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The Fifth hindrance to meditation: doubt

The Five Hindrances

The mind states that disturb the natural clarity of our heart-mind have been described as the five hindrances. Each hindrance has its own flavour and over this set of five emails I’ll explore each hindrance. But first, to give an overview here are all five:

1. Sensual desire
2. Ill-will
3. Lethargy and drowsiness
4. Restlessness and remorse
5. Doubt

Each hindrance is compared to the natural clarity of the still heart-mind, which is said to be like clear water. Doubt is said to be like a pot full of muddy water.

5. Sceptical Doubt

The Buddha encouraged his followers to question his teaching. He even spoke of the belief that things are true just because tradition tells us they are as a hindrance to real awakening, as it leads to a tendency to hold on to beliefs and opinions that have simply arisen over time as part of a tradition, rather than seeing wisdom for ourself. He encouraged his followers to question all of his teachings and not take them on blind faith. Only after exploring them in their lives and seeing for themselves if they held true were they to believe in them.

This last hindrende then does not mean we are to take all we hear from a teacher on blind faith. But as we meditate, a certain attitude can sometimes arise where we stop testing the efficacy of mindfulness or the teachings we have heard, and instead we loose any belief that change is possible, that it is worth meditating or that things can be other than how they are.

It is this skeptical doubt that this hindrance refers to, which can be enough to make us stop meditating or drop away from our path of practice. This state of mind is strongly linked to the sense of inertia that keeps us locked in our habit patterns, it is the way of thinking that does not want to make any effort. Thoughts such as “what’s the point of meditation, it seems too hard”, “meditation may be good for people who can go away to a retreat or live in a monastery but how will I be able to get any benefit from it”, “does it really matter what I do”.

With all of these we can either sink into the muddy state of inertia these thoughts encourage, or we can look at our experience and reflect on how we have benefited from the meditation we have done. We may remember how a session of meditation helped us shift a mood, or embrace something we had wanted to push away – and how this changed our relationship to it. We may remember that our actions have led to feeling happier or to sorrow depending on if they were rooted in skilful wishes or unskillful intentions. If you have started to explore Buddhist teachings you might reflect on how “actions have consequences” and look back in you life and see if this is the case or not. In this way we use conscious reflection on the teachings we know to bring about a clear understanding of how meditation is of help to us, or not.


Doubt may play out in other ways in our life as well. For me it has been doubt about my skills or abilities. It took a friend’s persistent encouragement over three years before I set up the Monday class, as my inner doubt told me I would fail. As it is the group has now been going since April 2009 and next year will be our 10 year anniversary!! Then over the last few years as I’ve explored working as a mindfulness teacher in the corporate world it is this same doubt that holds me back – feeling I’m not yet ready, that I have more to learn, that I have nothing of value yet to bring to a workplace mindfulness teaching until I have read one more book on workplace mindfulness, or attended another seminar. 

I was lucky to have a call two years ago from the head of learning and development at Kensington and Chelsea council. He was looking for a mindfulness provider to run courses for council staff. After a year and half of running these sessions I could see that people enjoyed and benefited from the sessions – the thought I still needed to perfect my skills in teaching in the workplace was just a way for my doubting mind to hold me back from taking action. Of course, I have had more to learn, but that is what life is – a place for learning, and standing on the side lines waiting to know all the intricacies of the game just means one never plays the game at all – which is the only place to learn!

This year I have resolved to finally step forward into working more in the corporate world, in companies and organisations and with mindfulness initiatives such as teaching mindfulness in schools. It is part of me feeling into “following my bliss”, the saying of Joseph Campbell’s that always inspires me. Rather than seeing getting work as a mindfulness teacher as a chore to be got through, if I see it as an expression of living my bliss, and sharing my joy of living a life informed by presence, awareness and self-compassion, then it is not work but play. 

Where does your doubting mind hold you back? Where do you hesitate to step in? How does the habitual mind try to keep you small and stop you realising your potential?

The fourth hindrance: restlessness and remorse

Last week we looked at the hindrance of lethargy and drowsiness. This week the list of hindrances comes to its opposite: the state of the mind being unable to settle due to being busy and active. The analogy with water for this hindrance is a lake being ruffled by the wind – the still surface is constantly disrupted and agitated. One metaphor for meditation is that the calm mind reflects wisdom in the way a still lake reflects the moon. When the mind is agitated it cannot rest into this calm state.

