lesson
7

Boredom and Laziness:
Obstacles to practice

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With your doubt, laziness, hesitation and inquisitiveness,
we have found magnificent soil in which to sow the seed of the buddhadharma.

Trumgpa Rinpoche

When you sit with your mind, working on yourself by yourself, all kinds of obstacles manifest. You may encounter boredom, frustration, agitation, forgetfulness, laziness. These obstacles are in a sense the guardians of our wisdom, discouraging us all the time.

Fortunately — because the obstacles can be quite overwhelming — the difficulties you as a meditator encounter on the path of meditation have been documented by a very long lineage of meditators.

In this lesson you explore the obstacles that can arise in meditation and the antidotes you can apply, techniques that have passed the test of time.

Boredom

In your meditation sessions, have you experienced boredom? If you answer yes, what does it mean to you to be bored? What did you think you were bored with? How did you respond to the boredom?

In meditation you're isolating yourself — first your body, then your mind. Are you used to this — being just with your body, your mind? No? Where are you then most of the time?

If, when we meditate, we're able to slow down and abide in our internal space, we can begin to appreciate the lack of stimulation compared to the chaos of normal life. But we will, as well, be bored at times, not wanting to be where we are. This boredom can be a real threat to our ability to fully experience peaceful abiding. Being bored may even incite us to walk away from the cushion.

"You mean I'm just supposed to sit there doing nothing? I'll be bored to death!" Have you experienced just the fear of boredom keeping you from meditation? Have you experienced or can you imagine experiencing fear of putting yourself in a situation where there will be nothing to entertain you, nothing to hold your interest

Boredom can take many forms.

  • There's "hot" boredom

  • There's "cool" boredom

  • Habituated to speed and stimulation, we sit down to meditate and suddenly have no external amusement, no way to satisfy ourself. We feel stir crazy, like a child with nothing to do. Our agitation wants to reach for something to fill the space. But you can’t reach for a magazine or our cell phone. So you try to cope by making your own entertainment, amusing yourself with a little sound or the movements of an insect, instead of following the breath.
  • Boredom can be rooted in fear. Unable to relax with our mind, we're afraid of being left alone with ourselves. Unaccustomed to quiet, we fear resting with no activity. Unsure of what will happen if we totally let go, we want to maintain our comfort zone. Unable to go deeper with ourselves, and with nothing else to do, we experience fearful boredom.We can't imagine the mind at peace.

In these last two kinds of boredom, we want things to be different from how they are. We've been sitting there in meditation waiting for something to happen or not to happen, and we feel angry and frustrated at our predicament.

You can take another approach by observing the boredom and tasting it completely. Settle in to your boredom. You're stuck on the cushion where nothing is going to happen, so just settle in. You may sink into yourself and become somewhat glazed over, the world may feel distant and fuzzy. Even if you’re not embracing your practice, but you may be able to relax enough to experience the dullness without grasping at amusement or pushing away the pace. To do this is to begin to accept boredom as part of the landscape of peaceful abiding. That's progress!


Gauging your progress
This is a good way to gauge our progress. Look how far you've come: in the beginning you couldn't sit still, didn't like your waterfall of thoughts, and could barely fight the constant urge to get up and do something else. You thought of washing the dishes, making lists of what we needed to do at work and of returning phone calls. The mind was so speedy that your body wanted to get off the cushion to relieve the pressure. Now things move a little more slowly, and the impulses to move don't seem as strong.

Being faced with the boring quality of meditation perhaps makes you want to quit. If you don't give in to this impulse, you'll begin to reap the benefits of boredom.


Boredom as a step on the path

In order to make the discovery that meditation isn't going to fulfill our need for entertainment or fortify our comfort zone you need to be thoroughly bored!

While you may think you’re bored with peaceful abiding, what you're really bored with is your repetitive thought patterns. Meditation is just the trigger. Even after your thought patterns have become predictable and transparent, somehow they keep arising. You can see how you get hooked into chasing fantasies and schemes that have as much substance as last night's dream. You discover that the thought, "What's for lunch?" never tastes anything like the meal, that philosophizing about practice can't hold a candle to being grounded in the present moment

Gauging your progress
When your boredom — your need for entertainment,your fear of your own aloneness, any desire you have to gain something from meditation — takes on a seasoned quality and is no longer needy but is spacious, comfortable, and soothing, this is a breakthrough.

Counteracting boredom

When you just can't settle in and you find yourself avoiding meditation, you need to actively counter that pattern.

Experiment with your practice. Focus on different aspects of the practice at different times. For example:

  • One day highlight awareness of the posture. While still following the breath and recognizing thoughts, pay extra attention to the body. At another time we can become intimate with the process of breathing.
     
  • Another time, sharpen your ability to spot thoughts or to cut through a chain of discursiveness that's taken you on vacation to the Himalayas. Focus on the recognizing process—on spotting the tail end of a thought, for example.

Everyone has days when practice is difficult and boring. It can help to be aware of your state of mind before taking your seat. When you sense that you 're totally distracted, try sitting down on the cushion and thinking away. Think about whatever difficulty you 're facing and let the thoughts and fantasies play out. But do it with awareness! Then after ten minutes of thinking, place our mind on the breath.