Clarifying and channeling motivation


When I look at desires and motivations, I find two main types.

One type of desire comes from our human self. We want to get something. And mainly, we want to avoid suffering and find happiness. 

This makes sense in an evolutionary perspective. It is how the human individual and species takes care of itself. 

And it is also what happens when we identify with any story. There is a sense of an I with an Other. And we want to take care of that I. 

Another type of motivation is a quiet love for God or truth. This seems to be more of a remembrance of what we are, and a quiet longing back. 

This one also happens within the context of identifying with a story. As soon as that happens, we take ourselves to be a separate I and within content of experience. So there is naturally a longing back to what we never left, to finding ourselves as that which experience happens within and as.  

One way to address these is what Buddhism often does: channel it all into a desire for awakening. If I want something, such as avoiding suffering and finding happiness, then I need to go for awakening.

The benefit of this approach is that a great deal of energy can potentially be harvested for practice. And if it is done skillfully, the neediness is addressed through preliminary practices or as a side-effect of practice.

The drawback is that people can get disapointed.

Another way is to address each type of desire at its own level. A suffering/happiness motivation can be addressed at the level of our human self, by inviting it to grow up. It is a fear motivation, and there is some neediness and victim roles in there, which all can very well be addressed by growing up, by healing and maturing as a human being. 

And the quiet love for God or truth can be addressed by inviting what we are to notice itself. To wake up. 

Fortunately, in a practical sense, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. 

We can use tools that address both. Tools that invite in a healing and maturing as our human level, taking care of our neediness there. And also invite what we are to notice itself. 

We can use inquiry. Explore sense fields. Identify and inquire into beliefs. 

We can allow experience. As it is.

We can pray and clarify intention

We can hone a stable attention, aiding us in any of the other practices. 

And also use tools occasionally that addresses either growing or waking up, when that seems appropriate. 

Some additional notes:

  • The quiet love for God/truth can get mixed up in the drama of a sense of a separate I.
  • The desire to avoid suffering and find happiness can be mostly taken care of by growing up, but only fully resolved by waking up.  
  • Traditions usually take care of the neediness from the first form of desire through preliminary practices. 

Initial outline…

  • motivations
    • types
      • avoiding suffering/finding happiness
        • level of stories, identification with stories
      • quiet love for God/truth
        • from remembering what we are
      • all motivations, trace back to grow/wake up
        • living fully as humans (traced partly back)
        • awakening (traced all the way back)
    • approahces
      • channeling suffering/happiness motivation into awakening
        • benefits
          • work only on awakening
          • may take care of as side-effect of practice
        • drawbacks
          • discouraged
          • doesn’t take care of it
      • addressing at the same level
        • suffering/happiness motivation
          • grow up
        • quiet love for God/truth
          • awakening
      • practical approach
        • take care of at same level
        • use tools addressing both
          • inviting growing/waking up

These two forms of desire happen on a continuum.

If we take any desire or motivation, even the most apparently mundane ones, we can trace it back to a desire to live fully (as who we are, as humans in the world) and to wake up (as what we are).

I want to eat that cake in the fridge. What do I hope to get out of eating it? I wish to feel good. And I am also eating to feed this body and stay alive.

Here is a question that keeps coming up for me:

Why does Buddhism – and many contemporary teachers – channel a desire for happiness and avoiding suffering into a quest for awakening?

It seems skillful in some ways, but also less than skillful in other ways.

To explore this, it may be helpful to look at a couple of types of motivations, and then different approaches to working with these. 

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