Session Two

Hindrances to Meditation

The hindrances we encounter in meditation are the same as those we face in life generally. Patterns of distraction, ill-will, boredom and obsession can unconsciously drive much of the way we think, speak and behave. In meditation we deepen our awareness of these patterns and learn how to respond to them wisely.

Meditation Instruction

It can be a great relief to ‘normalise’ the experience of hindrances. It’s not uncommon for people to think that these patterns mean they can’t meditate. Rather than seeing these patterns as personal flaws, we can learn to recognise them as universal human patterns. 

Traditionally, five hindrances are identified.

Sense Desire
This includes desire for pleasant experiences related to sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. We can crave for lovely food, nice cars, the ‘right’ kind of body, a particular person. These things in themselves are not a problem. The difficulty arises in our relationship with them. We can begin to feel that our peace and well-being is inextricably bound to the possession of something. When it’s absent the painful sense of ‘if-only…’ arises.
Aversion
Whereas sense desire can seem to promise so much, aversion is more obviously painful. While craving is all about what we want, aversion focuses on what we want to get rid of. There are degrees of aversion ranging from mild irritation to full-blown hatred. When aversion is present, the mind is focused on what needs to be absent in order for there to be a sense of peace and well-being. Fear, judgement and boredom are also seen as aspects of aversion.
Sloth and Torpor
This refers to a heaviness and dullness in the mind and body. At times, of course, we are genuinely tired and need to rest. However, at other times, dullness is a kind of ‘tuning-out’. It is not a response to real tiredness but is the mind drifting away from connection with the present moment.
Restlessness
This is the opposite of the sleepiness of sloth and torpor. While there is alertness, enthusiasm and inspiration, there is very little tranquillity, peace and calm. The mind jumps about from one thing to the next and thoughts can be obsessive and repetitive. 
Doubt
The doubting mind also runs all over the place. We can doubt ourselves, our potential, meditation practice, the place we are in, or the teacher. This kind of doubt is very different to an honest and careful questioning or a profound sense of ‘not-knowing’. 

Responses to the hindrances

There are a variety of creative responses to the hindrances that arise. Meditation can never be reduced to a mechanistic technique. It is an art and a way of life. Many people find the acronym RAIN gives a useful framework for beginning to work with hindrances. 

R

Recognise the hindrances

A

Accept and allow it. Give it space

I

Investigate it.

What is it like? In the body? The thoughts?

N

Not personal, not-self.

This is a passing process not an identity.

Reflections 

Can you see the ‘hindrances’ arising in your experience? Remind yourself that these are normal patterns that arise when we practice meditation and begin to explore creative responses using the RAIN teaching. 

Home Practice

Practice the meditation on hindrance for twenty minutes each day.

In your journal, you may wish to explore how these patterns arise in everyday life. Working with these patterns in meditation practice helps us to respond to them more generally, and bring greater freedom into our lives.