Don’t “Accept” Hindrances

The five “hindrances” (nīvaraṇā) are the pathologies of our practice. They are those forces in the heart that obstruct clear seeing and insight, and prevent meditative focus and immersion. They are the addictive mind, the demons of ADHD, the source of all our neurotic habits. They are symptoms of trauma, and deeper, of the fundamental ignorance that is the heart of confusion and pain. They suck.

For many of us, mired as we sometimes are in swamps of self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-judgment, it is best to acknowledge the presence of hindrances with inner warmth, patience, compassion, and neurobiological perspective. These are just symptoms, not faults, and don’t say anything substantive about who we are. (Open secret: nothing else does either.)

The presence of the hindrances—sensual grasping, reactive hatred, restless anxiety, freeze collapse, hopelessness—in the heart should be accepted in the sense that we don’t nurture denial and fantasy about them. They cannot be dispelled through affirmation of our inner goodness, wishful thinking about divine grace, or invocations of the fundamental nondual nature of reality. So it’s important to acknowledge their presence directly. That’s why they’re objects of mindfulness.

But the heart of our practice is not just to accept them any more than a parent who unconditionally accepts their child should therefore never try to shape their behavior or teach them values. The hindrances are disciplined in two ways: concentration suppresses them, and insight uproots them. So if you’re beset by your symptoms, the first method is to focus the mind and turn attention toward something wholesome—if you can. The deeper cure is to see through the reactive pattern that underlies the symptom. That’s going to be craving and ignorance. And that wisdom comes in its own time as practice matures.

So in practice, all we have is working with attention and choices. Direct attention skillfully and make better choices about our actions. 

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