Eightfold Path for the Householder:
Hindrances of the Householder (I)
By Jack Kornfield
I've asked old students, people who have sat in meditation for quite
awhile, what kinds of things they were working with after five or ten
or fifteen years of practice. They say, "I'm working with fear" or "I'm
working with habit and desires that arise over and over" or "I'm
working with laziness" or "I'm working with irritation" or
anger; common kinds of energies. What I hear even from people who have
sat in meditation for a long time is the same list of the five basic
hindrances that are discussed in the second day of every retreat. It
seems that they stay around for awhile. So I'd like to look at them
in the context of people who have been practicing for awhile and living
their lives, and see how we can continue to work with them since they
seem to be part of our family life, so to speak, or inner family life
How can we understand the hindrances or the traditional difficulties
in meditation in our daily life? First of all, it is important to understand,
as you go on in the path of spiritual practice, that often the weaknesses
or difficulties that we encounter are the places that most wake us
up. The places where we seem most successful and the best of things
are often also the places that are the strongest part of our self image
or our "ego" in some kind of Eastern sense of that word.
And it's the places that are our very difficulties and our vulnerabilities
that often allow us to grow in a more genuine way when we look at them,
when we work with them.
There was a wonderful paper that was written a few years ago by Seymour
and Sylvia Boorstein for the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and
it was called "The Five Hindrances of Marriage." It talked
about the difficulties that the Buddha described in meditation -- desire,
anger, restlessness, laziness or sleepiness, doubt -- and it describes
the process of marriage as encountering these exact same forces. Desire
for something else or better. Irritation and anger, especially when
you discover that that person really isn't behaving in the way that
you expected and hoped and planned for them, and all the irritation
and frustration that comes from that. The third hindrance of sleepiness
or laziness, discovering after awhile that one can get complacent in
relationships. Or the opposite -- restlessness, the traditional Seven
Year Itch; after a certain cycle in a relationship, one gets restless
for something new or something different. And doubt. "Is this
the right person?" or "Is this the right way to be living?" and
the same forces which arise when one sits in meditation and tries to
open one's eyes inwardly, and one's heart and mind seem to arise in
relation to the people we're closest to, and all the other people at
distances from us.
Can you recognize that? Can you see that there are parallels between
the sitting and other things around? There are all kinds of stories
that we make up about these states. "He did," and "she
did," and "I will," and "she should," and
so forth. It's useful to see that those stories are based on kind of
myths that we build about ourselves and the world, identities that
are created mostly by thought, and, in fact, things are a lot simpler
This is from Achaan Chaa:
Traditionally the Eightfold Path is taught with eight steps such
as Right Understanding, Right Speech, Right Concentration, and so forth.
But the true Eightfold Path is within us: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils,
a tongue and a body. These eight doors are our entire Path and the
mind is the one that walks on the Path. If you know just these things,
and the states that arise with them, all of the dharma is in front
We all have these stories about experiences, but actually our experiences,
if we want to live more in the moment, are much simpler than that,
much simpler than our stories.
Let's talk about the five hindrances a little bit and maybe reflect
in some ways how they arise, not just while sitting, but all the rest
of the time, which is what practice is for. You sit and practice in
order then to live it. That's why it's called "Practice."
Desire is the juiciest one of them. As Oscar Wilde said, "I
can resist anything but temptation." It's the one that we get
caught up in in different ways. It's amazing, wanting is a very powerful
habit. We can want anything, and it changes from one thing to another.
