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Working with the Five Hindrances

May 16, 2018

By Jeffrey Brantley, MD

Now that you know something about the five hindrances putting that knowledge to work is important!  Remember, you have not made a mistake or done anything wrong when one or more of the five hindrances visit you in the present moment.  You are simply experiencing the same conditions and energies that other humans face!  The five hindrances are not permanent, and they require specific conditions and causes to appear and remain for any period of time.

It is important to free yourself from the power of the five hindrances.  In addition to interfering with your formal mindfulness practices, the hindrances can deeply impact and distort your relationships and daily living experience.  They will have power as long as you remain unconscious of the presence and impact of the hindrance energy in your life.

With mindfulness, you can directly observe the true character of the hindrances and learn how to disentangle from them.  Knowing the name and characteristics of each of the five hindrances can help you focus mindful attention, recognizing when it is present, what conditions support it, and seeing how each can disappear.

Additional and specific approaches to working with each hindrance have been mentioned in the above sections.  You are invited to explore any of these that appeal to you.

It is also helpful to know that you can be subject to multi-hindrance attacks!  For example, you may be sitting in meditation and feeling centered and relaxed when you notice the rising of sloth and torpor–you are feeling sleepy!  If you look closely, you may notice the arising of anger towards sleepiness and perhaps doubts that you really have what it takes to meditate because you seem to fall asleep so easily.  It can help if you remember at that moment that you have not done anything wrong!  Sleepiness can arise from many causes, and the reactions of anger and doubt also come from other conditions.  If you weren’t sleepy, you probably wouldn’t have felt such sudden anger (ill will rejecting the conditions of this moment), or doubt.  When you can drop the rejection and bring mindful attention to the actual feelings and thoughts as they arise and fade, you may find the energies of anger and doubt will also change.

As your awareness and understanding of the hindrances grow, you will see these energies do not have to “hinder” you at all, but, instead, with mindfulness directed closely to it, each hindrance can be a doorway opening you to deeper wisdom, greater peace and ease, and more joy.

Finally, As you become more mindful of the hindrances, you will probably become more aware that change is inevitable and that external circumstances are not always reliable to provide or sustain happiness.  You may also notice that strong emotions like affection, satisfaction, anger, and irritation–emotions you may have thought of as a personal identity, as “you”–are equally temporary and not reliable.  This raises the important question, “Who am I if I am not my feelings?”  It also invites the question, “If happiness is not reliably found in external circumstances, where can I find true happiness, and what does that really mean?”   Reflection on these and related questions will help you move beyond the power of the five hindrances to rule your life and discover new possibilities for joy and meaning.

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