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The Satipatthana Sutta details the use of the sloth and torpor hindrance as an object for mindfulness meditation. Does anyone have any practical advice, either of a personal nature or from an established teacher, about how this might be achieved. Whenever I am suffering from this hindrance it completely negates any attempt at meditation of any sort. So I am interested about advice how tiredness could be used as grist for the meditation mill.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It is an experience, like any other, so you have to face it and recognize it clearly as it is. In our tradition we describe the experience of catching up the fatigue in one's awareness and reminding oneself "tired, tired"; if one's mindfulness is sharp, it will either disappear completely or, if the body needs sleep, one will fall asleep.

As the Mahasi Sayadaw describes this process:

Make a mental note of drowsy, when drowsy, and sleepy, when sleepy. After you have gained sufficient concentration in contemplating you will be able to overcome drowsiness and sleepiness and feel refreshed as a result. Take up again the usual contemplation of the basic object. Suppose you are unable to overcome a drowsy feeling, you must then continue to contemplate until you fall asleep.

Also, the commentary to the Satipatthana sutta has a number of ancillary techniques for overcoming sloth and torpor:

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Some things that have worked for me-- and may be entirely personal:

  1. Investigating and noting the qualities of sleepiness and torpor - why do I know I am sleepy? what are the physical symptoms? What are the actions it is making me do (especially in the face - muscular action and vibrations around the eyes, mouth...)?
  2. Investigating and noting whether there is actually some kind of wanting or agitation that is being veiled by the torpor.
  3. Looking for that within me that perceives that I am sleepy, but is itself aware and alert (hint: don't expect to actually find it :) )

Sometimes these practices have caused my torpor to suddenly "flip" into very bright concentration. Sometimes torpor is actually concealing some unacknowledged agitation, and when that agitation is known, the sluggishness vanishes.

However, that's less likely if it's genuine physical exhaustion, or sluggishness caused by digesting a meal. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" :)

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