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Distractions and Hindrances. Part 2 Skills Notes 12. 4. Sloth and Sleepiness Lack of energy, and alertness including drowsiness and being sleepy. This can be a hindrance in daily life too because we sometimes tend to put off things that we need to get done because they’re boring. This can be a hindrance of the mind or body. This represents boredom. I could be doing something fun. We tend to expect the world to entertain us, especially in the modern world. Why should I be bored when I could be browsing the internet with my phone or watching Netflix? I think this really applies to housework and things like that. • Change SLOTH and TORPOR We want to develop a mind that is both Tranquil and Alert. Too much tranquillity without alertness and we’re in dreamland. We sometimes call it “sinking mind”, it tends to be dreamy and pleasant. It’s relaxing, but it’s not conducive to awareness, to mindfulness. The first thing to do is to recognise it when it happens. Then to consciously intend to put a little more effort into staying mindful. How is the posture? The breathing? Sometimes it helps to start the sitting with a clear intention that we want to stay present with each breath. Pay particular attention to this balance in the coming week. • Too much alertness and no tranquillity, and we can be tense or quickly either planning or worrying about the future, or regretting the past. • Learning to notice and understand both Sloth/Torpor, Restlessness and Anxiety, are essential to developing a mind that is both Tranquil and Alert. • Sloth and torpor refer to heaviness of body and dullness of mind respectively. This includes drowsiness, sluggishness, low energy, sleepiness, lethargy. Nothing is clear. The mind feels heavy and dull or dreamy. • Sloth refers to the physical aspects: it feels difficult holding oneself up. • Torpor is more mental, it feels difficult to pay attention. • Sloth and Torpor can be both pleasant or unpleasant. When it’s pleasant (dreamy comfy…) it’s more seductive. • When it’s comfortable and pleasant…it’s sometimes called “sinking mind.” It can be a form of “procrastination” – we know we’re not being mindful, but it’s nice here…kind of like staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in…we can be mindful later… • It’s important to differentiate between sloth and torpor and the need for sleep! You can test this by using a favourite fantasy or memory, if the sleepiness goes away or weakens, it was sloth & torpor. • Sloth and torpor is a habit of mind which inhibits the application of energy, of being engaged, of being involved. When sloth and torpor is really strong, we can sink into it and get lost in it. The mind can feel like mud, like glue. It’s very difficult to make effort, mental or physical. • Energy is often available, but it’s hindered or kept back or not tapped into or utilized. For some people who feel “lazy” a lot, it’s a habitual way of using the mind. Sloth and torpor is usually preceded by a certain “pattern” of thoughts… Remedies • Lack of direction - In daily life as in meditation, a lack of direction causes a lack of energy: energy has to be directed. There needs to be a intention. Energy arises when one has a clear-cut direction. Committing to a intention gives the mind direction, such as committing to being mindful for the next 10 breaths • Lack of stimulation – the mind likes to have something to do, when it doesn’t it’s in the habit of getting drowsy. • Broaden the focus: give the mind more to be mindful of. o Pay attention to details more closely • Remember the “urgency of change.” Change can only happen “Now”, right at this moment. • Notice RESISTANCE. Often, we don’t want to pay attention, we don’t want to be here. o It can be resistance to unpleasant states o It can be a protective mechanism, of a deep memory or feeling. • Notice Complacency: Sloth and torpor can set in out of complacency. It’s nice here. Sometimes meditation is a challenge or a struggle. It’s quite pleasant now…even though I’m dreamy… It can lull you into not making any more effort. • Our thoughts can increase our energy or decrease it. Some thoughts can drain us, such as worrying, planning, regretting… o Thoughts of Discouragement/Failure. Focusing on failures or feared failures drains our energy. o Thinking “there’s 20 minutes left” can be discouraging. Being mindful for the next breath is bite size. • Sometimes there is the mistaken idea that a meditative state should be passive instead of receptive. o Being “relaxed” and calm is sometimes being overemphasised. Diligence, energy, ardency, vigorous active engagement are all necessary. “Calm is very important. Equanimity is very important. Tranquillity is important… but not at the expense of being energised.” Gil Fronsdal Sometimes Sloth & Torpor is a reaction to the constant chronic habit of tension and anxiety or being chronically excited. With years of that kind of stress, when people finally just sit completely still, they feel the exhaustion of this chronic tension. For some people sloth and torpor is a transition they have to go through, like coffee withdrawal… • Don’t overeat before meditation, it tends to make us tired and sleepy. Remedies: Physical Remedies: • Sit up straight. o This works during the day also—your posture will affect you! o If this is a recurring hindrance, sit without back support. • Take a few deep breaths (can count breaths). • Open your eyes. • Look at a LIGHT: the effect of light wakens the system, look at a light, a lightbulb, the moonlight… o OR imagine a white light in the forehead area. o In general, focusing on head increases energy, focusing on belly calms… • Pull earlobes, rub face. • Change posture – stand (standing meditation), brisk walk. • Go outside. • Wash face with cold water. • If you’re doing walking meditation, you can walk backwards. Remedies: Mental Remedies: Energy is always available, but