The second element of remorse refers to memories of things one has done which cause upset or disappointment. These would be any unskilful activities that have resulted in causing harm to oneself or others. It is for this reason that ethical conduct is emphasised as being one of the three elements of the Buddhist path of practice: morality, meditation and wisdom are said to be all needed. Meditation grows out of living an ethical life in which we do not have anything to cause us remorse. Wisdom grows out of meditation. Buddhist morality is similar to that of many other religions, except there is no concept of a judging external force as there is no god in Buddhism. Instead an impersonal process called karma. The basic description of this process is that “actions have consequences”.

Karma is like a wind that is constantly blowing back at us, picking up whatever we have thrown out into the world and returning it to us. Act in a way that is skilful – kind, generous, concerned for the welfare of others – and what will blow back is rose petals and a pleasing scent. Act in a way that is unskilful – cruel, selfish and with no regard for the welfare of others –  and what blows back is sand and grit. Obviously we do not get rose petals or sand in our actual life, generally, but as a poetic image it suggests the quality of the events that will return to us as a consequence of our actions and mental states. It also helps before any action to consider, how will it feel to have this blow back in my face?

As we meditate if we have been cruel, vindictive or acted in ways that are unskilful it will be much harder to experience a peaceful and joyful mind. An extreme example of this is given in the Buddhist texts in the story of a prince who murdered his father in order to gain the throne. One day after the regicide the new King came to listen to the Buddha teach. The 500 monks were all siting in silence and the young King had a mind so full of anxiety that he was worried that there might be an ambush about to happen as he could not believe so many men could sit so quietly. As a result he hardly heard any of what the Buddha said. After the King left, the Buddha told the monks that had the young man not killed his father he would have gained insight that day listening to the teaching, but as it was his mind was now too troubled for him to hear. 

A more mundane example might be my experience before Christmas, when I allowed myself to be taken in by a story in my mind about a friend who was not replying to texts. The story was one of being abandoned and not appreciated. In hindsight and after writhing about the attachment types I can see that what followed was a classic example of anxious attachment triggering. I went into protest behaviour, where I tried to get my friend’s attention by becoming annoyed and trying to get a response by acting out on that annoyance. I wrote an angry text to him asking what was going on with this nonsense of not replying…. but in more harsh words than that! His reply showed that he was hurt by this and that he decided to have a little distance for a while before we would talk again.

As a result of this I sat with a feeling of remorse in my meditation, a sense of disappointment for not having lived true to my ideals of kindly speech. It also created the very thing I had been wanting to avoid – distance and lack of contact. When we did speak recently it transpired he had been going through a hard time with some difficult circumstances and my text came at at time when he couldn’t take on any other difficulty. It was a classic example of “actions have consequences”. Luckily we have a strong enough friendship that it has been talked about and is being resolved. But other actions are not so easy to simply say sorry for or let go of. Also my practice is strong enough now that I can let go of any recriminations against myself. I can see that I was suffering in my own way and that my actions grew out of that. I acted as I did, and that place of fear and loneliness needs to be held with kindness. I can also reflect that in a future situation sending the first text that comes into my head may not be the most skilful act!! 



To avoid remorse one can seek to live as kind a life as is possible. As the Dali Lama once said “my religion is kindness”. To support this one may choose to follow a set of precepts. Although these are from the Buddhist tradition, they are similar to other religions and also form a set of principles one could follow as a humanist or atheist following no religion.

The five precepts are:
1. Avoiding killing any living creature.
2. Avoiding taking anything that is not given (stealing, but can also be more subtle – such as taking someone’s time when it is not willingly given)
3. Avoiding sexual misconduct (rape, adultery – anything that causes another harm through pursuing our sexual gratification)
4. Avoiding false speech – saying anything we know not to be true with the intent to deceive the other or benefit in some way from the untruth
5. Avoiding intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to a loss of mindfulness and the possibility of breaking one of the previous four precepts. 

The positive counterparts to these are
1. Respect for life
2. Generosity
3. Contentment
4. Truthful speech
5. Clarity of mind. 

Restlessness in the body may be a result of growing up with the sense of needing to be active. There can be a belief that ‘naval gazing’ is unproductive and may even make us weak or inactive. As we sit in meditation if our conditioning is a belief “I need to be active to be validated/good”, it will be very hard to allow ourselves to simply be for the period of the meditation. Instead the body will twitch, we will shuffle our feet and there will be an urge to get up and get active. 

