2022-03-16 Satipaṭṭhāna (45) Hindrances Rigidity and Sluggishness
2:56PM Mar 16, 2022
The topic is the third of the five hindrances. In English, it is often called sloth and torpor. I suspect that a good percentage of you do not use those words. It is not in your active vocabulary – especially the word "sloth." Maybe it is, especially if you have been around the insight meditation scene for a while. Maybe you have picked it up.
It is not so clear that this is the best word for what the Pāli is – the original Buddhist idea. Where sloth and torpor came from as translations of these terms, I do not know. But it has been around for a long time. It might have been eighteenth century English translators who chose words that had a particular meaning for them.
The word translated as sloth – the Pali word – literally means "rigid" or "stiff." As in a mind that becomes stiff or rigid, not soft and pliable. The word translated as "torpor," that may work, but I like the word "sluggish" better.
The tradition says that the second word has more to do with the physical – the body – and the first one, more with the mind. So the mind becomes rigid or stiff, or there is a sluggishness in the body.
But exactly where this stiffness and sluggishness is, whether it is in the mind, the body, or both, it does not really matter. In practice, we are just paying attention to how it is. This is a movement of the mind when its energy is not alive and engaged in a nice, healthy, flowing way. It is often associated with a sinking mind, a sinking of energy, a sinking of vitality in the mind.
The next hindrance, the fourth, is the arousal, the over-arousing of the mind. What we are noticing here is the energy level, the activity, the engagement level of the mind. Either it can sink, or it can be over-aroused. And there are many reasons for that in life.
In following desire and aversion – the first two hindrances – if we are successful in not being caught in the grip of greed, hatred, and ill will, then some of our minds do not have the usual entertainment, the usual fire, that keep them going. Sometimes we are exhausted from too much wanting, too much anxiety, too much aversion – we are angry all the time.
When we finally stop the greed, or the fear, or the anxiety, or the the anger, sometimes we crash. Sometimes the energy level drops down. Some of it has to do with just finally getting to rest.
But some of it might have to do with confusion, maybe depression, and not knowing where to put the mind and what to do when a little bit lost. There is no good reason to be engaged. No cause to want to have, or want to make go away. Perhaps we have never discovered the natural vitality of awareness, of attention, because the vitality of attention was always being fueled by greed and aversion or, sometimes, by fear.
A huge adjustment can happen when those "caffeines of the soul," I call them, are not operating and we go through withdrawal, a little.
Sometimes a sinking mind – the mind getting rigid, closed, tight, or sluggish in some way or another – is a response or a reaction to our circumstances. We might feel overwhelmed. We might have too many stimuli, too many emotional difficulties. And it is just so hard for our heart or mind to manage. We believe we cannot manage. We have ideas that it should be different. We feel discouraged. Perhaps we feel a lot of self pity, or a lot of self doubt because, "I should have done better. I made a mistake."
All of these different attitudes come into play around the difficulty of our lives. And sometimes our lives are extremely difficult. I do not want to diminish, or pretend that it is not difficult. But one of the ways the mind responds to that is to get rigid, to get numb, to get closed down. Another way is that we can get sluggish. Sometimes sluggishness is resistance to doing what we do not want to do. Sometimes it is just a sense of being deeply, deeply, weary and tired. So we give up a little bit.
These are some of the ways that the mind responds to difficulties and challenges. It can be dramatic and very big. It can be very subtle. As meditation gets clearer and clearer, as meditation practice gets stronger, we can get sensitive to the more subtle shifts in the direction of stiffness, or rigidity of mind, and sluggishness.
It can be very subtle. It can be just a little feeling that it is too much to stay with a full in-breath, just, "I did that before." So the mind does not want to do it anymore. There is a little bit of resistance, and something shuts down.
Or we start to feel that meditation has become a duty. We have done it for a long time. It is just this sense of duty, "Oh. One more time. I have to do it." And something inside gets rigid, tight or closed.
Or we have had meditations, and there have been three days of difficult meditations. And something inside feels so discouraged, that the energy level drops away, and there is a sluggishness and unwillingness of the mind to operate. So this is all we can do.
The hindrances can all be considered normal human mental activities. We are born with the hindrances. They come with human life. It is not a personal failing to have them. But it is a personal field of mindfulness. It is a personal place to discover what is happening with us, to become wise about what is happening with us.
One of the tasks of mindfulness is to start becoming sensitive to the movements of energy. For this third hindrance, how energy sinks – the sinking mind. Or energy gets frozen or tight. Or the mind gets rigid. The heart gets rigid. Then, become wise with it. Practice with it wisely.
One of the ways to be wise about it is to take a one hundred and eighty degree turn to really feel and sense this more. Really care for oneself by truly feeling what this is, rather than being discouraged by our discouragement, rather than being overwhelmed by our overwhelm, or how we are shutting down, or how we are not practicing just right.
We take care of ourselves by turning attention, "Oh. This is how it is now," and feel it and be with it. It is invaluable to feel and be with an experience. This is partly because one of the things we are trying to develop in this practice is the ability to have clarity of seeing, clear knowing, clear feeling of what actually is. We are developing it with the things that are difficult.
We might also discover that some of the attitudes underlying this third hindrance are attitudes of "shoulds," or "it's too much," or "it's been too long," or "I can't manage," or "I'm supposed to be better." There are all of these attitudes that can be draining for us to live by.
And so we see those attitudes. To see them as attitudes can be quite powerful. When the time comes, when meditation is very clear, peaceful, and settled, then it might be very subtle – the movements of the third hindrance. But we can see it arise, see it be born.
Because we are familiar with it from our practicing with it for a long time, we see it just arise – the first inklings of it, the hints of it. Then it might be possible to let go of it, to abandon it. And this is really a good thing to do when the abandoning of it feels like it moves us to greater health., moves us to a greater clarity, and a good way of being.
In this practice of the hindrances, we want to be able to see clearly. Then, if it is easy enough, we want to let go, and then appreciate the absence, and the helpfulness of the absence of the rigid mind or sluggishness that might have arisen.
So, the hindrances. Tomorrow, we will do restlessness, the over- energized hindrance. We will do doubt on Friday, and then, afterwards, we will do a community meeting on Zoom. I look forward to meeting those of you who come to that. Thank you all very much.