Motivation, Values, and Priorities: Where do they come from?

I belong to a group that meets monthly to discuss social justice and religion. At the last meeting, one of the facilitators posed a question: "what in our religion instructs us to pursue social justice?"

The question immediately made me uncomfortable. For one thing, I tend to distrust any religion that tells me what to think or do absent a robustly convincing explanation. Second, I'm stubborn and I always have been. I don't like being forced to do things. I like to do them on my own. Third, in my experience, forcing yourself to feel or believe or be motivated to pursue something is a recipe for disaster. It's a way in which we promote inner-conflict, viewing our experience as something unacceptable or defective and in need of some type of repair. In this case, being unmotivated is seen as incorrect, and we have to force ourselves to care about something. It's not only hurtful, it's unsustainable. That motivation disappears pretty quickly.

My approach, and I hesitate to call it "mine" because it suggests I created it, which I most certainly did not, is to listen and relax rather than fight and force. I trust that values, purpose, inspiration, and generally goodnesss are already within us. We don't need to force them, and we don't need to create them, and we don't need to rationalize their importance. We need to discover them all by suspending our thinking that's driving towards something. Clarity, understanding, peace, pleasure, safety...these are some of the main themes of thinking. Collectively, we can call it progress. Your thinking is always trying driven towards some notion of progress.

Meditation, to me, is suspending those needs, or rather challenging them. Saying "whatever this is, it's fine right now." At first it's always weird. Your mind is still struggling to be in control and it tries to make you panic into more thinking. Is this right? This can't be right. This seems weird. But it is right, and if you keep looking at whatever's happening right now, without any need to modify or enhance or hold on it (all notions of progress), the thinking quiets down on its own and all the goodness starts to shine.