Disquiet – Hindrance to Meditation

This morning’s meditation examined one of the key hindrances to meditation and how to approach it.

You can hear the recording here –

The write-up

Last week, we looked at one of the hinderances to our meditation – Doubt and approached it from the perspective of the Intensifiers. All these areas that we are discussing at the moment are from the ancient Indian text, the ABHIDARMA, which was written approximately 2300 years ago. We now continue on this journey through the text and examine another area – Disquiet

Disquiet is an agitated and troubled state and it is for this reason that it affects our meditation so much. It is sometimes translated as anxiety or worry but this really doesn’t bring out the full breadth of the word. The Pali word Kaukrtya fuses the meaning of both these words.

All disquiet must be investigated by us if we are to make progress. It cannot be suppressed. It will simply lurk in the shadows and hinder our progress in meditation. When suppressed it becomes cynicism, sloth, depression, self-hatred and the blaming of others.

In terms of ethics, it can come from a places that is either driven by skilful or unskilful behaviour in some way shape or form or it can be ethically neutral and we’ll see why with some examples. In terms of its effect on us (from a Karmic perspective) it can also be wholesome or unwholesome. This is sometimes surprising. But when we see how disquiet can result in the blaming of others we begin to understand why.

Let’s take an example of its wholesome form. Imagine that you have just had a heated exchange with somebody. Afterwards, you feel a nagging unease. This is something more than just the unpleasant after-effects of the other persons rudeness. Thinking it over, you discover that the source of the nag is when you admit to yourself that you spoke harshly or not quite truthfully. You realise that THIS is the source of your discomfort. We often push away such feelings but this type of introspection is wholesome. It has enabled you to see, with clarity, the true nature of the situation and your part in it. It then of course gives you the opportunity to take some action and put the situation right! Here the mere act of investigating and understanding the feelings coming out of the exchange is Karma and the Karma Vipaka (the result) that arises, is understanding. Already you have changed the situation and moved forward.

We can of course then take things further and reflect on the aspects of our character and ingrained mental behaviour that make us act the way we do in the exchange. What are we holding on to or what are we resisting? Not in terms of the practical object of the discussion but on the general sense of you as a person and the way you react to things in given situations. When we conduct this type of introspection and investigation during our meditation, we must stay away from the story behind the exchange itself and see the general patterns of our behaviour. This way we start to smooth out those ruts in the road.

In a way, this process is like the confessional. Although no one else is involved, in order to make progress we must approach it with TOTAL SELF HONESTY. Remember, the power of remorse is directly proportional to our spiritual aspiration. Not guilt, we must understand. Remorse. The two are different. Guilt burns us out from the ground up. Remorse is a positive process and we should see it as that. When we find aspects of ingrained habit we should celebrate. We have uncovered something and we can therefore do something about it. This is extremely positive.

However, what I have found in my own practice is that we can also have false disquiet. The previous example is true disquiet. I.e. we have behaved in a way which we should look at and explore through remorse. But there are types of disquiet which arise where we have no reason for remorse. But disquiet still arises. For example, the withdrawal of someone’s love or the rejection by a group, work colleague etc. These are quite often hard ingrained patterns of mental behaviour that were established during childhood. Not being invited to a friend’s party when we know that all our other friends are going. Not being picked for the sports team perhaps. These types of event make a big impression when we are young and stay with us. These mental behaviours play in and they can cause complications. For example, false disquiet can play in to truly moral situations. This sometimes happens when we truly have done something wrong but the disquiet is coming from a fear of punishment rather than the real empathetic concern for those we have hurt.

In our modern world, interestingly, the focus is more on the false disquiet here. We are encouraged to zero in on the false disquiet. What a different place the world would be if we all focussed on true empathy instead? But actually, if we don’t look this in the eye, we can end up in a place of insecurity or potentially neurosis.

Then there is a third angle that I have found in the exploration of this area. This is called functional disquiet. This doesn’t have any moral dimension at all. It happens just because of our fallible human selves. Ever left the house for the day and wondered if you actually locked it properly? You spend the whole day with that nagging worry. Functional disquiet is very useful. It helps us and protects us but if we let it, it can develop into anxiety or full-blown OCD conditions.

So we have the three forms of disquiet; ethical, false and functional. The knowing and the watching of these areas of our mental habit give us a vehicle to examine some of the murkier areas of our emotional life and start to lift the lid a little.

Some of this may take some effort and time. We need to detangle behaviours which are definitely unskilful from those which are perhaps ingrained in through old prejudices, aggressive and blame based belief systems (which clearly are false in their nature) and our habits which exhibit themselves as anxiety based thinking.

We do need to feel this stuff to progress but by seeing it we don’t let it control us.

So, our meditation today is to sit and look at our progress in the meditation and to see if the hindrance of disquiet is present. If so, to contemplate a little and see whether it is ethical, false or functional or perhaps all three!