The second of the hindrances is ill-will. It covers a lot of ground from minor irritation to rage, and includes dislike, annoyance, resentment, aversion, frustration, anger, hostility, impatience, and hate (in addition to irritation and rage). General grumpiness could also be included. We may not recognize ill-will as an energy until it moves to the center of our consciousness, but it is often there in the background, as a motive to avoid or move away from people and situations or in judgments (whether spoken or silent).
Ill-will interferes with mindfulness, although if we commit to working with ill-will, mindfulness may be the primary tool to address it. If we take on this challenge we must be realistic about our current level of good will vs. ill-will. Ill-will may be mild or powerful; it may be intermittent or almost continuous; it can manifest as angry words or angry silence.
Ajahn Tiradhammo posits that energetically, ill-will is a physical and mental contraction. If too much pressure builds up, there may be an explosion, which can temporarily relieve tension, but doesn’t address the cause, which is embedded in our personal relationship with experience.
So we begin by noticing. Is there a particular person or situation that almost always causes an aversive reaction? What is it about them that causes us to recoil? How do we think things should be instead of how they are? If we have difficulty noticing what our triggers for ill-will are, we can ask a friend to help us identify them.
Speaking personally, I can say that whenever I get behind the wheel of a car, the danger of ill-will is right there with me; my patience is usually short with other (inconsiderate) drivers. I’ve also noticed over the years, when I hear a proposal, especially if it’s something I hadn’t thought of myself, my impulsive first reply is, “no!”. I may change my mind in the next three minutes, but my initial reaction is often defensive. Knowing this about myself, I can stop, take a breath, and decide to say yes or no or that I’ll consider whatever is being proposed. In these cases, hearing the other person out and delaying my own reaction has been a useful remedy.
But we can’t apply a remedy until we understand what circumstances in our lives cause ill-will to arise. What aggravates it? What prevents it? When is it present? When is it absent? Do crowds make us edgy? Loud noise? Physical discomfort? Having to wait? Is a negative attitude our default setting? Do we often feel the need to correct others?
Some of us are not prone to ill-will and have the ability to easily overlook inconveniences. This is also a useful thing to know about ourselves. I can think of at least one person I knew well who never seemed to get annoyed and was always ready with compassion and care, no matter who she encountered.
Try to work out what your ill-will triggers are. In the next post we’ll consider remedial strategies.