Thursday, 26 April 2012

Intention and Tolkien

This week I'm not going to bother explaining who the author is, if you don't know Tolkien then you're welcome to go and find out for yourself (and you should probably feel bad). However what precisely I mean by intention is, I think, going to be quite hard to pin down. The basis of the idea is that in any action the intention behind the action is, in the outcome, almost as important as the action itself. I should probably specify as quickly as possible that I don't think this is an absolute truth, obviously not that would be horrible, the number of wars with apparently good intentions alone should demonstrate that. Rather I think this is a personal truth, an idea which I find it ever more useful to take out and give a try whenever I'm struggling in life.
Let me try to clarify the idea, a good example is birthday gifts. We often hear that awful phrase “it's the thought that counts” well no, it isn't, reliably throughout my childhood the person who spent the most money on the thing I was most keen to own was rewarded with my biggest smile. On another level though, it is true, there are gifts that I've received which I didn't want or understand but which, over time, I came to understand were intended in a frankly, touching way, to improve or assist me. The level of thought and caring they display continues to impress me, to inspire me to my own, hopefully similar actions even.
The idea itself is bigger than this example, but in order to show that, I first want to look at where it originated.

This is where Tolkien comes in. You see I, like so many others, read his books over and over as a child, but it is only slowly, as an adult, that I'm seeing the effect they had in shaping my young mind. This idea of intention is a good example and for years I didn't even realise the source, but then, listening to the BBC radio version of the Lord of the Rings, it hit me.
It's about halfway through the first book (in Moria) and Frodo is complaining that it is a pity Bilbo didn't kill Gollum when he had a chance and Gandalf says:
Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many
Now bear in mind, it is Gollum, ultimately, who saves the world. It is only because he's there at mount doom that the ring gets destroyed. What Tolkien is saying with this passage, is that it is Bilbo's pity, that one small act of kindness so many years ago, that started the path which leads to the triumph of good over evil. That's a pretty big idea or, at least, it always has been in my thoughts.

There's a problem here though, one which I've been skirting around up until now. That is, the intentions* behind an action may be unknown. In the above example we know what Bilbo's reasons for sparing Gollum were, we know because Tolkien tells us, but if we hadn't well, there are all sorts of explanations we could give for Bilbo's actions. Perhaps he was fearful of what might happen, or maybe he simply felt distaste at killing something already so apparently damaged, or he might just not have wanted to get dirty. What I'm saying is that in real life, with no author to tell us for sure, the reasons behind actions are often unclear.
Take someone who works in the city for a big bank. Why do they work hard at their job? It could be that they are just reacting to their climate, working hard because everyone around them is. Alternatively, they could be stuck in a cycle where they feel they always need more money to impress people. It could be something simple, like, they want to make sure they provide for their family and if they work hard they will be the last to get laid off. I could keep listing reason, but the point is that if we ask them they would tell us, but we could never know if that was actually their intention. Equally, and scarily, I tend to be of the belief that it is actually quite difficult for them to know the reasons as well. That, although they may tell themselves a particular story, the truth will likely be much more complicated (and may be a combination of many different factors).
I could come up with ten different intentions I had for starting this blog (in fact, I did), and all of them are true to an extent. This is a messy subject, at least, it is for me.

What use is it then? If I can't actually figure what my intentions are then why bother thinking about them? The answer of course is that it's all about the question. That by searching for my true intentions I often learn a lot more about an action that I'm going to take and that in the process the action itself ends up being purer.
Let me give an example here, my desire to become a writer, this is something I've spent a good deal of time questioning. There are lots of reasons which, at various points, have occupied prime place in my understanding of this. As a teenager I definitely think I believed that writing was a way to show women how deep I was and thus, a way to get them to like me (a very teenage motivation for sure). Then, as I first entered the world of work, I thought perhaps I am doing this simply because I am lazy, because I don't want to have to go to work every day. More recently I sometimes think it is just a way to try and show the world how clever I am, or alternatively, that it is a deep founded desire to tell stories, to communicate with other people. As I said before, this is messy, what I really learned after looking back though, after studying the development of my reasoning, is that it is just something I do. That there is a child me, who used to spend whole days getting out every toy he had making up epic stories for them, and that person will always exist, will always be making up stories. That my desire to write is just an expression of that joy of uncovering a story, of being inside it experiencing it as it happens.
Realising this, it was obvious to me that I don't need to write any more than I need to draw (something I also used to love as a child), but that the writing is a way of expressing something in me which will be there anyway. If I didn't write, I would still be one of those people who makes up stories for all the people I pass on the street, but the writing is a way to take advantage of that, to take something which provides me joy and spend my life doing it.

By questioning my intentions, I gain a greater understanding about the true reasoning behind my actions, I am forced to investigate myself, and it's only natural I learn as a result. So how does this relate to magik? Well my point is that in doing a 'spell', in trying to alter the world to make something happen, there are always reasons and I think they are of great importance to the outcome. Often, simply by asking the question, you will negate the need for any kind of change, but at the least I find it normally elucidates the change.
This all seems very psychological and probably quite reasonable to even those of you who cringe every time I use the word magik. Well brace yourselves because I want to finish on a bit of a metaphysical note. I am also of the belief that the intentions present when going into a project actually do alter the outcome. As a simple example if I had continued to want to write as a way to get women to like me, then probably the kind of writing which came out would be altered by that perception (and, I like to think, would have been worse). I like to believe (“choose to believe”, if you prefer) that this is true in all areas of life and in all actions which I, and others, take and it's for this reason that this has been, to me, such a hugely important concept.

*[This is a good place to explain exactly why I chose this word. Why 'intention' rather than 'reason' or 'cause' or 'purpose'? Obviously these are all quite interchangeable, but there are a few reasons I chose 'intention'. Specifically for clarity (it feels less polluted by other meanings or connotations), rarity (so it feels a little more powerful) and poetry (it just sounded the best).]

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