The five obstacles can be strong forces and occur with everyone. Both during the meditation process and in daily life. The five obstacles are also called the five ‘covers’ or ‘overshadows’. The obstacles namely overshadow clarity, concentration, attentiveness and correct insight ( lighting factors ).
The five obstacles are:
- sensory desire or greed
- anger, irritation or aversion
- drowsiness or slowness
- unrest, fear or worry
The five obstacles may occur during meditation. Try to see this as a gift instead of something you need to get rid of. Take the time to research and practice it. As you practice with it, you recognize the obstacles more and more in daily life and you can also apply what you have practiced.
Examining the obstacles
In the first instance, it is not about making the obstacles disappear, it is about being aware that an obstacle occurs and / or is present, that you are investigating the obstacle and that you enter into a ‘beneficial relationship’ with it.
During meditation, we mainly try to gain insight into the obstacles. When does the desire come true? When does the desire disappear again? What overshadowed the obstacle, or what would you ask attention if the obstacle would not be there (considering obstacles can also be a strategy of the Ego to keep your attention from somewhere)? What can you notice in your body? What can you notice in your mind? Etc.
It is interesting for yourself which obstacle often comes back in meditation. Then consider for yourself what the links are in daily life.
The 5 obstacles are part of the ‘Mental objects’ (Dhammas). According to the Satiptthana Sutta, the Mental objects are one of the four fields that you may be aware of.
Examining the five obstacles can be done according to the RAIN method. This consists of the following steps:
R: (Recognition)> Noticing and recognizing an obstacle.
A: (Accepting)> Accept (with loving kindness) that the obstacle is there.
I: (Investigate)> Investigate the obstacle. Be curious about this. What is actually what you can notice? Research your mind and body.
N: Non-Idenfication> You are not what you experience. You are not the ‘mind object’. You are not your thoughts. You are not your body. It is a process that comes and goes. Release the identification with the obstacle.
The RAIN formula is also applicable to most other distractions in meditation and difficulties in daily life.
The first and second obstacles are related to each other, and the third and fourth obstacles also. With desire and hatred there is an object on which the desire or the aversion is directed. Drowsiness and unrest have a strong influence on your energy level.
The last obstacle, doubt, stands alone. It is sometimes said that doubt is the most powerful obstacle.
Counter-gifts at the obstacles
If an obstacle lasts for a long time or is so overwhelming that you can not get away from it and you can not explore it, you can also use counterparts. These are methods to get rid of the obstacle. These are detailed below per obstacle.
Let us go deeper into the five obstacles:
Sensory desire or greed
(Sensory) desire can bring us all the way. One moment you want this and the other moment that. That desire is so strong that it is in our power to know us all. The one can not ignore the delicious brownie that lies on him / her, and the other person wants to buy the latest iPhone.
Now it is not true that desires may not be there, but it is mainly about getting a better relationship with your desires. This can be done with the above RAIN formula.
Healthy and unhealthy desires
Desire is really only an obstacle, if you want to stick to it. See the desire come and go.
Also make a distinction between salutary and unwholesome desires. The desire to eat something if you are really hungry is of course a healthy (beneficial) desire. The desire for a cigarette or alcohol is clearly an unholy desire.
As is also described in the second of the four noble truths , the cause of Dukkha is also the attachment to a desire. It is therefore also very fruitful if we are able to gain more and more insight into our desires so that we can enter into a good relationship with them.
Counter gifts for desire
Counter-gifts for this obstacle include:
- The mindfulness (attention) narrow, for example by counting the breath
- Extend the mindfulness in order to get away from what you are fixated on (for example by fully opening up on what you can notice, sounds, your body, images, etc.)
- If it is an unhealthy desire, you can focus on the consequences
- If it is a healthy desire, but the attachment does cause stress, you can concentrate on the transience of the desire
- With sexual desire you can concentrate on the non-attractive parts of the body (especially the inside of the human body)
Anger, irritation or aversion
If you are dealing with anger or irritation, this can seriously disrupt your meditation process. With anger, it is wise to get out of the mind and observe your body (in order of the RAIN method, ie with the I of investigation). Ask yourself here if; What convictions do I have? What do I feel in my body now that I experience this anger? Where exactly can I feel this? Are the sensations different from moment to moment? And is my attention drawn to the same place in my body all the time, or does that also vary from moment to moment?