It is said that restlessness is only fully resolved at the moment of full awakening. So we can give ourselves some slack the it arises if we are not yet fully Enlightened! That feeling in a meditation of wanting to get up, move, stop the meditation and do something. All we can do is sit with this agitation and allow it to be, noting that it passes if we continue to sit and that what seemed like an urgent need to get up and be active soon fades and can in turn be replaced with a feeling of relaxed ease as we sit. 

The third hindrance to meditation: lethargy and drowsiness

Last week’s essay addressed the hindrance of sensual desire, which is said to be like boiling water – the mind is stired up in a fury of excitement, bubbling and burning hot. This week the analogy with water is of a pot of water that is stagnant, slimy and full of algae. When the resistance to resting in the mind’s clear state does not turn to desire, it can go to its energetic opposite, a state of sluggish lack of focus where we feel sleepy and dull. Trying to watch one more breath just feels like too much effort, and it seems as if it would be easier to stop meditating and have a good sleep instead.

As we rest attention on the breath it shifts our nervous system from the active fight or flight mode to the calming rest and digest mode. This can be felt to be very soothing but may lead to feeling sleepy. What is needed is the ability to rest in this calm state whilst staying alert and focused on the experiences of the present moment. When we do this it is felt as a state that is both calm and full of a subtle joy of heart and vibrancy in our body.

What then if we find ourselves feeling sleepy as we meditate? In  Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English, the author, Bhante Gunaratana, gives 9 suggestions:

1. Mindful reflection—Conduct a silent monologue to rouse yourself, giving yourself encouragement and motivation. You may reflect on the benefit of this time of mindful sitting and how getting up now will impact on your day, or that mind states are fluid and that by staying with this feeling of sleepiness it may pass and in turn a state of alertness may arise.

2. Open your eyes—Open your eyes and roll your eyeballs around for a few seconds. Close them and go back to your sitting mindfulness exercise. Or you may open your eyes and focus on an object for a short time  – a candle flame is ideal as it is bright and energising.

3. Visualize a bright light—Visualize a very bright light and focus your mind on it for a few seconds. As you are visualizing bright light, the sleepiness often fades away. You may simply imagine you are looking at a bright light, or for a more Tantric energy approach you can imagine a yellow light at your solar plexus (naval, number 3 in the diagram below), the light intensifying and slowly expanding to fill your body. Or you can imagine a root going down into the core of the earth from the base chakra (number 1). Visualise yourself drawing this red energy up form the core of the earth into your body. You can combine this with doing pelvic floor muscle contractions, tensing as you breathe in, relaxing as you breath out. To locate this muscle feel how you need to clench to stop yourself form peeing. The aim is not to tighten the anus but only this muscle.

4.  Hold your breath—Take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can. Then slowly breathe out. Repeat this several times until your body warms up and perspires. Then return to your sitting practice.

5. Pinch your earlobes—Pinch your earlobes hard with thumbs and index fingers. Really feel the pinch. Surprisingly, this can help.

6. Standing—Stand up very slowly and very quietly. Try to do it so that even a person sitting next to you will not know. Do standing meditation for a few minutes until the sleepiness goes away. Once it is gone, return quietly to your sitting mindfulness practice.

7. Walking—Do walking meditation for a few minutes until sleepiness disappears. Then return to your sitting practice.

8. Splash water—Go and wash your face with cold water.

9. And finally…..if the sleepiness persists, go and take a nap for a few minutes. Sometimes sleepiness actually is a sign we may need sleep. I find there is a natural rhythm to my energy during the day and in the afternoon I need to have 20 minutes laying down to rest. After this I feel alert again and ready to continue, but without it the whole afternoon can feel lethargic.  Even in the monastery where we were encouraged to have little sleep, waking at 4am to goto the morning meditation, it was part of the days routine to go and rest for a short while in the afternoon.

If you find you feel sleepy a lot when you meditate it may be a sign of sleep deprivation. In the time of the Buddha and until about 200 years ago sleep was largely determined by the setting of the sun. Once dark poor families would not have access to candles and people would follow their bodies natural rhythm, sleeping early and waking with the dawn. There is a lot of evidence that our current habit of sleeping 8 hours is not a natural rhythm for us but something brought in with the industrial age when it became necessary to get people in to work in factories.

