get there. Everyone in the car is literally on the edge of their seats.
There is one flaw in the game, and it’s an important truth that relates to setting intentions. There are OTHER people on the road. If you set intentions that ignore other people, you are likely to end up in a car wreck. There are things you can’t control, like traffic lights and other people’s actions. Set intentions that include as many stakeholders as possible. Don’t play Russian roulette with other people by setting mindless intentions.
What this means in practice is that if you set intentions that disregard the people around you, it will end in disaster. It also means that if you are in a relationship where one partner is setting healthy intentions and the other person is not participating, it won’t work. If you have the most awesome intentions and strategies for parenting, but your kids are not participating, it won’t work. The right idea at the wrong time won’t work. The wrong idea at any time won’t work.
Set healthy intentions that take into account true empowerment for as many people as possible. Begin with your own motivations.
Bold Intentions For the Good of Humanity
I’ve given plenty of examples that describe intentions wrapped in ego. Let me end with a wonderful example of intentions that include a healthy sense of self. The more I understand of the life of Betty Ford who passed away this past week, the more impressed I am. She was a true super hero in the mould of Wonder Woman. After dealing with her own demons, she set the intention to make a difference in other people’s lives. You would think that having the highest profile drug and alcohol treatment center in the country named after you might be an ego trip.
On the contrary, apparently she agreed to her name being associated only reluctantly. In fact, it was a matter of accountability for her. She said this, “The center’s name has been burden, as well as honor. Because even if nobody else holds me responsible, I hold myself responsible.”
I like to believe that so many people have been helped by Betty Ford and her treatment center because she set healthy intentions to begin with, and did so with a healthy sense of self and a desire to genuinely empower people in their recovery just as she was empowered.
What are your bold intentions for yourself and the world? Whether you set large scale intentions like treatment centers or whether it’s the intention to live in more peaceful relationships or the personal intention to live with greater balance, get your ego out of the way and get on with the business of being the change you want to see in the world. Participate in the raising of a global intention, galvanizing the collective power of millions of kindred spirits, to bring healing to the world, one person, one community and one nation at a time. There is an abundance of the resources that matter most. Together we have the power to transform entire systems for the greater good of all of humanity, for generations to come.