We desire one thing and then we desire another. In the retreats, as
you know, there's the phenomena of things like The Vipassana Romance
where people are silent and not looking at anyone and just paying attention,
and they notice some interesting shape or something out there, and
then they just sit, and all of a sudden the whole idea comes, what
it would be like to maybe meet that person, and talk with them, perhaps
after the retreat to go out and meditate together, or some other activity
like that. And that goes on, you know -- marriage, children. In California
it usually includes divorce as well, if you really play it all the
way out. And without making eye contact with that person, the mind
spins out this fantasy of things that will fulfill it better than whatever
experience is here, with the breath, or the body, or whatever is actually
That same movement can be observed, if you look, all the time in
our life. It's called the "If-Only Mind." It's the mind that
arises in the moment of experience and says, "If only I had something
else," "If only I had a different partner," or "If
only they behaved in a different way," or "If only I had
a different job," or "If only I had more free time," or
more money, or a house more in the country, or a house more in the
city, or "If only I were younger," or "If only I were
older," or whatever. It's always the same state. I watched it
when I was a monk and all I had were a few books and a robe and bowl.
Possessions were really minimal. Even so, I found myself thinking, "If
only I had a little nicer robe." It has nothing to do with what's
around us. It's this movement inside of feeling like what's here is
not enough. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Never give people anything they ask for
until at least a day has passed.
Someone said, "Why not?"
"Experience shows they only appreciate something
when they have the opportunity of doubting
whether they will get it or not."
One of the interesting things when you start to look at and work
with the hindrance of desire is to see that what relieves it, what
makes one finally happy about it, is not so much the thing that you
get, or the person, or the experience that you get at the end - this
is important, so listen to this - it's actually the fact that the state
of desiring has ended. I'll give you a simple example. Suppose you
have a craving for some food that you really want to have. It can be
pizza or ice cream or cannelloni, you name it, whatever it happens
to be. You go and you get it. You do all the things. You get in your
car, you go, you finally get it, you have it in your hand, and you
take the first bite of whatever it is. And usually the moment that
you taste it, there's this great sense of delight and release, and
so forth, and part of it may be because it tastes good and it's pleasurable,
if it's part of your fantasy -- but the main piece is, in that moment,
finally the wanting stops. Do you understand that? And that a good
deal of the joy of fulfilling desires is not so much of the getting
of the thing, because you have it for a little while and then you want
the next thing -- it's endless -- but rather that there's a moment
where the wanting itself stops. If you look closely in yourself, if
you let yourself look, you find that the very process of wanting is
painful; that the very state of not being complete or content or present
with what's here is what the pain is about.
That's a familiar hindrance. Let's talk about some of the others,
and then talk about ways one could work with them in one's life. Of
course, the first piece is just beginning to understand how these operate
The next four are quite interesting. Anger, sleep, restlessness and
doubt -- even desire to a certain extent is included -- I tend to see
them all as states of avoidance. They're really states which arise
so that we can avoid something, some aspect of what's true in our experience.
Maybe I can explain that as we go along.
Anger, which includes irritation and judgment and boredom, not liking
what's present, fear -- all of those are the movement of anger. It's
a very painful state, for the most part, if you look at it. The body
has a lot of tension, there's heat, there's burning if you're angry.
Even irritation has a lot of tension in it. Yet in some way we do it
again partly out of habit. Another reason that we do it is because
it makes us feel right in some way. You know what I mean about being
right. That's the favorite feeling of many people because it's the
feeling that most authenticates the sense of yourself.
Two weeks ago when we talked about Forgiveness somebody stood up
or raised their hand and said something that was really powerful. They
said, "Here we are, stewing and raging and angry about something
that someone has done, and very often they're off going about their
own business enjoying themselves. And who's suffering? It's us because
it wasn't that way, and we're so angry, and it should have been, and
so forth. And who is doing the holding on at that point? I'm not saying
that you shouldn't be angry -- you can be angry or hold grudges; you're
welcome to do anything. -- We're just looking at the laws of how it
I remember I was sitting at this one monastery for a long time meditating,
and I had a bout of anger about something, which I have regularly,
and I went to the teacher and told him how angry I was about something.
It was in the hot season and he was wearing those little flip-flop
sandals. He got up and went over to the table where we were sitting
and he kicked the table leg. It looked like it hurt him. Then he held
his foot and he hopped around for awhile. Then he sat back down and
kind of massaged his foot. Then he looked at me and he shook his head.
