Our intentions are the clearest way to determine the energy we put forth into the world. It was in 2004 that I remember feeling this for the first time. I gave a gift* and it came from a place of obligation. I realized that if I gave a gift from a place of guilt, it lost its full potential. I didn't feel good about giving it and I was a little resentful. The receiver may have still used it to its fullest functional life, but the act of giving can always be a gift to the giver as well.
In my opinion, the often overused and under realized idea of Karma is like gift giving. It is our intention we put out into the world with our actions, thoughts and our words. I have often felt guilty for my thoughts. I don't necessarily mean them, but they pop up and I find myself thinking, "Am I really such a terrible person for thinking this? Am I only tricking myself into believing I am kind and compassionate?" This is something I have wrestled with for quite some time and I have come to accept that Thoughts Happen. What we do with them is entirely our choice as is most anything in life. These ideas of choice/free will and whether or not we are predetermined to be good or not-so-good people brings up a a parable that I often cite and draw on. I am not sure where along the way I picked it up or who to credit it to.
I envision a sage, an old Chinese teacher with round spectacles propped upon his nose. His thick, silver overgrown eyebrows rest atop his spectacles as he squints over his pupils who vary in age and size. All of the students sit at their desks with tablets and sticks of chalk as they await the answer to the question posed by a precocious boy about the age of five who struggles to reach the top of his one-size-fits-all chair-desk combination.
"Teacher, what determines if a man is good or bad?" The teacher replies, "Student, within each person lies twin dogs. One good, one bad. They fight. Whichever one wins determines the outcome of the person's character." The student quickly perks up and says, "But what determines which dog wins?" The teacher smiles deeply and knowingly, he squints his eyes ever more tightly and says, "Student, whichever dog practices more."
The meaning of this, to me, is that we all have the potential to be better human beings. The flip-side of this is we all have the potential to be not-so-good people if we are not present in our actions and our thoughts. We cannot control the impact of our thoughts, words and actions, but we can be aware of our intentions behind them.
* A gift can be words of praise, a blender, time, etc.
1 : a notable capacity, talent, or endowment
2 : something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation
3 : the act, right, or power of giving