Saturday, June 25, 2011

Relaxing into the Hindrances

I thought I would write a bit about cultivating tranquility and peaceful states of mind. Most people think they need to have certain conditions in order to have peace of mind: everything in its right place, no problems, or the presence of unperturbed happiness. Here is another perspective from the Buddha:

“All experience is preceded by mind,
led by mind, made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
and happiness will follow
Like a never departing shadow.” 

Ultimately, what Buddhist psychology offers us is freedom from the conditioned mind. This means that our internal state of mind is not prefaced or dependent upon perfect external or internal conditions. What keeps us believing that our identity is state-dependent is our identification with ego-generated, moment-to-moment reactions to phenomena as they arise.

The Buddha termed these distressful reactions the five hindrances: unwholesome desire, fear/anger, laziness/inertia, restlessness, and doubt. It is no wonder that when we are mentally under the influence of the five hindrances, that being present with distressful experience seems so difficult to achieve. Much of the time we resist life; fighting to defend ourselves against phenomena that feel dangerous for us mostly because we fear our own reactivity.

“When we are pushing against our experience, fighting it off, it doesn’t have the opportunity or space to be itself. And if it doesn’t have the chance to be itself, it doesn’t have the chance to unfold. And if it doesn’t have the chance to unfold, it doesn’t have the opportunity to reveal its nature.” A.H. Almaas, from The Unfolding Now

I invite you to cultivate tranquil states of mind by trying the following practice in your daily life. In any moment that you notice the presence of one of the five hindrances, pause and allow the mind to become aware of the hindrance and how it is manifesting in your awareness; it could be any kind of physical, mental, emotional, agitation or reactivity. Then allow the mind to soften into that experience with a gentle, relaxed attention. Renounce the desire to run from or fight against the hindrance. Just allow the experience to unfold naturally, and observe what happens. The more you soften, the more experience will naturally dissolve, and eventually all that will remain is the clear, radiant, luminous awareness that is always present in every moment of existence.

If we return to the Buddha's words above, what he is saying is that all experience, internal or external is mind-generated. So if the mind’s true nature is radiant and pure, then it follows that all experience that arises in our awareness is also in its true nature, radiant and pure. Even difficult experience at its essence is nothing other than an expression of radiant, clear mind. When we embrace the hindrances with awareness, even the dreaded hindrances become the royal road to unconditioned tranquility.

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