Meditation, Passivity and Drive3 min read

Sometimes, goal-oriented individuals disregard meditation as just living in the moment, chilling out, and being happy with what is. They fear that meditation may make them slow, apathetic, or passive, robbing them of their fuel to pursue their goals.

Some people who practice meditation do become more passive; they lose the motivation to achieve their goals because they feel happy and peaceful here and now. Their inner drive cools down.

This is not how I teach meditation—especially within the context of Mindful Self-Discipline. In my many years as a meditation practitioner and teacher, I’ve noticed that when passivity comes from meditation, is due to one of two things: an uninformed choice of technique, or an overemphasis on letting go.

There are four main types of meditation, each with different goals, philosophy, and effects. It’s important to choose a technique (or combination of techinques) that suits your needs and personality. 

Concentration meditation enhances your willpower and discernment, while also training your awareness. You have a goal to remain focused—for example, on counting your breaths. That requires some energy and motivation. You are constantly monitoring your mind, checking, “Am I focused on the breath or am I distracted?” Thus you develop awareness and discernment as you strengthen your focus. It’s a workout for your mind. It’s active, like fire. Your motivation will be safe, and likely even augmented.

Observation meditation is also powerful in developing awareness, but in another way. You keep your mind alert and open, receiving whatever inputs come from within or without, learning to see and accept all things equally. It’s passive, like water. This technique can help you let go of cravings and of difficult emotions that get in the way of your goals. A downside could be losing focus on your goal, becoming passive and unmotivated. 

Relaxation meditation is also passive but doesn’t tend to kill your motivation; rather, it replenishes you and dissipates emotional tension that could otherwise push you toward seeking emotional relief through instant gratification and addictive behavior. 

Pure Being meditation is more spiritual by nature; it takes you to a place beyond all goals and efforts, and there is a chance that you will love it so much that you won’t want anything else.

All meditation types have their value. You need a balance of fire and water in your life, so it can be good to practice multiple techniques. If your intention is to feel more motivated to achieve your goals, make sure to include some concentration meditation in the mix.

Motivation and focus are about feeling powerfully moved by one ideal— not about seeing all things equally. Letting go of cravings and difficult emotions, on the other hand, is more about diminishing impulsivity and watering down the emotional charge of certain triggers for you. So, as a general rule of thumb, we can say that concentration meditation is better for focus and motivation, and observation meditation is better for impulse control and processing negative emotions. 

I don’t mean to discourage you from practicing observation types of meditation or pure being types of meditation. If you already practice these styles, and enjoy it, by all means continue. But if your intention is to feel more motivated to achieve your goals, make sure to include some concentration meditation to the mix. 

The second reason why meditation can diminish motivation is the philosophy behind some of the practices and lineages. Some monastic traditions and some modern practitioners heavily emphasize the letting go and contentment aspects, discouraging thoughts about the future. You must only be present, always. These approaches support peace in a monastery but can be unhelpful when you have other goals and are living in the world.

Over the years, I have found meditation is not only about peace, but about empowered peace. Meditation, in my view, has to be useful for you to love what you get (acceptance) and get what you love (empowerment).

This is the way of Mindful Self-Discipline.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.

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