Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Restlessness and Worry

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.125-134)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 152-162) 

“And how, monks, does he in regard to dhammas abide contemplating dhammas? Here in regard to dhammas he abides contemplating dhammas in terms of five hindrances. And how does he in regard to dhammas abide contemplating dhammas in terms of the five hindrances?  “If restlessness and worry is present in him, he knows ‘There is restlessness and worry in me’; if restlessness and worry is not present in him, he knows ‘There is no restlessness and worry in me’; and he knows how unarisen restlessness and worry can arise, how arisen restlessness and worry can be removed, and how a future arising of the removed restlessness and worry can be prevented.

The Hindrances

The hindrances have an unwholesome effect on our minds.  It is necessary to abandon them before moving on to the next dhammas.  “He (the Buddha) said that when attended to carelessly, “these five hindrances are makers of blindness, causing lack of vision, causing lack of knowledge, detrimental to wisdom, tending to vexation, leading away from nibbāna.” But when we attend to these states carefully, we learn to see into their empty, transparent nature and no longer get so caught up in their seductive power. They then become the focus of our mindfulness and the very vehicle of our awakening.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

The hindrances are phenomena that obscure our perception.  The Buddha used the following simile to describe how each hindrance obscures the mind:

There is a pool of clear water that reflects our image.

When sense desire is present in the mind, it is as if the pool were suffused with a colored dye.  Desires color our perceptions.

When aversion is present, it is like boiling water. We can’t see clearly.  When we’re heated up by anger, we’re in a state of turbulence.

Sloth and torpor are like the pool overgrown with algae.  There is a stagnation of mind that prevents us from seeing clearly.

Restlessness and worry are like water when it is stirred up by the wind.  The mind is tossed about by agitation.

And doubt is like muddy water, where we can’t see to the bottom and everything is obscured.

–SN 46.55 Sangaravo Sutta


Restlessness and Worry

The Pali word for restlessness is uddacca which means agitation, excitement or distraction.  Restlessness is literally “without rest.”  The Pali word for worry is kukkucca which is the mind state of regret (remorse) or anxiety.  We worry about what we did or did not do.

Restlessness manifests in the body as a physical sensation described by many as “jumping out of one’s skin.  The mind is distracted with various kinds of thoughts.  It is truly an inner turmoil with the mind tossed about by agitation.  Restlessness can be more subtle posing as distracting thoughts during tasks or in meditation.

Worry can manifest as general anxiety about the future.  Worry is a form of fear, anticipation or uncertainty about what might happen in the future.  Worry can also manifest as guilt, regret or remorse about what we might have done or not done in the past.

Conditions that lead to the arising of restlessness and worry

An imbalance of concentration and energy

Concentration focuses our energy.  Insufficient concentration means that the excess energy can lead to distraction and restlessness.  We pay undue attention to our thoughts.  In other words, we tend to think too much (mental proliferation).  Remember that insufficient energy leads to sloth and torpor.

Unwise attention

Paying constant attention to situation over which we have no control leads to discontent.

Too much talk

With the technology available to us today, we can easily get engaged in constant communication.  This feeds unwise attention as we share our experiences over and over again.  This makes concentration difficult to maintain, upsetting the balance with energy.

Dwelling on past unskillful actions

If we don’t look at past actions to see what was unwholesome, learn from it and then let go, we will constantly dwell on these actions with restlessness and worry ensuing.

Judging one’s own progress on the path

Restless and worry can be caused by our striving too hard in our practice and being overly concerned with our progress.  What is really happening is that we are setting goals and expectations when there is no need.

Conditions that lead to the removal of restlessness and worry

Practice mindfulness

“Whenever we feel the mind is not settled on the object, not at rest, we can become mindful of the restlessness itself. Notice the physical energies in the body. Notice the difference in the emotional tone between restlessness and worry, so that you can distinguish one from the other. Restlessness feels more scattered; worry feels more anxious. As we become mindful of these states of mind, rather than being lost in them, the mindfulness itself starts to bring the factors of concentration and energy into balance.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.

Be precise with your attention

Use your mental zoom lens.  “Focus the mind more precisely on a particular object like the breath, or we become quite precise in moving about, strengthening the quality of composure in our movements.  Both actions help to calm all the obsessive thinking in the mind.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Paying wise attention with patience

Instead of constantly ruminating, investigate the situation to see if there is an appropriate response.  If there is no appropriate response that arises, we must be patient.

Open your eyes

When meditating or when your eyes are closed, such as when waking from sleep, just open your eyes as this gives you a physical point of reference to help you reconnect with the reality of the moment rather than the thoughts.

Practice wise reflection

Reflect on your purpose for practicing which is the purification of your mind to free yourself from greed, hatred and delusion. (ignorance).  And know that you are doing this not only for yourself but for the welfare of others.  Realize that guilt is simply reinforcing the concept of self with negative self-judgment.  It is difference from remorse which is acknowledging the unskillful action, understand its unwholesomeness, making amends when possible and then moving on (letting go).  Goldstein notes that  “This is the act of self-forgiveness, which is honest in its assessment and wise in its understanding of impermanence and selflessness.”

Know that awareness of already present

This is the realization that awareness cannot be developed.  It is already within you and you just need to come back to it. That is what the purification of the mind is all about.

Preventing the arising of restlessness and worry

Practice virtue

Commitment to the virtue of non-harming is freedom from non-remorse.  Even the Buddha committed unskillful acts.  As Goldstein notes:  “Even if we have done unskillful things in the past, as we all have, we know that from this point onward, we are taking care with our actions of the body, speech and mind.”

Follow the eightfold path

The eightfold path is the Buddha prescription for freedom.  This will be explored later as one of the Dhammas.

Reading Dharma books, conversing with good friends, and associating with wise teachers

These all help the mind to stay free from the hindrance of restlessness and worry.


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.
  • Observe the arising of restlessness and worry in your life, when it is present or absent, the conditions that cause it to arise and the conditions that cause it to fall away. Practice mindful prevention of this hindrance.


  • Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on states of mind.

Next: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Desire
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