IONS Library

Audio Interviews

Intention Downloads Interview: James O'Dea

Intention Downloads Interview: James O'Dea

Visionary: James O'Dea

Former IONS President James O’Dea begins this interview by clarifying the relationship between attention and intention, thereby creating a more integral perspective that includes inner and outer transformation. In his deeply heartfelt and poetic style, James contrasts a more materialistic understanding of intention with the summoning of purpose in a life such as we witness with a Mahatma Gandhi. His discussion connects intention to such concepts as Flow, Aikido, the Tao and the transmission of love from one heart to another. The conjunction of science and spirituality serves as a path to higher intentionality beyond serving limited ego needs. Ultimately, James believes we must connect our intentions for peace in the world with significant progress in achieving (and measuring) peace within our own bodies, hearts and minds.

View Transcript

Institute of Noetic Sciences: I want to welcome everyone to the Shift in Action Intention Download series. We are very honored today to have IONS president, James O’Dea, with us. Welcome, James.

James O'Dea: Thanks Angela, it’s good to be with you.

IONS: In this interview series, we are asking prominent leaders four questions about intention and the practical applications in daily life. Our first question is: what is your most significant personal experience of the power of intention?

JO: Well first, just in moving into that answer, I really think it will help to clarify a little what we are talking about in terms of intention. As you know, we often link the word intention to attention. So, attention is more broad and diffuse, it is the ground of awareness itself; it is in some ways, you could say, not particularized in time and space¬ – it’s a general awareness. Now, of course, one can be aware of something in particular, but then one begins to move into intentionality. Intentionality has this aspect of focus and right in the root of the word – intention comes from tendare: to stretch, but it’s in-stretching. So it’s stretching, if you like, time and space – the whole diffuse field itself, the general field – and it’s stretching it towards you in a particular way. It is saying: come to me in this aspect and let me attend to you now, in a particular way. In intention, one has a huge amount of possibilities that focus on choice – what are you really choosing to pull towards you, what are choosing to focus on? So that’s why for us at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and at this particular moment, intention has become a very major topic. Because, what is it we’re really focusing on manifesting, of stretching the whole realm of time and space towards us into manifest? I think that is a general picture; we can go into that some more about the nature of attention and intention.

IONS: That’s a wonderful definition of intention. Thank you so much.

JO: Well, thank you. So, then, to look at your question in terms of my own experience… For me, I have led an activist life as well as an intellectual life and a spiritual life. I would say those are the three legs of the stool of my life, if you like. So in the activist realm, what I learned about intention was that if it’s always focused outward – solutioning the problem in the exterior realm, looking at it from the systemic point of view or looking at it in some ways as a matter of political policy, systemic, structural change – then what I learned in those years of looking at human rights law and the perpetration of violations around the planet, looking at disease in community development when I was working in that field, was that you come to a point in your evolution where you say: there’s a critical link that’s missing if one is always pushing one’s intention out for the change elsewhere; that one is inextricably linked into the design. And that fits with a mapping of consciousness itself as we now understand it – that these boundaries we create are artificial.

So I would say, Angela, that in my own experience, I came to a critical moment of understanding that I need to transform within myself, I need to become more whole if I am to be a more adequate reflection of what I intend for the world. And yes, I have always intended from early in my life a more compassionate, a more humanistic planet, world that I live in. I suffer deeply, in some ways, in relationship to others’ suffering. We have, in the 21st century, genocide continuing and that is totally appalling – so how do we create that loop within our own inner coming into wholeness and its effect out in the world?

I would say, for me, in answer to your question, a pivotal shift was really a decision to leave Amnesty International after I had been there for 10 years and began to see it as a powerful organization, but more akin to a fire brigade or an ambulance – informing the world, trying to rescue people, but fundamentally not able to get down into the deeper, causal realm. So again, intention is about causality. It’s about cause and effect: what do you intend and what results do you intend to achieve? So it’s got that purposefulness in it. I saw that, to address the scale of human suffering when it comes to the human rights arena, one must go deeper into the causal weave and begin to look at cycles of wounding and healing: where does it begin, where does the hurt begin, how does it get transferred so that, again, you begin to see the interiority here – that it’s not simply going to be systemic change and international law that will pull us out, but it will be some deeper understanding of how we heal, how we go deeper into our hearts and souls to find out where the suffering begins so that we don’t transmit it and translate it to the next generation.

IONS: So do you feel like you are able to pursue that work more here at IONS?

JO: Yes, I feel decisively that the work at the Institute of Noetic Sciences really begins to help me understand where consciousness itself is causal. And this notion of the mapping, as I mentioned at the beginning, of the greater field of connectivity – that peeping into that field that we’re doing now. We don’t understand it fully, we don’t really know what it is, but we can say more and more the evidence is highly suggestive of a vast interconnectivity in the field of awareness itself. So that understanding then begins to offer us an insight into: how do we manifest our highest possibilities, how do we grow the awareness to a place where it can create a tidal shift in the way human beings live and operate?

