It's the thought that counts.
It doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as your heart's in the right place.
Intentions create reality.
There's nothing good nor bad, except thinking makes it so.
I used to believe such things. I once found ideas like these very attractive. At a naive level, the implication is that we can control the world if we can just get our thoughts and feelings in order. A more sophisticated view examines the connection between impulse and action, perception and response, attitude and well-being. In this view, one thing leads to another. Perfectly reasonable.
Why then, is it so often the case that the road to hell paved with good intentions?
The question really concerns the causal linkage between cognition and reality. There is one, surely, but what is its nature, how powerful is it, and how reliable?
As to the latter, I have long observed that enormous amounts of wishful thinking on my part have profoundly little effect on the world that I observe. I wish my words didn't hurt you. I wish you were immune to my clumsiness. I wish people were always kind to me, and maybe even each other.
But alas, I lack the gift. I cannot lift the stone with my mind alone. I cannot meditate the world into compliance with my idea of beauty. I cannot intend strongly enough within myself to be able to bend reality beyond myself. I wish I could.
That doesn't stop me from doing a lot of thinking, though. I love to think, but now I no longer think my thoughts have much influence, in and of themselves. Still, take a moment if you will, and join me in thought if.
Let's perform a thought-experiment.
Suppose you are given a choice about the company you keep. On the one hand, there are people who utterly despise you, hate the very fact of your existence, and spend all their emotional energy invoking cruel curses upon you -- but outwardly all their actions are helpful and all their expressions are pleasant. On the other hand, there are people who sincerely love you and wish you the very best in all things -- but whose every effort on your behalf brings you nothing but difficulty and doom. Assume these groups cannot change. Now, which do you choose?
How you answer may have much to do with your concept of love. Is love a feeling we have inside of us, or is love that which is manifested through action resulting in increased wellness?
We tend to want to be loved, and we seek to avoid being objects of hatred. But how do we know when we are loved or despised? If someone sincerely professes love while doing terribly hurtful things, are we in fact being loved? And if we are regularly exposed to hurt at the same time a person claims loving intent, what is our Pavlovian response to love going to be?
We scientists are not finding it as easy as it used to be to convince people that rational inquiry is the best way to seek useful knowledge. The religious fundies, the premods, and postmods don't believe us.
I wish we could get all of them on one side of a line out in the Nevada desert with us scientists on the other. They could use all their weapons on us: prayers, incantations, calling down UFO attacks, emailing us long unreadable discourses; and we could nuke 'em.
~ Vic Stenger
Stenger may be overstating the case just a tad, but it does illustrate the point that I am trying to make. Namely, that if there is a connection between intention and result, it depends largely on consistency of thought and action. When there is negligible connection between thought and reality, we call it delusion.
This has been on my mind a lot lately. What with the International Aiki Week of Peace and all, I've been in conversation with a number of my colleagues about the nature of violence and how to define it.
These are folk who are anything but deluded, possessing admirable intellect and wisdom. Even so, several have voiced the opinion that whether or not an act is violent depends on the intent behind the act. I find myself at variance with this view.
If one person breaks another person's arm, is that violence? What if it was an accident? What if it was intentional, but done lovingly and compassionately from a necessity of self-defense? What if it was a doctor re-breaking an improperly set bone to let it heal better? What if it's only one person and they break their own arm?
In my view, these are all violent acts, And if the result is the same, then they are all equally violent.
Of course, making distinctions among such cases is important in legal and other social settings. Reasonable questions arise that do involve intent, simply because we want to assess a pattern and predict the likelihood of recurrence. If the assault was deliberate and unnecessary, then punishment is likely. If it was an accident, then questions of negligence might be considered. If it was self-defense, then proportionality must be evaluated.
Yet in all cases, the immediate result is the same. An arm is broken. Damage occurs, and with it, a concurrent disability. And with the exception of perhaps the orthopedic intervention, all involve the same amount of physical pain and suffering.
As I mentioned, there is some practical value in distinguishing types or degrees of violence, or violence from non-violence based on intent. What then, is the practical value that I derive in asserting these broken arm scenarios are all equivalent acts of violence?
In the first place, if I'm the one with the broken arm, whether or not you meant to do it is pretty far down on my list of immediate concerns. (Unless, of course, you're giving every indication of attempting to break my other arm.) The first order of business is to get the pain to stop and to secure care for the arm so that it can heal. Issues of intent, fault. blame. retribution and corrective behavior have their place, but that place is not primary compared to the clear and present requirement of healing the hurt.
