Action vs. Intention


Don Bradley


It was a very long time ago, but I remember it clearly, like when one remembers anything that was of value. The TV show Kung-fu, with David Carradine, was all the rage. While all the other boys were doing imaginary karate chops at unseen opponents on my street, I was wistfully dreaming of thoughtful elders imparting wisdom and love to their charges, the long walks of teaching and knowing that Kwai Chang and one of his Masters were constantly having, or the quiet moments in the garden when all was silence and waterfalls.


So at 13 and young and eager, I found my way into a Sho Rei Ru dojo in Westminster, Calif., and signed up for what was going to be something really marvelous. We were given our little Gs to wear and the white belt of a novice. As time went on, I kept showing up, happily waiting for the Great Teaching of Wisdom to befall me. Surely it would come with the next belt, because even Kwai Chang had to sweep floors for awhile before he was trusted with anything remotely resembling wisdom. Time went on and the only thing I learned was how to beat the hell out of another human being with as little effort as possible.


I looked into the eyes of my Sensei and saw he had no teaching or wisdom to impart. Looking around the dojo, I only saw other young boys who only wanted to learn how to hurt people. And so I left.


And it occurred to me that I was looking for something outside myself; to find others like me. Spurred by a fictional message given on a TV show, I searched the quietly violent karate studios to seek and satisfy that inner urge toward knowing and being. In fact, what I was doing was externalizing in an action, an internal state of affairs.


What was learned then, as now, is that we are the spiritual component in all we do, not the action itself. One person can walk their dog, and for them, it’s simply an action of taking sparky out for a dump. Another walks their dog and it’s time spent in the world, with thoughtful moments of thinking, seeing flowers, passing clouds, the sun shining off pools of water, and centering one’s self in the gathering place of the heart to run through the various events of one’s life so as to distill meaning from it all and learn, and be, and know.


Whether it be yoga classes, or karate, or any activity, it’s we ourselves that determines its quality. What we bring to any action determines the quality of the activity and its subsequent useful meaning in which something more than physical motion can be distilled.


Though many will try to give us that spiritual component and sell their thing as having meaning as part of the bargain, alas, it can only come from within ourselves. We see it everywhere around us. Gurus claim to have the answers—providing you join their cult, or church, or whatever. It’s packaged and sold for so many shekels in the market place. How many times do we have to go to a church, or gathering, or spiritual group only to find the exact opposite of the intentions of the thing among the people themselves? In the 1970s and 80s, I attended countless seminars, groups, and other such activities and churches—all claiming spiritual realities and contact—only to find them empty and self-seeking, the adherents to these groups, bitchy, mean, and the most gossipy collection of souls one could imagine under one roof. Time after time, hope after hope shattered, by me bringing a high ideal and spirit, only to find mud and shallow behavior. It seemed I had to keep relearning the same old lesson, only the find the truth still relevant after all those years.


Certainly, good writers and advanced souls can share their spiritual component to the world via the marketplace, but that is an issue of comparative resonance, rather than a giving quality imparted upon purchase. Remember the karate story? I saw teachings in the clouds, the other boys saw kicking some butt. Same package, different reception. See it all the time, when folks read my books, or the bible, or anything that has something that sparks or not, as the case may be, inside them. Some read a nice story; others hear and feel the resonance of a fragmentary journey that speaks to their souls in kindred.


And so it is. Who we are defines the action or activity. And the moment we start digging in all we do, whether work or play, to get more waiting for us there in the action, will we grow then, and find a continuously deeper meaning in everything around us. Everything that comes to us can just be another droll moment, or something in which we try to bring the best of ourselves to it, as well as ever eager to dig any morsel of knowing and being from the action. Because both are always necessary and available for us.


We decide how the day is going to be. It may be like any other day. Frankly, it’s the difference between sleepwalking through the day or living with our eyes wide open, receptive to all that is around us, ever springing from within ourselves all that we can bring to bear upon the reality of which is our lot in life.