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This post came out of a tiny expression of gratitude.

I was talking with a client. She said, “I feel so supported.” It was a quick comment, made at the end of our call. But it was so heartwarming: it had been a long time since I was able to give that kind of support, and to feel so appreciated.

As we closed the call, the feeling of appreciation passed, replaced with an uneasy feeling that it wasn’t deserved. I wasn’t doing anything special. Just listening, really.

That might have been the end of it. But a few hours later, a different kind of expression put that first moment of gratitude into lasting perspective.

I’d been arguing with my partner at home. After we’d calmed down, she said, “I was looking for support. And you didn’t give it to me.” Like, ‘You didn’t need to do anything special. Couldn’t you have just, been there for me? Couldn’t you have just … listened?’

Ah. That was so devastating. But, since it came so soon after the first moment of gratitude, I was able to hold both experiences in mind. Because of that direct experience and juxtaposition, I was able to see and feel the difference between the two moments. It was like living a Zen Koan{:}, or rather, living the experience of understanding a koan. A koan, being a teaching tool of the Zen Buddhist tradition, ‘a metaphor for principles of reality beyond any one opinion or teacher’.

The principle in this case was the difference between supportive and unsupportive, between heartwarming appreciation and devastating disappointment. The difference was in the intention that I brought to the moment.

When written down like this it seems obvious, anticlimactic. Of course, intention makes all the difference in the world! Intention, presence, consciousness, awareness — these words are so overused. The whole mindfulness industry is built around the concept that, as Tolle says, “Your state of consciousness is primary, all else secondary.”

But to experience it, instead of taking it in by text or podcast or video… It was so much more powerful, to experience my own different states of consciousness, and the vast gulf in outcome, and the direct impact it made on people that I care about.

The intention that I brought to our client was simply this: I wanted to be supportive. It was not a demanding, burdensome, effortful intention. It was simply, there: I wanted to listen. Without an agenda. Without thought for myself. With attention. To see if I could help.

In contrast, I simply didn’t have intention with my partner. Maybe it was because I was at home instead of at work, or maybe it was because I didn’t think that my partner required the same presence of mind as my client. For whatever reason, it was absent. Forgotten. And, in forgetting, I caused disappointment. Or, as they say in Zen, suffering.

The difference, the intention we bring to each moment, is about the power we have as individuals to shape our shared experience.

What do you support? How do you support others? It starts simply: by holding – not grasping, not forcing, just lightly, consciously – holding the intention.

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