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Working with the Five Hindrances
by Philip L. Jones
There are five mental states or objects that interfere
with the development of concentration and mindfulness. They are called
the Five Hindrances. Learning to work skillfully with the Hindrances leads
to greater clarity and peacefulness in one's life. Working with the Hindrances
requires the use of the skills one has developed in practicing with mindfulness
of the breath, physical sensations, feelings, mind-states and mind-objects
or thoughts. It is most important to meet these difficult states without
judgment and without trying to change them. See if you can simply meet
them with acceptance and curiosity while holding them in awareness.
It is also referred to as clinging, grasping, holding on and the wanting-mind.
If one is distracted from being present for the ever-changing flow of experience
by something that is pleasant, that is desire.
with Desire: First
it is necessary to wake up from the distraction and to recognize that it
is desire. Being aware of the feeling tone (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral)
can help in the recognition. If there is enough clarity it can also be
helpful to notice that desire is distinct from the object of desire (i.e.
the thought or sensation). Otherwise, just notice that desire is present.
Once one becomes aware of the desire, the most skillful response is to
hold it in non-judgmental awareness and to maintain that awareness until
the desire subsides. By not immediately fulfilling the desire you can allow
yourself to experience what desire is actually like. Is it a pleasant experience,
unpleasant or neutral? When you can experience what desire is really like,
then you create the possibility of being with it without being controlled
by it. After the desire subsides, return to the sensations of breathing.
can also be helpful to work with desire during everyday life. If one feeds
desire in everyday life, it will be stronger when one sits on the cushion
as well. One way of working with desire is "guarding the sense doors,"
that is, being aware of the pleasant stimuli entering one's experience
through the sense doors (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body/touch & mind),
being aware of how it affects one and responding with moderation.
is not necessary to banish the pleasant or the beautiful from one's life,
but it is important to be aware of desire arising from contact with the
pleasant and the beautiful.
Other names for aversion are anger, irritation, rage, fear, avoidance and
ill-will. If one is resisting, avoiding or rejecting an experience, that
with Aversion: Once
again the first step is simply to recognize that one is caught up in aversion.
If there is enough clarity it can be helpful to notice that the aversion
is distinct from the object of aversion (i.e. the thought or sensation).
Otherwise, just notice that aversion is present. Once one becomes aware
of the aversion, the most skillful response is to hold it in non-judgmental
awarenessand to maintain that awareness
until the aversion subsides. By not immediately reacting to the aversion
you can allow yourself to experience what aversion is actually like and
what the object of aversion is like. Are they pleasant experiences, unpleasant
or neutral? When you can experience what aversion is actually like, then
you create the possibility of being with it without being controlled by
it. After the aversion subsides, return to the sensations of breathing.
way of working with aversion, especially if there is not enough mindfulness
to hold the aversion in awareness, is to practice metta or loving-kindness
meditation. In this way one replaces thoughts of aversion with thoughts
of acceptance and kindness. It can also be helpful to practice compassion,
sympathetic joy and equanimity meditations.
doesn't have to be passive in the presence of injustice or other unpleasant
situations, but it is important to be aware of the aversion that arises
from contact with the unpleasant.
This hindrance is also known as drowsiness, sleepiness, dullness and sinking-mind.
It refers to a mental state and not to physical fatigue, although during
the first day or two of a retreat it can be hard to distinguish between
the two. However, if one finds oneself getting drowsy or falling asleep
during meditation when one is physically rested, then that is sloth and
with Sloth and Torpor: Recognizing
the presence of this hindrance as it arises into awareness is a crucial
part of working with it. If one doesn't catch it early, the sleepiness
tends to have a momentum that overpowers mindfulness. Therefore practicing
initial application (holding the object of meditation with mindfulness
at the moment it arises into awareness) is an important skill for dealing
with this hindrance. Hold the drowsiness in one's non-judgmental awareness
until it subsides. Also, notice whether the feeling tone of sleepiness
is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Curiosity about the state will also
bring more energy to one's effort to be mindful. When the hindrance has
subsided, return to the sensations of breathing.
practices that can help one work with sloth and torpor are opening one's
eyes to allow more light or visual stimulus and meditating standing up.
Another method is to add touch-points to the meditation on the primary
object, as a way of giving the mind more to do. Unless one is clearly physically
fatigued, it is wise to assume that one is dealing with this hindrance.
But if all else fails, perhaps one should take a nap.
This hindrance is characterized by quickly changing thoughts (often called
Monkey Mind), anxiety, worry and excessive energy in the body such as twitches,
itches and difficulty sitting still. Whether the hindrance is expressed
mentally or physically there is an unsettled feeling.
with Restlessness and Worry: Recognizing
the unsettled feeling is the beginning of working with restlessness and
worry. After recognizing the presence of the unsettled feeling, hold it
in one's non-judgmental awareness until it subsides. It may also be helpful
to notice the feeling tone (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral). When you
can experience what restlessness and worry is actually like without being
caught up in it, then you create the possibility of being with it without
being controlled by it. Once the restlessness and worry subsides return
the attention to the sensations of breathing.
attempting to follow the sensations of breathing seems to be contributing
to the restlessness, using mindfulness of sounds as the primary object
of meditation may be helpful as it can lead to a greater sense of spaciousness.
hindrance of doubt is characterized by a lack of confidence in oneself,
in the teacher or in the practice. It has a mental quality of wavering,
of being unable to settle on a path or direction. When this quality of
wavering is present, there is doubt.
Once again the first step is simply to recognize that one is caught up
in doubt. Once one becomes aware of the quality of wavering, of the doubt,
the most skillful response is to hold it in spacious, non-judgmental awarenessand
to maintain that awareness until the doubt subsides. In effect, one loosens
one's identification with the doubt and turns it into an object of meditation.
After the doubt subsides, return to the sensations of breathing.
sustained application (holding the object of meditation in awareness from
the time of its arising to the time of its subsiding) can also be helpful
in dealing with doubt. However, if one is struggling with doubt often,
it would be wise to speak to a teacher about the doubts.