In the pre-industrial era it was common for people to have two phases of sleep, waking for a few hours in the night between these two phases. People would get up and pray, do some simple work, have sex, and there are even example from the 18th century of dream discussion groups in London where people would go and discuss the dreams they had just had before returning to their second phase of sleep.

With the invention of artificial light – first gas, but then even more so with electric lighting, it became easier to push the darkness away and stay awake. Now that we have computers, tablets, ‘phones, laptops and televisions which all emit a blue light that stimulates the brain into thinking it is still day light the tendency is to stay awake long beyond the point our bodies would naturally drift into sleep. The light from these devices prevents the production melatonin, the hormone that tells our body to sleep. It’s a bit like when you hear a bird singing at night – the street lamps have confused their brains and they think it is dawn. Add to that consumption of coffee to get us through our tiredness and the fact stress impacts on sleep and it is little wonder we live in a society that runs on sleep deficit.

If you do find yourself feeling sleepy every time you meditate you may want to reflect on your sleep patterns. How much sleep do you get each night? What time do you go to bed? Do you find yourself falling asleep when ever you stop: watching a film, sitting in a quiet warm room, listening to relaxing music? All of this can indicate sleep deficit. We all vary in how much sleep we need, but we all need a certain amount to feel fully charged. If you are constantly getting one or more hours too little, then like a bank account that does not receive enough funds you will go into deficit. The only way to rectify this is to sleep! Hence the tendency to  lie in at weekends or find that we sleep for hours when we go on holiday.

Ill-will, the second hindrance








The Buddha taught that ill-will is a cause of ongoing unhappiness.  The Dhammapada which I quoted form last week goes on to say this about ill-will:

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The Buddha was always consistent on this point, that hatred will only lead to more hatred. The way to peace is to learn to forgive and let go of the thoughts of having been wronged.

In one teaching the Buddha is speaking with a man who has just insulted him. As he walked though a village collecting food for his midday meal the young man shouted at him the equivalent of: “lazy beggar, go and get a proper job instead of expecting us to feed you”. Instead of becoming irate or indigent the Buddha stoped and replied calmly. If he were still consumed with pride and ego he might have replied with something like “do you know who I am,”, or have tried to justify himself and his lifestyle. Instead he simply asked the man a question:

“Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?”

The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.”

The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

In this way the Buddha illustrated his principle of non-reactivity. The anger belongs to the person who gives it, if I choose not to pick it up it is left with the other person.

As non-enlightened beings we can not always leave the unwanted gift with the one who is seeking to give it to us. Thus in meditation we may come across the second hindrance, that of ill-will. Whilst it may feel pleasant to feel indignant and right, if we really feel into the experience of ill-will as we meditate we understand why it is compared to boiling water. There is a feeling of the mind bubbling, hot, agitated. It is hard to experience any sense of peace. We are consumed with wanting to see the other suffer, or be put right.

The antidote to anger is loving kindness. Never an easy practice, when it is extended to include the difficult person it can become a real challenge, and also provide real freedom. I remember I first taught loving kindness 27 years ago at the student group I ran at Hull. A teacher who lived in Hull had somehow heard of the group and came along. She was in her 40s and taught art at a local school. When we talked of the difficult person she had plenty of students who could easily go in that category.

At first she struggled with this. It felt she was justified to be angry at their rudeness and disrespect. But she kept holding them with the wish “may you be well, may you be happy”. Simply seeing them as human beings who like her wanted to be safe and well. The first stage of the practice gave her an opportunity to hold her own pain around the experience. She was not denying that she felt upset, but she was also looking at what happened in her mind if she dwelt on such thoughts. Once another has said or done something to harm us it is over as an event. We give it energy by either dwelling on it, or suppressing it and trying to forget it.

In the loving kindness practice we look at what happens when we pick up the unwanted gift and take it in: how we allow the other to continue to cause us upset and distress even when they are not there. By then seeing them as a struggling human being with their own karma, weakness and fears we can instead feel some compassion for them. To speak with anger or hatred shows a heart that is not at peace after all.

After some months this teacher reported back to me that she had started to feel more relaxed around the pupils she had previously been reactive to. She no longer let them annoy her. Simply thinking to herself “may yo use well” when they did something annoying. As a result she noticed her teaching style changed. She became a little softer and less confrontational herself. Then, to her surprise, the pupils she had had so much difficulty with changed. They softened. They started to engage with the class. They were no longer so confrontational.

