Text in columns may slide up and down to read.
Double click to edit
Work slowly through this information and enjoy it.
Distractions and Hindrances. Part 1 Skills Notes 11. When someone starts to meditate it often is not very long before they complain that they are distracted all the time and “I can’t do it.” The fact that you realise you are distracted, and can’t keep your concentration focussed on the breath, or whatever it is you use as a focus, then you should assume you are meditating, and you are being aware. The evidence is with you BECAUSE YOU KNOW YOU ARE DISTRACTED. Well done! Take your focus, your concentration, back to your breath, or whatever it is you are using, when you know you are Hindered, or Distracted, and patiently start again. CONGRATULATIONS you are part of the human race and have a brain, and a mind, just like everyone else. Like them you can learn to meditate, meditate and enjoy the advantages of the skills. I would say that meditation is not an exercise in try to stop thinking or emptying the brain. This is not possible and is the intention of the work. The unspoken question has an answer and it is that Distractions, also known as Hindrances, can be overcome, should be worked with and do become less as you become more skilful in developing mindfulness and awareness. There is no magic with Meditation, Mindfulness or Awareness although the act of remaining focused on the breath does have effects on physical, mental and emotional health. Just keep working at it. Published results of scientific observations may be found elsewhere on this site. Anyone can experience change in their life experience if they choose to use Mindful Meditation as their way of working BUT it is an activity that needs to be completed on a very regular basis, daily, and with trust, in the self. that change does and will happen. Along with time in meditation it is also important that as you become aware of situations that arise from, or cause suffering, you will need to take action concerning the way in which experience is interacted with. As well as it being necessary to make changes in life-style, thinking, and beliefs, all done as acts of will, for the fullest effective change to happen. In more extreme cases the help of a medical professional may be useful, but this is not always the case. Friends are also good to talk with. Change does not happen automatically. The act of breathing does assist in bringing about change. Whomever is on the support network, at the end of the day, it is the meditator who must chose to make changes that can start with small momentary acts (consciously relaxing) or major life-style changes such as starting new activity (exercise, studying, or investment in relationship as examples). Working With Hindrances and Distractions There is a firm link between Hindrances and Distractions encountered in meditation and the suffering that is experienced, on a day-to-day basis, in ordinary actions and encounters with people. So, what you experience in daily life that causes suffering you will find in your meditation. These experiences can be worked with, and changed, if you decide to act. Everyone who starts to meditate, everyone who meditates, will get distracted, and hindered, as they are working to be Mindful. What is forgotten is that knowing you are in Hindrances, or Distractions, only happens when Mindful Awareness has allowed us to sense what is really occurring. It is then we can choose to work on it, overcome the distraction by taking action at the appropriate time, and then be able to go deeper. To know you are Distracted you will need to be aware. Especially in the early days of meditation a great deal of the work will be about dealing with distractions that have the name Hindrances in traditional Buddhist terms. Hindrances Distractions are characterised as: 1. Desire 2. Aversion 3. Restlessness 4. Sloth 5. Doubt. Some, if not all, of these Hindrances/Distractions, will be your experiences from the start of meditating although the experience may vary distinctly from their generic title. In other words, don’t just look for some “Desire” because it’s the title. Your experience may not be described by that title. Overcoming Hindrances and Distractions There are some standard ways of working with Hindrances. These are commented upon by Kamilashila (Triratna Buddhist Order) as another version of this same information and following. He gives analysis and suggests ways to change the experience. “It is important to recognise the hindrance as a hindrance. We should acknowledge it, accept it and then do something about it. Sometimes just recognising a hindrance as it arises helps us to let it go. The five antidotes or methods of working with hindrances are: 1) Sky-like attitude. The mind is like the clear blue sky, and the hindrance a passing cloud. Watch it and play with it, but don't become involved with it. By being more open and accepting of our experience, we'll be able to relax and let go of our attachment to the hindrance. 2) Cultivate the opposite quality. If we’re feeling tired, cultivate energy. If in doubt, foster confidence. If restless, nurture peacefulness. Cultivate a positive (opposite) quality to overcome a negative one. 3) Consider the consequences of allowing the hindrance to go unchecked. Where will it lead? If we did nothing, what would happen? 4) Suppression. Simply say "no!" to the hindrance and push it out of our mind. This works best if the hindrance is weak. Too strong an effort to suppress the hindrance can create tension. 