I recently proposed that the next series of meetings that I’ve called the “Tuesday Night Intensive Study Group” will be themed around exploring what are called the “five hindrances” in Buddhist practice. The announcement about this course is posted on the website with the pertinent information about the group.
What I want to present with this article is why this topic is important for improving the quality of life. First, what are the hindrances? Classically, there are five: sense desire, aversion and ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and, finally, skeptical doubt. I’ve been talking about them on Wednesday nights for a few months now, so I don’t want to elaborate on their particularities here, because you can look them up through our website. The goal of the series of 12 meetings is to be able to relate to life with more clarity, confidence and patience.I perceive two levels of approach to and understanding and overcoming the hindrances, and this is what I want to describe here. The first level is what I call the process of personality integration, and the second level is what I call personality transcendence.
PERSONALITY INTEGRATION initially involves carefully observing the flow of internal subjective experience to notice how different circumstances stir up different self-states, creating stress, confusion and interpersonal conflict. For example, I might perceive that I’m a competent driver in traffic, and as I drive, I feel relatively relaxed and confident in my choices while driving. However, under different circumstances, there might be someone in the car whose opinion of my driving is critical, telling me to slow down, speed up, warning me about situations that I’m already aware of, and so on. My self-state when driving with this person is in conflict with my previous sense of my competency, and there’s a strong urge to protest, become agitated, and so on.
This example illustrates the hindrance of aversion and ill-will. Buddhist concepts and meditation practices counter this disturbance in the flow of experience. When mindfulness isn’t operating, the urgency of the agitated feeling, combined with the almost automatic identification with the critical comments as requiring protest, seems irresistible. When mindfulness is operating, then there’s a spacious non-reactivity occurring during these events that buffers against the urgency.
When we practice mindfulness of breathing meditation, we’re training to notice any feelings or thoughts that deviate from the benign experience of noting sensations while inhaling and exhaling. Upon noticing them, we train to be mindful of them and set them aside, going back to the breath without reacting to the feelings or thoughts. This is setting aside the hindrance, in this case, aversion and ill-will. This routine is brought to any feelings and thoughts other than breath awareness with such persistence and clarity that, with sufficient practice, we can experience flows of inner awareness that aren’t affected by any hindrance.
This state of mind is called access concentration. Without elaborating on what is being accessed, what is experienced is calmness and clarity. This calmness and clarity is actually modifying the neural networks of the brain, increasing internal awareness and the ability to regulate emotional reactivity. For the purposes of this article, this level of calmness and clarity produces personality integration on a temporary basis. There is no noticeable self-state conflict, and reactivity to the criticism of the “back seat driver” is minimal or non-existent.
Of course, we aren’t going to normally be in access concentration conditions in everyday life, but having this awareness while meditating has a residual effect, sort of like building muscle—It becomes easier to not be annoyed or rattled.
PERSONALITY TRANSCENDENCE is the next stage of internal development. The difference between the stages is not like drawing a line between one and the other. Rather, it’s an increasing ability to see that what used to be self-defining (that is, either the self-state “I’m a competent driver” or “I can’t stand to drive the car with this critic!”) is not so. The terms of comparing one self-state with another lose potency and are seen as mental constructs. As the ability to not take compliments or criticisms personally increases, the ability to be kind, compassionate, generous and patient with the events of life increases, and this is the transcendent function of spiritual practice.
My hope is that the participants in the study group will use the structure of the group meetings, combined with the commitment to daily 45 minute sitting practice, to learn how to integrate the conflicted self-states, setting the stage for more spiritual development. If you’re interested in this training, please contact Peter at 407 339-5444 or via email.
We will begin the group as soon as there are at least 6 committed to the study group; as of this writing, there are 3 commitments
I wish you well. Peter