She thanked me after a little while. She said she had never realised it, but it was how she was being with the children that was part of creating the tension and confrontation she had then blamed on them. Her whole experience of teaching changed and she started to enjoy it again.

The next time you meditate and notice you mind going to anger or ill will notice how it feels. Notice the burning in your chest or belly. Notice the churning of thoughts. Ask yourself: is this a gift I really want to pick up? Reflect on how you feel as a result of picking it up and consider “do I really want to give this other person the power to make me unhappy when they are not even here?”. You may even want to explore how to connect with seeing them a a fellow human being, who just like me sometimes acts in inappropriate ways, who lashes out when frightened or lost in ignorance. Feeling this, one may then have a feeling from the heart of wishing them to be free of whatever suffering is making them act as they do.

This does not mean one denies that someone’s actions were unskilful and wrong. When I was mugged I never thought it was my fault, that I deserved it, or that the man who mugged me was somehow free of any blame. From my belief in karma, I was able to reflect that I did not know why it was that I had this experience – perhaps it was mischance and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps it was pay off for some past misdeed. What I was sure of was that he would have karma for his act. As the passage I quoted last week said:

“If you act with hatred in your heart suffering will follow you as the cart wheel follows the track of the ox that pulls it”

So, it follows that if I then allow another’s unskillful act to cause me to feel hatred, that in turn will give rise to suffering for me.

Instead I spent some months wishing the man well in my Loving Kindness practice. Reflecting on how his actions were his choice and no longer impact on me unless I chose to hold on to them. I considered that what I had lost was a ‘phone and wallet. What he had lost was the ability to empathise and see suffering in another. I also considered what desperate place he must be with addiction or life circumstances that all he could think to do was go out and attack people. I also felt sad as my belief is he will have all of that return to him at some point. As the popular saying goes, “those who live by the sword die by the sword”

It took some months. Over that time I also had to give myself a lot of self-care. Walking home from the station at night I would feel fear every time I heard someone’s footsteps behind me. My heart would race, I would sweat, I would feel the urge to run. For many weeks I took the bus rather than walk, then I started the slow process of making peace with this fear – I was determined the attacker was not going to still control me for weeks and months after the incident, making me change my habit of walking from the station home. I did this with a sense of caring for myself. Noticing if anger at him arose, and reminding myself I was angry at the idea of someone I did not even know. My anger might in a sense be justified, but it only burnt me. As the Buddha once said, holding onto anger is like holding a burning coal. When you see this, the natural thing to do is to open your hand at once and let it drop. Anger burns our heart, so why hold on to it any more than we would hold on to a burning coal?

The Five Hindrances

Last week I was talking about dreams and how we can wake up within the dream to a state of lucid awareness. In the previous weeks I’ve been looking at how we can bring greater clarity to our emotional world though recognising our habit patterns when in a relationship – being avoidant, anxious or secure. The key to both lucid dreaming and lucid living is to be able to rest into a clear awareness of our present moment experience as we meditate. Mindfulness practice is not about controlling the mind or making it other than how it is – but of resting in a state of open attentiveness to the present moment, recognising how certain movements of the heart-mind lead to greater well being and calm, whilst others lead to stress, unhappiness and upset.

In a way it is not that we meditate to make the heart-mind better and different to how it is right now, but  rather our meditation allows our heart-mind to settle into its natural state, which is calm, expansive and luminous – just as the ocean will be still and calm when the winds stop whipping it up into towering waves.

The winds that disturb the natural clarity of our heart-mind have been described as the five hindrances. Each hindrance has its own flavour and over the next five emails I’ll explore each hindrance. But first, to give an overview here are all five:

1. Sensual desire
2. Ill-will
3. Lethargy and drowsiness
4. Restlessness and remorse
5. Doubt

Each hindrance is compared to the natural clarity of the still heart-mind, which is said to be like clear water. Sensual desire is said to be like water filled with dye. The bright colours make it impossible to see the natural clarity of the water in its pure state.

1. Sensual desire

The Buddha taught that what ‘we think we become’. In the opening verses of a collection of teachings called The Dhammapada the Buddha says:


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Whilst food, beautiful sights, sex and sensual experiences can all be enjoyable in the moment, allowing the attention of our heart to dwell on the desire for them is not helpful to resting into the natural state of calm abiding that can be experienced through meditation. If you really investigate how it feels to be sitting in meditation with desire you’ll notice a subtle aftertaste to the sweetness of desire that is slightly sour. The grasping heart-mind that looks outside of itself for pleasure presents us with the belief that if I can find what I want then I will be happy. But in the act of wanting there is a sense of frustration with the present moment experience that makes it hard to feel the peace that is here right now. 