That was his response to my being angry. He just kind of acted out
what we do. Just like desire, where we can desire anything, and it
doesn't matter what it is, the force is there, and we get our food,
or our relationship, or our car, or our vacation, or our time off,
whatever it is, and then we look for the next thing because it's so
powerful. The same with anger. We can get angry at anything, including
things that are already past and nothing can be done about them. And
even more, we can imagine something which somebody is going to do,
and sit there and get really angry at what they might do. Have you
ever seen yourself do that?
We project our righteousness on other people in some way. We project
our pain, is really what it's about; that we're in some kind of pain,
and we make it somebody else's fault. Also there's as much suffering
in the world as we experience at certain times, and we don't want to
take it in because it's so hard for our hearts, and our culture is
one that doesn't train the human heart very well to deal with the measure
of pain that's part of life.
I got quite angry today. In fact, I was really yelling at somebody.
I won't talk about the specifics so much. I felt so indignant and I
felt so right that it was very hard not to do it. It's interesting
to observe. It's not like anger is some terrible thing, or that it
won't arise, or that all these other states won't arise, or that there
might not even be an occasion where it was appropriate. There are some
occasions for that, especially if you're able to let it move through
you instead of storing it as resentment and all kinds of other things,
or if you use it in a way that isn't really intended to hurt other
people. That's a whole other talk about anger.
But here we are, living in a pretty busy and complicated world, and
we see this state of being angry, or being irritated, or judgmental,
arise very often, and yet we are the victims of it. It's we who suffer
from it. The question, when it comes, is: How can we relate to it?
It's really the pain in us that we're talking about. If we can look
at that, then we can touch the world and heal it a little bit. It's
very difficult to do without healing our own pain.
Let's talk about laziness, and so forth. I said all of these are
avoidances. Very often anger is really a way of not feeling the pain
of someone else or what our own experience is. Judgment and fear are
the same things. Sleepiness is the same. Sleepiness, the habit of going
unconscious. When is it that sleepiness arises? There are three basic
causes for it. It comes when we're tired. That's the first one. And
that's a good signal. You sit in meditation or you find yourself at
other times having sleepiness. arise for you; then take a look and
see what are the causes. Now, if it's just that you've been working
kind of hard and you're tired, that's one thing. Then you just respect
your body and maybe take a rest.
But because we're in 80's in California, in a Western culture, how
many people when they get sleepy or tired are living in such a way
that it's really a signal? How are you living your life, how busy is
it, how full is it; where are we going that we fill it up so much?
Does that make sense to any of you? So that's a signal. It's a signal
even if it is just tiredness. Let's look at what pace we live at, or
let's look of how we fill up our lives, and what we might be avoiding
in some way in doing that.
One part of sleepiness is just that we're tired. The second is that
we are unaccustomed to stillness, that our culture moves so fast and
we get into that rhythm. Then when it's time to stop, and you sit to
meditate or you walk outside, or you go home you kick your shoes off,
you start to think, "Maybe I could meditate. No, I'm too tired
to do it." The way I put it in retreats is: When we start to get
quiet, there's some little voice in there that says, "Oh, it's
quiet; it must be bedtime," because it's one of the few times
we stop. It's a response in us, when we start to get still or concentrated
or quiet. And sometimes the fear comes, "Oh, this is too quiet,
what will I do with this? It's too empty, there isn't enough activity
for me to know who I am," because we define ourselves by our activities.
The third reason that sleepiness arises is that it is a kind of resistance.
You will notice yourself becoming lazy or sleepy at certain times in
your spiritual life not because you're overtired or not because it's
too quiet. And that's an unfamiliar state that you need to work with,
to learn to open again like a child; but because there's some pain
or sorrow or grief or difficulty or conflict that's kind of hard to
feel, it's easier just to be sleepy about it. Has anybody noticed that
happening in their lives, or how often it can happen?
