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
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.
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?
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
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.