Is calmer always better?

Dear Integral Meditators,

Is the goal of meditation and mindfulness always to make you calmer? The article below considers this question from a number of angles that are important to consider in our day to day practice…

In the spirit of dynamic calm,


For those in Singapore, this weeks Tuesday & Wednesday class will be meditating on ‘Enlightened Imperfection‘, all welcome!

Is calmer always better? (Passionate preferences)

Is the goal of meditation and mindfulness always to make you calmer? Yesterday I was talking with a friend in the tech and start-up industry who was telling me the story of how he came to mindfulness practice. In short he became so stressed due to his work that he started having physical heart and chest pains. Upon going to the doctor, he was told there was no physical problem, it was mainly psychological stress. It was at that point that he started meditating.
Many people come to meditation and mindfulness in a similar way; the absence of calm in their life forces them to seek out a way of dealing with their stress, and they start using mindfulness meditation as a way of moving toward a less frenetic and frantic state of body, mind and heart.

The spectrum of mindful attention
Once we get beyond mindfulness as an ‘emergency band-aid’ way of calming down, we discover that mindfulness and meditation when done well does not always mean becoming calmer. In fact the help us consciously move ourself along a spectrum of attention. This spectrum of attention moves from a state of total calm & relaxation on one end (On a scale of 1-10, let’s call this 1) and a state of dynamic passion and action on the other end (on our scale of 1-10, this would be 10).
Your ‘job’ as a mindfulness practitioner is to bring the level of mindful intensity appropriate to the particular task at hand, in order to optimize your experience of it both in terms of your effectiveness, and your ability to experience happiness. Here are some examples of how this can go wrong or right:

The lower expression: 
Negative calm – Not enough passion: Let’s say I am having a discussion with my partner about our relationship. If I remain totally calm and dispassionate to the point of dis-interest, this is not going to serve the purpose of our discussion.
Too much passion: To continue with the above example, if in my discussion with my partner I become too passionate and not calm enough, then this can sabotage the conversation as well, so here too much passion becomes negative stress.

The higher expression – Mindful passion or mindful engagement:  In the discussion with my partner I need to bring my emotions and passion to the conversation to communicate that I care, and invest deeply in the process of the relationship. I need passionate engagement, with just enough calm to keep the conversation reasonable, considered and polite!

The above is an example of informal mindfulness in everyday life. Similarly, in our formal meditation practice we need passion and motivation in order to avoid our sense of meditative calm becoming too robotic and cold (see last week’s article on ‘Witnessing like the Sun’). So, in both our formal and informal practice of mindfulness and meditation, there needs to be a balance of calmness and excitement, a harmony between relaxation and focus, an equilibrium between our passion and our detachment. Sometimes we need to dial town toward the calm end of the spectrum, but equally sometimes we need to deliberately engage more passion, excitement and positive urgency!  This deliberate engagement of passion is as much a part of the conscious meditative process as cultivating our inner calm.
Each experience in our life is different, and being mindful in each moment helps us to determine the optimal balance of calmness and passion for that particular situation.

Related articlesThe spectrum of mindful attention
Engaged detachment

© Toby Ouvry 2017, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Upcoming Courses at Integral Meditation Asia

Ongoing on Wednesday’s, 7.30-8.30pm – Wednesday Meditation Classes at Basic Essence with Toby

Ongoing on Tuesday evenings, 7.30-8.30pm – Tuesday Meditation Classes at One Heart with Toby (East coast)

Saturday August 19th, 10am-5pm, & Monday August 21st,  10am-5pm –  Shamanic mandala meditation & art workshop

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