Our culture is amazing. Not just our culture, it's worldwide. There
are ten million drug addicts, and 20 million alcoholics, and 50 million
people who are close to those drug addicts and alcoholics -- and their
families or family-systems, who are really painfully touched by that;
deeply so. And more than half of all the car accidents where people
are killed and 80 or 90 percent of child abuse and the great majority
of fires at home, and all of those things, are involved with alcohol
and drugs. And the level of pain, if you start to work with people
around the family systems of alcohol and drugs, and so forth -- it's
extraordinary. Yet, the purpose of all of that, for the most part,
is to cover pain. A friend of mine who worked in a drug program for
many years said that generally speaking the amount of drugs and alcohol
used is equal to the amount of pain in the person, not to be too simplistic
about it. So that's what I mean by avoidance; that there are states
that arise for us that keep us from feeling.
Restlessness is a different one. The vibration, the movement, the
habit of our culture is to be speedy. TV, shopping, eating, traveling,
the telephone, all of these things, where we keep ourselves busy because
we don't know what to do. We're not taught as we grow up how to nurture
ourselves in stillness, how to listen more to the breeze, or the clouds,
or the trees, or the children, or the people around us, or how to just
sit on our porch and rock in our chairs a little bit and watch stuff
go by, as people used to do, instead of constantly being busy with
it. I have to confess I'm one of us in that one. Somebody from Europe
who heard my dharma talks wanted to sit a long retreat and came to
a three-month retreat. They said they were so disappointed in me because
I tend to move pretty quickly, and they said I seemed more like an
Italian shoe salesman than a calm meditation teacher. And it's true.
Someone who has done a lot of vipassana practice and has worked with
eating disorders, has titled one of her books feeding the hungry heart.
A lot of our busyness is because we're looking for something to fulfill
us. So we eat or go shopping or travel, or pick up the phone, or turn
on the TV really compulsively at times, because there's something we
want -- and it doesn't quite do it. That's the kind of restlessness.
The ability to just stop and be, like when you're in a traffic jam
where you say, "Here, I am on the Golden Gate Bridge; I might
as well feel the bridge vibrate and kind of look at what the shipping
is doing, instead of thinking of where I could be or being frustrated." It's
to be with what is.
There have been a number of movies from Australia. I remember one
called the last wave, with pictures of the aborigines. One of the things
that most struck me about them was that when the aborigines sat down,
they sat. It was like they sat and they could have been on a rock,
Ayers Rock or something, and they just sat there, and they could have
sat all day and all night and all week. But you don't see that in our
culture; you see this sense of movement almost to the extent where
people can't sit still, can't pause, can't stop because of what would
Someone asked Nijinsky about his dancing, how he could dance in such
a marvelous way, and he said that there had to be some stillness in
it. He said:
It's really quite simple. I merely leap and pause.
What a description, "I merely leap and pause." Can we learn
to stop a little bit? Maybe that's all that meditation is about, just
to stop. Then the last hindrance is doubt, confusion, tension, kind
of wondering, "What should my work be, how should my spiritual
life go, am I in the right relationship, am I in the right workplace,
am I in the right part of the country." We Americans have the
curse of choice. That's not a trivial thing. It enlivens and it enriches
the culture and our lives, but it's a very difficult thing and it's
not so for most cultures. And usually when doubt arises strongly it
does so because our heads, our thinking apparatus is not connected
with our heart. If you look in the moment where there's a lot of confusion
or doubt, it's there because there's much thought and not much connection
to the heart, to what we might do based on our deeper values.
Another way to put it is: when there's a lot of doubt, often connected
with it is a lack of love for ourselves or a lack of love for the other,
for the world around us. If we're in touch with that love, our path
becomes pretty clear. Do you remember the question I asked the night
of the talk on Forgiveness that came from Gandhi's tomb along the Ganges
in Delhi where the question was inscribed in stone:
Think of the poorest person you have ever met, and then before acting
ask if or how this act will be of benefit to that person.
