mental hindrances

In stillness there is fullness,

in fullness there is nothingness,

in nothingness there are all things.~ Anonymous


What may interfere with one’s meditation practice is the awakening of one of the five mental hindrances: 1) restlessness and worry, 2) craving for desirable experiences, 3) ill-will, 4) lack of trust/a divided heart, and 5) half-hearted action/apathy. These hindrances block our ability to move away from our investment in the self and to truly acknowledge the interdependence and interconnectedness of all living beings. They are intertwined into the suffering within, “the good I would do, I do not.  The evil I would not do, I do.”

Restlessness and worry overpower our minds in the same matter the wind stirs and agitates a pond, producing waves and ripples on the surface. Boredom and craving create mental states similar to a pot of water that has been colored with red, yellow, blue, and orange dye. That is, when we are overpowered by desires and cravings, we are not able to foresee consequences and become limited in our ability to recall learned moral lessons.  Ill-will is like a pot of water heated on the fire. The seething and boiling keeps us prisoner to aversion and hatred. Indecisiveness and a divided heart impacts our ability to reflect upon our feelings and creates a mind that is like a pot of water that is turbid, stirred up and muddy. Foggy-mindedness and apathy overcomes and takes us hostage as if we were being smothered by algae and water plants.[1]

Restlessness is known as the agitation that propels us from one thought to another as thoughts swing from greed to aversion and from attachment to discontent.  Worry comes from the remorse we have about past mistakes and the subsequent anxiety that follows imaged consequences.  When agitation and remorse appears it is like trying to see one’s reflection in a pond being swept by the wind.

To contain restlessness and worry one must first acknowledge its presence without being drawn into its current by noting, “restlessness and worry is rising within me.”  As they are abandoned, “restlessness and worry within me is abandoned.” While they fade, “restlessness and worry is ceasing within me.”  When they are gone, “there is no restlessness and worry present within me.”

Restlessness and worry are most effectively countered by turning the mind to a simple object that tends to calm it down; the method usually recommended is mindfulness of breathing, attention to the in-and-out flow of the breath.

[1] Weragoda Sarada Ven Theor, Treasury of Truth, Buddha Dharma Education Association, 774-78; Nyanaponika Thera, The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest (1993).

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