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Opening to the Hindrances



Opening to something is different from working with it. In terms of the hindrances, the process of opening to them is an important foundation that often gets overlooked. Instead, the focus is placed on how to work with them so that they will abate and/or not arise. Indeed, overcoming the hindrances is a prerequisite to the arising of Samadhi, and left unnoticed and unchecked, they will be the driving force for much of what arises in the heart and mind. Yet, we must practice with them with the correct attitude. That is, one of opening to and understanding them, as opposed to seeing them as problematic and something to be gotten rid of. 


Wisdom is cultivated in two different ways in practice. One is when clear seeing and stability of mind is already present. There is an absence of defilements in the mind, and suffering is temporarily at bay. Mindfulness, equanimity, calm and loving kindness are predominant in the mind. This is experienced as pleasant, and the practitioner often feels that this is “good practice,” which it is. 


The other way wisdom is cultivated is when there is mindfulness of the mechanics of suffering as it’s happening. That is, one sees how resisting what is unpleasant causes one to suffer, for example. There are defilements in the mind (or more exactly, there just were), but they are being seen clearly, as well as their impacts on one’s well being. This can be experienced  as unpleasant, as one feels the impacts of the defilements in the body and mind. Because of this, practitioners can deem this as “not good practice.” But in truth, it is. The seeing of how suffering comes about, and how it can be let go of, is wisdom itself. 


Becoming aware of hindrances as they occur is an example of this second way of cultivating wisdom. Hindrances are not the enemy, or to be feared. With mindfulness and the proper attitude, they are an opportunity to cultivate wisdom. We can experience them as impermanent, imperfect and impersonal. Furthermore, being mindful of and exploring the hindrances can actually be a happy occasion. Seeing them and their effects clearly can be the cause for joy (one of the factors of enlightenment) to arise in the mind. One is happy to see them, knowing that is the difference between them being a hindrance, and simply being an object of mindfulness. 


The Rumi poem “The Guest House” comes to mind when considering this subject. The ancient teachings of all the wisdom traditions counsel us to use what is difficult as grist for the mill of understanding and freedom. I’ll leave you with it.



The Guest House


This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.


A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.


Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.


The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.


Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.


by Mewlana Jallaludin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks


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