Primary and Secondary Intentions, a thin line between control and connection

In Buddhism there are primary and secondary intentions.

Rodney Smith writes that our primary intention is to completely resolve all outside searching and to know our intrinsic wholeness of being; it is the longing to connect more deeply with what is already here, not try to find something that is missing.

Our secondary intention, on the other hand, is our worldly desire of self-fulfilment (material and ego-centric).

Allow me to illustrate. I have suffered from a slight obsession with food ever since I can remember. As a baby I loved it, and happily ate everything in sight. As a teenager I remember waking up one morning and not recognizing myself in the mirror. My lanky 13 year-old body was suddenly curvy – I had breasts, hips, thighs! I failed (for obvious, mass-media driven expectations and close familial examples) to see the beauty of this transformation, and crashed into what has now been a life-long battle with food, diet and weight.  Last September, because of a butterfly in Argentina, I discovered the mind-blowing benefits of following the paleo diet. The first two weeks were awful – headaches, foggy brain, completely exhausted, mood swings, nausea. But one day, I woke up and was so full of energy, I felt like a child again. I wanted to race outdoors and run in the park, go for a swim, swing under the endless blue sky… Never, ever, ever, had I experienced such a detachment from food. It was liberating. I could suddenly go 12, 16, 24 hours without food and feel fine. Sure, I’d get hungry, but I wasn’t obsessed. My blood sugar levels would remain constant and I didn’t feel faint or woozy, and the hunger eventually subsides. I could focus more on the books I was reading, on relationships with others and myself, on my studies. I could sit and practice mindful meditation without the incessant little glutton in me thinking about what’s in the fridge. I read every single blog and every single comment of every single paleo blog, every single day. I became obsessed. I abused and misused the principles of following a paleo lifestyle and when the weight starting melting off (becuase I was severely restricting carbs), it became my new addiction. My primary intention of completion, of interconectedness, of stillness, became intertwined with my obsession for not wanting to let go for an instant of this new-found freedom. My initial resolution of outside conflict, connection, and wholeness turned into my prison. My secondary intention of weight loss (read: control) kicked in. I had stopped learning and was now indulging in the pleasures of being thinner than I was at 13, and my so called spiritual awakening.

But, as Rodney Smith says, ‘if our intention is toward growth, sooner or later the pain of indulgence will wake us back up, much as we are awakened out of thought back to our breath during meditation’.

And so I did. Once I recognized the pain caused by my wanting, my need for control, my attachment to a secondary intention, the primary intention of connecting began to shine. But, this isn’t as easy as it sounds, for in our humanness, desires and fears are a part of every day life. By trying to control my controlling intention, I only ended up harrowing with resentment because I cannot intellectually convince myself to stop desiring and fearing; it’s a leap of faith that comes from the soul.

The dividing line between the primary and the secondary intention is to ask ourselves ‘What do we want our life to be about?’ And within that question comes a moment-to-moment decision of the path we will walk down. Once we connect with our primary intention we can be sure that life will transform us if we are willing to be receptive of it and put forth the effort and energy needed to listen and learn.

Smith talks about the four R’s of this effort, as the perfect instruments to call us back to our inherent nature because they help de-construct the self, moving us in the opposite direction of our habits, exposing our conditioning.

  • Relax. Relaxation is the release of mental and physical tension and together with alert observation set the tone for tensionless living.
  • Release. Releasing is letting go of the need to control the outcome, letting life be just as it is, at every moment.
  • Relinquish. Relinquishment is letting go of everything that is not authentic and natural, returning to our authentic lives through persistent self-observation, realizing the senseless, self-induced struggle of our life,and stopping.
  • Rejoin. Rejoining is simply letting the heart to take over our life, allowing what is already here to be here.

I still follow the paleo lifestyle guidelines (I said guidelines). I avoid grains as much as possible because they make me feel sick. I eat heaps of fresh veggies, greatly enjoy a good steak and absolutely love anything from the sea, and clean natural fats like coconut and olive oil are very welcome on all my plates. I make it a point to get out in the sun, to work hard, train hard, and have fun. I still limit carbs because my body runs so much better without them, but I try to be aware of the very thin line between primary and secondary intentions. If my lifestyle allows me to connect to the whole, if it helps me be receptive, listen, learn, and understand, then I think I’m on the right track.

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