Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Obstacles to Practice: The Five Hindrances–Sensual Desire

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.

The first obstacle is sensual desire. The senses pull us in many directions. On the one hand, the practice is about the senses and paying attention to them. On the other hand, when that interest becomes desire we are caught up in stories–I want this or I don’t want that. That is when sensuality becomes an obstacle to practice.


Desire as an object facilitates practice; desire as a subject becomes a hindrance. I don’t believe the goal is to get rid of desire altogether. What we want is a more supple relationship with desire. We don’t want to be pushed around by it, beholden to it, and constantly in its pursuit. Sense pleasures are not bad. We are biological creatures who move through the world dependent upon these sense pleasing (and displeasing) mechanisms.

We approach what feels good. avoid what feels bad, and ignore most of what is neutral. As sentient beings, we have the opportunity to transcend these biological mechanisms. We can consider, “Do I want to approach this? Would that be a good thing?” “Do I need to put so much energy into avoiding this thing, can’t I be more tolerant?”


As we meditate, the mind may get drawn to fantasy. I say “may” when I really mean “will.” The mind will get drawn to fantasy and many of these reveries will be sensual desire. A maple creemee on a hot summer day. Revisiting a pleasing passage from a television show, movie, or book.

Sense desire can also take the form of avoidance. We want to be free from the pain that is registering in the knee at this moment, the stiffness in the back, and the general feeling of restlessness that has taken hold as we practice.

I’ve used the phrase “comfort-seeking missile” before and this image captures the sense of desire. The heat seeking missile the metaphor is based on is drawn to any heat source. In the case of the senses, the heat is desire–wanting/not wanting.


There is a target and an investment in reaching that target. If it is missed, then we’ll feel let down. If we can relinquish the investment we can be okay. We don’t have to reject sense desires if we are not attached one way or the other to their fulfillment. If it happens, great. If not, then no big deal.

Of course, these sense desires are likely not relevant to your meditation practice in this moment unless you are caught up in a desire for the pleasing sensations that may often accompany practice. This seeking, too, can be investigated with mindful interest. Once the desire is recognized, you can begin to release it back into the now.


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