So intentionality itself, of course, is hugely interesting because you have the conscious component and the subconscious component. You can say, “Well, yes, I intend,” almost like well-wishing or such, that “I intend good things for other people and that the planet be safe and healthy,” but what is going on in one’s own subconscious and in the subconscious of others? So, again, the Institute of Noetic Sciences has tried to map the whole picture. That’s why this mysterious word noetic is in there. How do we know directly, deep into what is in our unconscious realm, and is it sabotaging in some fundamental way what we would like to see happen at the conscious level? I really believe that intentionality is that capacity, that when we’re really talking about the deepest forms of intentionality we’re talking about entering the integral domain in such a way that we are, in some ways, in dialogue with the unconscious and pulling up information as we do in dreams and intuitions and in non-linear ways. We’re pulling up information and sourcing the conscious mind with a deeper whole framing of intentionality itself to access the loaded information that is in there, in the unconscious. And also to begin to transmute and transform the wounds, the obstacles, the negative beliefs, the things that limit us, that our conditioned mind says no to but that the whole mind, the integral being, says you have a much more limitless capacity.

So yes, again, to that question: I feel I’m on the right track. I get impatient with the pop nature of intend this or that. When I think of intentionality, I think of a life like Mahatma Gandhi. If you’re going to talk about intentionality, you’re going to activate your full passion and express it all the way through so that it connects up with your moral being and with your psychology and with your political stance. That’s intention, that’s activating the whole soul’s code to effect transformation: to stretch (and again, in the root of this word) to stretch the possibilities towards what you really want to see happen in terms of the transformation of the world. With regard to that impatience around what I would call the pop easy-does-it kind of intentionality, I’m reminded of a quote by Oscar Wilde, I believe it was, who said, “When the Gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers.” So let’s really intend something that is in alignment with evolutionary purpose, that is in alignment with cosmic reality, that is part of the great flow of creation itself, rather than some super swimming pool and marvelous mansion that we don’t need any more of on the planet, where the swimming pools and the mansions… we need to put a stop to them in some way, at least in their current form – maybe there are the eco-mansions or eco-swimming pools to come. But there is a way in which we can intend selfishly and potentially, because of the power of intentionality, if we really focus that consciousness into time and space. What one is doing with intention is focusing down the energy and time and space into a direct manifest solution, that one has the power to manifest things that are not in everybody’s best interests. And so I think the notion of the Tao, of how does one intend into the Tao, into the flow, into that which will not only flow for me but for the community – flow towards our collective ecological well-being, flow towards compassionate solutions. That seems, to me, the kind of intentionality that I want to align with.

IONS: And do you see any kind of practice that people can do that most effectively would help them cultivate their intentions in that direction, that you’ve just described?

JO: Yes. I believe that there is some sense of maturity here that is needed to be able to understand and appreciate that if it’s really the Tao I’m intending towards, the highest flow of good flowing through me, flowing into and through my community and my planet, that there is a way in which I am going to have to get out of the way. The great traditions do talk about letting go of the conditioned mind, releasing. So in a paradoxical way, to intend the highest, one sometimes has to release the blockages which are at lower levels of self and egoic concern. I think the practice there is: when the impulse is fast, and too fast and too self-oriented, one can recognize that in one’s energy body and practice releasing – “I’m going to release that even though I would love to have that thing right now, I’d love to have the best car that’s out,” or whatever it is, “I’m going to release that impulsiveness so that some deeper intentionality that’s more integral, that’s more spacious and more aligned with the communal well-being, begin to arise.” So releasing is a part of stretching towards us the intention. Isn’t that an interesting paradox? I would also say – so we’ve got the Aikido element we’re working on, if you like, so getting our stuff out of the way so that the Tao may flow.

Then, I would say, the practice is also with intentionality that question: where is the love, where is the love in this? Because we have been conditioned now so profoundly into acquisitiveness and material acquisitiveness, I think it’s a very good rudder – again, you can look at intention as the ruder in the ocean of attention: intention is going to steer us in a particular direction. And I think a practice is to ask the question, “Am I being steered by love, in the direction of love?” Meher Baba once said that “Love is in no way susceptible to force.” So, again, that Aikido metaphor – that when we’re talking about high intentionality here, we’re not talking about the imposition or forcing of one’s will; one’s talking about aligning the will. So: where’s the love, is the love in this, is love guiding me? Those two elements…

IONS: Who said that?