you need to know how to turn on the switch. Setting a goal, a reasonable goal, is a wise and effective way to generate energy, as is deliberately developing interest in the task at hand. • Counting breaths: Just pay attention to 5 more breaths. (small goal) • A lack of direction causes a lack of energy; a goal can be helpful. Energy arises when one has a clear-cut direction. The goal of being mindful can be brought to mind with “just this one breath, just this one step…” • Effort often begets effort. When we apply ourselves there might be resistance initially, but after a while after you keep making the effort and doing it, something happens, and it begin to feel effortless. Like pedalling a bicycle hard, and then coasting. • When something is new it can be exciting. We often get a lot of energy when we meet someone new or go somewhere, we haven’t been to before – novelty energises us. But if we can look at our life, or our meditation, with a 'beginner's mind' we can see our ordinary lives newly each moment, we can see new angles and fresh possibilities which arouse energy. • We can develop delight in whatever we are doing by training our perception to see the beautiful and interesting in the ordinary, thereby generating interest • TO AROUSE ENERGY, DO MORE: o You can be more fully engaged with the breath by counting or making the counting more complex. o You can add touch points: during the space between the exhale and the inhale, you can notice your sit bones, or the palms of your hands… o You can increase the details and frequency of noting. • Contemplate on our desire for awakening, on something or someone who inspires us. o Remind yourself why you meditate, what are your highest goals? o For some, thinking about death can be helpful: life is uncertain, death is certain, right now is the best opportunity for meditation. This works if it arouses you, and doesn’t depress you, it’s not for everyone… o The Buddha also recommended to his monks to contemplate on 5 “threatening dangers”. The dangers of illness, age, lack of food, war, lack of support by good friends… That now is a good time to practice, our conditions for practice might not be available later • Keep coming back to a good posture • If this is a recurrent issue, doing things that inspire you before sitting is helpful, such as reading a passage from a book before sitting • if nothing works, take a nap, but don’t do it every time it arises, it creates a habit! Try to always investigate the sloth & torpor before napping – even if it’s for only one minute. • Concentration: When restlessness seems too strong to simply observe, try counting your breaths, until the mind comes back to balance. Concentration cultivates calm and tranquillity. • Metta or Lovingkindness Practice: A happy mind is not restless. Lovingkindness practice is often taught using 4 phrases we repeat silently. Common phrases are: “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be well. May I be safe.” Focusing on lovingkindness towards oneself helps with restlessness in two ways: it’s a form of concentration practice, which calms the mind; and it also inclines the mind to kindness and acceptance. • Smiling: A practice sometimes used for the cultivation of happiness is smiling, it has a direct effect on calming the mind. • Broaden the Focus: One can shift the attention from using the breath as an anchor to Listening to sounds or a global sense of the body. By expanding the focus outward, the mind can feel less constricted. • Sitting still: just by sitting still and not moving, the mind itself begins to quiet. It’s like taking a glass of dirty water and shaking it. At first the water is murky, but after a while, the particles settle at the bottom. • Bargaining: When restlessness is overpowering, sometimes skilful “bargaining” can be useful. “I’ll just pay close attention to the next 5 breaths.” 5. Doubt This represents a lack of belief in ourselves. If I think I’m not good enough, then I am suffering from the hindrance of doubt. Don’t use doubt as a reason to not improve yourself. This applies to any kind of self-improvement. It’s the ‘can’t win, don’t try’ attitude. Change DOUBT It is said that Doubt, as one of the hindrances, is the most dangerous of the hindrances, as it is the one that can cause a person to give up their practice. We can have doubt in our ability to practice or doubt of the practice or the teachings. It’s a state of indecision, of vacillation, that doesn’t allow us to fully apply ourselves, causes us to hold back, to get lost in discursive thinking. Doubt interrupts the gathering of data with premature questions; it interferes with the process of seeing. Doubt can question one's own ability "Can I do this?", or question the method "Is this the right way?” Even, “How am I doing?” Such questions are obstacles to meditation because they are asked at the wrong time and thus become an obstacle, obscuring one's clarity. Doubt is not productive or useful, it drains us or disconnects us. It keeps us unwilling to apply ourselves. “To have doubt about mindfulness, of the value and importance of just being mindful, borders on having doubt about the value of being present for life in general, because mindfulness and being present for life is the same thing.” ~ Gil Fronsdal Remedies: No matter how weak or strong doubt is, mindful attention is always appropriate. You can work with it using the RAIN formula above (Recognise, Accept, Investigate, Non-identification). The most important thing about working with Doubt is to learn to recognise it when it arises, and to put it aside while we meditate. If Doubt is persistent, we can work with this hindrance by gathering clear instructions, talking with those we respect who practice and being willing to suspend our doubt until we have tested the practice and seen for ourselves. We can study more, understand what we're doing, maybe there’s a good reason why we have doubt, maybe we