Hello everyone, it has been a while since I have written, I must say that I have not been going super well. As always, I have also stopped having a dedicated daily practice and now feel that I have dove deeply into suffering on a daily basis. The five hindrances have taken over and now I feel like it is hard to escape them! This feeling of sinking is something that I know all too well these days, and then comes my old friend doubt which makes me question everything. I was driving home this week from a Chuck Ragan show in Ottawa back to Montreal and had a close call with a moose on the highway, it is moments like this that sometimes wake you up! This moment, which lasted just a few seconds, made me realize that it is time for me to take back my practice and my life in many ways. I realized that this practice is most important when things aren’t going well, no matter how hard or unpleasant it may be. It is when the work pays off and we are able to truly see the benefits of meditation practice. I mean, my life is not that bad; I have a job surrounded by good people, I am in a healthy relationship, I have a roof over my head with a fridge full of food, so why am I suffering so much? I know that it comes down to my usual issues: I have a hard time seeing the goodness inside of me, accepting that my projects may seem like they are so far away from being fulfilled, and that I must stay true to myself.
My practice suffered when things seemed to feel like they were all falling apart: I was no longer able to volunteer in the penitentiary that I was going to for the last three years (cut-backs, etc.), I was not able to participate in further training with my teacher due to financial obligations, my meditation group going on hiatus due to lack of participation, and the list goes on. This filled me with feelings of hopelessness and despair. All that I seemed to have been working towards all see to fall apart in about the same timeline, which made me seriously question my role in the dharma and if this was actually the path for me. Of course, this made it that I stopped practicing on a daily basis and I started indulging in less healthy habits on the side. Seeing as things weren’t going well inside I tried to change things around me to try to give myself pleasure from external sources. Of course, this never helps and I know this to be true, but it is such an easy thing to indulge in our cravings and try to numb our pain. I am also an expert at that! It is so much easier to tell ourselves that we will be happy if we get the new record by such and such an artist, that going out drinking with help numb the pain that we feel inside (except that we wake up with even more suffering). I realized after the moose that my life had been completely taken over by the five hindrances and it is time for me to shape up and face my demons, no matter how ugly they may be!
The five hindrances are important in meditation practice, and discovering their antidotes even more:
1- Lust: Sense desire is a great distraction from serenity and mindfulness, craving is such an ingrained habit in all of us and we live in a society that feeds off it! This hindrance is not only in the sexual way, even though a lot of people do suffer with pornography instead of intimate relationships, but it can also be something as simple as consuming a lot of different albums or books like me. Concentration is the anitdote for this hindrance. When the mind is strong enough to (seemingly) effortlessly stay on a single object, there is no danger of falling into the trap of discomfiting lust, greed, and yearning. By practicing mindfulness we are able to avoid the trapping of consumption or craving, it helps us to realize that we will not be happy if we get that new gadget etc.
2- Anger: This is an emotion that I know all too well, ill-will is a miserable tendency that destroys calm, cool, collected states of mind in a blinding instant — like an explosive hot flash reducing everything to cinders. Most people would agree that anger is not a pleasant experience, I am sure that if we take a second to think about it, the physical experience of anger usually comes as a tightening of the chest or something similar. Most people do not realize how much annoyance, irritation, and ill directed resentment they’re carrying around — that is, until they try to sit peacefully and silently for a few minutes. The antidote is cultivating kindness (also known as Metta), compassionate recognition (karuna), and joy-in-others-happiness (mudita). These give rise to a sublime state of looking on (upekkha) with acceptance and understanding. One becomes unflappable but perfectly able to respond. “Warm detachment” — not to be confused with cold indifference.
3- Restlessness: Worry, or being scattered, results from inattention to the object and too much effort. More effort makes one more awkward, inartful, and inarticulate. The more one wants something, the LESS one is able to get it. When we are less concerned with the outcome, the more confident we will be, and paradoxically, the MORE success we will have. And with more success, more confidence. We have to couple the concentrated mind with a pacified heart, we must learn to balance both, because too much thinking will be a hindrance to our practice. Too much effort quickly leads to dissatisfaction and prematurely giving up.
4- Drowsiness: Also, known as sloth or torpor, is one I am sure that we have all experienced on the cushion. It has happened more than once that we will doze off during our sits, this can be caused by legitimate tiredness, but the other is a habit of delusion (moha) or foolishness (bala): If in the past (as now) one was not keen to hear the Truth, not interested in things as they are, but negligent, heedless, inattentive, then mindfulness, diligence, and one-pointedness leading to insight will take more time. Rest well before sitting, and persevere. Persistence and regularity are antidotes to pernicious drowsiness.
5- Doubt: This has definitely been my biggest struggle on the cushion, in my life even, and is one that I know I will always have to wrestle. I find that this hinderance can sometimes be overwhelming, it makes one completely question everything. How can we avoid being totally over taken by doubt? There are a couple of ways, one is to simply put it aside for later, or get up and work at getting your question answered (there are always teachers or at least books lying around that can help you). If we get lost in a different views when we are trying to figure stuff out, we can very easily just get confused and sink even more, it can become a crutch. Suspend disbelief, lay down the doubting mind, abandon reasoning from a position of faulty assumptions. The Truth is true; your thinking won’t make it otherwise. The Truth is here to see and inviting. There’s a time to argue, a time to study, a time to investigate and question. That time is certainly not when you sit on a mat and cushion.
So that is exactly what I am going to do, I am going to allow a time and a place for all things in my life. I have to be kind towards myself and develop a strong practice again if I want to free myself from the suffering that I am experiencing these days… These are the times when meditating is the hardest, but also the most important! I hope that this will help me dive back into the dharma and assure that I do not stray too much from this path again… I also have to remind myself to not be too hard on myself and think of this as one of many bumps in the road ahead! I know that a dedicated meditation practice may not eliminate my demons completely, but it will help me live with them. It is what it is folks!