Kavanah – The Secret of Intention in Kabbalah
In the system of Kabbalah, thought is at the root of everything. Thought has an incredible impact and can make us sick, or make us well, on every level. Kavanah = Intention (כונה), is the first step in thought. It points the direction of all of our thoughts, whether for bad or for good.
Kavanah is our direction or target. If I speak to my friend, my intention can be a sense of oneness with them. If I bake a cake, my intention can be to feed my neighbor so they can live and be happy. When I work at my job, I can intend to create something that will benefit all of humanity and myself. Intention is the first step, the premise of everything. But when that first step is corrupted, the whole thing is corrupted.
Why? Because if you’re in a car driving the wrong direction, how can you possibly reach your destination? When you really want to go to Mexico, but you point your car towards Canada, you can make incredible effort, you can skip sleep and drive fast, but it doesn’t help. And if you point your car into a swamp, even worse. It seems obvious, but we do this all the time with our thoughts.
The good intention could be thinking of good for all, oneness with everything, joy and appreciation of life. But when most of us are driven by our thoughts, and don’t know the direction, the result is accidents and disasters. We take our car to buy food that we saw in an advertisement that actually is bad for us, and as a result, we have a heart attack. We decide that we want to show the other up and we get into a car accident in the process. We blame our resentments on the other, and don’t see how we are aiming for disaster. Actually, most don’t know what they are aiming for at all.
Kabbalah teaches us to invest Kavanah=Intention in everything. If you drink a glass of water and are truly aware and grateful that it gives you life, the act of drinking is transformed. It could become deeply pleasurable, or sacred even. The ancient rabbis used to say that “Prayer without Kavanah is like a body without a soul.” The investment of intention is what makes spiritual practice powerful. We know this from ordinary experience. If someone says “I love you” but couldn’t care less about you, you don’t feel it. It means nothing. But if someone who loves you with all their heart and soul says it, if that full Kavanah Intention is invested whey they speak, it could transform your world.
The affect of the Kavanah will be seen in the final result of every action. If someone makes a cake out of love, it will be a different cake than one they don’t care about. If a carpenter makes a chair with the intention of making something of quality that the owner will really enjoy, it will show in the design and will not be like a chair with no intention. But if someone gives you a cupcake because they want to get something out of you, you may feel disgust instead of hunger.
In all series of thoughts and actions, there is an original intention, a direction. By being aware of it, we can develop awareness of our thoughts, and begin to know our direction in life. In every interaction, we can intend peace, intend restoration, and learn to point to the outcome we actually want. The majority may be aimed towards chaotic outcomes that they never intended, but through Kavanah, we can take the path of the few, and choose a different direction.
Assignment 2: Take one day and only think positive thoughts, aimed towards the outcomes you want. Repeat these words – “Only good comes from me. Only good comes to me. Only good comes through me.”
Note, this article is one in a series about the importance of thought in Kabbalah. You can start with the first article here: