The paradox of intention is then partly about letting go/letting be and being rather than acting. It is a universal human experience where by blocking what we have been seeking to attain our intention becomes modified and this shift can offer an unexpected fulfillment of its own.
As Martin Shaw puts it:
Experiences of impossibility force us to abandon our pretensions and our intensity, and in this we surprisingly achieve either what we sought or a kind of contentment that we thought could only follow the conquest of that which blocked us. In either case, we discover that the goal is reached by giving up the attempt to reach it.
When I decide that it doesn’t matter and I can’t succeed, success may well come, precisely because I am at peace about the outcome; the hyperintention of the desired result made its achievement impossible, and it is reached when this intensity is abandoned.
Or, if the desire outcome is not achieved, there is at least a sense of relief, of being reconciled, of returning to reality in having abandoned the pursuit of the impossible and the unreal; here the fulfillment we thought only came to those who win, comes from letting go.
So where does this striving for attainment come from – clearly it’s linked to the survival instinct and our continuous sense of the precariousness of our lives, our sense of meaning and indeed our own self-respect so we try for new ways to establish control and mastery, to keep hold of power and to manipulate what happens to us – perhaps even and especially in the smallest of ways. Existential anxiety about our vulnerability remains no matter what we do, but as mystics and contemplatives have found, and from all traditions, if we accept the impossibility of escaping from this reality then we transcend it. Here is the religious theme of rebirth coming from despair, a complete conversion or reorientation to life through the experience of impossibility. It also opens us up to receptivity and acceptance of our ‘nothingness’ and also to a freedom in our actions where we are involved not in the end goal of attainment but in the action itself.
Here action is about being part of a larger whole – participation without defensiveness or coercion part of being itself and God’s grace.
‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ Philippians 2: 12-13
As humans we think something must be done but from the divine side God alone is the doer. The action needed is the cessation of doing but the awakening of responsiveness: the way to do is to be. It is the discovery of attentiveness.