The hindrances are not our fault, but they are our responsibility. Greed and hatred in particular are not things we should blame ourselves for; they are part of the natural, imperfect world. At the same time, if we let them lead us blindly throughout our lives, we are not living up to our potential.
We could think of the hindrances as obstacles, but also as stepping stones. By taking responsibility for our words and actions and the intentions behind them, we can start to understand how our minds and bodies work at a deeper level. We can learn to see how the hindrances create suffering for ourselves and others. Once the suffering is clearly perceived – not avoided but fully experienced and recognized – we will gradually become disenchanted with our own grasping nature. The possibility of being free from oppressive compulsions will become visible and attractive.
As explained in the NY Times article linked to the previous post, patience is a key to happiness in many areas of daily life (as well as in meditation practice). The good news is that patience can be cultivated; we are trainable, and it’s important to acknowledge that it’s a gradual training, not a switch. The habits of grasping built up over a lifetime must be brought into the light and studied so we can see them as they are, both their uses and their drawbacks.
As the NYT article explains, the causes of our aversion/impatience are in our physical bodies, specifically in the limbic system of the brain:
Amygdalae are the culprit. This almond-shaped set of nervous tissue in our brains is responsible for sussing out threats and regulating emotions. While this component of the limbic system is perfectly calibrated for protecting our ancestors from ferocious predators, it’s not as adept at determining credible threats in modern life.
As a result, many react to irritating situations as if these encounters were more dire than they actually are. The amygdala … is too unsophisticated to know the difference between a true danger (say, a growling tiger) and something substantially less life-threatening (dealing with an obnoxious person).
The amygdala is intimately connected to our endocrine system and our autonomic nervous system. This is why we sometimes feel we have no control over our positive or negative reactions to stimuli. But if we look closely enough, we can interrupt the process that leads from impulse to action. In terms of the causal chain described in the Pali canon (dependent origination or dependent co-arising), it is possible to break the link between vedana (liking/not-liking) and tanha (grasping). This is the instant between recognizing that we’re attracted or repelled and giving in to the urge to grab or push away. Can we experience liking or not-liking and mindfully resist the impulse to grasp at or reject the object?
Many times, simply not rushing makes this way of training possible. We can stop, breathe, and reframe our experience. We can re-set our expectations and remember to be patient, with ourselves and others.