Making Friends with the Hindrances
“The moment you begin to realize not only its impermanence, but also that it’s very impersonal, it comes according to a certain story or forces.”
1st You’ve got to start to look at what is your particular way of not being present. Let me really look at it. How soon does it come? What situations cause it to arise? What does it feel like in the body? What’s going on with me in that moment? What’s the experience like?”
2nd So the second thing is to identify it, the best you can, without judgment. “Oh, this is just a state of doubt or restlessness. Let me see if I can look at that in myself.”
3rd Then the third piece is to make friends with it, to really receive it with your heart as well as your attention, because if you dislike it, even in a subtle way in your heart, when you say, “desire, desire, desire” or “aversion” or whatever, it’s not going to go away or change. You won’t even learn much about it because you’re still in struggle with it. The more that you struggle with pains or experiences, actually the more real they become inside.
4th The fourth is to observe how it changes — the more carefully, the better. Maybe you should study one a week. Pick one and observe what does it feel like in the body. How long does it last when you label it? How many labels long? What triggers it to arise? What state usually follows it? What is it like if you’re working with desire and you note “desire, desire, desire,” or whatever it happens to be? What’s the moment like when it stops
Look at and see if you’re examining desire or fear or whatever, see what it feels like, and see if you can notice the moment when it changes. Very interesting moment, because at that moment you begin to realize not only its impermanence, but also that it’s very impersonal, it comes according to a certain story or forces. It doesn’t last very long unless we keep telling the story over and over.
You can practice with little ones. You can practice with annoyance with your partner or your spouse. Practice watching when you feel yourself to be right. Just practice watching for that little impulse that says, “I’m right.” It’s a very interesting one. Or practice carefully with certain desires that arise that you know, those are the ones you’d like to learn about, and see what it’s like as it arises.
1) First is to look at key patterns and sort of recognize the territory for yourself.
2) The second is to identify the experience in the moment.
3) The third is to touch it with your heart as well as seeing and labeling it, to really let it in and not condemn it so much.
4) The fourth is to notice how it changes, notice it’s process, beginning and end, what comes before and afterward. Take little things to work with; practice easy ones.
The next — and this is really a key — is see if you can discover or observe what it hides you from, what it distracts you from, what it covers up, what’s the fear. When I said these are all forms of avoidance, if you let yourself feel desire, or fear, or boredom, or doubt, or restlessness, and you observe it, see if you can listen inside yourself a little more deeply, or even on a cellular level somehow, and see what it is that you’re moving away from, that you run from. Some of it is moving away from being “just this much,” as Achaan Chaa says. We’re always at war trying to make life more than it is, make it bigger, or grander, or happier, or sadder, or longer, or shorter, or lighter, or darker. We move away from hunger, we move away from loneliness, we move away from grief, or unfinished business, or pain in our heart, or the fact that we haven’t really been intimate in our relations at times, and that’s difficult to acknowledge, so we distract ourselves, or we move away from pains that are unfinished in the past where we haven’t forgiven, or meaninglessness, or we move away from fear that things are out of control. They are! Or we move away from space; it gets quiet and the whole sense of oneself which is built on busyness starts to go away, and that’s scary, so we distract ourselves.
It’s not only to observe the hindrance or the state, but also to listen more deeply and see what you would experience if you let yourself just get here. What might you be avoiding? It’s a little bit like going through a layer of ice that’s a little painful, if you want to go into the water and explore the depths of it. There’s all kinds of amazing things. But you have to stop skating, and then there’s a moment where you say, “Whoops, I think I’m going to break through the ice,” and you do. It’s okay to stop and feel what’s actually present. This is a big part of practice, to open your body, to use your breath, your attention, and your heart, and feel what’s here, and stop moving; to come to rest in the moment. This is where it gets very delicate. It’s called, Watching the Movement of Mind.
I’ll close again with something from Achaan Chah. He talks about the Middle Way:
On one side it’s like you’re being kicked on one side with desire, and the other is aversion, left and right. One who follows the Middle Way says, “I will not get caught by the pleasure or pain. I will let go of each as they arise, accepting one moment after another. But it’s hard. It’s as though we’re being kicked on both sides, like a cow bell or a pendulum knocked back and forth. We’re always besieged by pleasure and pain, and then we follow by a response, “I don’t like it, I do like it.” If you observe this, use your heart for guidance. You’ll see that when the heart is in its natural state, it’s unattached, it’s accepting. When it stirs from the normal it’s because of various thoughts and ideas, the process of construction, of images. This is the illusion. Learn to see this process clearly. When the mind is stirred from its normal state it leads away from this moment into past, into future, into right and wrong, into indulgence and aversion, creating more illusion, more of movement. Good and bad arise only in the mind. If you keep watch on this, studying this one topic your whole life, I guarantee you’ll never be bored.
