The Three Motivations
In our experience, people come to contemplative practice for several different reasons. We’ve lumped these into three camps: Rest and Restore, Awaken and Liberate, and Engage and Contribute.
The balance between these principles can be used as a guide in your life to help you determine your own motivation, and to see if how you are living is actually the best for what you need. If you’re deciding what to do with your life, ask yourself which of these draws you. They might help you to decide if this program is right for you.
Rest and Restore
Many young people are looking for an experience that might best be described as rest and restoration. They imagine having lots of time to themselves, being outside, and sleeping, and eating good food. Some monasteries can provide this, but not all. Many people are surprised to realize just how demanding monastic life is. The purpose of rest and restore is to cultivate self-compassion and to let the nervous system settle after long periods of anxiety. This is important work. If this is what you are looking for, we will have a conversation about whether the rigor of monastic life is something you are looking for. Different monasteries are different in this regard, so if this is your priority, we can help you find the one that will be the best fit.
IMBALANCE: If you continually pursue Rest and Restoration, you might never realize the deep truths of yourself or engage fully in helping others. You can get stuck here. It can be useful to really jump into the deep end. Put yourself “out there,” either into retreat or into service.
Awaken and Liberate
For people who are disillusioned with the values they have internalized and want to find a deeper and more meaningful direction in life, they might be thinking of the experience in terms of “Awakening and Liberation.” Meditation Retreats can be intense and emotionally challenging. They are not always “relaxing”, but they do reveal us to ourselves. This kind of work is often necessary for finding our own liberation but also for finding our strength, the reserves from which we can pull to fully engage with and serve the world. Learning to work with the intensity of our own mind and the intensity of physical discomfort builds confidence and integrity.
IMBALANCE: If we stay here, we may fail to heal critical parts of us that need to be healed through rest and restoration. There may be aspects of us that require a more gentle, social, and relaxed approach to healing.
Engage and Contribute
Modern culture tends to encourage people to put all of their cards in this basket. And that’s what most people do. This is important, but the problem is this - if you have not done the work to heal and to cultivate wisdom, it is easy to slip into “compassion-fatigue,” into anger, into self-righteousness, or just plain-old unhappiness as the expectations on you mount. Your sense of just being happy to be alive, moment by moment, can be forgotten.
Buddhism developed a reputation when it first arrived in the US for being a religion of “denying your experience,” of shutting away, of repressing. But in reality, the movement inwards is a necessary complement to the movement outwards. We cannot only give, or our giving loses power. We forget what we are giving and why.
Through cultivating all three of these areas, through balancing and spending time in each area, we can bring the ease of rest and the wisdom of liberation to our work, making it far more effective and blissful.