I have this habit of trying to systematize and create models for how I think about things and ideally cause spurring thought to action more effective.
I thought I had things pretty neatly structured with how I make use of the concept of ‘intentionality’. I think it’s a very valuable way to go through life (as opposed to responsively). With intentionality you are continually asking yourself, “Is this what I want to be doing?” This prompts a follow up question of “why” or “toward what end?” Intentionality points us in directions, identifying the ‘whats’. From there we can figure out the ‘hows.’ Responsively going through life is, well, not that.
But recently I’ve been dealing a bit more study of Buddhism. It’s long been on my radar and I’ve dabbled here and there with readings. Currently I’m intentionally doing some more serious dabbling.
It struck me that while intentionality may be great, is it always great? The short answer is “no”.
My model is now shifting to incorporate ‘intentionality’ as part of a larger more “always great” structure. Until I come up with a better term I’m using ‘discernment.’ There is a whole branch of therapy labeled Discernment Counseling (of course there is, SMH), but thankfully it seems centered on marriage counseling and not at all what I’m thinking about here (whew).
I’ve also started using ChatGPT. I find it a nice, interactive “whiteboard” to hash out ideas, get some ‘facts’ and have some engaging arguments.
Here’s the summary of my ChatGPT ‘conversation’ looking to clarify the concepts of ‘intentionality’ and ‘discernment’ (I have no idea how or even if a citation is needed for referencing ChatGPT content):
“In summary, intentionality is more about the directed nature of mental states or actions toward a specific goal or object, while discernment is about the ability to perceive and make wise judgments, especially in situations where there are multiple options or complexities. Intentionality is about having a purpose, and discernment is about making informed and insightful choices.”
Now maybe I can put these pieces together.
In my early, crude understanding of Buddhism the more trendy concept of ‘being present’ seems to take center stage. A full acknowledgment all we have is the current moment, and life is all but a string of current moments. I’ve always liked this idea but have run up against the quirky dichotomy that while true we should focus on now being the most known to us. The fact remains that most likely we will be here in the near future and perhaps in the far future, and in order to subsist then we need to plan and act now for then.
Now my model can be updated to incorporate this dichotomy with falling prey to a false binary choice of ‘intentional’ or ‘responsive’ as a way to go through life.
The potential problem of an all responsiveness model should be obvious. The problem of an all intentional model is that if everything is so directed toward goals then how does ‘presentness’ fit in. I mean it seems somehow contradictory to have the directed goal of just being in the present.
BUT if we adopt a stance that discernment is “always good” as a default, with intentionality be utilized when we do want/need to act for the future, then we’re cool. I don’t see a conflict with a default mode being one that realizes wise judgements in light of multiple options and complexity. It also ties in nicely with the Buddhist mindset that everything is always in flux, and therefore the need of perception. While ‘just being’ we must constantly be aware of reality – things as they are. And that reality is such that due to the ever-changing nature of things, choices are continually being made. Even the over-used maxim that, not making a choice is a still a choice, works here. Therefore, it’s prudent to hone the accuracy of our perception of reality and be aware of the choices that are continually being made – we can’t escape that. But when those choices call up the need for future procurement we’re able to employ intentionality. There is the self-responsibility of being able to recognize what stance (default discernment or intentionality) is called for. Perhaps more on that in a follow up post…
For now, see how it all neatly fits together? Well, it does for me and offers a mental satisfaction that’s only interrupted by actually employing this model.