With the prospect of strong winds and snow across much of Saskatchewan over the next day or two, there’s a good chance things here will look a bit like a snow globe that has been shaken up. We won’t be able to see the buildings or trees clearly as the snow is whipped up and swirled around.
So too, we might be noticing weather patterns of our own that disturb the peace and clarity of our minds in meditation – and in life.
Many teachers group some of the common challenges we encounter into five broad categories:
- Desire for pleasurable experience
- Resistance to disagreeable experiences, aversion
- Restlessness or worry
- Sleepiness or dullness
Often this list is called the hindrances, because when any of these states are present, they hinder our ability to stay mindful and cultivate wisdom.
One thing I appreciate about this list is that it makes it normal. We are not failing if our meditation gets derailed by desire, or racked with resistance, etc. This is what it’s like to be a human!
A teaching of Jeanne’s that I really appreciate is that these are only hindrances when we don’t notice them operating. But if we can be aware of what challenges may be arising, we have the opportunity to respond differently. So these challenges can become doorways to freedom from our habitual reactions.
The title for this post comes from the first line of a poem by Alison Luterman, called “Because even the word obstacle is an obstacle.” In the poem, she describes swimming laps in a pool and the different people and thoughts that seem to interfere with this process. (You can read the full poem here: http://www.yourdailypoem.com/listpoem.jsp?poem_id=385 )
One invitation in meditation is to learn to appreciate when these challenging states arise as moments of mindfulness – to love what gets in the way.
The first step is to recognize when these states are here. So I’ll give a high-level overview, which you can fill in with your own experience.
There’s an analogy that is often used in classical teachings, of a pond of water. When the conditions are calm, we can see clearly what’s in the pond, and we can see our reflection. But when challenges occur, the water becomes muddled, and we can’t see clearly. I like this analogy because, for me, it brings up a visceral sense of each of these challenges. So I’ll include each of the analogies too.
- Desire for sensual pleasures: First to note that sensual pleasures in themselves aren’t a problem, but when we are fixated on getting the desires met, we can lose focus and get distracted from our intentions for wisdom and kindness. I’ve had many a meditation where I’ve been lost in memories of a pleasant thing and planning how I can get more of that in the future.
- The analogy is if the pond has colorful dye in it. When I’m lost in desire, I have that same sense as if I get absorbed in looking at the pretty colors.
- Resistance to disagreeable experiences, aversion: An ache in the knee, an itch, a truck’s motor revving loudly outside – ugh! There’s an immediate reaction to want to make that stop – and my meditation turns to mentally writing a letter to the city about enforcing noise bylaws or whatever…
- The analogy is if the pond’s water is boiling hot. When I’m averse to the experience, I feel hot and bubbly, and it’s painful, as if I get scalded!
- Restlessness or worry: There may be physical restlessness – I often experience this as not finding the “just right” way to sit and so I fidget about – or there may be a mental restlessness, worry – where the mind is fidgeting about something that’s not the way I want it to be.
- The analogy is if the pond’s water is whipped up by a strong wind. When there is restlessness, my body or mind is similarly choppy and agitated.
- Sleepiness or dullness: This may be a physical sleepiness or tiredness, or a dull, sluggish mind. There definitely can be a legit physical tiredness, but I also notice that this quality of low energy also arises when I’d rather not deal with something, so it would be so much nicer to just zzzzzz…
- The analogy is if the pond is stagnant and covered with algae or slime. In these low energy states, my body and mind have this feeling of stagnation or being sludgy.
- Doubt: This is a skeptical kind of doubt, rather than an inviting sense of curiosity. It might be a story like, “I don’t think any of my teachers know what they are talking about.” or “This might work for everyone else, but I’m especially hopeless and will never get this, so I might as well quit now.”
- The analogy is if the pond is full of mud and is in a dark place. I know when this quality of doubt arises, I can feel this darkness and lack of clarity.
In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at ways we can respond to these states when they arise.
For today’s practice, you might want to check out Jill Shepherd’s meditation on recognizing the hindrances of desire for sense pleasure, and aversion (about 20 minutes)
You could also make your own field notes of what challenges you experience and how they are felt in the body.
Feel free to share your top few here in the blog or by email.
With wishes for ease,