Obstacles to Meditation: The Five Hindrances
- Friday, 24 April 2009
Letting your mind go blank is easier said than done. Luckily, ancient Buddhist monks figured out centuries ago to shut out the noise around them and concentrate on the stillness, and we can learn from them.
Oftentimes what we encounter in the course of our meditation is a far cry from the intended levels of peace and stillness we set out to achieve. When I was first learning about Buddhist meditation practices, I found it very helpful to take special care to study about the so-called “five hindrances.” Once I did, the experiences I was encountering in my practice suddenly felt normal, and I was able to face these patterns with more acceptance.
The Five Hinderances
The first hindrance is craving. It relates to senses of desire, and in meditation, craving shows up as our desire to want our experience to be ‘better’ or more comfortable in some way. For example, we may think about how we want the room to be warmer, or how we wish we had a more comfortable cushion or chair or thinking about how we could be doing something more fun.
The second hindrance is aversion. This hindrance is mostly about resisting, not wanting things to be as they are and feeling irritated by the noises around us. Sometimes we are angry at someone in our lives, sometimes we might not want to feel the discomfort in our bodies or we don’t want our minds to be so active, or to be visited by the intense emotions that can come with meditation.
Sloth and torpor is the third hindrance, and is likely familiar to most of us. It shows up as feelings of being unmotivated to practice, feeling sleepy and tired, or painfully bored. Let’s face it, our minds can always come up with something more enticing we could be doing.
The fourth hindrance is agitation, and it visits us in the form of not being able to settle, of feeling antsy and uncomfortable, or not wanting to get up and get on with our day.
Finally, the last hindrance, doubt, will often show up as a feeling of wondering why we are spending our time doing “nothing.” We question the validity of a meditation practice, we think we should be doing something more useful and wonder if we’re using the right techniques.
These states can show up not just while we’re actually in the practice of mediating, but they can also start making their presence felt before we sit down to begin, sabotaging our practice altogether. If we can become self aware and realize that we see these hindrances regularly in our lives outside of our meditation practice, we can begin to combat them.
As always, it’s important to continually allow whatever shows up to be as it is. Generally, it seems that when these energies that we call hindrances appear, it’s an opportunity for us to become intimately familiar with them so that they lose their power over us.
Sometimes we may think that we can’t find craving, aversion, sloth, agitation, or doubt anywhere in our being; this shows us that all states are passing through us and in a constant state of change. Once we truly understand this, we are less likely to be overwhelmed by the hindrances when they do temporarily show up. We can begin to see them for what they are, the false self’s attempts to keep us away from what is real to ensure its own survival.
We have invested a lot of energy building up a false image of ourselves and my experience is that the false self usually puts up a good fight before leaving.
Meditation is about seeing that no matter what arises in our awareness, who we really are is never absent . . . each moment is saturated by a sky-like presence that is unchanged by the antics of the false self.