In our ongoing exploration of the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, we are lingering a bit at the Five Hindrances to give ourselves some time for it all to sink in. We need time to practice what we learn so that it is experiential rather than theoretical.
Whatever we are exploring, whatever we are doing, the two most important things we can remember are our paired intentions: To be present in this moment, anchored in physical sensation, and to be kind to ourselves and others, especially when we find that we or they have not been present at all.
So we bring this second intention to our exploration of the Five Hindrances. We send ourselves metta, universal loving kindness, as we practice noticing the presence or absence of a hindrance.
We send metta to whatever it was that had us so distracted up until this moment of awareness, and we send it out to all beings, without exception. This practice creates within us an intrinsic understanding of our deep connection with all of life. Our thinking mind can do the scientific research to explain that this oneness of all being is so, but metta practice brings it home to us in a much deeper and more profound way.
In any given moment, when we find ourselves distraught or lost, resetting our paired intentions to be present and kind is the skillful means to recognize what’s going on and to dissolve habituated patterns of suffering in our lives.
Pause and notice what’s going on with you right now. What is your current state of mind? See if you notice any of the Hindrances (desire, aversion, restlessness and worry, sloth and torpor, and doubt) in residence. If so, the recognition alone can do a great deal to dissolve a hindrance. But recognition alone can be pretty heartless, can fall quickly into patterns of judgment or discomfort with acknowledging a hindrance.
Enter metta! We can greet the hindrance with universal kindness. This kindness is not an indulgence. It simply gives us the opportunity to be able to spend more time with the hindrance without having to fight it, avoid it, deny it, or claim it as a personality trait. With universal kindness we are able to simply be with it and recognize it for what it is.
Claim it as a personality trait? You may wonder who would want to claim any of these negative states. But in the chronic rush to get some sense of identity, we may claim even the most unattractive traits. We might call these hindrances ‘character defects,’ and own them, claiming the shame as well. We might say about ourselves, ‘I’m just lazy.’ or ‘I’m a terrible worrywort.” Stop and think if there are some of these claims you have made, or continue to make. This level of noticing is very useful.
The Buddha asks us to look closer, to sit with any hindrance we discover. He asks us to see them for what they are, to meet the hindrance and know that it is not us.
It is not us. Phew! But does that mean we are not responsible for the words and actions that arise from our experience of one of these states? No, of course not. We learn how to skillfully navigate these challenging mental states by being mindful, which includes both awareness and kindness. We will explore Wise Speech and Wise Action further along, but the Buddha put this instruction of noticing hindrances first for a reason, so we will stay with it for now.
Metta dissolves the sense of isolation that keeps us so attached to the hindrance to shore up a sense of identity we can cling to. With metta, we sense our interconnection with all of life and don’t need to rely on what we thought were ‘personality traits’ to make us visible in the world. The hunger for visibility arises from a deeply ingrained fear of disappearing. But when we sense our interconnection in the infinite web, we can, in that moment, let go of our need to build up a separate identity.
In that mindful moment when we see a hindrance clearly and send metta to it and to ourselves, if we can stay present to notice what happens to the hindrance, then we teach ourselves the benefits of the practice. We don’t have to take anyone else’s word for it. We know for ourselves the effectiveness of mindfulness practice. The experiential learning of the practice is more valuable than all the teachings. The teachings are to inspire the practice and shine a light in the darkness when we are stumbling about. But the teachings without mindfulness practice are like a bouquet of cut flowers, pleasant at the time but not able to take root and grow. The practice and the teachings together are like a plant given all the right conditions to grow strong and produce fruit.
In meditation or any time during our day, when we recognize we have not been mindful, then suddenly we are being mindful in that moment. At that moment, if we can be kind, if we can send metta instead of castigating ourselves for having not been mindful, then we are able to be mindful in this moment as well. So metta plays a very important role in mindfulness training. It cuts off our tendency to see ourselves as uniquely unqualified to do this practice. With metta, we get that this is the natural way of things, and that we are as vital and acceptable a part of the fabric of life, knots and all, as anyone else.
Next week we will look at applying metta to each of the hindrances. Until then I hope you will take the time to practice noticing these mind states that arise, noticing the thoughts and emotions that arise when you notice, and add loving kindness to the mix, so that you can stay fully present with the experience.
You might be better able to notice these mind states arising in someone else. This is still useful, as long as it is done with loving kindness. If you find you are judging harshly, then you have a hindrance of your own you can notice! All good.