Confusion generally comes when we're not in touch with what we really
value in life. And again, it requires a stopping, an opening, a listening
These are the hindrances. Are they familiar? Certainly they are.
They are our companions in the journey. We see them over and over in
sitting, we see them over and over in the world outside, in the cause
for war. When I was angry there was a very strong impulse in me to
call and register a complaint and try to solve something. And then
being met by aggression, it was very easy to see if someone chooses
to be your adversary how easy it is to take up the banner and say, "Alright,
I'll do it. I'm a man. Why not?" or whatever it is. That's one
of the problems, yes. But it's worldwide -- prejudice, greed, fear
and desire; these same forces that create war or that create grain
elevators full of food in one place and hungry people in another.
The question is: Are they workable? Can one work with these forces?
Lama Yeshe in that excerpt that I've read about his time being in the
hospital and going through all the great difficulty with his heart
Can you learn the basic precept of transforming your unwanted sufferings
into the path of practice?
If you can learn that precept, it will serve you in any circumstances.
Can you learn to do that? Can any of us do that? What does it take?
A key thing that it requires is faith. It is so important -- faith
in the human heart, faith in the power of awareness. The Dalai Lama
was asked what was the most important thing one can do as a teacher
of dharma, what's the most important thing you can communicate, and
he said "Faith." Not faith in the Buddha or faith in something
from India or some ancient system, but really faith in our own true
nature. Rock bottom understanding of that, not just with words but
because you know that it's true that human beings have this capacity
to deal with the sorrows of the world and with adversity, and that
the heart is greater than all of that, and that the power of awareness
is such that we can grow from any of it. That's what we have to discover
-- in ourselves, in our sitting, in our families, in our lives. Faith,
not so much in doing but in stopping, in listening, in not doing so
much, and letting ourselves stop avoiding things that are difficult,
not getting so caught by the stories of what we want or what we don't
want. That's all the mind. Minds do that, it's sort of their job --
you pay them a little bit and they just think all the time.
Rilke talks about it quite beautifully in a poem which he calls, "I
Have Faith in Nights."
You darkness that I come from,
out of which all things come,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything,
shapes and fires, animals and myself.
How easily it gathers them,
powers and people.
It is possible a great energy is moving near us.
I have faith in night.
Amazing poem, darkness out of which everything comes.
Can we stop -- in our practice, in our lives with our families --
and start to listen, and let ourselves be a little emptier, a little
more silent, more in touch with the spaces between words or between
desires or between frustrations? There is something really mysterious
that reveals itself as soon as we stop. It doesn't take very long,
and maybe there's a certain pain that one has to go through in putting
on the brakes, if you know what I mean -- each time, again and again,
too -- but when you do it, then things become mysterious again like
it is for any child.
Walt Whitman said:
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles
when you're still enough.
The source of our happiness is not through our doing, it's really
much more through stopping. How can we work with our hindrances very
specifically? First of all, if you identify the most popular ones in
your own personal repertoire, it helps a lot. If you're going to go
to the theater, you might as well know what play is on. I've talked
on some nights about Buddhist personality typology, which is based
on our responses that come out of the sense of separateness itself;
and the three roots in Buddhist psychology are the greed type, the
aversion type, and the deluded type.
Just to remind you in a simple way, we all have all of it in us.
I'm a great example of the greedy type. The general response of the
greedy type is to go into a new situation and see what we like about
it, and see how we might get more of it, what's lovely about it or
what we appreciate. Forget the rest. Now, the aversion type -- my wife
is more in that category -- is somebody who goes into a situation and
sees what's wrong with it, which is a very different response, painted
wrong, the colors are wrong, and people are behaving wrong, and so
forth. And then the deluded type whose tendency is to go into a new
situation and not know what to make of it, not know what their place
Does this make sense to you? Do you understand these types of either
wanting or being critical or not knowing your place in it? There's
a lot more. -- There's the Buddhist families, Ratna, Padma, Vajra,
all these styles which I might talk about a little bit more. What's
interesting is that each of these also has a positive side, which we'll
get to later, things that can be transformed in us. The point about
this is that it begins to become useful if we want to work with the
hindrances in our daily life to start to see what our own patterns
are. Is it our tendency to get irritated all the time, or is it our
tendency to go to sleep all the time, or is it our tendency to eat
to avoid, to use desire in that way, or is there some other tendency?
