I know what intent means so long as I do not think about it too much. There are many things like that in this existence. Existence itself is one of those things. But let us focus on intent.
Intent is necessary to accomplish anything. To write this blog post, I first had to intend to write it. Next, I had to act by transforming my thoughts into writing. This happens by holding the intention and allowing thoughts related to the intention to materialize. When the thoughts materialize, I write them down. I continue to do this until the thoughts stop materializing. Often, the thought materialization process happens in waves. That is, I will receive a few thoughts which lead to other related thoughts and then there is a pause. During the pause I will do something else (e.g., go for a walk, listen to a podcast etc.). At some point another thought related to the intention will materialize and I will again, write it down along with any other related thoughts that arise. After a number of waves, the process will slow, and it will seem as if I have the core of an idea. At this point, I will read my notes and begin to transform my thoughts into essay form. This involves arranging the ideas into a logical form and writing prose to describe the thoughts in greater detail (which will bring about new thoughts that fit within the framework). Eventually I will have the first draft of an essay which I will then edit and eventually post. This is the process by which my intent to write a blog post becomes manifest in the universe.
But what exactly is intent? The dictionary definitions of intent are not incredibly helpful. Many of them use a derivation of “intent” in the definition. I take this to be evidence supporting the assertion made in the very first sentence in this post. If I define intent in my own words, it would be something along the lines of “orienting resources to accomplish a goal” or “a conscious choice to pursue a specific end.” Again, I intended to write this post, so I began to think about it etc. But the intention itself is mysterious. Where does this intention come from and how is it created? It seems to me that most people (myself included) think of intent as a conscious act. I created the intent to write this essay. But I also created the intent to intend to write this essay. This gives rise to an infinite regression of intent. Infinite regressions have no genesis (as far as I can tell). There is an illusion of genesis or perhaps a longing for genesis exists on my part, so I assume there is a genesis based on this longing. But there is no genesis that I can put my finger upon.
Nevertheless, something is happening because I experience intent. From my perspective, intent is a conscious act. But does intent have to be conscious? My heart beats and my hair grows without my conscious intention for it to be so. But surely something must be intending for those things to happen. It therefore, might be useful to think of intent on two levels: personal intent and universal intent. Those things that happen resulting from my thought and action result from my personal intent. Those things that happen not resulting from my thought and action result from universal intent. But is it possible for the universe to intend? The universe is certainly possible of creating intent because human beings exist in the universe and have the ability to intend. As such, intention exists in the universe and (at least this limited sense) the universe has intention. In this way, we can think of intention existing on both the personal or conscious level and on the universal or subconscious level.
But the question remains, where does this intent come from? Even within the context of my own personal experience I cannot answer this question with certainty. It just sort of happens on its own. In my experience it seems as if I create intent (if I do not think about it too much) but really (as far as I can tell) intent simply appears in my experience and I take credit for it.
As Alan Watts pointed out, the West tends to think of man as being created and placed into a pre-created universe. In this position (and especially after the fall of man as depicted in the Book of Genesis) man is separate from and must struggle against the universe which sustains him but is also hostile to him in many ways.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life[.]KJB GEN 3:17
In this sense, man’s intent is set against the intention of the universe in which he lives. Also, in this sense, God is separate from the universe in which man lives. One could say that there are three levels of intent at play in Genesis: God’s, the universe’s, and man’s intent. The expectation seems to be that man should align his intent with God’s intent while setting his intent in opposition to the intent of the universe (which we must also assume is aligned with God’s intent on some level). Or perhaps the system of intent is designed such that man’s intent governs the details and the intents of the universe and of God govern the larger concerns. Sometimes all three intentions are in alignment and that is when things go well. Sometimes some combination of the three intentions are out of alignment and that is when things do not go well.
Intent can also exist on a level smaller than man. Because a man can have conflicting intentions. Shame is a good example of this. That is, shame is an emotional state where a man punishes himself for committing some wrong. Here there is an intent within man to commit the wrong and there is also an intent with man to act rightly. It could be said that this internal conflict of intention creates the uncomfortable feeling of shame.
The self is another one of those things in existence that “I” understand as long as I do not think about it too much (like intent and existence). On one level the self appears to be a container for personal intent. Perhaps it could be said that the self, in its essence, is personal intent. But as I pointed out earlier, I do not know where intent comes from ultimately. If my self is my intent, then I do not know where I come from either.
Intent is mysterious but seems to be the genesis of any manifestation in this universe. Therefore, if one wishes to create something or accomplish a goal, the first step is to formulate the intent to do so. Intent leads to action and action leads to manifestation. Of course, it is not as simple as that. Because not all intent leads to manifestation. What is blocking this process? Intent. I can formulate the intention to write this blog post (for example) but I might never take action on that intention because of conflicting intentions. Perhaps I feel shame and I fear exposing myself to criticism, so I never take action. Perhaps the intention to do something else overrides my intent to sit down and do the work. Perhaps the intent of another person or the universe (which in this analysis are the same thing) create obstacles to me writing this post that require intent I am not willing to formulate in order to remove or maneuver around the obstacle. Therefore, personal intent is required but it is also necessary that this intent be in alignment with or stronger than countervailing intent both internal and external. Alignment is the optimal circumstance because manifestation under this circumstance is far easier than pushing through conflicting intent.
If, however, one encounters conflicting intent, intent can again be of service. In that instance, one can intend to remove the conflicting intentions. One can intend to bring all intentions into alignment. Taking action can work to this end because taking action changes the universe and thus (perhaps) changes the intent of the universe in a small way.
All this is to say, that in order to accomplish anything one must formulate the intent to do so. But perhaps it is best not to think too much about the process.