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Hindrances Within Mindfulness Meditation


Traditionally there are five main hindrances to the development of concentration within the meditation practice: attraction, aversion, mental sluggishness, restlessness and doubt. They certainly are hindrances to meditation if our focus is on development of one-pointed concentration. Since the five hindrances are the meditation object within MIDL it is not appropriate to call them hindrances to meditation but rather characteristics of distraction to be observed and understood. This is the way that we approach hindrances to our meditation practice when they arise within MIDL. Submit Your Question

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My Posture Collapses

Your Question: My spine tends to slump as I relax within this meditation and I usually have to straighten it every few minutes. Sometimes I have let it go and end up in a seated forward bend which is okay as it’s fairly comfortable. So should I let my spine slump or straighten it as necessary?

Stephen Procter: Slumping of the spine while seated is based on alignment and balance. The first thing to check: "Is the top of your pelvis tilted forward or backwards?" If the top of your pelvis is tilted backwards then your lower spine will 'round' and your posture will collapse. The top of the pelvis should be tilted forward, if flexibility stops this then sitting towards the front of a raised meditation cushion or a kneeling stool can help. The general rule is the lower the flexibility in the hips the higher the cushion needs to be.

The second thing to check is your shoulders and lower ribs: "Are your shoulders rounded forward and your lower rib cage collapsing inwards?" This is about balance, when your shoulders round forward your posture will collapse as you will no longer be balancing on the spine. To make an adjustment first push your shoulders forwards, then shrug them up, then bring them back and drop them down. They will now lock the shoulders back into place without effort, notice how your lower ribs now open outwards. This is how you correct this part of your upper posture.

The third thing to check is your head: "Is your chin tucked under slightly, is your head forward or balanced on your neck?" We develop habitual postures of slumping our head forward throughout the day, particularly with mobile phones and computers. These habits come into the meditation when our muscles relax and the tension is no longer supporting the neck.

When you take your meditation posture align your body using the first two adjustments - pelvis - shoulders, this will balance your spine on your pelvis. Now gently play with the balance of your head on your neck until it aligns, balanced on your spine. Tuck your chin under lightly, stretching your neck and picture the top of your head stretching towards the ceiling.

When my posture was continuously collapsing my teacher guided me to make the balance of my meditation posture my meditation object. I used the balance within my seated posture as my meditation object for a few weeks during intensive meditation practice, mindfully adjusting my posture to find perfect balance. If you were in my meditation class and approached me with this question I would also recommend that you make mindfulness of your posture your meditation object. This is part of mindfulness of body.

I was taught that there are no hindrances to mindfulness meditation, just areas of investigation to turn my attention towards. Approaching it in this way the mental factors of investigation, mindfulness and concentration will develop as will the balance within your meditation posture .

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Meditating With Noise

Your Question: Thank you for your teachings. I need to find a calm and peaceful place to meditate, I don't know where, since I live on a crowded city and my house is full of noise.

Stephen Procter: If you cannot find a quiet place to meditate you can learn to meditate with noise and busyness around you. At home choose one place to meditate and use it just for that, it may be on a chair or in the corner of your room. Once you have chosen this place try to stay with it as over time your mind will identify this spot with becoming peaceful. Another good place in a crowded city may be sitting in your car, arrive where you are going 10 minutes early and use that time to meditate, or you can even do it while travelling on a train or waiting for something.

If there is noise around you when meditating then follow these specific steps in order to ground your awareness.

1. After taking your meditation posture start to tune into the general experience of just ‘being here’; heaviness of your body, touch and any sounds around you.

2. Allow your awareness to go out towards the sounds. Gently hear them as they come into you but don't listen to them. Become aware of the flow of change within the sound, allowing it to hold your attention. If you do this you will notice how sound comes and goes. Holding your awareness on the flow of change within sound will make sound your object of meditation. Focussing on this flow will help to develop your concentration allowing your mind to settle.

3. Next bring awareness into the experience of your meditation posture; becoming aware of warmth or coolness, holding them gently in mind. Also starting to become aware of touch, touch of your hands, and pressure of your body; the general heaviness of your body as it relaxes.

4. Once your mind has settled your breathing will appear to you as movement within your body. You can now gently follow the experience of breathing within your body and begin mindfulness of breathing.

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Distracted During Meditation

Your Question: Hi Stephen, why do you have such long periods of silence during your guided meditations? Other guided meditations use constant guiding or music to help me stay more present. When I follow your guided meditation and there is silence I find it hard not become distracted.

