Meditation purists might cringe at the notion of meditating for a tangible result other than inner peace or calm. But with age comes more practicality. Sometimes calm or the absence of upset is fine, but often the opposite of that is what’s needed. In her fine and thoughtful book, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, author Laurie Helgoe makes a strong case for temperament on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. I build on that by saying that, depending on your temperament, circumstances, or blend of personality factors, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are valuable for different reasons and results.
How does intrinsic motivation arise in meditation? Assuming we’ve already relaxed our body/mind/spirit the usual ways—breathing, letting go, etc.—we can direct our awareness to subtle or persistent thoughts, remnants of mind’s activity. Tune into the ones that are vaguely unsettling. Should they be attended to before going for the calm? Sometimes there is an insight, a creative urge, or a must do nudge in an area of mundane life, like health or work. These are intrinsic motivators. We can act upon them now—as in the case of a burning house or heart attack—or later. We can jot down the “laters” in a notepad by our meditation seat, and then continue to meditate in peace.
How does extrinsic motivation work in meditation? As author Helgoe and others have stated, we are living in an extroverted culture. We are connecting with others when plugged into our electronic devices (however superficially), and spend less time engaged in deep introspection and quiet reflection. How many of us check our email or cell phone pings as we write? I believe that extrinsic motivation can lead us to the exhaustive collapse we call “meditation,” usually at the end of a long day, often as a reward. We unwind and unplug to recharge from working so hard and caring for others. Meditating after strenuous feats, like mountain climbing or meeting a brutal deadline, is sublime. External motivation leads us to an internal process: restful, restorative meditation.
If you can easily still your mind and balance your energy in meditation, then ignore the above and go for it. If you need an aid or boost, then try this:
1.Start your practice the usual ways. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Let go as best you can by watching your thoughts come and go.
2.If silence or stillness does not come upon you after some time, notice if a persistent thought or subtle sensation wants attention. Do not force yourself to let it go until you’ve sat with it for a bit. Let it speak, then let it go. If that fails, write it down and resume meditation. Feel yourself relax or become more still. Take a few deep breaths before coming out of meditation.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, intrinsically or extrinisically.