Restlessness and its related feelings of anxiety, worry, and agitation is often a powerful force in our lives.  We can experience it as a  predominant mood or mind state, as a restless energy in the body, or as a subtle background feeling.

With each hindrance, spend some time reflecting on what your current relationship is to the hindrance you're studying. Before you read further about the Buddha’s teachings, reflect on your own experience of the hindrance.

Do you experience restlessness in your meditation practice? How is manifested? What triggers it?

Do you experience restlessness, anxiety, or worry in your life? Again, what triggers it and how do you experience it?

Learning to recognize and understand restlessness is particularly useful  during these times. Our world, both personal and global, is often anxiety-producing.  Can we learn to recognize it, to see it, to work with it? 

When we look at ourselves in these states of anxiety and restlessness, we see that there is too much unfocused energy — whether it is in the mind or the body — relative to the strength of our concentration and calm to hold it. When the power of   concentration is not strong enough to contain  this energy, we get agitated and restless.

Restless body

You may feel restlessness in the body. Unable to sit still, you feel like you’re going to jump out of your skin. This is not an uncommon feeling, particularly on meditation retreats!

Notice the next time you feel restlessness in the body. What is your relationship to it?  Accepting? Aversive?

Restless mind

Sometimes the body may be still but the mind is a whirlwind of mental activity, filled with restless energy and agitation — lost in memories, plans, judgments, and fantasies. 

How does your restlessness of mind manifest both when you're sitting and when you're living your daily life? Are there situations that trigger thoughts of the past and future? Are there thoughts that recur over and over again?

Restlessness can manifest as thoughts of guilt or regret or self judgment.  Perhaps your mind is flooded with thoughts of past actions that haven’t been skillful, and soon you start obsessing with our guilt or self-judgment. Or your mind becomes agitated with thoughts of wholesome actions that you didn’t do; you think back, “I really should have done that,” and you're lost in regret.

Sometimes restlessness comes through feelings of worry or insecurity.  We might try to find security by imagining that we can control the outcome of a certain situation — but often the outcome is beyong our control. Because  it’s difficult to be with the resulting feeling of insecurity,  our minds move faster and faster  trying to avoid it. Sometimes we get caught in loops of anxiety or guilt  that keep our minds agitated. There is an important distinction between guilt and remorse.  Guilt is a trick of the ego, a negative self-judment about something unskillful we may have done (or imagined we’ve done).  It’s the recurrence of the thought, “I’m so bad,” with a big emphasis on the “I.”  Remorse can be understood as an expression of the wisdom mind, acknowledging the unwholesome action, learning from it, taking responsibility for it, and moving on.  

Obsessive planning is another common expression of the restless mind — lost again and again in future thoughts

Experienced meditators, especially those who have done retreat, may also be familiar with the phenomenon of “yogi mind,” where the mind just gets caught up in some thought out of all proportion to its importance,  or even to its reality! 

Here’s one classic example of this.

Think about the thoughts and emotions that commonly arise and bring restlessness. Can you ditinguish between the thoughts themselves and the discomfort they generate?

There is a more subtle kind restlessness that occurs at the deeper stages of practice, when everything seems to be going quite smoothly, that can easily be overlooked. With the body calm, with the mind concentrated, when everything is moving along in a calm and steady way, we can mistake being lost in the quieter thoughts as simply being part of the flow rather than as a subtle agitation of mind. It doesn’t feel like it’s a disturbance. But from an even quieter space, you can begin to see that it’s like a little ripple in the concentration.

 
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Restlessness

1 of 3
Sloth & Torpor
Aversion
Desire
Letting Go