Meditation as Motivation: Intrinsic or Extrinsic?

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.

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About sheilaklewis

As a writing coach, meditation teacher, writer, and academic tutor, I'm passionate about words and the silent spaces between words. In this context, I run book clubs and writers' groups where the resonance of carefully crafted words can spark readers and writers to share their own stories. Connecting through conversation; making memories matter; embracing editing and revision, and imaginative wordplay are some solo and collective outcomes. I came to what I call my "Meditate Write Now" practice after years of art-making, writing grants, curriculum, children's stories, and more. Meditation kept my mind from meandering too far off point and also led me to write from the still point within. May our paths cross in creative journeys across time and internet connections! Other details: My husband and I are the parents of two amazing sons and one daughter-in-law, and smitten grandparents of Micah (born December, 2013). I don't drive, and have lived in the same apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, for too long.
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2 Responses to Meditation as Motivation: Intrinsic or Extrinsic?

  1. Lia Brigante says:

    Sheila – as an introvert who didn’t know it, I gravitated toward mystical study and practice partly because it gave me the “alone” time during which to process messy information. Most people who do mystical work of a kind (esoteric) will tell you that there is a linear, back-and-forth relationship between the conscious and the subconscious minds, the mechanism is that you gather all the data into your conscious mind and then send it to the subconscious for categorization and filtration into something more manageable. There’s a reason why us introverts sneak off for power naps half way through the day; our minds are full of garbage from consciousness and it needs to get “emptied” into the bin of the subconscious before we can take in more information, otherwise we go into overload (and fall asleep!) Actually I think mid-day sleepiness would be a perfect way to diagnose closet introverts – that telltale heavy eyelid syndrome around about 1 p.m., no, it’s not hunger for lunch! So just like the yellow pages ad said, Let The Fingers of Your Subconscious Mind Do The Walking through the morass that is your consciousness and you will come out with brilliant (and well-organized) insights every time! Take that to your book. Lia

    • sheilaklewis says:

      we can thank the author for your insight as to your itrovert diagnosis. Yes, power naps and in my case, meditations, can help defray the overload. Many things, like tele-seminars and media marathons, can put introvert brains on overload. Walks, bird or flower watching, also offset mid-day sleepiness, subconscious paralysis, and overload. Thanks Lia!
      Introverts out there, please share!

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