He says in another place:
Just take one seat in the middle of the room and don’t get up, and see the things as they come and go. So working with these states in one’s sitting practice, in driving in a traffic jam, in the supermarket, in one’s marriage, or one’s intimate relations, in the workplace — they’re the same forces.
Begin to work by identifying them, start to see what your common patterns are, maybe take a look and see what you’re avoiding by having them there, and see if you can bring your heart into them as well, because for the most part they arise out of some place of pain. If we can open and soften to that, to kind of melt to it, there’s a much deeper place of well-being that is our Buddha-nature, that is our birthright, and it’s there for anybody who stops.
THE AUDIENCE: A question about depression. I’ve read that depression can be stated as anger turning inward. Any comments about that, regarding anger being one of the hindrances?
JACK: Is this for yourself particularly? THE AUDIENCE: Yes. JACK: So at times you experience depression and you wonder how it relates to anger? Is that it?
THE AUDIENCE: What’s going on?
JACK: It is often the case, although not always, that depression is a cover for anger; that one has had some circumstance in life that first brought a lot of pain, and then the response to that pain is anger. If that’s unexpressed in people, the energy to keep that anger down is as strong as the anger itself, and it bottles up a great deal of energy, and then one can feel fearful, depressed, lacking any sense of personal empowerment.
So often, although not always, in working with depression, you might look to see where you’ve really cut yourself off from your true feelings. That’s not the only cause for depression, and it’s important to see that it’s a very personal process that we’re discussing; that there isn’t some rote formula.
For someone else it might be loss and there might be a bit of anger but there could be some other sense of grief or loss, possibly other reasons as well. So it’s more an inquiry. What you might do is look at what time of day it gets the strongest or in what circumstances, and then stop and sit. Say, “Alright, I’m going to feel this,” and see what images come, where you feel it in your body, what images might arise. Do you feel it in your body when you’re depressed?
THE AUDIENCE: Yes. Then it becomes sleepiness.
JACK: So you get sleepy. So that’s one function. Do you feel it in any particular place?
THE AUDIENCE: All over. JACK: So then you might sit with that and feel the sleepiness and see what’s under that, what would come up if you weren’t sleepy. Just pay careful attention. If you really want to go further, see if you can feel the strongest sensation in your body, and then let an image arise, whatever image wants to come out of it that may show you a picture of what that inner conflict really is. It’s a good question.
THE AUDIENCE: What would be an interesting discussion one night is talk about when we’re happy. It seems to seduce us away from the inner work. I mean, me. JACK: What seduces us away?
THE AUDIENCE: Happiness. When I’m feeling really happy and things are going right, some things are going right, it’s like, “Well, I might not have time to go to meditation.”
JACK: I’d love to talk about happiness some night. I see it much broader than that. That’s a very good point, that at times happiness can lead to a kind of complacency. However, there are other kinds of happiness that are very genuine and really nurturing of spiritual life, that touching them actually gives us the strength to deal with difficulties. So it’s a whole range, and there can be great joys that come out of spiritual practice as well. Seeing the layer of things that we’ve avoided, there’s a very deep level of joy that can come. It’s a good topic to talk about.
THE AUDIENCE: One of the things that hurts me, you naming them, I know all of them, is that it’s like I’m paying attention.
JACK: People do have all of them. They’re all common human forces that operate in each of us. There may be ones that we tend to have more than another, but they’re all the elements of the make-up of the normal human mind. So it’s not so much a question of which we have or don’t have. Some people have them all at once, what’s called, A Multiple Hindrance Attack.
What’s important in meditation is not what the experience is, but what is our relationship to it as it arises. So as we get to see what are our top ten tunes, and the popular ones for us, then we can also begin to look at whether we can develop a mindful or a skillful or a passionate relationship that leads us to freedom in relation to that. It may be that we all have to work down the list or up the list, depending on where you want to start. I think that’s true.