5) Going for refuge. (This is specifically link to the Buddhist way of life) This is not the same concept as taking refuge in the Three Jewels (The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha). Recognise or acknowledge that the hindrance may be too much to deal with this time around. Reflect on the notion that since everything changes, things will not always be so difficult. This approach helps cultivate a positive regard for ourselves despite our shortcomings with that particular meditation, and helps foster a more positive attitude for future meditation practice.” R.A.I.N.S A neat way of working with Hindrances and Distractions is known as “RAINS” and is outlined below. Working with RAIN should only take seconds but it may be repeated as often as is required. Investigate the Hindrance/Distraction whether it is thought processes, emotions or feelings. Just recognising the Hindrance/Distraction is often enough for it to fall away. R – Recognise the Distraction and Accept it neither pushing it away or grasping at it. A – Allow what you sense in the present moment without grasping at it or pushing it away. I - Investigate what the distraction is like being kind, caring and loving towards yourself. • Physically (How does it feel in the body – pleasant/unpleasant neutral) • Emotionally briefly naming the emotion that is sensed. • Energetically with your feelings, mental or sensory, being mindful of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch that is associated with the distraction. It's being mindful of hunger or pain or being cold. It's being mindful of emotions. • Cognitively – what beliefs or stories am I telling myself. • Motivationally – Is there an urge to act or cling? N – Non-Identification, Letting go. This is a passing process that comes, and goes, and not who you are. I am not my thoughts, I am not my emotions, I am not my feelings. Rest in natural awareness and notice: Changes take time and plenty of constant effort. Outside Meditation as Well The five headings called the Hindrances, also represent the experience of suffering we have in ordinary life and not just in times of Meditation, Mindfulness or Awareness. 1. Desire 2. Aversion 3. Restlessness 4. Sloth 5. Doubt. Overcoming these Hindrances in meditation will also reveal a way of making changes in life in order to generally experience greater Contentment. 1. Sensual Desire or Greed If we can just rearrange our lives, we could be happy. It’s the desires that can easily get us off track. Desire, or craving, is a distraction which can lead us to neglect the things we need to do. This distraction can attach any of the sense doors (hearing, seeing, smelling, physical sensing, tasting and the mind as a sense). Sensual desire is a form of Greed which the Buddha teaches is at the heart of suffering. Attention is how we counter this hindrance. When we realise, intellectually, that our desires are not helping us, we can control them. It’s not about not having desires, becoming emotionless robots. It’s about controlling our desires, not letting them run away with us. Of course, we want things. Our lives are uncomfortable. It’s just that we don’t want our desires to carry us away. • Changing DESIRE, GREED or ILL-WILL Desire becomes a hindrance when we want something and grasp for it, cling to it. It could be either harmful to us or inappropriate or not useful at this time. Wanting to eat is a healthy desire, but not useful while meditating. Whereas a desire for a cigarette might be a desire for something harmful. No matter how weak or strong Desire is, mindful attention is always appropriate. You can work with it using the RAIN formula above (Recognise, Accept, Investigate, Non-identification). • If there is excessive preoccupation with lust, one can focus on the body’s non-attractive parts, such as urine, saliva, pus, faeces, phlegm, sweat, body hair, teeth, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, spleen, intestines, undigested food, blood, fat…. • If desiring something that is harmful to us, we can focus on the consequences of getting what we want. Maybe you are craving potato chips and it gives you high blood pressure. Reflect on the possible effects of high blood pressure. • If we desire something that might be appropriate, but we are clinging to that desire, we feel we just have to have it, we can focus on the impermanent nature of what we want. How long will the satisfaction last if the desire is fulfilled? This desire will fade. It may come back, but it’s not permanent. 2. Ill-will or Aversion This can be a sense of intense emotional pain in unpleasant situations. A sense of resentment, hostility, hatred, and bitterness stems from this hindrance and can lead to unpleasant thoughts and sensations. Ill-will is a form of Hatred which the Buddha teaches is at the heart of suffering. Some aversion is good, but when it turns us hostile it becomes a problem. It’s not that we should like everything, it’s just that our relationship to the things we like shouldn’t be damaging us so much. • Change AVERSION and ILL-WILL Aversion is wanting things to not be the way they are and pushing them away. Ill-will is an escalation of that into wishing harm to someone or something that is in the way of us getting what we want. It can range from a very subtle pushing something away to intense hatred and anger or ill-will. No matter how weak or strong an aversion is, mindful attention is always appropriate. You can work with it using the RAIN formula (Recognise, Accept, Investigate, Nonidentification). With the less intense forms of aversion, just noticing them is often enough to dispel them. Sometimes aversion to something can be so deeply ingrained, it’s like the air that we breath; like a fish swimming in water doesn’t notice the water… Low self- esteem can be that way; a chronic voice that says, “I shouldn’t be this way.” Remedies At times, applying a “remedy” or counterbalancing aversion might be useful: • Narrow your focus: increase your concentration, such as counting your breaths • Broaden your focus: listen to all sounds or experience