Stephen Procter: If there are no gaps of silence within a guided meditation then it is not a really a meditation, it is just another form of distraction; entertainment to take our attention away from difficulties within our life. To gain full benefit from a guided meditation there needs to be periods of silence in which we apply effort towards being continuously aware of our meditation object, noticing any movement of our attention away from it. In this way the mental factors of investigation, mindfulness and concentration will develop.

If our attention is being held by an external source such as music or constant talking during the guided meditation, then it may feel pleasurable to be distracted for a period of time but it will not strengthen our mental faculties or have any impact on our life. Through observing any distraction within our mind during the periods of silence we develop understanding about the mind that will lead to being free from it. It is important to understand that distraction itself is not separate from mindfulness meditation; distraction is the content mindfulness meditation.

The gaps of silence have been put within the 52 MIDL Mindfulness Trainings so that you will become distracted, so that your attention will wander. So that you will have an opportunity to develop your meditation practice.

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Losing Awareness During Meditation

Your Question: Lately, I've been falling asleep in meditation (while sitting) by going so deep that I actually lose consciousness. Is that bad? Anyway I feel very refreshed and recharged and inspired when I "come back" It feels like connecting to the Source.

Stephen Procter: Mindfulness meditation is a balancing act of too much and too little effort. If we put in too much effort then energy levels increase and we become restless. Too little effort then energy levels drop, awareness sinks and we fall into a dream-like state. The deeper the concentration during meditation, the finer the balance of energy becomes. It is like walking on a tight rope with a balancing pole, as concentration develops the rope we are walking on becomes thinner and harder to balance on. The ends of the balancing pole are effort and no effort, the middle of the pole is mindfulness. Mindfulness knows what each end of the pole is doing. Our skill is to be aware of imbalances and adjust our effort between restlessness and sluggishness.

What you are experiencing is a dulling of the knowing factor of awareness. During seated meditation as concentration develops it calms the mental activity of the mind, but it is also possible to over-calm the 'knowing' factor of awareness at the same time. This over-calming of awareness causes energy levels to drop too low, leading to awareness becoming dull. This will cause you to mentally sink into a sleep like state with little awareness of anything. This mental state within itself is very pleasant and can seem profound, but is a trap for many meditators. It is important to remember that development of mindfulness meditation is not directed towards dulling of awareness – knowing less – but rather towards an increase in clarity of awareness – knowing more clearly.

For your meditation practice to deepen you need to put more effort towards remembering to be aware of being aware of your meditation object. In this way you will cultivate mindfulness, increase the knowing function of awareness. If your mind habitually sinks into this dulling of awareness then make the sinking mind, the lack of mental clarity of the knowing function of your mind, your meditation object. Mindfully observe this lack of mental clarity, the slipping of awareness between knowing and not knowing. Become intimate with its elemental quality, of its close relationship to delusion and the conditional process of 'sinking' itself.

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Numbness In My Head

Your Question: I have an issue and would be grateful if you could give me a possible answer please, I get head numbness often and it is frustrating? It does pass but it’s a daily occurrence at the moment, I get this even when I am calm and feeling ok.

Stephen Procter: Lets separate out this question and help to clarify it for you.

1. Frustration: Firstly, as a MIDL meditator it is important to understand that numbness is an experience and that frustration is a defensive reaction of your mind towards the experience. They are separate.

Your task as a meditator is to mindfully observe and soften / relax into any identification / participation with any defensive postures of your mind. This creates your path in mindfulness meditation.

2. Head Numbness: What you mean by this is not clear to me so I will break it into parts.

a) Physical Numbness: If you are experiencing physical numbness in areas of your head you should see a doctor. As a meditator you should still soften into your relationship of not liking the experience of this numbness.

b) Mentally Numb / Dull in Daily Life: This is probably due to habitualised stress / chest breathing. Short, shallow chest breathing will cause you to hyperventilate. Retraining of diaphragmatic breathing in MIDL 3/52 twice daily over a period of 4 weeks will bring back mental clarity.

c) Mentally Numb / Dull only in Seated Meditation: This is due to the 3rd hindrance to meditation, Sloth & Torpor. All medtators experience this at some stage as a development of the path.

This mental sinking occurs when concentration develops and the effort towards being clearly aware is too low. It is an energy imbalance that causes the mental faculties, including awareness to 'sink'.

This is usually due to an over-calming of the knowing factor of awareness. Effort towards being more clearly aware of your current experience plus investigation of the 'sinking mind' itself will gradually bring energy levels back into balance.

*** Again, the feeling of frustration is separate from this. Frustration is a defensive posture within your mind that arises when things aren't going the way you want them to.

You believe that numbness shouldn't be there and has nothing to do with meditation. But it is there, so it should be there, and it is part of your meditation path.

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