My teacher Achaan Chah used to be very forthright about it. It was
part of his teaching style. He would kind of give nicknames to a number
of his monks and people around. It was a little bit like The Seven
Dwarfs _ Sleepy and Dopey and stuff like that. "This is a monk
that's always into eating. Oh, here's my monk, why don't you meet him?
This is Sleepy. Whenever I visit, go to his cottage, he's always sleeping," and
so forth. He did it with a lot of humor.
You've got to start to look at what is your particular way of not
being present. The thing is that they're not bad. You don't have to
say, "Well, I'm a bad person," because this is just the nature
of being born with a self-structure or having it develop in early childhood.
What's important is to see that it's actually very alive, and that
if you can begin to work with it, it's interesting. Aren't you interested
in yourself? Fess up! Come on! Why not look at the patterns that we
use in relating to things? It's really juicy and it can be transformed.
The first thing is to see what are the popular patterns in oneself.
So I ask you that for yourself -- which are the ones that you use?
Then the second, after you recognize that, which helps you to kind
of keep on the lookout for them, is to begin to identify mindfully
the state or the experience as it arises in the moment, or as close
to the moment as you can -- the wanting or the fear or the desire or
the doubt. And a little while later you say, "Oh, here I am in
it," and to identify it by acknowledging it. It's very useful
to use a label, "fear, fear" or "desire" or "wanting" -
just give it its name in a neutral way. You really see the force as
an opportunity to learn. "Alright, I've had 29 years or 48 years
of this mostly being my pattern. Let me really look at it. How soon
does it come? What situations cause it to arise? What does it feel
like in the body? What's going on with me in that moment? What's the
So the second thing is to identify it, the best you can, without
judgment. It's hard because we tend to say these are bad -- it's bad
to be irritated or to be fearful or to be angry, or it's bad to be
desiring or wanting. If we want to learn about them, the key is to
be mindful, which is to say, to see and observe them as if you were
studying a different person. Say, "Gee, this is an interesting
force. How is this operating?" It's also important to see that
they're workable. When you identify or label it, it changes from being
overwhelming to, "Oh, this is just the dark night of the soul." It's
difficult, but you know what to call it. Or in your relationship, instead
of saying, "Oh, this is not going right, I should look for another
partner," it might be, "Oh, this is just a state of doubt
or restlessness. Let me see if I can look at that in myself."
Then the third piece is to make friends with it, to really receive
it with your heart as well as your attention, because if you dislike
it, even in a subtle way in your heart, when you say, "desire,
desire, desire" or "aversion" or whatever, it's not
going to go away or change. You won't even learn much about it because
you're still in struggle with it. The more that you struggle with pains
or experiences, actually the more real they become inside.
The fourth is to observe how it changes -- the more carefully, the
better. Maybe you should study one a week. Pick one and observe what
does it feel like in the body. How long does it last when you label
it? How many labels long? What triggers it to arise? What state usually
follows it? What is it like if you're working with desire and you note "desire,
desire, desire," or whatever it happens to be? What's the moment
like when it stops? I keep thinking of this cartoon that was in mad
magazine: Alfred E. Newman was at the blackboard, and he was writing,
he was down to about his hundredth time, and it said, "Cessation
of desire, cessation of desire, cessation of desire," It was his
assignment for that day. Look at and see if you're examining desire
or fear or whatever, see what it feels like, and see if you can notice
the moment when it changes. Very interesting moment, because at that
moment you begin to realize not only its impermanence, but also that
it's very impersonal, it comes according to a certain story or forces.
