We all experience inner barriers to living in a way that is best for us. 'Hindrances' is a word that can be used for all the inner barriers and difficult emotions that disrupt our lives. These inner barriers are traditionally grouped (in Buddhist sutras) in different ways, and are given names that are suggestive of how they can impact upon us: ‘fetters', ‘bonds’, ‘floods’ and so forth.
The hinderances we face are commonly summarised into the ‘five hindrances’:
- longing, or desire for objects of the five senses
- sloth and torpor
- restlessness and worry
It is argued that all our different destructive emotions are included in the attachment to these five hindrances. But at the root of these five hindrances are the three unwholesome roots:
Experiencing these tendencies is part of our ordinary daily lives. We all experience these, pretty much all the time on some level. The trouble is, that as roots they can also lead to the growth of yet more difficult emotions and sometimes unskilful actions - for both ourselves AND for other people.
Buddhist psychology actually sets the bar for mental health very high. All our inner barriers or hindrances (doubt, greed, hate, ill-will, etc.) have been described within Buddhist psychology as 'mental illnesses'. The Buddha stated that: ‘…apart from those whose taints [hindrances] have been destroyed, it is hard to find people in the world who can claim to enjoy mental health even for a moment’ (AN.IV.157).
Both the ancient Indian medical texts and Buddhist texts mention ‘greed’ and ‘hatred’/‘anger’ as examples of mental illness, and the Buddha referred to forty-four of the numerous illnesses that afflict the human mind. These 'illnesses' included agitation, doubt and jealousy - things not usually seen as illnesses! So from this point of view, it turns out we are ALL mentally ill!
Of course, another view can be taken on this. In fact, it is the way in which these hindrances and inner barriers are handled that distinguishes mental illness.
Yes, we all experience inner barriers and difficult emotions from time to time. Things like greed and anger are experienced by all of us, and calling them mental illnesses points out that they are not who we are. With the bar set this high, none of us are perfect or really 'sane' - we are ALL mentally ill in this way, since we all get angry or jealous etc.
The good news is, this is actually a reason to celebrate. It means we can all journey from being over-ridden by inner barriers and difficulties to greater peace of mind. We can all do better if we don't get side-tracked with judging or justifying ourselves.
For all of us things can be more difficult at some times more than others and we can start right now, by first of all wishing kindness for ourselves.
Wishing kindness toward ourselves might sound too simple to make any difference. It might seem like an empty gesture or just a cliche. If when attempting to really do this we have a tendency to feel like this just is annoying fluffy nonsense, we can remember what the intention is here.
We can just give ourselves a break for a moment. We don't need "fixing" somehow before we can have a kind intention towards ourself and this is not some magic trick.
Why not really and sincerely wish for ourselves to be well and happy right now.
No need to justify any of it, and if the sting comes "but I DON'T feel feel well or happy!" Just be kind to where that reaction comes from, and let the place where that reaction comes from receive the intention of kindness too. So there is no fight with ourselves. We can start right here.
So whatever else is on the mind, without demanding any result from doing so, we can purely out of an intention of kindness, right now close the eyes, take a breath, notice any inner barrier that may be there, and without setting up an inner-battle, silently repeat to ourselves:
"may I be well and happy...".