Today's topic is ill will, as a hindrance. The opposite of ill will is love – all the different kinds. Closely related – because it looks a bit like ill will – is our healthy capacity to say no: to avoid activities which are harm-producing or unhealthy for us. So, whereas love and ill will can be seen as quite distinct, this healthy avoidance can be confused with the aversion that comes with the ill will. So we have to be very careful here. Actually, it can be part of our strength – our capacity to say, "No thank you "to things.
In meditation, we are mostly talking about internal things. Certain trains of thought arise, and we have been down those train tracks a lot. We see that they usually end up in train crashes, and so we say, "No, thank you". We say no, or we turn away from involvement with those trains of thought. Turning away is not being aversive or having ill will towards them. Rather, it is just knowing that these are not good places to go. It helps us see those two as distinct, because in relationship to ill will, there is a healthy way of saying "no" to it. We are not supposed to only accept it and hold it in awareness. There are times when we say, "No thank you. Enough. Not this." We let go.
The hindrances are fascinating. They are one of our primary areas of study and investigation, for people who do insight meditation. This is because these are the primary forces that are said to interfere with insight, with concentration, and with our ability to really have clear attention to the moment. One of the healthiest ways of working with the hindrances – so they do not dominate us – is to understand them well. Rather than being upset when one of the hindrances arises for you, take it as an opportunity to understand it more deeply. This is where turning around and looking at it deeply is part of what we learn to do.
One of the things we can learn is that for some of us, sometimes the hindrances are strategies for us to avoid things that are uncomfortable for us, or things that are painful or difficult. Some people run off to desire–to food and pleasures that take them away. Some people get involved with aversion, anger and blame. That is how, rather than stopping to really be with the discomfort, they push it away or direct the attention outward towards the object of ill will, and so forth for the other hindrances. They can be ways in which the mind is trying to avoid stopping and looking carefully at what is really happening here. Instead, we learn the skill of being present with what is uncomfortable, rather than reacting to it.
In ordinary everyday mindfulness, when the mind is not settled and concentrated, there are some wonderful ways of practicing mindfulness with the hindrances. One is to appreciate that often they have an object or some concern that we have. This is especially true for desire, and ill will. When we are caught in desire or ill will, we are often preoccupied with the object of the desire or the ill will. The attention is directed towards the object – it is an objectifying attention.
What we try to do then is to turn our attention around 180 degrees, and to feel what it is like to have desire and what it is like to have ill will. We let go of our concern with the object the best we can, to really be present for the experience of desire and the experience of ill will. That is what we are trying to discover and investigate – to understand deeply. Doing this begins to break the trance –the allure – of desire and ill will. Then we are no longer committed to the object, but rather, we are committed to our own well being.
Then we start seeing that the ill will or desire is a kind of alienation. It is a way of not being connected to ourselves, because we are so involved in the object. Even if the object is inside of us, there is a narrowing and alienating way in which we are only present for ourselves partially. Turning the attention around 180 degrees away from the object towards what the experience like – how it feels within us – is an effective way of working with the hindrances.
As we do this, then we will also want to start feeling the different emotions that come into play. Sometimes anger, ill will or hostility is actually people recoiling from their own sadness. Underneath ill will, there can be sadness. Sometimes there is hurt; sometimes there is loneliness. Sometimes there is some kind of inner pain that is the catalyst for this objectifying kind of ill will and hostility. As we turn our attention around, we can see the underlying emotion that might be the fuel for it. Chances are, that is what needs our love. That is what needs our caring, careful attention – more so than the hindrance itself.
Sometimes in daily life, when working with a hindrance, it can be hard to pay attention to it carefully, and turn around and look at it deeply. The hindrance is so strong, and life is so busy. We know we have a hindrance, but we are caught in the midst of all the activities of life and it is difficult to stop. Sometimes the significant thing to do is practice restraint – radical restraint. Just: "No, I am not going to do this. I am not going along with this. I am not going to speak from my ill will. I am not going to act on my ill will." Just simply: "No."
This is not pretty. It is not deep and insightful. But sometimes it is better than the alternative – when we give into it. There is a wonderful muscle that gets developed: the muscle of restraint. This will serve a meditator tremendously through a lifetime of meditation.
When meditation is deeper and clearer – this is, I think, the premise for the fourth foundation of mindfulness – when a person has followed the journey of practice, and gotten quieter, more still, and more present – then we have the opportunity to see the hindrances in a new way. We see them as an inconstant experience. We see that they come and go, and we feel what it is like when they are not there. We get to know them when they are not there. In meditation, sometimes the quality of the absence of desire or aversion can be quite high. There can be a real sense of peace, or something that feels really nice. Finally we are free of the hindrances, which are maybe part and parcel of our ordinary life.
To take time now to feel that – to turn around and really feel the well being, the peace, the quiet, and the stillness that might be there. To let it register deeply. Registering the peace sometimes allows it to grow and become fuller.
But also, to see the inconstancy of that peace. This is where insight meditation and satipatthāna practice really comes into maturity – when we start seeing things arising and passing. In terms of the hindrances, the text seems to imply the view that we should use our agency to let go of them. If we can be really present to see the ill will or aversion or hostility arise, and we are right there to see it come into being, this is an opportune time – an unparallelled time perhaps – to let go.
It is almost as if the body and mind have a memory of what it was like just before it arose –when the hindrance was not there. It can now be seen as a provisional state –as not having the absoluteness of really strong, fiery anger or hostility. It is just something that is appearing. The Buddha called it a visitor – a visitor that covers over or hides the luminosity of the mind.
Be quiet enough – and it is kind of delightful, even amusing, to be quiet and still enough – to watch a movement towards ill will arise, and then say, "No. Let go. I am not going there". Sometimes letting go is more like letting be, because we are not picking it up. We are just letting it be – letting it go by.
This is one of the deeper ways of practicing with the hindrances. The reason it is deeper is that now we are beginning to align our practice with the emphasis in the refrain of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: to see the arising and passing of phenomena. To really be there at the place where you can see how inconstant and how changeable our experiences and our perceptions are.
The clarity we are trying to develop by not allowing the hindrances to obscure the mind becomes the clarity of sitting quietly in the changing flow of experience in the present moment. The inconstant arising and passing, coming and going, appearing and disappearing – the flow of change that is the present moment. If we are in the present moment, things are always changing. That is a deep liberating place to sit and be. The hindrances are not liberating, but we are developing attention to the hindrances so that attention can become liberating for us. And the hindrances are just as good an object as almost anything else.
See today whether you have ill will, anger, hostility, or aversion that feels painful, and stop for it. Stop a lot – really take your time with it. Do the practice of turning your attention 180 degrees around to really feel it and get to know it. If you have ill will, then, when it is no longer there, feel what that absence like. If you are tracking this through the day, perhaps you will catch the arising of ill will. Maybe while driving your car, someone cuts you off, and you see it arise right there. What an opportunity. How is it different to have ill will when you see it arise, versus when it is already in place?
I hope you can, in this way, maybe not enjoy your hindrance of ill will, but maybe enjoy, and maybe even be amused by being mindful of it. May you see it clearly for what it is, and find a very different relationship to ill will than many people have when they are pushed around by it. Thank you. I appreciate our time together and we will continue with the hindrances tomorrow.