Traditionally there are five hindrances or obstacles to meditation. Each of these have antidotes, ways of working with hindrances in order to get back to the focus of our meditation. However it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a good meditation or a bad meditation and experiences that might feel like obstacles can be part of the meditation themselves. Everything that we experience during meditation can be part of the meditation itself. We can be fascinated by the whole of our experience – not just the part we feel we are getting ‘right’. This also comes back to the question of choice. We often criticize ourselves for experiences that we have not chosen, particularly our emotions. However, with awareness, we can choose how to respond to what we feel.
Over the next few weeks I will write about each of these hindrances in turn, showing how each can be worked with but also how each can provide useful insight into how we are in this moment. But for now, here is an overview and introduction to each so that initially we can begin to name and distinguish between each one.
Here is an overview:
1. Craving and Desire
This is the experience of wanting our experience to be different during meditation. It might take the form of a physical hunger, particularly if you are meditating just before lunch! Or it might take the form of a fantasy. These can be very seductive and pleasurable but may also take us away from the moment. In mindfulness practice we spend a lot of time looking at what we do with our unpleasant experience. However, it may be just as important to notice what happens when we experience or crave something pleasant. Be fascinated about how this feels in the body and use this to inform your practice.
2. Anger and Ill-will
Anger has a strong physical component, while ill-will is the mental thoughts and story that accompany it. If we can stay with the physical sensations without overly investing in the story we can be really curious about how it feels to be angry. Suddenly anger becomes our meditation!
3. Restlessness and Anxiety
Again this has a physical and a mental component. When we notice a physical urge to move, a discomfort, even an itch, we can ask ourselves whether we really need to move or whether we can sit with the sensations with kindness and curiosity. In terms of anxiety, what happens when we allow ourselves to be anxious rather than criticizing ourselves? Many people start to learn to meditate looking for relaxation and a sense of peace and fear that if they do not achieve this outcome then they are doing something wrong. Anxiety is a normal human experience and is not a sign of getting anything wrong. The choice comes in how to respond.
4. Sloth and Torpor
Sloth and torpor – that sense of a lack of physical and emotional energy can be difficult to work with. It might simply be a useful reminder to get more sleep or to try meditating at a different time. For many of us fatigue is unavoidable so is another opportunity to practice patience and self-kindness.
5. Doubt and Indecision
Unfortunately we are not always very integrated. We might make a decision to meditate, but part of us would rather be watching TV or sleeping or working through the to-do list. Instead of succumbing to this, notice where your mind is taking you, and stay with your practice. It doesn’t matter what happens in your meditation as long as you stay with it!
Next week I will look at craving and desire in more depth and consider what we can do with our pleasant experiences.