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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Obstacles to Practice: The Five Hindrances–Anger and Ill-Will

This is the final set of reflections on obstacles to practice focusing on the Buddha’s five hindrances (well not his hindrances, but the five that he set out as obstacles to meditation). The Five are a laundry list of things that are rarely a good idea–sensual desire anger, anxiety, laziness, and doubt. We’ll look at these one by one.

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Someone commented upon yesterday’s entry that the “party seems to be over.” Well, yes, in a way. We are giving up the usual ways of partying and adopting a new way of approaching our experience. There is a new kind of party about to begin. As David Byrne and the Talking Heads said, “There’s a party in my mind and I hope it never stops.” Mindfulness practice is the party in our mind. Instead of getting bound by desire and strong emotions, we get fascinated by the moment to moment unfolding of our experience.

Today we’ll look at anger or ill-will. This one seems straightforward. If you are caught up in angry stories and wishing people ill-will it is hard to make contact with your experience in the now. These stories fuel negative emotions that push you further from the present. Of course, the quietude provided by sitting practice makes ripe territory for these angry stories to show up.

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Anger is it own meditation focus–that ruminative story that mounts a stress response, creates tunnel vision, and moves us far away from what is happening in the moment. To work with anger we move back and forth from the storyline to the body. The narrative emerges, takes hold of your mind, sucks you in and makes ou feel bad. You replay past conversations, imagine retribution, bemoan how hurt you feel. Without mindfulness, we nurse these grudges.

With mindfulness, you recognize that you’ve been caught up in that story and then release attention back into the moment. This moment is now colored by that anger–the physiological manifestations, the sensations in the body that are present now that weren’t before the anger was nursed. You can pay attention to these new sensations, become intimate with them. The next time they arise, this familiarity will be a boon, helping you to quickly recognize that you are caught in anger and give you the opportunity to extricate yourself. The obstacle becomes the very stuff of practice.

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Mindfulness mediation is an antidote to anger and ill-will. The more we practice, the less inclined we’ll be to stay in anger. The power of stories diminishes. We become adept at slipping out of the sticky mess that angry narratives force upon us. You generate good-will, naturally, by not nurturing ill-will. In other words, it’s hard to stay anger if you don’t ruminate on the reasons you are angry. No story, no anger.

The residue of that anger is the subject matter of your meditation–not in words but in energy. Not in whys and wherefores but in where (in the body) and how (it feels as physical sensations). As you work with anger in this way, you metabolize it, digest it , and thereby become free of it.

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