This is my second of several posts I am writing about five basic hindrances to meditation Buddha talked about—difficult energies that arise in the mind and in life as a part of meditation practice.
In my last blog I gave a general introduction to these and talked about desire. Now I want to touch on the second hindrance, aversion or dislike. After folks have established a meditation practice, often they are impatient for their minds to settle down and their life to be transformed. Someone with a daily meditation practice that she had stayed with for more than 4 years said to me recently, “I shouldn’t be confused after all this sitting. I wish it would go away. Can you help me with this? I replied, “Every time you hear that voice saying you’re not doing it right or you should do more, or whatever, count the judgments for awhile just to see them.” She tried that and she was still fighting with them. I said, “Alright, continue counting them but give thanks with each count whether you feel thankful or not.” The next time I met with her she seemed much more accepting of her confusion and as a result, not plagued by it.
I am writing this on the way home from visiting my grandsons. In the airport there was a family with four young kids who were really misbehaving. The woman next to me and I started chatting, talking about our kids and grandkids. As these kids were bopping and jiving around us, the woman asked me, “Do you remember the time when you really just wanted to pick your kids up and throw them out the window, and you didn’t care?” And I do! (But luckily I didn’t follow through on it.)
Whenever we have a strong negative feeling, can we acknowledge that it has arisen and notice the strength of its energy? Can we be aware of the feeling and touch it with our hearts? Can we connect with it from a place of tenderness or caring, making friendswith it? If we can’t let things into our heart, we don’t really let ourselves grow. Trying to get over our aversions or get rid of them simply doesn’t work.
Underlying aversion, fear is often lurking. Years ago, when the nested eating bowls call oryoki were introduced at San Francisco Zen Center I was not a happy camper, since they were designed for right handed people and I was left handed. For more than three years we had used knifes and forks during our meals. And we were told that there was only one way to use the bowls. As a “lefty,” I had aversion to using them because I was afraid of being thought poorly of. This was accentuated by the fact that my young wife was one of the oryoki teachers. Finally, they let us lefties do it in a modified manner, but I had negative feelings about these meals for years. The specific movements seemed orchestrated for right-handed people and I was sure everyone was noticing what a klutz I was.
I’ve talked over the years about different way we can deal with negative stuff both during meditation and in our daily lives. We can narrow the focus, broaden the focus, or changing our focus in some other way. During group meditation, let’s say the breathing of the person next to us is bothering us. We might narrow our focus by concentrating on our own breath while repeating some calming or centering word to ourselves. Or we might broaden it by incorporating the sound of the person’s breathing into our own meditation. I remember being continually distracted for some time by cars zooming by on the street outside our meditation space in San Francisco. Then I read a book about the musician John Cage in which he talked about welcoming dissonant sounds as music. I began incorporating the traffic noise into my meditation focus and it worked! My mind settled down every time I welcomed the noise.
Outside of meditation we can also effectively change focus. When I first was asked to give talks at our Zen center, I was petrified, because I was sure I would make a fool of myself… and the first couple of times I did. But I experimented with changing my focus to what the audience needed to know instead of my desire for the talk to be successful and it worked. Before I began my talks I broadened my focus to look at everyone in the room with awareness that I had something to share that could support them and my nervousness vanished!
In certain situations, narrowing our focus can be equally effective in daily life. If you are hiking on a scary path, you can focus on “one step, one breath” instead of the drop 1,000 feet down.
In other situations we find aversive, we might ask ourselves what we might learn from this. If we are being harsh with ourselves or someone else, send good vibes to ourselves or them. We just finished a practice period at Zen center that featured loving kindness practices. Feedback was so positive that in our next retreat I am featuring loving kindness practice.
I’d like to close with a reminder that the fearthat underlies aversion is always about something that hasn’t yet happened. In periods of short or longer meditation we have the luxury of time to just be with fear as it comes up. As we learn more and more about it without judging or evaluating it, its power naturally dissipates and even vanishes, especially if we keep the tips I have just given in mind.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher