By Dan Weidner, MA
Anyone who has meditated for even a brief period of time has encountered highs and lows; periods of calm, peace and joy; as well as agitation, distress and confusion. We know that we use everything that we encounter in meditation as a way to learn about ourselves.
There are forces in the mind that hinder our ability to see clearly or become concentrated when we meditate. These forces are universal and we all experience them. They are known as hindrances, and Vipassana Meditation (Insight or Mindfulness Meditation) teaches that there are five core hindrances.
• Desire. Craving, Grasping, Clinging...
• Aversion. Ill will, Anger, Wanting things to be other than they are...
• Sloth and Torpor. Sleepiness, Sluggishness, Dullness, Numbness...
• Restlessness. Boredom, Thoughts that are uncomfortable, Anxiety, Worry...
• Doubt. "Am I doing this right?"; "Will I ever get this?"; "I am not cut out for this."; "This is stupid."; and thoughts of giving up on the practice.
The essential and primary instruction in working with Hindrances is to turn them into the focus of your Meditation. Awareness and acceptance of the Hindrances is important. It is also important to develop a 'friendly' relationship with the Hindrances. Perhaps to get to know them as a 'frequent visitor' who is there to teach you. An adversarial relationship with the Hindrances is counterproductive.
The first thing that one must do (as with everything in Meditation) is to recognize the Hindrance and then investigate it. We can use the skills of naming and noting to help us recognize and name the hindrance(s) that we are currently experiencing. Often times just recognizing and naming the Hindrance is enough. However, we may find that we need to explore the Hindrance in a deeper manner.
There is a well-respected practice known by the acronym RAIN that we can use to investigate and understand the Hindrances in a more significant manner.
R: Recognize. Recognize and name the Hindrance.
A: Accept. Accept the Hindrance. This does not imply that we like or dislike the Hindrance, only that we accept it as what is present at this moment.
I: Investigate. Explore, be curious, and get to know the Hindrance. We will investigate the Hindrance as it impacts: (1) Our body (the physical realm); (2) Our emotions and feelings; (3) Our cognition, or the beliefs and stories that we tell ourselves about the Hindrance; (4) Our energy level, or if we have feelings of sinking, rushing, lifting, or stalling; and (5) Our motivation—do we have an urge to act, cling to, or avoid the Hindrance?
N: Non-identification. Developing an understanding that this is not who we are, that this is a passing phenomenon that will come and go.
Once we have thoroughly used the RAIN practice we may find that the Hindrance(s) melts away or becomes much less of a burden and more of a curiosity. However, there may be a time where it might be helpful to find an antidote or remedy for the Hindrance. This is when it can be useful to read the Dharma and/or seek out the advice and counsel of an experienced meditator or teacher of meditation.
There are also many useful books, podcasts, videos and articles available for us in this regard. Local sangha's or mindfulness groups can also provide support.
Hindrances need not be obstacles to our Meditation practice. So make them a part of your practice and use them for continued growth.
If you would like to learn more about hindrances and how to manage them in your practice, please check out Dan's June Mindfulness Meditation Renewal workshop.