haven’t really understood the basic premise, the ideas, the teachings well enough to really want to apply oneself. Maybe we haven’t understood the instructions for practice well enough and so have reasons to have doubt. "How should I practice? What should I do? When should I do it?" So sometimes doubt is resolved by reflecting on what questions we have and learnin g more or coming and talking to a teacher and exploring it with them. If one really understands the value of one moment of mindfulness perhaps one will not be plagued by Doubt. You Are Not Your Thoughts – A Little Bit About Your Mind It is estimated that we have approximately 82,000 thoughts a day and 7080% of them are said to be negative. It is suggested that negative thoughts, and experiences, tend to be like Velcro to our brain, while positive experiences, and thoughts, are repelled like Teflon There seems to be a lot of work to be done in order to redress some balance. So many of the hindrances occupy the mind. It seems to be necessary to reconsider your relationship with your thoughts and all that they lead to. My thoughts are my own but they do not describe me. Because I think or feel anxious, that doesn't mean that I am anxious. It means I am experiencing the symptoms of anxiety, not that I am anxiety. Thoughts are in the head... they're in your voice (usually)... no-one else can hear them... it's compelling to believe that those thoughts are you. But stop and think about it for a moment. - Did you ask for those thoughts that bother you, upset you, run around in your head tormenting you? - Did you say: "I'm going to think now that I'm worthless/fat/stupid/unlovable"? You didn't did you. Such thoughts just arise unbidden from the depths of our brains – the primitive part of the brain we all have that is called the “lizard brain”. Most of the time those thoughts, especially if they are fear-driven thoughts of self-loathing and limitation, will be being generated by this most primitive part of your brain, often called the “lizard brain”. This part of your brain is irrational. It takes everything it has ever been exposed to in life (conversations, situations, sights, sounds,) and puts it all together to create an idea of what the world is like. The plan being to guide you through it in the safest way. And safe doesn't mean happy, it just means... safe. That you survive from day to day. This is “our perception”. SO... if I'm not my thoughts... who AM I?! Well, how about this. You are not the thinker of your thoughts (that would be the lizard brain), you're the one who hears them. You're the one that's left when all the shitty thoughts about yourself that have been learned (incorrectly) along the way because of the life experiences your brain has been exposed to are stripped away. You're the one that you'd be if you hadn't misevaluated that you were somehow stupid that time you put your hand up in class and got the answer wrong and everyone laughed. You're the you that you'd be if your parent’s crappy divorce hadn't made you doubt if you were lovable. You're the you you'd be if you hadn't fallen in love with someone whose own insecurities compelled them to relentlessly treat you like crap until you began to believe their abusive words. You're the perfect, beautiful you that was born happy. Before life happened. Before the negative and limiting thinking started to cloud your pure loveliness. Before you lost sight of the truth - you are not your thoughts. You are not the thinker of your thoughts; you are the one who hears them. And as such you are the one who can choose how you react to them. Let that settle. Let that sink in. Don't take my word for it. Look for it in your life and you'll see the truth of it. • I am not my thoughts • I am not my emotions • I am not my mind • I am not my feelings • I am not my past • I am not my future. You are the person who senses all this. You are the OBSERVER of this and, as such, you can make change to improve your experience. Hindrances and Distractions Start in the Mind. Distractions usually arise from the mind and it is this that needs to be worked with. - Thoughts simply aren’t facts they are mental events that pop-up often dependent on how we are feeling. - We are not our thoughts and thoughts are not facts. - Feelings and Emotions are also not facts. There are one or two pointers that need to be highlighted at this stage. Next time the mind jumps to a conclusion that seems to drive you towards depression, or anxiety, check out what was happening. There are several very useful questions to consider when thoughts are dominating the sense: a. Is it true? Or is it a reaction set-off by your autopilot. b. Even if it is true can that thought be thought in a different way? c. How does this thought express itself emotionally? “Sad, Angry, Hurt, Jealous” etc. d. How would I feel if I didn’t hold this belief? How would relationship, energy levels, and motivation be different? Some of us get the idea that “I want to control my thoughts.” Or “I want to stop thinking negative thoughts.” Or “I want to make myself think more positive.” This leads to a great deal of frustration because controlling of thoughts is not possible. Thoughts come and go. Trying to control them is a poor use of time and energy.
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Be Mindfully Aware
A programme of guided audio meditation, supporting notes and guides to learn and encourage a daily programme of meditation.
What is Meditation? Meditation is exploring. It’s not a fixed destination. Your head doesn’t become vacuumed free of thought, utterly undistracted. It’s a special place where each and every moment is momentous. When we meditate we venture into the workings of our minds: our sensations (air blowing on our skin or a harsh smell wafting into the room), our emotions (love this, hate that, crave this, loathe that) and thoughts (wouldn’t it be weird to see an elephant playing a trumpet).