See that it is always in motion. It is changeable. It is perishable. Like all other emotions, by the way. This also leads to the Non-identification (N). You are not your emotion. It is a process with a beginning and an end. If you see this, this can greatly help with letting go.
Aversion against meditation
You can also get aversion to the meditation practice itself. It is then the challenge to investigate this. It may be that irritation occurs during meditation because the meditation does not work well (we are constantly wandering, we are restless, we are irritated by someone else in space, etc.). If you are already meditating, I advise you to sit down and see that this is also a process.
If you do not meditate yet when you notice the aversion to meditation, then I challenge you to sit down to meditate REALLY THAN! Read more about this in the fifth obstacle, doubt (about meditation) .
Counter gifts for anger and aversion
Counter gifts for anger and aversion include:
- Reducing / widening attention (similar to the antidotes in desire)
- Speaking of loving wishes (Metta), for example ‘That I may be calm’
- In the case of pain, the distinction between physical pain and mental distaste / emotional response to the pain
It is not uncommon for mental pain to emerge during meditation, or physical pain to become stronger. This is also seen as Dharma pain. Know that this is a universal fact and can ultimately promote your meditation process (guard your own limits well). In Buddhism it is also said “No mud, no lotus”. In other words, you first have to sow and care for the trees before you can reap the fruits of the meditation.
Drowsiness / Slowness
It can not be prevented. You will be surprised by drowsiness every now and then. You may end up in dreamland and sometimes you even fall asleep! Now, meditation is alert and focused awareness. I do not have to explain to you that if you are in dreamland, you are not really meditating. If the drowsiness happens to you during the meditation then it is also the challenge to be alert to this. Of course this is a tricky one and the pitfall here is that in addition to the drowsiness, disgust arises. “I do not bake anything now, I’m too tired”, “I wish I was not so tired”, “I’ve been too busy, I wish I was in bed instead of sitting on this pillow “.
All judgments that you do not do much good. Welcome the drowsiness with loving kindness. Get motivation from the moments when you notice that you are drowsy. Even though these moments are sparse. Know that each meditation practice is different and that this very meditation is a good exercise, so at times when you are less tired you can be even more allert and concentrated. Here lies the challenge where a lot of ‘profit’ can be achieved. This way you can also deal better with fatigue in daily life as you practice this more.
It is especially important to accept this obstacle (A from RAIN) and see that it is a transient process (N). Try to notice it every time (R) that it is there. Get the strength out of every moment you notice the sleepiness. The I of Investigation is of course a tricky if you are drowsy, but do it as well as you can!
Beneficial / Unthillful desire
If you are drowsy and you notice that you have the desire to go to bed, then it is of course good to also deal with loving kindness. Check whether it is beneficial or unhealthy to respond to this. If you have not slept much the last night (s), it may be beneficial to go into the desire to go to sleep. After you have slept then you can continue with the meditation.
Let energy flow
Meditation techniques have also been developed in which you first ensure that the energy will flow more. Active meditations often consist of several phases with movement in the first phase (s). You come more into your body instead of in your head and the energy in your body is flowing more. You also do the activities in the first phase (s) with attention and as much as possible from the role of the viewer. This is also meditation, but no Vipassana meditation because you do something yourself. After the active meditation you can proceed to Vipassana meditation and often this causes less drowsiness and drowsiness. Osho has developed various active meditations, but there are also many other active meditations that you can practice for sitting meditation such as ‘shaking’ your body.
It is also possible to practice walking meditation instead of sitting meditation or alternate this more often.
What the sleepiness notice is not sleepy!
From Advaita Vedanta is also said that you can do research on what that sleepiness notes. Is what that sleepiness also feels sleepy? Or is this a clear awareness?
Counter gifts for drowsiness
Counter gifts for drowsiness include:
- Sit up straight if possible
- With more dedication appoint what you notice
- Extend / narrow the attention (similar to the antidotes in aversion and desire).
- Sometimes the amount of time you have to meditate can be very discouraging and the sleepiness stronger. Instead of ‘I have to meditate for 30 minutes’ you can decide to be attentive to 2 breaths. If this is successful double to 4 breaths and so on to 8, 16, 32, etc.
- You can meditate with your eyes open. Possibly looking at the light can also help.
- You can pull your earlobes. I do not know if this really works, but it is humor and that also gives some energy.
