Can we have intentions of which we are unaware? What does it mean to have an intention if it is not a conscious intention? For most people, what they are aware of in their minds is all that there is. In other words, their cognition and self conscious ARE who they are. This kind of person becomes impatient, or worse angry, at the idea that what they are thinking or even what they are aware of feeling, are not all that there is to what their minds are doing.
We can imagine there is much more to what our minds are doing, though. Take that classic example where you buy a bag of candy for Halloween and find when you get home that you have eaten half the bag without realizing it. At some conscious level you have the intention to eat healthy, but there is another intention, which sometimes prevails. We can think of all kinds of examples where we have done something or said something which surprised even ourselves.
The problem with this reality is that it threatens our sense of being in charge of our own minds. If my mind can have intentions and generate feelings and actions that I am not aware of, then it has a mind of its own so to speak. It’s unnerving to think we can think or do things on purpose but not knowing it is on purpose. How are we supposed to be moral, or kind, or good people if our minds can just willy nilly do what they want.
And then there is the next thought: What if I am secretly a terrible person and my mind has intentions to be harmful or selfish or vengeful but that is not the sort of person “I” want to be? What if I am at odds with my own deepest self? And who is the “I” anyway? The person who is conscious of herself or the unconscious me. Is the unregulated me more authentic than the regulated me? If I get to know myself will I dislike myself even more than I already do?
It is easier and a lot less painful to ignore the possibility that I have an unconscious with intentions and meanings that shape my experience. I want to be a good and loving person. What do I do with all that messy rage, selfishness, and sadness? What am I supposed to do about the part of me that I don’t like in myself?
Ultimately, in the trajectory of human development, we come face to face with ourselves. When we choose to avoid the pain of knowing our own vulnerabilities and limitations, we enter into a constricted frame of mind that leads to isolation and bitterness, or, alternatively, a state of simplistic denial that prevents us from living our lives with depth and meaning.We cut off parts of ourselves and send them into exile.
What is the alternative? The work of coming to know ourselves well, of inhabiting the fullness of who we are, of accepting and loving all the parts of ourselves–because they are all come by honestly–takes a lifetime. It is the road less travelled, the steeper path, the greater effort. It is the more difficult, painful, complicated way of being ourselves in the world.
What’s the point? The point is genuine intimacy with ourselves, and by extension with other people. It is the expansion of who we are into an experience of interest, delight, and appreciation. It is living our lives fully rather than letting them pass us by unnoticed. The stages of our lives come uninvited. Time passes anyway. It might as well be interesting.