It doesn't last very long unless we keep telling the story over and
You can practice with little ones. You can practice with annoyance
with your partner or your spouse. Practice watching when you feel yourself
to be right. Just practice watching for that little impulse that says, "I'm
right." It's a very interesting one. Or practice carefully with
certain desires that arise that you know, those are the ones you'd
like to learn about, and see what it's like as it arises.
First is to look at key patterns and sort of recognize the territory
for yourself. The second is to identify the experience in the moment.
The third is to touch it with your heart as well as seeing and labeling
it, to really let it in and not condemn it so much. The fourth is to
notice how it changes, notice it's process, beginning and end, what
comes before and afterward. Take little things to work with; practice
The next -- and this is really a key -- is see if you can discover
or observe what it hides you from, what it distracts you from, what
it covers up, what's the fear. When I said these are all forms of avoidance,
if you let yourself feel desire, or fear, or boredom, or doubt, or
restlessness, and you observe it, see if you can listen inside yourself
a little more deeply, or even on a cellular level somehow, and see
what it is that you're moving away from, that you run from. Some of
it is moving away from being "just this much," as Achaan
Chaa says. We're always at war trying to make life more than it is,
make it bigger, or grander, or happier, or sadder, or longer, or shorter,
or lighter, or darker.
We move away from hunger, we move away from loneliness, we move away
from grief, or unfinished business, or pain in our heart, or the fact
that we haven't really been intimate in our relations at times, and
that's difficult to acknowledge, so we distract ourselves, or we move
away from pains that are unfinished in the past where we haven't forgiven,
or meaninglessness, or we move away from fear that things are out of
control. They are! Or we move away from space; it gets quiet and the
whole sense of oneself which is built on busyness starts to go away,
and that's scary, so we distract ourselves.
It's not only to observe the hindrance or the state, but also to
listen more deeply and see what you would experience if you let yourself
just get here. What might you be avoiding? It's a little bit like going
through a layer of ice that's a little painful, if you want to go into
the water and explore the depths of it. There's all kinds of amazing
things. But you have to stop skating, and then there's a moment where
you say, "Whoops, I think I'm going to break through the ice," and
you do. It's okay to stop and feel what's actually present. This is
a big part of practice, to open your body, to use your breath, your
attention, and your heart, and feel what's here, and stop moving; to
come to rest in the moment. This is where it gets very delicate. It's
called, Watching the Movement of Mind.
I'll close again with something from Achaan Chah. He talks about
the Middle Way:
On one side it's like you're being kicked on one side with desire,
and the other is aversion, left and right. One who follows the Middle
Way says, "I will not get caught by the pleasure or pain. I will
let go of each as they arise, accepting one moment after another. But
it's hard. It's as though we're being kicked on both sides, like a
cow bell or a pendulum knocked back and forth. We're always besieged
by pleasure and pain, and then we follow by a response, "I don't
like it, I do like it."
If you observe this, use your heart for guidance. You'll see that
when the heart is in its natural state, it's unattached, it's accepting.
When it stirs from the normal it's because of various thoughts and
ideas, the process of construction, of images. This is the illusion.
Learn to see this process clearly. When the mind is stirred from
its normal state it leads away from this moment into past, into future,
into right and wrong, into indulgence and aversion, creating more illusion,
more of movement.
Good and bad arise only in the mind. If you keep watch on this, studying
this one topic your whole life, I guarantee you'll never be bored.
He says in another place:
Just take one seat in the middle of the room and don't get up, and
see the things as they come and go.
So working with these states in one's sitting practice, in driving
in a traffic jam, in the supermarket, in one's marriage, or one's intimate
relations, in the workplace -- they're the same forces. Begin to work
by identifying them, start to see what your common patterns are, maybe
take a look and see what you're avoiding by having them there, and
see if you can bring your heart into them as well, because for the
most part they arise out of some place of pain. If we can open and
soften to that, to kind of melt to it, there's a much deeper place
of well-being that is our Buddha-nature, that is our birthright, and
it's there for anybody who stops.
