Finding Your Spiritual Path Part 4: Intention and Motivation

Blog: Finding Your Spiritual Path Part 4: Intention and Motivation

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

After we realize that our trust has been betrayed, we may be thrown into a state of crisis. One of the gifts that can emerge from this experience, as we touched on in a previous post, is the opportunity to re-examine — or perhaps to discover for the first time — our intention, in the first place, in placing our faith in the person or organization that betrayed us.

Thupten Jinpa discusses intention and motivation in an article in Tricycle Magazine entitled “Turning Intention into Motivation.” (By the way, this article is drawn from his book, A Fearless Heart: How The Courage To Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, which deeply explores how the practices of compassion provide a path that anyone can take toward wholeness and purpose.) He offers the following:

Intention, on the other hand, is always deliberate, an articulation of a conscious goal. Intention is necessarily conscious; motivation, as Freud pointed out, need not be conscious even to the person himself. We need intentions for the long view. We set and reaffirm our best intentions to keep us inclining in the directions we truly mean to go. But, we need motivations to keep us going over the long haul. If our intention is to run a marathon, there will be times, when the alarm clock goes off for a ten-mile run before work, or in the middle of running, when we’ll ask ourselves, quite reasonably, “Why am I doing this?” We need good, inspired answers to get us over such humps. Conscious or unconscious, motivation is the why, and the spark, behind intention.

For the purposes of this discussion, I simply want to point to how Jinpa defines motivation and intention. For most of us, our motivations and intentions are not always clear when we adopt a faith, take a job, or enter into a committed relationship. Often, it is not until things don’t work out the way we would have liked that we take the time to understand what motivated us to engage the way we did and what our intention was in doing so.

This was the case with a woman who came to me because she was having a hard time reconciling the betrayal she felt after her church’s cover up of a priest who was molesting children. She was very upset that the children had been harmed, and she was upset that she could not rest in her faith anymore.

Her faith had been a great comfort to her. As we worked together, it became clear that a big part of her upset was that she did not feel safe in the world anymore because she could no longer be taken care of by the church. She had felt that the church had taken care of her on many levels – but she had not wanted to look at what she had needed to give up in order to be taken care of. In particular, she felt she had given up being treated as an equal because of the gender inequality in the way the church treated women.

She had remained in denial about the effect this gender inequality had on her until she was forced out of this denial when she could not ignore the trespasses of the priest. She had to confront not only the effect of his actions on her faith, but also the effect of everything she had been in denial about in order to stay in the church.

Ultimately, she was most upset about having compromised herself for so long in order to feel taken care of. She realized her motivation to be in the church for security was in direct conflict with her intention to treat everyone as equals because equality was an important value to her. She had the opportunity to see how she had betrayed her intention.

She had lived with the tension caused by this inner betrayal because of her belief that she could not take care of herself. When she could not stay in denial about the effect the priest’s molestations had on her sense of safety, she finally confronted the effect of the many years of denial about belonging to an institution that was in direct opposition to her core values. As painful as this was, she had the opportunity to clear her inner tension by working to align her intention and motivation as she took greater responsibility for her own self care. In this way, she could step into greater self-responsibility with clarity of intention in order to to establish a new relationship to spirit.

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