“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.”
“I have stopped doing it because it doesn’t really make much of a difference anyway.”
These comments are often made about the relationship we have with meditation.
“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?“
These comments are often made about how we feel in general.
Can you see the similarity?
The Buddha over 2600 years ago identified Five Hindrances – the obstacles that we experience to experiencing calm, wisdom and kindness – and the ways to overcome them. They were first applied to meditation but as you see they can just as easily be applied to life – of course.
They are about attachment, energy and doubt, and the art is finding the middle way, the balance point between wanting and not wanting, between tiredness and too much energy, and between doubt and the belief we know.
The first is attachment and the two dimensions here are desire and aversion.
Desire or wanting can be focused on physical pleasure like food, sex, warmth, or mental/emotional such as wanting to feel good. We might experience a blissed-out state in mediation and we want more. We identify with it as,” I am so special, so spiritual. I therefore need more of it to reinforce how special I am or just because it felt so good.” Or 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, when we don’t like, don’t want, when we feel pain physically or emotionally and we want it 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 antidotes to both is to know that both delight and pain are just temporary arisings. They are the result of temporary confluences and will fall away, and they are not personal. The more we appreciate joy without grasping for it to last but take delight in it arising without attachment, the easier it become for us. The more we make our experiences personal, the more we will suffer, irrespective of whether pleasant or unpleasant. Another antidote if the issue is about a person is to do the Loving Kindness Meditation. Another way of soothing the aversion is to do the “Dear Body” and go into the pain, investigate the body sensation of the pain in the body.
Then there is tiredness or sleepiness which is about not enough energy. So often in the workplace this is one of the biggest hindrances, we are tired in 2019! The first antidote is to check in with whether we get enough sleep and then whether the time for our sitting is right for us. If we are doing it just before bed and we fall asleep that is not surprising. If we do it just after waking up, again no surprises, and if we do it at 3 in the afternoon, same thing. Just after a walk or after your shower is ideal.
Restlessness is the fourth hindrance. This is about too much energy, anxiety, a monkey mind full of to-do-lists. Endless chatter and commentary. I remember when I attended my first silent day I observed the endless rehearsing of how I was going to tell and share about my experience. The antidote is kindly shifting attention back to the body or the breath and just keep doing it, while dealing with thoughts as “funny little thoughts”! It can also be useful to do a walking meditation or another form of moving meditation. Keeping the attention in body sensations is my favourite; it helps me stay out of the head.
The final one 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 wonders why am I doing this: “This is pointless. Why, why, why?” The antidote to doubt is being present and trusting. For little doubt it is self -compassion and reassurance and for big doubt it is interruption of the thoughts and coming back to the experience. After the mediation or emerging then we can reflect with kind curiosity knowing that we will never know. We can just follow our bliss and use that as a guide. Without attachment!
Always love to hear your thoughts and experience and perhaps you have additional tips?