This week Tesshin Roshi continued our discussion of the Five Hinderances by discussing Restlessness and Doubt. We first started with the hinderance of restlessness. This is a very common hinderance in our modern world with so many technological distractions. We never have to stay with our challenging feelings because it is so easy to get lost in a new “bingeable” streaming shows or endless videos on the Internet. Basically, technology allows us never to get uncomfortable with our discomfort! In Zen, on the other hand, we need to be with ourselves and our discomfort. This is a key aspect of our practice. However, this is not easy.
Our practice is about sitting long enough with ourselves to begin to understand those things which make us uneasy. This is really the opposite of our restless distracted modern life. The practice asks if we can slow down long enough to really get to know ourselves deeply and face these uncomfortable truths. If we can do this, we start to gain perspective on our suffering. We begin to understand that many of the challenges we are avoiding we really have no control over. Does it really help anyone to lose sleep of large “megatrends” like global warming and wars in far away places? This does not mean we do not care, but we need to ensure we are bringing the right energy and perspective to solve these issues. Roshi noted that it is totally ok to get involved and effect change, but building up a distracting restless nervous mind helps nobody – it simply drains one’s energy and effectiveness. This is what this hinderance is getting at. All of our actions need to come from a calm and mindful foundation. How can I be skillful in this moment?
The next hinderance we discussed was doubt and lack of trust. Roshi noted that this does not mean distrust of the practice and the Dharma, rather it points to lack of trust in ourselves. We may experience a totally distracted session of zazen and become discouraged at our prospects of gaining a breakthrough experience. We are constantly plagued by feelings of inadequacy. Here Roshi emphasized that we should not run avoid these negative feelings, but rather experience them and try to put a proper perspective on things. It is much better to have a bad session on the cushion than no session on the cushion. Everyday is something new. Some days will have great progress and other days will lead nowhere. It is all good as it is part of the practice of life and of Zen.
Roshi then reminded us that all of the hinderances come from our own mind and never from external factors. Again, he reminded us not to avoid or suppress the emotions and feelings which arise when experiences the hinderances. We need to face and experiences everything, including the hinderances. The power of our practice is building the skill to deal with these things properly. Instead of generating restless angst or the despair of distrust, Roshi counseled us that practice is about sprinkling “love” on all of our experiences. We can look at this as going easy on ourselves and realizing that the hinderances are part of what it means to be alive. Do not be so hard on yourself and others when things do not go to plan. So, you had a bad day at work. So, you cannot concentrate on the cushion. It is all ok! Give yourself a bit of love. Give someone else a bit of love. Turn down the temperature and give yourself enough time to really appreciate the perspective of the challenges you face.