Struggling (written 2000)
The Buddha described five hindrances that interfere with mindfulness and I've been taking up the practice of noticing these, loosening their grip in this way, letting them go.
Usually before sitting I spend time in some Buddhist readings. This is supposed to help me to focus, and I do learn more, and explore questions important to me on this path. But generally this activity means I am filled too much with a longing (grasping) for peace and wisdom, to be further along, to be better at daily mindfulness. I recognize this as grasping and when I begin to sit I name this and return to listening to the room around me and then to mind. I return to the breath. Usually the beginning of meditation and several times along the way this “grasping” arises. I make a mental note and return.
Upon reflection I find this hard to distinguish from doubt, as doubt in my “ability” and my “success” follows upon the yearning. Lately, doubt has taken a new shape as I worry about the changes in me, the impact on my marriage in the long term. Doubt arises sometimes in the guise of “Am I on the right path?” “Can this be right action, if it harms my family?” “Is it harming my family?” “What do I mean by harm?” Change, after all, is inevitable. None of the people in any family can remain forever the same. I am not obligated to stay the same, to shape my “self” to the expectations of others. But this is all uncomfortable. When I meditate, I note and let go of these doubts but in daily mindfulness they are more difficult.
Aversion, today, took the simple form of annoyance at the sound of the clothes drier. I finally made the sound my focus for a time and just followed the rhythm.
Sleepiness can creep up on me unnoticed when I am tired to begin with. (Today is one) I often miss the arising and just “come to awareness” as my head droops or I seem to “wake up” and notice I've been drifting in a sort of dream-thought state who knows for how long.
Restlessness is most often dependent on my state of mind as I sit. A feeling of time constraints or “I should be...” will invade then. I have found it easiest to acknowledge and deal with this if I allow myself to plan before I sit and begin with listening and a wide perceiving of all sensory input, not trying to center on the breath too soon.
It is quite easy for me to accept sleepiness or restlessness, as they seem involuntary to me and so don't lead to judgment. More difficult to surround aversion, grasping or doubt with acceptance as there is evaluation, and I do not like to acknowledge these “weaknesses” in myself. I'm finding that the work I'm doing with the hindrances is very much the work of changing my view. It is so true that grasping/yearning makes for suffering in not attaining what one desires and aversion makes for suffering in the moment itself when there is no escape and in the judgment that follows so closely on its heels. Even so, doubt is suffering for it prevents me from following a path, from taking action, and leaves me trapped in some state of no commitment. That leaves room only for yearning and aversion.
Interesting that this brings to mind for me a conversation with my sons about anger...trying to help them to recognize how their own anger hurts them and how actions follow from thoughts. If they can get in touch with what they are thinking and feeling then they can choose more appropriate actions. Anger, I told them, arises from a sense of helplessness (which is very much a state of suffering). My 11 year old has an interesting “macho” interpretation of this...staying calm gives you power, shows you are strong. Hmmm.
When I set an intention to “work” with the hindrances in meditation, I don't feel like I'm waiting for them to arise, I feel that instead I conjure them. At any rate, when I relax and breathe into this “control”, worry subsides.
Desire for me seems most often to arise as companion to aversion and both are related to control. Fearing disorder and needing to plan, carry through. Fear and helplessness about ongoing concerns which no plan or action seems to remedy. To look at the ego's struggle honestly and then let go of these thoughts is the strategy most helpful to concentration.
Away from home awhile ago, helping my mom move, I battled restlessness constantly in trying to continue my meditation. So much to do. So many balls to juggle. And a feeling of urgency...need to complete and get back home. I tried to just acknowledge all this, then back to the breath. And I persisted. I believe the brief periods of sitting once or twice a day helped keep me calm through this time. This time I did not have a Crohn's flareup, which I often do in times of stress. Also, happily, less exasperation with my meek mom!
The solution to each hindrance, I think, is the same. See what I'm creating. See what this leads to. Relax into the breath. Quit analyzing, judging, worrying, hoping. Acknowledge and release. Breathe.