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Meditation’s role in resolving life’s hindrances

This article is one of a series of regular columns for the Newcastle Weekly.

Have you ever tried meditation but given up because you feel it isn’t working for you?

“My mind is all over the place”, “I tend to fall asleep”, “I keep thinking of all the things that I have to do”, “I keep thinking how hopeless I am at this”, “I am not doing it right”, and, “I have stopped doing it because it doesn’t really make much of a difference anyway”.

These are some of the comments that are often made as people try meditation or the first time.

“I just can’t focus”, “I feel overwhelmed”, “I am so tired”, “I am so busy”, “I often feel not good enough, like I am a failure and I can never stick to anything so what is the point anyway?”

But these are the comments those people are often making about how they generally feel. Can you see the similarity?

More than 2,600 years ago, Buddha identified five hindrances – the obstacles that we face when trying to experience calm, wisdom and kindness – and the ways to overcome them. They were first applied to meditation, but they can just as easily be applied to life.

The obstacles are about attachment, energy, and doubt. Meditation can help find a middle way; the balance between wanting and not wanting, between tiredness and too much energy, and between doubt and belief.

The two dimensions of attachment are desire and aversion.

Desire is wanting can be focused on physical pleasure such as food, sex, warmth, or just wanting to feel good.

We feel like we need more of it to reinforce how special we are or just because it felt so good. When we have been praised for something we do, and we want to have more of it.

Aversion is when we want what we are experiencing to go away. It might be in traffic where we feel that other drivers are all idiots and they should go faster, or it might be a situation we are in at work or at home.

It might be that we find the people we are with wrong, irritating or stupid and we believe that if they would disappear we would feel good.

The way to manage these dimensions is to know that both delight and pain are the result of temporary confluences and will fall away. They are not personal.

Appreciate joy without grasping for it to last. Take delight in the joy you are feeling without attachment.

The more we make our experiences personal, the more we will suffer, irrespective of whether they are pleasant or unpleasant.

There are two mindfulness tools that can help here. If you are having an issue with another person, do the Loving Kindness or LINK meditation.

Another way to soothe aversion is to do the Dear Body tool to go into the pain and investigate the body sensation you experience.

Just be curious about how the aversion shows up in the body and then give it your kind attention and then watch what happens.

Then there is tiredness or sleepiness, which is about not having enough energy. The first thing to do here is check that you are getting enough sleep.

If you start to use meditation, it is also important to consider the right time to do it. Just before bed or after waking up is not always ideal. Try meditating just after a walk or after a shower or bath.

Restlessness is the fourth hindrance. This is about too much energy, anxiety, a monkey mind full of to-do-lists. Endless chatter and commentary. Meditation can help shift attention back to your body or your breath while you deal with your thoughts as just “funny little thoughts!”

Walking meditation or another form of moving meditation can also help keep the attention in the body to help you stay out of your head.

The final hindrance is doubt. There are two types – little doubt and big doubt.  Little doubt is self-doubt and big doubt is universal doubt.

Little doubt says: “I am not doing this right, I am different, I am a fraud.” Big doubt is wondering why you are doing certain things. “This is pointless.”

The antidote to doubt is being present and trusting. For little doubt it is self-compassion and reassurance and for big doubt it is about interrupting those thoughts and coming back to the experience.

Mediation helps you to lose the attachment and reflect on doubt with kind curiosity knowing that sometimes you will never know.

There are many forms of meditation. Explore what works for you. I have some free meditations here on the website that you are welcome to try.

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