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The Third Hindrance: Sloth and Torpor

The Third Hindrance: Sloth and Torpor

The third hindrance is sloth and torpor. These are technically somewhat different mental factors. But in both, the mind is not workable. It becomes difficult to meditate and be mindful.

As with any of the hindrances, the first thing to note is that they are present. Noting that they are present already contains mindfulness. When we are aware of what is going on, we have a chance.

If you are meditating and you become sleepy, you are in the grip of this factor. Once you note that this is going on, it is helpful to know that the antidote to this factor is effort. Occasionally, we are tired and really need to sleep. But often this factor emerges because we have been running on the stimulation of our busy lives, and, once we stop, drowsiness overtakes us. In that case, which is the most common case, we need to put forth more effort in some way.

This may seem counterintuitive, but consider joggers who come home at the end of a hard, long workday, feeling tired and lacking in energy. They may feel like they just need to sit down in a comfortable chair and watch television. But if they expend the energy—energy they don’t think they have—to go out and jog, they will often feel better, refreshed and energetic.

In meditation, we can increase our energy by sitting up a little straighter and putting more effort into concentration and focus. One of my favorite things to do in this situation is just to practice walking meditation for a few minutes. It doesn’t take a lot of time before the body and mind wake up, and we can meditate with greater alertness.

The principle is the same, whether this factor arises in meditation or in life: to get more energy, expend more energy.

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