This is Emily Dickinson:
When much in the woods as a little girl,
I was told that the snake would bite me,
that I might pick a poisonous flower
or mushroom, or the goblins would kidnap me.
But I went along and met none but angels.
I guess the second half will wait until another night. We have a
few moments for thoughts, comments, questions. And in the second half
we'll take more time because I'd like to hear from you about common
hindrances that you discover in your daily life and how you've learned
to look at them or work with them.
THE AUDIENCE: A question about depression. I've read that depression
can be stated as anger turning inward. Any comments about that, regarding
anger being one of the hindrances?
JACK: Is this for yourself particularly?
THE AUDIENCE: Yes.
JACK: So at times you experience depression and you wonder how it
relates to anger? Is that it?
THE AUDIENCE: What's going on?
JACK: It is often the case, although not always, that depression
is a cover for anger; that one has had some circumstance in life that
first brought a lot of pain, and then the response to that pain is
anger. If that's unexpressed in people, the energy to keep that anger
down is as strong as the anger itself, and it bottles up a great deal
of energy, and then one can feel fearful, depressed, lacking any sense
of personal empowerment. So often, although not always, in working
with depression, you might look to see where you've really cut yourself
off from your true feelings or your true inner relationship to things
around. That's not the only cause for depression, and it's important
to see that it's a very personal process that we're discussing; that
there isn't some rote formula. For someone else it might be loss and
there might be a bit of anger but there could be some other sense of
grief or loss, possibly other reasons as well. So it's more an inquiry.
What you might do is look at what time of day it gets the strongest
or in what circumstances, and then stop and sit. Say, "Alright,
I'm going to feel this," and see what images come, where you feel
it in your body, what images might arise.
Do you feel it in your body when you're depressed?
THE AUDIENCE: Yes. Then it becomes sleepiness.
JACK: So you get sleepy. So that's one function. Do you feel it in
any particular place?
THE AUDIENCE: All over.
JACK: So then you might sit with that and feel the sleepiness and
see what's under that, what would come up if you weren't sleepy. Just
pay careful attention. If you really want to go further, see if you
can feel the strongest sensation in your body, and then let an image
arise, whatever image wants to come out of it that may show you a picture
of what that inner conflict really is.
It's a good question.
THE AUDIENCE: What would be an interesting discussion one night is
talk about when we're happy. It seems to seduce us away from the inner
work. I mean, me.
JACK: What seduces us away?
THE AUDIENCE: Happiness. When I'm feeling really happy and things
are going right, some things are going right, it's like, "Well,
I might not have time to go to meditation."
JACK: I'd love to talk about happiness some night. I see it much
broader than that. That's a very good point, that at times happiness
can lead to a kind of complacency. However, there are other kinds of
happiness that are very genuine and really nurturing of spiritual life,
that touching them actually gives us the strength to deal with difficulties.
So it's a whole range, and there can be great joys that come out of
spiritual practice as well. Seeing the layer of things that we've avoided,
there's a very deep level of joy that can come. It's a good topic to
THE AUDIENCE: One of the things that hurts me, you naming them, I
know all of them, is that it's like I'm paying attention.
JACK: People do have all of them. They're all common human forces
that operate in each of us. There may be ones that we tend to have
more than another, but they're all the elements of the make-up of the
normal human mind. So it's not so much a question of which we have
or don't have. Some people have them all at once, what's called, A
Multiple Hindrance Attack. What's important in meditation is not what
the experience is, but what is our relationship to it as it arises.
So as we get to see what are our top ten tunes, and the popular ones
for us, then we can also begin to look at whether we can develop a
mindful or a skillful or a passionate relationship that leads us to
freedom in relation to that. It may be that we all have to work down
the list or up the list, depending on where you want to start. I think
Return to the Table of Contents.
Transcribed and edited from audio tape by Evelyn Sweeney, copyright
1995 Jack Kornfield
DharmaNet Edition 1995
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution via DharmaNet
by arrangement with the author.