JO: The Sufi, Meher Baba, who was a wonderful Indian mystic and considered avatar at one point, and he wrote that saying, “Love has to spring spontaneously from within. It is no way amenable to any form of inner or outer force.” And I’m reading actually the quote, now: “Love and coercion can never go together but while love cannot be forced upon anyone it can be awakened through love itself. Those who receive love from others cannot be its recipients without giving a response that, in itself, is in the nature of love.” He goes on to say, “This is how humanity will attain a new mode of being and life through the free and unhampered interplay of pure love from heart to heart.” Now I think we’re talking about intention. Now I think we’re talking about not something superficial that’s about grabbing – it’s about the interplay of pure love from heart to heart, the highest transmission, the highest reason, the highest loving capacities that, because they’re so profoundly aligned with what I think is the essence of cosmic reality, then the superb or the higher powers, the supranatural powers, begin to get activated because we’re intending in alignment with the deepest design of reality, itself.

IONS: That’s very poetic… wonderful. I think you answered one of the questions, but if would you like to elaborate any more on: what scientific experiments or viewpoints have most affected your own view of intention?

JO: I image this in the whole learning that we’re learning about how the body, itself, is such a mirror of the state of our awareness – without being judgmental here, but just in a scientific way. So we know that if you’re in a meditative place, that there’s certain biochemical flow in the body – and “flow” is a really good word: the brainwaves will be synchronized, the cortisol which fragments your attention and sends it off in multiple ways is diminished, and DHEA is flowing more. So you begin to get a mirror reflected in the body, itself, of where we are when we’re starting to be in a full and clear and harmonious state of awareness, and when we can really bring the kind of focus I’m talking about into play. We’re now able to MRI that, we’re able to test it in terms of what’s in your blood, we’re able to test it in terms of what is in the electromagnetism of your body’s field. So there is a way in which we can say yes, this one has practiced the breathing, the releasing, the letting go, has begun to tame the ego, has in some ways mastered the tides of the body’s own biochemistry in a way that begins to allow them to intend at these levels of profound flow and connectivity. So that’s very exciting to me because it means that we can then translate that kind of scientific insight into education and educational strategies for people of all ages, because education is a life-long process. But let’s imagine that we’ve really translated those understandings, which we now have in science, fully into the classroom – so that we’re creating environments where the breathing and the meditative process and the understandings of how the electrical system of the body and the biochemistry of the body can activate this higher awareness and intention, is brought into our educational classrooms. Then I think we’re going to be able to do as Daniel Goldman, [who] has done some wonderful work over the last years in terms of helping us see the significance of emotional intelligence and, in his latest book, social intelligence. That’s why I’m so passionate and excited at the Institute of Noetic Sciences – to connect up that journey, that long journey through the human rights field through looking at the pain and suffering and the tragedy of the world – is that now there’s a conjunction in science and spirituality that really begins to give us a path forward, that is, a path to higher reason, higher intentionality, and higher evolutionary purpose. And when you’re so close to this information and this knowledge and these insights it’s both exciting and, at one level, also exasperating, because you feel the incredible portentous nature of all of this science and spiritual knowledge coming together – and yet, why it hasn’t started to flow more fully and deeply into the mainstream. I think it is happening of course, it is happening, but in education and business and in health care systems, our highest intentionality still has a way to go.

IONS: Oh yes, but it is exciting that we are heading that direction. What would you think that we could all focus on – if it was one thing that we could all focus on, what would you like that to be?

JO: For me that is easy, in some ways: it is peace. And it seems to me that peace… we’ve been looking at the science of peace here at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Once one fully appreciates the science of peace, in just relationship to one’s body’s wholeness and health, when one can bring one’s mind and heart into resonance and synchronize the brainwaves and begin to feel that deep meditative flow of peace within one’s own breath and body and being, and begin to see how connective one is in that space. And where fundamental health, psychological well-being, compassion and generosity towards others, the capacity to forgive, to heal, is so fundamental in that state of peace: that, to me, is paradigmatic of, then, the peace we can share with others. We can’t long for and hope for peace if we’re not in a state of peace, ourselves. That’s an understanding that I think we’re really appreciating more deeply. So through our own practice of inner peace, we become relationally more peaceful with others, we practice dialogic modalities of interaction rather than using intellectual dominance or emotional dominance or threat or fear processes. Rather than activating fear to protect ourselves, one activates the deepest sense of peace. We now know; the science is very good: if you are in a state of peace and I am agitated, there is a good possibility that if I am in a state of dialogue and listening I’m going to help calm your amygdala, your heart rate, your blood pressure rate. There are very good scientific studies around our capacity, once we are in a state of peace, once we’re listening deeply to another being, to begin to bring them and draw them towards peace itself. I think a pivotal aspect for planetary survival is that capacity to develop peace within ourselves and share it with others.

IONS: Well that’s a wonderful intention for all of us to hold. I thank you so much. This has been a very enlightening and engaging dialogue. Thank you.

JO: Thank you, indeed. Bye-bye, now.

IONS: Bye.

Related Sets
"The Intention Downloads" Interview Series

Download as mp3
Publication Date:
attention, intention, peace
  • Bookmark and Share

Stay in touch with IONS