The Hindrances are mind states that are deeply habituated in us. Without mindfulness, they arise in the mind and dominate our experience without us even knowing they are present, let alone being aware of the results.
These mind states are called “Hindrances” because they hinder or occlude the arising and development of Samadhi (the non distracted mind) and clear seeing, which means seeing the truth of the way things are (Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta).
The five Hindrances include: Desire, Aversion, Sloth and Torpor, Restlessness, and Doubt. We will explore these in detail, including how to work skillfully with each of them in the coming months, but for now, just a few words about each Hindrance.
Desire - Desire includes: wanting, lust, craving, longing, yearning, covetousness and mental hunger/thirst. It’s the mind that says,“I want this.” As with all mind states, desire can be very subtle, such as when a wisp of a thought about some pleasant activity goes through the mind, to the most intense craving of addiction.
Aversion - Aversion includes: hate, jealousy, rage, annoyance, frustration, worry, fear, anger, irritation, resentment, etc. As with Desire, Aversion can be just the slightest movement away from something unpleasant, to the hatred that causes human beings to speak and act with the intent to harm.
Sloth and Torpor - Sloth and Torpor is low energy in the body (Sloth) and mind (Torpor). When there is low energy in the mind, we are not able to meet the experiences of life. When you roll back over to sleep longer instead of getting up in the morning, even though you are fully awake, that’s “Torpor.” You just can't face the day yet. “Sloth” comes from an excess of calm in the body and manifests as a dream-like quality to our thoughts, lack of clarity to what is arising, nodding off, and falling asleep.
Restlessness - Restlessness is an excess of energy in the body and mind. Sometimes there can Restlessness in the body, but not in the mind, sometimes vice versa and sometimes in both! When Restlessness is present, it is very difficult for the body or mind to be still. Restlessness can be subtle and manifest as mild fidgetiness in the body or as the attention moving quickly from one thought to another in the mind. Restlessness can be intense, such that the body simply can not stay still for even a moment, or the mind feels very agitated and out of control.
Doubt - Doubt is the most tricky of the Hindrances because it can be difficult to recognize when it is present. With a bit of mindfulness, it is usually fairly clear when the other four Hindrances are present, but Doubt tends to masquerade as wisdom. Unless we are paying very close attention, we end up believing what Doubt has to say. We can doubt whether we are doing the practice correctly, and whether we have the ability to do the practice at all. We can doubt the teacher, and what the teacher is saying. We can even doubt the Dharma itself.