- If you do walking meditation you can also walk backwards
- Instead of meditating you can also read an inspiring book about awareness or spirituality (in the case of Buddhism the Dhamma). Inspiration leads to energy.
- Wash your face with cold water between meditations. Or take a cold shower (even better)
I once heard (I no longer know who or not whether it is real or fable) that at a monastery they allowed people who had a lot of sleepiness to meditate on the edge of a deep well. I think it works (do not try this at home).
Unrest, fear or worry
Unrest may also be a very strong obstacle that, if you are not careful, may even cause you to stop the meditation process. Just as the meditation can help you at that moment.
We people often feel that we have to do something. Continuous. Meditation takes us from ‘doing’ to ‘being’. One of the fruits of meditation practice is that we are able to apply that more and more in daily life, which also brings about a greater sense of happiness.
Sometimes the unrest during meditation is so high that we immediately want to get up. It is therefore good to investigate the unrest (I = investigate). How can you perceive the unrest in your body? Where exactly and is this changeable? How do you relate emotionally to the unrest? What does the unrest with the energy in your body do? What desire is attached to the unrest; do you want to act on something? The trick is to observe and explore it without going into it.
You can often quickly notice that you are restless (R). Accepting the unrest (A) is difficult if the unrest is strong. But even finding it difficult to accept the unrest is to be investigated (I). Here, too, it is clear that you are not the unrest (N), but it is a composite and transient process, helpful in releasing the unrest. If this right seeing succeeds more often and penetrates you deeper, you will experience that this will also become more valuable in daily life.
Counter gifts for unrest
Counter-gifts for unrest include:
- Narrowing / widening attention (see desire)
- Smiles (making milder, loving kindness / applying Metta)
- Laughter (when you see how caught you are, you can cry, but you may as well laugh at it)
- Sit, sit, sit. By this I mean that it is perishable and especially at retreats it is often sufficient to just sit down. My personal experience is that unrest can be very intense, sometimes for days. To think a few days later ‘what made me worried about’?
Acceptance, research with loving attention and release the indication
I would like to emphasize that although we can work with counterparts if we are overwhelmed by unrest, acceptance is still the most important thing. ‘ What you resist, persist ‘. We try to sit next to it instead of in it , we examine it with loving attention and then try to let go of the identification with the object.
It is self-evident that there is doubt during meditation. Doubt is the beginning of wisdom . Embrace it too. Doubt can be powerful; “Am I doing well? Is it necessary that I meditate so often? What is the use of meditation? “Although we can now fall back on science in this last question, it is still the case in this century that doubt sometimes strikes. Especially with someone who is just starting to meditate. After all, he or she can not speak from experience what meditation has meant so far.
Well it is not true that if doubt arises, it must immediately go away. On the contrary. It is good to doubt. See that the doubt is there (R) and accept it too (A). Well, in case of doubt, investigating (I) is an extra tricky phase. This is also about finding the middle way. The doubt does not have to disappear and does not let the doubt become so big that your thoughts become black and white. Try to keep an objective and curious look. Take the time to find answers to your questions. Not only intellectually, but also emotionally. Also check whether doubt is not a flight or part of another obstacle. With the thought “I have something better to do than sit on this meditation cushion” lies desire. With the thought “I am so busy that meditation is really difficult now” lies unrest. With the thought “I am so tired that meditation does not make sense” lies laziness. Examine the doubt and take the time to experience whether the doubt can provide answers to questions.
In this way, the doubt becomes part of the meditation. See also in that doubt a concept and a process that comes and goes (N). It consists of thoughts, emotions and associated physical sensations. It can help to name the doubt so that it does not become a “story in itself” but only thoughts with a passing nature. Do not name it as “I doubt” but as “there is doubt” so that you can let go of the identification with the doubt.
Counter-gifts for doubt
If there is strong doubt, you can:
- inspiring books about meditation or reading the Dhamma.
- You can turn to a meditation teacher or a spiritual friend
- You can listen to an inspiring podcast about meditation
Application in daily life
The five obstacles do not only occur during meditation, but also in daily life. Try to apply the RAIN method as well. In the beginning it will often be necessary to take a time out after recognizing (R) an obstacle to be able to go through the other three phases of the RAIN process. But as you practice this more often (both during meditation and in daily life) it will increasingly become part of your system and you will gain more insight into and control over your conditionings.