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The Five Hindrances

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

The 5 hindrances are a set of five mind-body phenomena that can occur during your Vipassana practice. On retreat, they typically occur within the first 3-7 days of intensive practice. During daily life we rarely overcome them. The higher your level of mindfulness and concentration, the less these hindrances bother you. When we sit down to meditate they will always appear, it is how we relate to them that helps overcome or weaken their impact on us. They won't all appear at once but will depend on your current mind-body state, your personality and will vary from session to session.


Liking

Liking can take the form of a desire or craving for sensual pleasures. The intensity can range from a subtle preference over liking, or craving, and strong greed and desire. When Liking/Craving is present we are typically dreaming or thinking about what we want. In a more subtle form, it can be a liking of the meditative experience that is happening. Like a pleasant sensation on the body or pleasant thoughts like the inspiration of good ideas that arise. Notice that liking is present and try to step out of it, not identifying with it. Refocus on your meditation technique, practicing to be with what is.

Disliking

Disliking can take the form of an aversion or pushing away of experience. Experience that is either happening in the mind as memory or imagination or the experience that is happening right now on the cushion. The intensity can range from a subtle disliking to strong aversion, disgust, anger, or hatred. When Disliking/Aversion is present it is typically an unpleasant experience and wanting things to be different. In a more subtle form, it can be a disliking of the current meditative experience that is happening. Like an uncomfortable/painful sensation on the body or if we are dissatisfied with our level of concentration or mindfulness. Notice that disliking is present and try to step out of it, not identifying with it. It's important not to push away aversion as it just creates more aversion. Continue to gently practice your meditation technique with curiosity, noticing how the feeling of disliking itself can change.



Anxiety

Worry and anxiety take the form of a feeling of restlessness. Feeling unsettled either in the body - fidgeting and not feeling comfortable no matter what we do. Or feeling unsettled and worried in the mind - anxious, worrying thoughts about what we need to do, change or improve before we can settle. We can be worrying/anxious about things related to our life/job/relationships/body and even worried about our meditation. To deal with anxiety it helps to feel it in the body. Relaxing and staying more open and soft with your awareness helps. Trying to push through or concentrate harder typically exacerbates the feeling. Feel the anxiety/worry as a pattern of energy in the body gently and lovingly, not trying to make it go away but rather being curious about it.

Drowsiness

Drowsiness and tiredness can be due to real physical and mental fatigue if you haven't slept/rested enough or just had a big meal. It can also appear when you increase your meditation time as the mind is not used to not being stimulated and it tries to go to sleep. There are two ways to deal with it. The first is to rouse a little bit more effort and awareness which can help energize the mind. However, we should also learn to accept the drowsiness and sleepiness and notice how it changes. How it comes and goes in waves. Continue your meditation technique without pushing it away. Even if it feels foggy or difficult to focus. Be gentle and open towards drowsiness, even enjoying it. Doing walking meditation can also help.



Doubt

Doubt is a very tricky one. It directly impacts your motivation to meditate especially if you're doubting the technique, teacher, or yourself. Especially if we are more intellectually and analytically inclined or have read a lot of books about what can and should happen during meditation. Talking to the meditation teacher can help. You can also tell yourself that you can analyze and think critically outside of meditation hours but during meditation hours you focus on the technique at hand. Notice the doubt as a pattern of thoughts. Notice how it changes over time and how it's sometimes more and less present. Doubt is also directly related to what you expect. During our meditation, we should expect nothing. No particular states or special things. We are really just being with what is, whatever it is, even if you think this is a "bad" meditation.


In conclusion

The five hindrances are a normal part of everyone's practice. The important thing is not to take them personally and not to believe in the stories they create. Don't worry that they are arising, they occur to practitioners at every level. Try not to feed and dwell in the stories they create that seem so believable. As you give less energy and attention to them, they bother you less, not only on the cushion but also in your daily life!


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