The first time I taught my Living With Intention class, the first question I got was, “What’s the difference between setting an intention and making, say, a New Year’s resolution?” I’ve been thinking about it ever since. According to Wikipedia, *“*Intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Intention involves mental activities such as planning and forethought.” (Incidentally I also found that the medical definition refers to the healing process of a wound.) Hmm. What I was trying to convey in developing this class was something more complex, and yet more subtle, than that. It was more about being than doing, more about the present than the future. Sometimes I see people being buffeted by the twists and turns of their lives, feeling like a victim and lacking a sense of agency, expending all of their energy wishing things were different. What I was trying to convey was how to do the opposite of that.
I had to ask myself, what does my idea of living intentionally look like in the moment? How do you actually do it? What are the steps? What evolved out of that inquiry is the ARC model. It goes like this:
A: Awareness and Attention: Take a moment to see what comes into your awareness. What needs your attention right now? Put yourself in the role of the caring observer. What do you notice? Where do you feel it in your body?
R: Realistic Reframe: Release any sense of comparison and judgment, and replace it with acceptance and curiosity.
C: Compassionate Choice: From this place you can make a more informed choice about how to move forward with compassion.
This may seem like a lot to do “in the moment,” but I find the more I practice, the easier and more natural it becomes. Getting grounded in the reality of the situation instead of wishing it were different and then facing it with a deep sense of acceptance and curiosity allows me to to then set my intentions from a place of integrity and equanimity.
Let me give you a simple example. The last time I offered my Living With Intention class, three people signed up. This was about 25% of the number that had been enrolled in the prior session. I panicked. Was it even worth it? Would the participants be able to take me and my class seriously with such a low turn out? I should have done better marketing. Maybe this class is not going to hold up. I should just cancel the whole thing… Wait a minute. I was not following my own model! I stopped and paid attention. I noticed the feelings of tension, scarcity and insecurity that were coming up, the messages about success and professionalism, the doubts about the relevancy of my work. I was a caring observer of all of this. And then I released the comparison of this class to the last and the judgment that a larger group was required for the class to have value. That line of thinking was not helpful. I replaced it with acceptance of the reality of the situation. Sure I had hoped for more participants, but this is where we are. Okay. And then curiosity. What might this opportunity have to offer? I felt my panic soften into compassion for myself and for those who had registered and made the choice to move forward with the class. I set the intention to proceed with a warm heart and an open mind to see what might unfold. As it turned out, the smaller class created a wonderful environment for much more engagement, mutual support and exchange among the students, and great learning for me about how to best share the content. If even one participant learned one thing that will improve the quality of his or her life, it held value. I ended the class feeling so grateful for the opportunities it provided to all involved.
It’s important to note that when I talk about acceptance, I don’t mean complacency, apathy, abdication or martyrdom. It’s about being where you are so you can take the next step forward instead of getting stuck or looking backward. Acceptance is active and rich and dynamic, not passive.
I wanted to share the ARC model outside of the context of my class, but it needed a NAME. The ARC model of what? ARC is a cute acronym but it doesn’t mean anything by itself (except a part of the circumference of a circle). It’s not quite the ARC model of intention; it’s the foundation for intention. “The ARC Model of Equanimity” is what came to me. Hmm, I like the sound of that, but what does it really mean? Back to Wikipedia: “Equanimity is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.”
The more I read about equanimity, the more it appeals to me. In the Buddhist online magazine Tricycle , I found this: “Equanimity, one of the most sublime emotions of Buddhist practice, is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being.” I just found an article about equanimity on the Ten Percent Happier website that I love so much I want to quote practically every line here! It’s by Ruth King who teaches mindfulness in relation to issues of race. It’s not long: I encourage you to read the article here: The Power of Equanimity
And so let me offer you this. To live with intention, try starting from a place of equanimity. In the face of any situation, first, pay attention. Then replace comparison and judgement with acceptance and curiosity. From here you can make a compassionate choice about how to move forward. Try it out.
June 16, 2021