Exploring the Five hindrances
An Overview of the Five Hindrances
The term “hindrance” is used because they “hinder” the healthy functions of mind and cloud our mindfulness and wisdom. Additionally, they inhibit our capacity to meet our present moment experience with stability, wisdom, and compassion.
To the extent that our mind is hindered, our well-being is compromised. Our mindfulness and stability are replaced by distorted views and habitual reactivity. It becomes harder to maintain a healthy outlook and rebound from difficulty. Our capacity to intentionally direct our attention and awareness is compromised. Additionally, it becomes more and more difficult to understand what is appropriate and beneficial for oneself and others.
Mindfulness invites us to turn toward and meet our life experience. We are practicing to understand ourselves more clearly, to cultivate healthy qualities of mind/heart, and to respond to all of our life with compassionate wisdom and skillfulness.
We are asked to turn toward and identify our healthy qualities of mind as well as our unhealthy ones. Both are equally important in cultivating the qualities that are beneficial, as well as transforming the qualities of mind that prevent us from developing a calm, balanced, and stable awareness.
Identifying the Five Hindrances
- Unhealthy Desire / Grasping: Unskillful attachment; craving; blind addiction to pleasant-seeming objects of the six senses.
- Aversion: An attitude of “no”; pushing away; ill-will, anger, irritation.
- Restlessness and Worry: Agitation; excessive energy; lack of tranquility.
- Sloth and Torpor: Lack of energy in the body and mind; inability to engage; dullness.
- Doubt: Lack of confidence; indecisiveness, confusion; unwise skepticism, lack of faith.
Visualizing the Five Hindrances
The following traditional set of similes and metaphors describes how the hindrances obscure clarity of mind.
The mind can be likened to a pond. When it is calm and still, it is able to reflect our face like a mirror. When it is affected by the hindrances, the clarity of the reflection becomes obscured.
- Unhealthy desire/grasping causes an unrealistic view as water mixed with dye. The reflection is colored until the dye clears.
- When the heat of aversion/ill-will is present in the mind, it is as if the water of the pond is boiling, and the reflection cannot be seen until the water cools.
- When the mind is dominated by restlessness and worry, it is as if the water is stirred by the wind. The reflection is obscured until the wind subsides.
- When the mind is bogged down by sloth and torpor, it is as if water is overgrown with algae. The reflection is inhibited until effort is made to remove the algae.
- When the mind is clouded by doubt, it is as if dark, muddy water has been stirred up. The reflection is obscured until the mud settles or is cleared.
Working With the Five Hindrances (R.A.I.N.)
- (R) Recognize: Practice knowing the hindrances when they are present. Don’t try to look for them; rather, simply notice when they are present. If it is helpful, make a gentle mental note, i.e., “Aversion is being known.”
- (A) Accept: Seeing if you can notice any impulse of resistance that may be present, such as pushing the experience away, denying it, or controlling it. As best as you can, softening the energy around any sense of struggle, inviting an attitude of kindness and receptivity toward your experience.
- (I) Investigate: When you notice the hindrances as they are present within your experience. Getting to know them, inviting an attitude of intimacy, curiosity, and honesty. Letting the story unfold. Not trying to figure anything out. Simply noticing and being aware - looking deeply and discovering - whatever shows up.
- (N) Non-Identify/ Let Go: These hindrances are not you, they are events that are happening in the mind and body. As best you can see if you can allow them to arise within spacious awareness, like clouds floating by within the vast sky.