The Five Hindrances to Calmness and Insight
The five hindrances are mind-states that often appear when awareness comes close to something painful or powerful in the psyche.



Meditation Instructions

The five hindrances could be called “five signs of breakthrough.” They often appear when awareness comes close to something painful or powerful in the psyche.

Desire

Recognize it in your mind as wanting, expecting, or a sense that something is missing. Notice what triggers the sense that what you are experiencing is not good enough, that something more should be happening. Notice any sense of "rushing" to the next thing. Be aware of the feeling of contraction in the body and mind when you are in the grip of this force. Also notice the relief when there is no wanting.

Aversion

Understand that all the different kinds of aversion are simply responses to an unpleasant feeling. Examples of aversion are: anger, fear, judgment, irritation, and boredom.

Don't judge yourself for aversion; this only adds more aversion on top of what's there already.

Investigate the aversion. Open up to it. Greet it with loving kindness, which is its opposite.

See what lies underneath it. Often a feeling of being hurt or of righteous indignation underlies anger. When that underlying feeling is acknowledged, the anger often subsides by itself.

Sloth and torpor (sleepiness, dullness, lethargy)

There are three basic kinds of sleepiness.

First, our modern body and mind understand lack of external stimulation as a signal that it is time to go to sleep. With time we learn to be alert in a silent setting.

Second, many of us have a lot of accumulated tiredness. In this case, rest and then come to the formal meditations with more lightness.

Third, sleep that comes as an avoidance is worth shaking off.

To rouse energy: open your eyes, stand, take deeper in-breaths, do more walking meditation. ~ Investigate! What does sleepiness actually feel like? Can we learn to be present with it simply as a body sensation? Pay careful, close attention and use precise mental noting. Don't let sleepiness keep you from being awake and alert. Greet it with energy and see if it lasts.

Restlessness (remorse, agitation, worry)

This is the opposite of sleepiness: too much energy. We feel as if we are going to "jump out of our skin." Can we find a way to hold this energy?

Make a resolution to sit as still as possible for a short time and see what happens to the restlessness. Does it decrease or increase? Can we learn how to "ride it out" as if it were a whirlwind passing through?

Bring attention to the breath and keep it there as much as you can, for short periods at a time.

If these techniques don't seem to be working, you can try doing the opposite: expand your attention outward. Listen to sounds. Walk outside. See if you can make your mind as big as the sky and let the restlessness move through it.

Doubt

This is often the most difficult hindrance. We need to recognize it right away or it can stop our practice. We can doubt the teachings, the facilitators, or ourselves. Self-doubt (“I can’t meditate” or “I’m worse than when I started”) can violently undermine us.

Notice how it makes us step back and not get involved. See it as another passing experience.

Sustain attention on a simple, direct experience, like the breath, the body, or hearing a sound. In that experience, doubt is dispelled.

With all the hindrances, Recognition is the first step. Then comes Acceptance, Interest, and Non-Identification ("RAIN").

The hindrances are not our true nature. They come and they go. Can we stay steady with them? If so, they can be transformed from hindrances into doorways to liberation, and we may be able to understand the words of Ramana Maharshi: “There are no obstacles to meditation. That very thought is the obstacle.”

*Thanks to Bryan Tucker for providing and allowing the use of these instructions.



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