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It’s been said that when you experience one of the five hindrances to enlightenment (anger, greed, restlessness, torpor or doubt) that the others soon follow. And most of us have experienced this process. But one of the most difficult hindrances to really pinpoint, for me, is restlessness.

It begins with a general feeling of vague dissatisfaction—my own expectations gain my attention more often and I end up with a solid feeling of real desperation to do something, go somewhere or even be someone different. When I attempt to pinpoint exactly what it is my troubled heart wants, its answers are childish, and often foolish as well.

In practicing mindfulness, I’ve learned to study my thoughts to understand that we often create entire worlds mentally—and make terrible choices for ourselves, based on nothing more than restless conjecture.

Still, when I am being assaulted by this particular hindrance, I am amazed at its power over a woman in her fifties who really ought to know better than some of the things she is considering!

And, oddly, therein lies the answer to combating this particular near/far enemy of metta…compassion toward ourselves.

It is tempting to think that age gives us some relief from the foolishness of youth—but more often it simply sets the stage for more and more restlessness. And, just as we must forgive ourselves for anger (a natural response to perceived injustice), we must also be gentle with ourselves when we feel restlessness (a natural response to stagnation in our lives.)

The next step, I believe, is that we must examine all of our alternatives to create movement in our lives—not simply the ones that are easiest or most familiar (or often, just bad habits to fall back on: overeating, drinking, drugs or sexual misconduct.)

We must, as the Dalai Lama has said, “remain unmoving, like a piece of wood”. Or, if that seems too much…then just a bump on a log.

In this sense, dealing with restlessness is no different than disciplining the mind to process any other hindrance. We must first thank ourselves for feeling this way, and then give honor to our emotions by sitting long enough to fully feel them.

There are times when I have shuddered with adrenalin while honoring my anger or fear (doubt), wept copiously while honoring my sadness (attachment/greed) and yet, as emotions always do, they passed over and through me. And I was left with a calm, profound understanding of the nature of insubstantial reality.

For all of that, some reading this may say, “I could never do that. I’m not that strong.” To them, I simply say this:

The disciplined strength of your mind is greater than you can possibly imagine. Exercising it--through insightful meditation—is how you will train it to right thought and, therefore, action.

And—when your discipline falters as it most surely will, for you are human—find a friend, perhaps someone in your sangha. Tell them about your restless thoughts, seek their wise counsel. For you are never truly alone on this earthly plane, no matter how stagnant and unrelenting life seems. Friends, devas and the Dharma are there to see us through…

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midwestbuddha

June 2012

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