I have been corresponding with meditators doing hardcore meditation practices with a focus toward awakening. The phenomenon of intention is a misunderstood and neglected mental phenomenon that meditators can learn to systematically employ. Tibetan Buddhist practice has a methodical way of using the mind’s own inherent wiring to build neural connections through accumulative, repetitive mantra recitation, prostration, or other repetition-based practices. I have distilled down the Tibetan practices and streamlined a powerful tantric path toward complete awakening into nondual perception. The practices in the system build “karma” in various intentions through repetition, and if we have a basic conceptual understanding of the unification of mind, karma, and intention, our practice can be highly enriched.
We are practicing toward a specific goal, but it’s also helpful to have an idea of how the practices work toward a certain goal. With intention- it’s a pretty complex phenomenon- you can’t exactly explain in simple terms what intention is- yet- it is the driving force of our decisions and our reality- this suggests we should come to a very intimate understanding of intention and its various appearances in the mind. Then, we can learn to methodically employ the right intentions in the right way.
I have written a lot about intention and it’s role in meditative practice on my site. Basically, intention is a mental movement that involves essentially an imaginative “trying to do something”. It is purely an imaginative cognition of a goal for a specific phenomena. For example, if you’re intending to pay attention to the breath there is some semi visual- semi memory-based imagination or mental representation of an upcoming moment in time. Intention is like aspiring for something and directing the mind toward that.
Willpower is what we experience when we have conflicting intentions. Conflicting intentions create the sense of strain and “willing” the mind to a given objective- and if you pay attention to the phenomenon of “will power” you will notice conflicting intentions- and to push the mind toward one objective or the other, you are basically intending for one thing to push out the other intentions. That’s what your mind does in will power.
Meditation trains your mind to have a very powerful response to intention- and if you specifically deconstruct intention and practice it’s constituent parts- then you can maximize the power of intentions in the moment. This is a systematic holistic thing and everything you do is driven by these intentions. You can train certain intentions to be very immediately effective- by making them highly karmically conditioned – which to me is the same thing as building a neural highway corresponding to a particular experience or perception. That’s why repetition is stressed in TMI- you give the mind the same intention over and over and the mind builds the neural network over time. That’s where persistence comes in. I frame this in terms of “accumulation concentration” which is taking advantage of the phenomena of intention- and following the rules to build a highway in the mind corresponding to that intention.
Mastering samatha makes this phenomenon of conflicting intentions weaker and weaker- and the felt sense of strain or effort- a thing that is definitely present when we think of “will power – is not there when the mind is unified. There is a felt sense of effortlessness and the mind is bright and clear and efficient. The meditator has trained the mind to unify around a chosen intention- and this training leads to non-self insight.
Hope this helps.