Working Through Our Hindrances

We all manage challenges as we navigate daily life. Most of these challenges are part of life and involve problem-solving and resilience as we move forward toward our personal goals at home or at work. However, there are additional challenges or obstacles that are somewhat more internal in nature. The Buddha highlighted a list of five hindrances or adverse mental states that interfere with our cultivation of inner peace or an awakened mind. These five hindrances are generally interpreted as sense desire, ill will or anger, sloth and torpor, restlessness, and doubt. Perhaps you can identify some of these hindrances in your own life?  

Such hindrances are fairly common and universal to our human experience. In psychology, we often see the hindrance of sense desire manifested in addictions or poor coping strategies. We also see the hindrances of restless and doubt manifested in chronic states of anxiety and fear as we struggle with uncertainty and self-doubt. Likewise, ill will often takes a toll on relationships as well as self-esteem as we turn on ourselves with anger and judgement or act out in anger and resentment toward others. Sloth often relates to energy or effort, which is evident in self-defeating behaviors, negative views of self and others, and a lack of personal agency.  

In addition to inner peace and awakening, the hindrances can be understood as obstacles to our mental wellness and resilience. Just as the Buddha taught, becoming aware of our hindrances or aversive mind states is the first step to loosening the grip they have on our experience. 

We can approach the hindrances as well as any obstacle with mindfulness and work through our aversive states to arrive at a place of greater acceptance and peace.  

Steps to engaging and working through the hindrances:

  1. What is this hindrance?  How did this state arise?  What am I feeling?

2. Notice rather than push away or judge. This is where I am right now.

3. Reflect upon and investigate. This is anger. This is sadness. This is fear.

4. Befriend rather than fight or suppress. Recognize the changing nature of emotions. What information does this state provide? Work towards acceptance and letting go.

5. What conditions support the passing of this state? What happened before this? What am I doing now?  What helps me feel better?

6. What conditions prevent it from arising again?  What helps me cope? Where is my mind when I am feeling calm? What helps me feel grounded and confident?

The Buddha, in one of his many metaphors, uses a bowl of water to describe the impact of the hindrances on our mind. For example, he describes sense desire as a dye that discolors a clear bowl of water. Likewise, ill will is characterized by water that bubbling or boiling, sloth as a bowl of water overgrown with moss and algae, restlessness as a bowl of water stirred by the wind into ripples and waves, and doubt as a bowl of water that is murky and cloudy. In all of these cases, the hindrances prevent us from seeing things are they are or cultivating a clear mind. We can practice these steps and bring to mind the bowl of water as we check in with our internal states and work toward experiencing a clear bowl of water that truly reflects a clear mind with a clear view of our experiences. Here we may find greater self-confidence, acceptance, spaciousness, and equanimity.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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