Likewise, efforts from the offending party to apologize, to defend their innocence, to take moral responsibility, to self-flagellate also miss the mark. If violence has been done, the first priority by anyone within effective range is to undo the violence as expediently as possible. Only then can questions of healing or protecting the future have meaning.
However, such scenarios are merely episodic and do not address my deeper concern, and that is the potential habit of self-absorption.
Practicing good thoughts are fine things only to the extent that they produce good results. If regular rehearsal of a nice self-image produces nicer people, this is a great. If thinking loving thoughts evokes good feelings, this is a splendid expression of self-care.
But caring about someone else is not at all the same thing as caring for someone else. When the feelings are strong enough or the habit or ritual is convincing enough, the feelings can be mistaken for objective reality. Seeing someone hurt by good intentions can cause severe cognitive dissonance, and it is often the case that we pay more attention to our damaged world-view than we do to the damaged human or the damaged relationship.
Such habits of self-absorption can be seen in churches and temples and dojos where people congregate to practice good behaviors. Without systematic reality checks built in, prayer or meditation or practice can be nothing more than ritual self-delusion, more effective at convincing the practitioner of their own decency and goodness than of actually helping others.
Aikido is one tool which has the potential to help us align our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and actions. Our training offers an avenue for increased clarity of vision. We can learn to look at incoming energy or force without undue prejudice. We learn to treat threats more as puzzles of posture and balance, and it doesn't really matter if the attacker is full of malice, or booze, or obliviousness. The primary concern is to reconcile the forces and align the structures such that the likelihood of harm approaches zero.
With such clarity, it's true that when we touch someone or really see them, we may be able to discern their intent. There are times on the mat that the intimacy of the encounter almost suggests a kind of telepathy. When you feel someone, you can better feel where they are coming from.
With the right kind of self-reflection, we can apply this experience to ourselves. We examine to what extent our intent matches our results. Just like we can learn to feel the kinematic chain from our feet to our hips through our hands to another's center to their feet on the floor, we can assess the chain of causality from our mood or our ideas, our concepts or our expectations, to our actions and to their consequences.
A good match means that our vision creates a better world, not just for ourselves, but for others who share our domain. A good match means that our artistry and our mastery is working. A good match might even mean that there is surprise and discovery, but mostly of the serendipitous kind.
A bad match is one where self-righteousness does not connect with other-rightness. A bad match might be consistent, where dreams and fantasies of fear and dread come true. A bad match is where harmful intent produces unnecessarily harmful results.
A bad match is where good intentions produce harmful results.
The potential of aikido is to rectify such mismatches, inconsistencies, and discontinuities. Aikido is the process of finding the right fit among whatever elements and forces are in a system.
It's all well and good to speak of aikido as a path of self-victory, self-mastery, self-discovery, self-realization, or self-improvement. But the self is inextricably linked to the environment -- self and other are one. We can build artificial belief systems that are breathtaking in their internal consistency, and that are nearly invincible in their inertia, yet have little to do with how the world really works.
Aikido, if practised with ruthless discipline, is the destroyer of such edifices. This aspect of aikido is, and should be, violent. There are things which exist which should be torn down. There are some patterns in the universe which a warrior should happily help toward extinction.
My choice? For my own peace of mind, I'd rather spend my life among the haters who only do me good. But this too is a disconnect. The more empathic part of me says that hating is rarely pleasant and often demonstrably bad for the hater. So there's a bodhisattva inclination to accept the lovers who only do me harm. Either way, there's bound to be misery.
You may object to my thought-experiment as unrealistic, and therefore useless. People who practice hate cannot possible stay on good behavior for very long. People who sincerely want to practice love cannot possibly err.
To which I reply, I see it happening all the time.
Dan Kawakami Sensei once said "In nature there are many collisions... only humans have conflict." If we can learn to transform an emotionally fraught conflict into a simple fact of collision, that's a profoundly good start. But the reality is in the collision and what to do about it. In this sense, "conflict" is just the heat of an inefficient process.
To say that intentions create reality is to dangerously overstate the case. Some intentions create some reality. Even then, the reality that is created may not be the same as the one that was intended.
It's fine if we want to give our students (or ourselves) an E for effort. It's fine, that is, as long as we remember that an E is a lower grade than a D, and only slightly better than an F.
To me, it's no longer the thought that counts. It's not about good intentions or good will. It's about good results. Thought, intent, will, or motive are only important to me if they lead to good outcomes.
Physicists make a distinction between energy spent and work done. Lots of energy can be spent on a problem, but if mass is not moved, then no work is done. I think there is an important corollary in the psychological realm: no matter how much emotional energy is involved, it's not a truly moving experience if nothing moves.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA