Having trained in MBSR Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction I became interested in the roots of mindfulness and learning more about the original teachings from some of the great teachers from Tibetan Buddhism and Theravada Traditions. I like to draw from both the western and eastern approaches when working as a therapist or mindfulness coach and seek to find the intersection between both as the balance that sits well within an ecological perspective. The 5 hinderances is a traditional Mindfulness teaching of Buddhist psychology I draw from to help my clients develop an understanding of the common challenges and difficulties on the path to cultivating mindfulness in meditation practice and pragmatically in life.
The Buddha identified 5 hindrances which refer to common difficulties that hinder progress in mindfulness meditation. In the buddhist philosophy they are seen as obstacles to developing concentration of attention and a sense of calm abiding mindfulness.
The 5 hinderances are, Sensory desire, Ill-will, Laziness and Apathy, Anxiousness and Doubt.
The teachings were developed to help explore the 5 hinderances in meditation practice but the principles can also apply to everyday life. These teachings aren’t about minimising the difficulties and stress that are unavoidable in life, it’s to help us work more effectively with them.
5 Hindrances Include:
Sensory desire: seeking for pleasure through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling. A central theme of the human experience is wanting things and it has a direct relationship with suffering. Even small desires can create uneasiness by the idea something is lacking. We also live in a world where everyday we are bombarded with information telling us we need more things. The extreme end of this condition is addiction but in some ways we are all impacted by some form of addiction or another. A good way to work with this is to recognise the somatic impulse of liking which drives desire and contemplate the impermanence of all objects. Notice the changing nature of everything including our thoughts, emotions, impulses, bodies, relationships and our own lives.
Ill-will: encapsulate feelings of hostility, anger, aversion and bitterness. Ill-will is the opposite of desire and liking and creates aversion and sense of wanting to push the experience away and avoid it entirely. We might think “ I can’t stand the noise of this traffic keeping me up at night”, “he/she/they need to act differently in order for me to feel loved” “If only X happened I could be happy.” Of course feelings of anger might be justified if one is harmed or treated unfairly but we often add more layers of suffering making it bigger than it needs to be. This is like being at war with ourselves. If you are experiencing this try practising some self compassion which includes mindfulness, self kindness and common humanity.
Anxiousness: is the inability to calm the mind and focus one's energy. We find ourselves worrying about the future, fretting over the past or constantly looking for things to do to distract our minds. Our human brains are thought machines and it is estimated we can have up to 60,000 thoughts per day while many of them are recurring like the top 10 tunes on the radio that are played repeatedly. When we experience this condition it is like FOMO we jump from hoping to fear of missing out and are often externally focussed looking for the next best thing. We can learn to notice our craving for new experiences. Being ashamed of our cravings, justifying or denying them doesn’t help. Instead, we should learn to turn toward our inner situation and be with it. It’s the being instead of doing that helps us get to a deeper more peaceful place.
Laziness and Apathy: is half-hearted action with little or no effort or concentration. These feelings are common in meditation (and life), and is both the physical and mental dullness or sluggishness that we feel, even when we don’t need to sleep or rest. We might notice these conditions when we are lacking the constant stimulation from the flow of entertainment or information input we are used to which is related to the craving and wanting mind. Without a sense of the activity we engage in bringing improvement to our self-identity we might feel disinterested. We can try moving our bodies, opening a window, getting into nature and seeing the freshness in all things to help.
Doubt: is lack of conviction or trust in one's abilities. Doubt often shows up when we are in the throws of uncertainty or encounter unpredictable outcomes. In modern life we are raised to believe and think we need to control everything and yet life is full of uncertainty. Finding our sense of balance, letting go and cultivating trust and faith are helpful in working with doubt and cultivating peace. Remembering our greatest sense of control is how we relate and respond to things rather than actual situation themselves.
As we develop our formal mindfulness practice we can use the 5 hinderances as a map to learning about ourselves. When we notice the 5 hinderances we can name them and respond to them in a way that is helpful in moving us toward being liberated from the patterns we have created unconsciously.
With intention we can begin to help ourselves reorganise our inner experience. The inner experiences we have in our formal meditation are like a petri-dish for how we live our lives. By expanding our awareness we are able to hold a container around our experience, gain spaciousness and zoom out from an all consuming perspective and get curious about the causes and conditions of human psychology. Compassion and kindness will help us soften and lightly hold our personal suffering with more ease-fulness and acceptance of ourselves. We may find we are more abled to move closer into the direct unfolding and freshness of what is happening right now and experience mindfulness.
Join the regular Mindfulness Support Group to learn more about mindfulness to support your healing, growth and transformation.