The Buddha outlined five things that will negatively impact your meditation practice and he called them the Five Hindrances. They are; Sensory Desire, Ill Will, Sloth, Restlessness, and Doubt. In order to learn about these hindrances, you don't have to be a Buddhist. The Buddha had some excellent advice for meditation and most of what you hear these days about mindfulness or meditation came from him. One thing that I love is that he advised people not to just take his word for it but to try it themselves and see if it works. He had that much faith in the practice! So, what are the five things that can stop you in your tracks? I will detail each below, and then I will tell you what the best practices are to work with them.
It's important to note that these five things can come up during your practice, but they can also come up at other times, and prevent you from practicing.
Identifying the Five Hindrances
1. Sensory Desire - you know what this feels like; you are trying to meditate, and all you can think about is breakfast. Your mind starts to detail each and everything that you are going to eat that morning. It's not just hunger, but any desire that comes from the five senses. Sight, sound, feeling, hearing, and smells. It always arises as wanting.
2. Ill-will - this is any anger, resentment, or hostility. It can come from thoughts, but it could also arise from other things. Imagine that you feel a sensation in your back during meditation that your brain categorizes as pain. You may start to feel uncomfortable, and then begin to get angry and resentful towards the teacher. Ill-will can arise in all sorts of situations.
3. Sloth and Torpor - this is when you start feeling sleepy or tired during meditation. This can also look like a lack of motivation and even depression. It's a feeling of heaviness.
4. Restlessness and worry - we all know what this feels like, your mind can't settle, you can't stop thinking, you feel like you are going to crawl out of your skin. Again, this can be during meditation or just during your day. This is often something that keeps people from trying to meditate in the first place.
5. Doubt - Lack of conviction or trust. Last week I mentioned that setting an intention was important for decreasing a lack of faith. This is all of those thoughts that start to creep in... "am I doing this right?", "what's the point?" "Why even bother?" Doubt can be towards the practice, or yourself.
How to combat the Five Hindrances
For each of the five, there are different prescriptions. Each one has a particular way that it is dealt with. If you find yourself struggling with any one of these, read on to see what you can do to work with it. 1. Working with sensory desire.
A powerful antidote to sensory desire is gratitude. When you begin to feel wanting and desire, stop, and instead reflect on what you are grateful for. Another thing that we can do is to remember that everything is temporary. In Buddhist recovery programs, they have a term called "urge surfing" this is noticing the desire, allowing space for it, breathing through it, and noticing when it goes. We don't have to give into it, but we also don't have to pretend that it's not there. 2. Working with Ill Will
Every time ill-will arises, it's due to our desire to physically separate from something that is causing us pain. Sometimes, simply recognizing that this ill-will is coming from a desire, and then applying the steps above for desire is enough to help. But sometimes ill-will hooks us and doesn't let us go. For this, if you find yourself dealing with anger and resentment a lot, a compassion practice is essential. Continue with the meditation program here, but know that compassion meditation may be the next step for you after this challenge is over. 3. Working with Sloth and Torpor
These are often just addressed by realizing that you are tired and doing something about it. If you always fall asleep during meditation, you may need more sleep. Be sure not to only practice before bed, and not to practice lying down. You can get up and splash some water on your face, then return to practice. You can also meditate with your eyes open. We need to be careful not to confuse the pleasurable state of sleepiness and relaxation with higher states of meditative consciousness! Meditation takes concentration. It takes effort. 4. Working with Restlessness and Worry
Almost an opposite state to sloth and torpor; this is the proliferation of thoughts that can happen when we are spiraling out into the future and finding too many things to think about. For this mindstate, it is essential to recognize it's happening. Taking the time to step into an observing mind is crucial. The worry and anxiety are still there, but you are noticing that it is there. Know that these thoughts do not require your attention. Come back to your intention. Come back to your practice. Know that if you can focus your mind even for a split-second, you are succeeding. 5. Working with Doubt
Finally, doubt can be a powerful deterrent to practicing. An antidote is to remind yourself of your intention. Be open and curious. You don't know what is going to result from your practice; no one does. Remind yourself that many other people have found peace through these practices.