Skillful Mindfulness: Mindfulness of Mental Objects I

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 216-220)

Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness

Mindfulness of Mental Objects is the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness.

It is sometimes called Mindfulness of the Dhammas.  Dhamma is from the Pali language and difficult to translate because it has many meanings.  In the context of the Fourth Foundation, we can use the term mental objects to mean subjects or factors on which to meditate.

The factors or mental objects are:

  • The Five Hindrances
  • The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  • The Six Internal and Six External Sense Bases
  • The Seven Factors of Enlightenment
  • The Four Noble Truths

Each of these factors offers an opportunity to be mindful of how our body and mind function and how suffering can arise or be overcome.

The Five Hindrances

The Five Hindrances are impediments to or negative factors that hinder meditation.   They have been addressed in the sixth step of the Eightfold Path, Skillful Effort in the talk:  Skillful Effort: The Five Hindrances.

The Five Hindrances are:

  1. Greed
  2. Ill-will
  3. Dullness and Drowsiness
  4. Restlessness and Worry
  5. Doubt


This is the desire to obtain things such as food, possessions and sex.  In meditation, pleasant thoughts, memories, perceptions, or sensations can cause the desire to have more or to have it last longer.


Ill-will includes hatred, anger and resentment which basically are reactions to what we don’t like.  In meditation, unpleasant thoughts, memories, perceptions, or sensations can cause the desire to get rid of it or to have it go away quickly.

Dullness and Drowsiness

When the mind is sluggish, this is called dullness.  When the body is languishing, this is called drowsiness.  Both conditions make it hard to concentrate or work.  As with the other hindrances, it become very difficult to practice mindfulness or to meditate.

Restlessness and Worry

These stem from fear about what might happen in the future and the uncertainly of the outcome. With restlessness and worry, there can be no peace of mind.


When you are perplexed, you are in doubt.  You cannot decide what to do.  Thoughts arise that take you away from the present moment.  You begin to wonder about the outcome of what you are doing.  This leads to restlessness and worry.

Practicing Mindfulness of the Five Hindrances

While meditating, if you notice that you are “stuck’ on something such as a pleasant thought or an aversion, recognize that one of the hindrances has arisen.  Also, if you notice drowsiness, dullness, restlessness, worry or doubt, a hindrance is arisen.

To become free of the hindrance, don’t resist it as that will cause persistence.  Just be mindful, paying attention moment to moment to what is present.

If judgment (such as “This is bad, I should be having this), commentary (“”Let’s see, what is causing this?), decision-making (“I must do something about this NOW”) is present, just notice this as well without doing anything.  As with all phenomenon, the hindrance and thoughts about it will pass.  They may come up again but with mindfulness applied, they will be weaker and not last as long.


  • Read this talk every day and reflect on it.
  • When meditating, see if you can notice if one or more of the hindrances arise.  If so, practice mindfulness.
  • What do you find? 


  • Daily meditation is a beneficial way to experience these mental objects.
  • Start by quieting the mind with a concentration meditation and then go to a Vipassana (Insight Meditation) to experience the phenomena that arise including these mental objects.
  • Examine them through mindfulness – paying attention moment to moment to what is.

Next: Skillful Mindfulness: Mindfulness of Mental Objects II
: Skillful Mindfulness: Mindfulness of the Mind