Are you trying to meditate and nothing’s going according to plan? Are you finding it hard to sit down and do what it takes to have a good meditation session? You and me both!
I’ve been trying to nail this meditation thing down for quite a long time, but it soon became apparent that there is so much more to it than it meets the eye.
I’ve personally identified quite a few issues when trying to meditate, so when I’ve stumbled upon these five hindrances to meditation that have been around for ages, it shocked me. It was as if someone had read my mind.
Various Buddhist branches recognize these five hindrances, from Theravada, the most ancient branch of Buddhism to the contemporary Insight Meditation which was founded in 1975. I’m going to take a holistic approach to the hindrances so that more people can relate to them.
These hindrances can be applied to such much more than mediation. They can and do happen in our day to day lives, when we’re trying to work, relax, focus, or simply go through our daily routines. They are timeless. So, let’s take a look at what they are and what we can do to counteract them.
Before we begin, it’s important to acknowledge that various traditions look at these hindrances differently. Some consider them as obstacles that need to be overcome, while others believe that they are completely normal, and they just come and go.
I’m going to choose the more modern route, simply because I believe it’s more helpful to the modern individual. So, let’s take a look at what these hindrances are and how to overcome them!
First Hindrance: Sensory Desire
The very first hindrance to meditation is something called sensory desire, and it refers to seeking happiness through our five senses.
It’s about physical pleasure and everything that deals with it, from sexual satisfaction to craving ice cream or wanting to listen to some band’s new album.
All people experience this not just once or twice daily, but a multitude of times in even a single hour.
It’s perfectly normal to desire things that satisfy your body, but what’s important is to not let your desires guide you, and not let them take over your life and meditation process.
How to Overcome the First Hindrance to Meditation:
Buddha said that our five senses are the world. Ajahn Brahmavamso is a British-Australian Theravada Buddhist monk who has spoken about the hindrances and what can be done to overcome them.
For sensory desire, he recommends that to enjoy otherworldly bliss, we must start living outside that world that Buddha talked about; we need to give up our interest for our five senses and the body.
In more layman’s terms, we need to first acknowledge this hindrance and the great impact it has on our lives. Then, it is important that we incorporate it into our meditation and see where this takes us.
We need to truly understand our sensory desires if we want them to no longer be a hindrance and an inconvenience to us. Only then, can we see the ephemerality of desire and begin to not allow it to interfere with our lives.
Second Hindrance: Ill-Will
The second hindrance is ill-will, and it refers to holding on to opinions or thoughts that were born out of negative feelings, such as jealousy, anger, bitterness, hostility.
Again, this is nothing out of the ordinary. Whenever someone hurts us, it’s only natural to feel anger, or even a desire to get back at them, or to flat out hate them.
This hindrance is often compared to being sick, as it stops you from experiencing positive things. Negative feelings can and will creep up into your soul and start to poison your mind. They can become addictive and obsessive.
This can ruin so much more than your meditation session; it can take you off track from finding happiness, and it can destroy your relationship with yourself and others.
How to Overcome the Second Hindrance to Meditation:
The solution to ill will is loving kindness, as simple as that!
When you harbor ill will towards yourself, you need to apply this loving kindness and learn to forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes and find the strength to move on. It’s easier said, than done, we know, but this is the only way to overcome the hatred and ill will we all have within ourselves.
If there is ill will towards a person, you need to try to see more to that person than the things that made you hate them. Feel compassion instead of hate and your life will change for the better and so will your meditation process.
Third Hindrance: Sloth-and-Torpor
Sloth-and-torpor comes in third and refers to that state of inactivity where you don’t have any energy or desire to do anything. It’s similar to the feeling you get after a very heavy meal. You’re beyond the feeling of satisfaction; you’re feeling full, you can’t focus on anything, you’re just wallowing and wasting precious time.
Once again, it’s something we all go through, on a regular basis. Whether it’s sheer laziness or a lack of desire to do anything, go places, or just meditate, sloth-and-torpor is a very sneaky hindrance that begins as comfort and transforms into a monster that you need to fight and win!
How to Overcome the Third Hindrance to Meditation:
Ajahn Brahmavamso writes that “sloth and torpor are overcome by rousing energy.”
But how do you get that energy, you might ask yourself?
Well, he believes that setting a reasonable goal is going to create or at least jumpstart the energy needed to achieve that very goal. He advises us to look at meditation and life, in general, with a beginner’s mind, just like a child, and see new things and possibilities at all times.
In other words, just try to keep things fresh and not let yourself grow too accustomed to your mediation process.
Try new things and be curious! And your body will give you the energy it needs to achieve your goals.
Fourth Hindrance: Restlessness-and-Worry
The fourth hindrance to meditation is the inability to calm the mind. It’s a mind that is always worrying and is restless and anxious. Anyone who’s ever battled anxiety can relate to this very well, but again, we all feel this from time to time and it can and will hinder our meditation process.
Restlessness-and-worry is always having something to worry about in the back of your mind, never being able to completely let go and relax. And when you do fix that thing you were worried about, something will always pop up and become your new source of worry. It’s tiresome and incredibly disrupting to your life and the meditation process.
How to Overcome the Fourth Hindrance to Meditation:
One of the things that will help with restlessness and worry is the contemplation of your current situation.
If there is something that is making you anxious and restless, then take a look at that thing and ask yourself if you can do anything to fix it. If you can, then do it, and the worry will go away. But if things are a bit more complicated and cannot be fixed or if there is nothing that can be fixed, then it is Ajahn Brahmavamso again that provides us with a solution: contentment.
We’re always striving to achieve more, to make more money, have more things, eat more, and even meditate more. There is a beautiful and simple joy in being satisfied with little, and if you practice mindfulness, content will come.
Learn to be grateful, and you’ll notice that the restlessness will slowly disappear.
Fifth Hindrance: Doubt
Who hasn’t doubted themselves?
It’s a natural process, and it can help us grow and evolve. But when doubt takes over the wheel, when it starts to affect your self-trust and make you doubt not just yourself, but the things you believe in, that is when it starts being disruptive and dangerous.
In your meditation process, doubt can make you lose faith in the things that you used to trust, such as your religion or even yoga teacher. You start thinking What if this is not good for me even though you know that it is! Doubt pops into your mind intrusively, and it poisons your thoughts.
How to Overcome the Fifth Hindrance to Meditation:
Ajahn Brahmavamso compares the end of doubt as having a good chauffeur. You simply trust them so much that you’re calm and silent during your journey.
So, how can you achieve this end of doubt?
He believes that by having a good idea of what needs to be done in certain situations, by having crystal clear instructions, one can start to firmly make decisions and actions that are free of doubt.
If you doubt your abilities, then a good teacher will help you trust yourself. We all need to have a guide, and if doubt is your main issue, then it is imperative you call for guidance in your meditation journey.