the body globally • Change your focus: Aversion is often due to “one-sided attention,” when the irritating, unpleasant or repulsive feature of something receives undue attention. If someone seems very annoying and we dislike them, we can pay attention to their positive qualities. (This applies to us as well.) or In a difficult situation we could ask: “What might I learn from this situation?” • Lovingkindness: if you are being harsh with yourself or someone else, you can give wishes of goodwill to yourself. o If Anger is a significant issue in your life, the regular practice of Lovingkindness can be very helpful. • Pain: It’s helpful to notice the difference between the sensations of pain, and our aversion and emotional reaction to it. • Reflect on our own good deeds: reflect on things you have done that have helped yourself or others…. Fear is having aversion of something that hasn’t yet happened. (Something imagined, even if likely will still never be just like you imagined…) • being in the body is very important for working with fear • if you have the luxury of time for dealing with the fear, as you might during formal meditation, or on retreat, a great deal can be learned • Change your Focus: if fear is not manageable, sometimes it’s appropriate to counterbalance with a change in focus. e.g.: Public Speaking – focus on what the audience needs to know instead of your desire for the talk to be successful o If you are hiking on a scary path, and you have no choice, narrow your focus to what’s right in front of you, not the drop 1,000 feet down. 3. Restlessness, Anxiety or Worry I can’t do this. I am worried. I want to stop. It’s hard to quiet the mind while sitting when what I really want to do is get up and move around. A dedicated daily meditation practice is a little hard to maintain sometimes, especially at first. It’s hard to do nothing when I have so much that I could be doing. But, this applies in daily life too. When I’m at work sometimes I’ve just been staring at that computer screen too long and I just want to get up and walk around instead of staying focused. This is the hindrance of restlessness. This is when we know what we should be doing, but we have the jitters. It’s obvious how this would be a hindrance to meditation. • Change Restlessness and Anxiety or Worry Restlessness is a feeling of agitation or over-excitement, it agitates the mind, so it doesn’t have the time to see fully. Restlessness is unpleasant, so there is a tendency of the mind to push it away, to not want it there. The mind is restless, and restlessness is further enhanced by struggling against it. Worry is fear of what may happen in the future. Anxiety is a non-specific fear of what will happen in the future. Restlessness of the mind tends to show itself in restlessness in the body; in meditation, by wanting to shift positions, by tightness and tension. Restlessness can take different forms: worry, planning, physical restlessness, self-judgment, regret of the past, nervousness, remorse, anxiety. But what these different forms have in common is that we are either regretting or judging the past or worrying about the future. Peace and happiness can only occur in the present moment. We can get lost in regret of the past and self-judgment. Regretting the past comes from actions we’ve either committed or omitted and is a major source of restlessness in meditation and daily life. When we pay attention to how much of the disquiet of the mind comes as a result of past actions, the imperative to live a life of integrity becomes more and more compelling. Planning is useful at the right time, but it can easily become worry, when one becomes concerned if the plan will materialise. We often find ourselves planning and re-planning a coming event, a conversation, often in the same useless loop. Lack of exercise can cause a physical restlessness we often don’t recognise, especially among those of us who are mostly sedentary. If we pay attention to our bodies, we’ll get up and stretch or take a walk, if we don’t the body itself becomes restless. Too much coffee or other stimulants can also cause a physical restlessness. For many of us, it’s probably not a good idea to sit and meditate after a couple of cups of coffee. Suppressed Emotions can also be a source of restlessness. When we don’t pay attention to our emotions when they arise, we tend to either act them out or suppress them. Suppressed emotions can often simmer underneath unnoticed, except for a pervasive feeling of restlessness. The mind likes stimulation, when stimulation is low, it can be experienced as slightly unpleasant. We tend to call that “boredom”. When we notice we are bored, it’s because we don’t like this state of low stimulation and want it to go away, so the mind becomes restless, increasing stimulation. Working with Restlessness The most direct way to work with restlessness or any of the hindrances is to be mindful of them, to transform them into the object of meditation. You can use the RAIN formula (see above) : Recognise it, Accept it, Investigate it, Not identify with it. Restlessness can be unpleasant; try to stay with it and experience it without getting caught up in the content of its story, don’t push it away. Don’t resist it. Don’t be in a rush to get rid of it.
Back a Page
Forward a Page
Way in - Index
Be Mindfully Aware
A programme of guided audio meditation, supporting notes and guides to learn and encourage a daily programme of meditation.
Only with mindfulness can it be noticed when focus has gone astray and focus has been lost. Also, when being mindful,it is vital to work on non-judgmentally accepting whatever occurs in the present-moment. See "Accept, Allow and Let go" on the page called "Ancient Advice" James Baraz suggests "Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”