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'The Five Hindrances' by Jeremy Lander

Illustration by Jeremy Lander - the Five Horsemen of the [Buddhist] Apocalypse

It’s painful to admit, but let’s face it: the human condition is one of suffering. It is a truth as old as mankind itself. But this is not a counsel of despair, the trick is to be on good terms with this fact and realise it is part of being alive. Only then we can experience periods of true equanimity and open our hearts to those moments of joy when they do come along.

In Buddhist philosophy the things that can get in get in the way of this are known as the ‘Five Hindrances’. These are:

  1. Craving: a wanting that seeks sensual happiness (i.e. via the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch).

  2. Aversion/Ill-Will: the kinds of thought related to rejection and pushing away leading to feelings of hostility, resentment and, in the extreme, hatred and bitterness.

  3. Lethargy/Sloth: a heaviness of the body and dullness of mind which drags us down into disabling inertia.

  4. Restlessness: the inability to calm the mind, sometimes known as ‘monkey mind’

  5. Doubt: a lack of conviction or trust, in ourselves and others.

When we experience these feelings it is important not to see them as personal failings. All human beings have them. It is part of being alive, and always has been.

A big part of mindfulness practice is to be aware of the hindrances and our relationship to them; not so we can be free of them, that can never happen, but to study them closely and understand them and how they affect our daily lives. Try to eradicate or supress them and they will come back even more strongly. Instead we should try to befriend them, be curious about them and how they impinge on us. If we are interested in them and understand them better we can work around the edges of the problem. This is a bit like exposure therapy where, for example, someone who is afraid of spiders is encouraged to study a spider and its movements from a safe place until they are comfortable with getting closer to them.

There is an acronym ‘RAIN’ to help us remember the steps:

  • R: Recognize it. What is it that I am thinking/feeling? Can I label it?

  • A: Accept it. Don’t try and block or remove it. It is already here.

  • I: Inquiry. Be curious about the thought or sensation. What is it like exactly? What do we think caused it? Have I thought/felt this before? Is it part of a pattern?

  • N: Non-identification; what we are feeling/thinking right now is not part of our identity, it is just a passing process that comes and goes.

There are also antidotes to the hindrances and here are some examples:

Craving- try contemplating on the impermanence of the want or desire

Aversion- try a loving kindness meditation to help see things from the other person’s point of view

Lethargy- refresh yourself by getting up and going for a walk, wash your face or take a shower

Restlessness - really look and understand the root causes for the restlessness, try a breathing space, or other form, of breath meditation

Doubt – start gathering some tools to help you recognise the pitfalls, and navigate the landmarks, that life presents. This is the bit that really needs work because the best way of doing this is to read up on the huge resource of meditation and mindfulness techniques that is now available. But don’t worry because help is at hand! If you find yourself a good teacher, or two, they can do the reading for you!

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