If we are eating a meal, then the experience right now in the moment is of noticing the flavours, the scent of the food, enjoying each mouthful. If we are having sex then the experience in the moment is of savouring the taste, smells and physical contact we are experiencing in the moment. As soon as this experience becomes a memory or a desire for some similar experience in the future, it takes us out of the present moment and into longing and desire. 

If I am sitting in meditation and a sexual fantasy starts to play out in my mind, or a memory of a recent experience presents itself, it can feel very alluring to go with this thought. It seems to promise a sense of pleasure and excitement. But if I investigate what is actually happening I see that this sensual desire for something that is not here right now creates a movement in the heart-mind which is like the storm winds stirring up the calm surface of the ocean and leads away from any feeling of calm abiding I may have been experiencing. 

Wanting something I cannot have right now does not give me an experience of pleasure, but of lack. It makes the heart-mind restless, thinking about how it can get what is desired. In contrast, the moment of letting go into being here right now with the simplicity of bodily sensations and the happiness in the heart of being content in the moment gives a subtle sense of joy and peace that needs nothing outside of itself. 

As you meditate, notice what it is like to have desire for something that is not here right now – the sense of longing, slight feeling of lack of contentment, the increased sense of arousal it might cause that makes it harder to rest attention on something as simple and subtle as the breath. 

This is not to say you have to deny yourself that cream cake when in the tea room – enjoy the experience of it when it is there, but also notice that desire for a cream cake when no cream cake is present as a subtle form of suffering. The thought I want, I do not have, I desire all creates a sense of unfulfilment. The Buddha never told his followers that sex or luxury were wrong. Monks and nuns were expected to be celibate but not his lay followers. What he did say was that pursuing desire would not lead to the end of desire, whereas meditation can lead to a state fo freedom from wanting anything. Notice that however many cream cakes you have, or amazing sex, once this experience becomes a memory, there is an almost immediate desire for it to repeat.

I have never found the end of a desire by pursuing desire. There’s always that wish for just one more wafer thin mint at the end of a delicious meal! It becomes a case of the middle way – if we are not going to embrace a life of monastic celibacy and sensual restraint, how can we enjoy the pleasure of the world, without letting them become a source of distraction and dissatisfaction? In meditation we can notice what it is like to have desire for sensual pleasure arise as we sit, notice how it starts to stir the calm ocean of the heart-mind, how agitation and longing can arise and how these feel in contrast to a heart-mind that is at peace in itself. 

Another aspect of this hindrance is that by pursuing thoughts of sense desire we may then act in ways that lead away from peace of mind and heart. Think of the issues in the news right now of sexual abuse by people in positions of power, or our own unskilful actions when we attempted to grasp at something we were desiring without thought for how it might impact on another, these are all examples of how sensual desire may lead away from peace, ease and contentment.

I remember I was traveling through Italy when I was 19. I was in an hotel in Southern Italy where I had had a coffee on the last evening of my stay. It was in a lovely large mug and saucer. I had it in my room, and suddenly I felt desire to have it. I washed it and put it in my ruck sack. Latter the owner was so helpful in making arrangements for my journey back home I felt really bad about having taken the mug, but also embarrassed at putting it back out clean and washed in case it was obvious I had planned to take it….so I left it in my ruck sack. But on getting home I gave it away as it could no longer give me pleasure knowing I had taken it without permission and with greed in my heart. This was before I learnt to meditate or knew anything about Buddhism, if I had been meditating at that time I may well have felt in my meditation how the desire for this object was giving rise to suffering rather than pleasure and might well have just left it in my room rather than take it away. 

In contrast, when we let go of sensual desire for things of the past or anticipated in the future or desired right now, we can rest in a state of calm abiding that is pleasant and easeful right now without needing any external source or stimuli to give rise to the pleasure. As this happiness is based on the heart-mind resting into its natural state rather than reaching put for some external thing to give us happiness  the happiness of the heart-mind at peace is a state of freedom, as we can rest into it at any time without needing to find an object or sensory experience to give rise to our experience of pleasure.  

For a more detailed essay on the stages of calm abiding mediation click here

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