In meditation practice we are aiming to cultivate a mind that is both calm and alert. Often meditation practitioners put too much emphasis on relaxation and on establishing a sense of calm. However, calm without alertness will lead to daydreaming and zoning out. It might feel relaxing, but this is not meditation. Zoning out is not being present, and it doesn't allow for awareness and true insight. On the other hand, being too alert without calm, shifts us into restlessness. Our bodies get tense, the mind races and it becomes difficult to concentrate and stay present.
There are two conditions of too much calm, which are also considered a form of resistance to a practice of meditation. They are Inertia and Stupor.
Inertia (also known as Sloth, Lethargy, Langour or Listlessness) is a physical experience of heaviness or fatigue, while Stupor (also known as Torpor, Dullness or Drowsiness) is the experience of the heaviness of the mind, where focus and concentration is difficult to maintain. Both of these conditions can feel pleasant or unpleasant.
When it is pleasant, the body might feel comfortable and the mind soft and dreamy. When Inertia or Stupor is pleasant, it can be seductive, causing us to avoid practicing meditation. We drift off into daydreaming, not even noticing we are no longer meditating, or we might convince ourselves to avoid meditation altogether. When meditation practice allows unpleasant experiences to arise, Inertia or Stupor may be what we use to avoid the unpleasant thoughts, emotions or sensations.
Inertia or Stupor is a method we use to prevent us from being mindful and fully engaged in our meditation practice. When our resistance is strong, we can feel as though our body or mind is stuck in glue or tar. Every effort no matter if it is trying to stay focused or trying to maintain our posture, becomes more and more difficult. Our energy might be constrained or held back. This can be a common issue for those who struggle with motivation or who label themselves as lazy. If one has cultivated this lack of motivation or is labeled in this way, the habit energy of Inertia or Stupor can be accumulated.
How do you know if Inertia or Stupor is a resistance to practice or if you are really just tired?
How do we address Sloth or Torpor so it doesn't interfere with our meditation practice?
photo credit: Sleeping Grandad via photopin (license)
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A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members