Lesson 1

The path and the five Hindrances

The path: sitting and walking meditation.
For sitting meditation one chooses a position that is comfortable and can be maintained for a while. One sits straight up in a dignified way, but at the same time relaxed: an active relaxed position. One checks whether the spine is positioned in a straight manner. One closes the eyes. Then one brings the attention to the breathing, in fact to the raising and falling of the abdomen during breathing. One breathes normally, by preference without interfering with its flow. If one has a long breath one knows this by direct observing. The same holds if the breath is short, smooth, or sligh tly shaking. If sometimes we cannot help to direct the breathing, then we know this as well.

To help concentration on the breathing we may use the technique of naming: one says in the mind ‘rising’ …., ‘falling’ …. ; ‘rising’ …., ‘falling’ …. . Continuing all the time, at the right time (synchronising the word and the act). Naming prevents that the mind wonders. But if nevertheless the mind does wonder anyway, then as soon as one notices this one says: ‘thinking’, ‘thinking’. And then one returns to the basis exercise of observing the breathing in the abdomen. This usually has to be repeated many times before concentration settles.

The other basis exercise is walking meditation. One starts with standing: ‘standing’, ‘standing’, ‘standing’. One feels the difference with the standing position, the temperature of the floor, its hardness, etcetera. After that, walking, one makes small steps and says ‘right goes thus’ and ‘left goes thus’, always in a synchronized way. The point is that our attention is with the movement of each foot. After each step one places both feet on the ground. One allows for a short pauze: ‘rest’, ‘rest’.

To help concentration even more, one may agree with oneself not to be allowed to think while making a step, thinking being allowed only to occur when one is in rest with both feet on the floor. Before moving a foot one should be sure to pay attention to it. And one may push away the thoughts by remaining with the sensations in the foot. This should be done in a relaxed way. Even if one forgets to pay attention to the foot, there is nothing wrong: one notices ‘thinking’, ‘thinking’. In this way one approaches the goal to be mindful all the time, without needing a high form of concentration.

The Five Hindrances
It still may happen that the mind is sidetracked by one of the five hindrances: desire, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, and doubt. No need to dispair: one simply notices them by using the right naming: ‘desire’, ‘aversion’, ‘sleepiness’, ‘restlessness’, or ‘doubt’. For the first two it is important to train oneself not to enter the object of desire or aversion. First one gently pushes the disire and it’s object away. If this doesn’t work, then one switches: one takes the desire as object of meditation. This consists of stating ‘O, desire; desire.’ Or if there is aversion, then one states ‘O, aversion; aversion.’ One tries to do this in an equanimous way. Like a sailor who knows the sea and even if there are waves so big that he or she gets wet continuous to navigate. As cool as possible. In case one becomes restless, i.e. one cannot be equanimous, then one names this as ‘restlessness, restlessness’. This again is an act of mindfulness that possibly creates some distance between ourselves and the conditioning. Doubt is a hindrance that can be helped by being in the group: one feels encouraged by the others. One also can get inspired by teachers or books describing the method. And sometimes discipline asks us to react as follows: ‘Really I do not like to do this; but I am just doing it.’ Soon we may make an insightful discovery. Then the dull discipline gets transformed in discipline with joy.

When concentration is sufficient, one can change from naming to ‘noting‘. This just observes what happens (like ‘raising’), but without needing language, which is always only an approximation of awareness. Noting is a more refined form of mindfulness, only possible after some concentration has grown. On its turn it can reinforce the concentration. But at later stages we may need to go back to the naming.