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The five hindrances to being focused: Kopping-Pavars

In Part 3 of a seven-part series on mindfulness, Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars discusses the five hindrances that cause us physical and emotional pain.

To be mindful in everyday life, consider the symbiotic relationship between mindfulness and a meditation practice, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

“Meditation will create the energy you need to be more mindful each day,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Kopping-Pavars, principal of NKP Law, outlines the five hindrances that prevent us from being focused in our lives and when meditating.

A hindrance is something that causes resistance or is an obstruction to our development, she explains.

1. Desire or craving

"In meditation, it can be a desire such as, ‘I just want to get lost in the pleasant feeling of this meditation,’” says Kopping-Pavars.

These thoughts will set meditators up for disappointment if their session doesn’t go the way they’d hoped, she says.

“The power of mindfulness really is to catch these hindrances before they're able to obstruct our thinking, action or meditation or to catch them even if we’re in the middle of them.”

Kopping-Pavars says in everyday life, we can get caught up in the desires of  “I want.”

“For example, we may say, ‘I want more money or I want a better job.’ It’s the desire of chasing something that you think will bring you happiness, but it's only temporary," she explains.

"Desire in itself is not a bad thing. It's part of human life, but we need to understand its nature, danger and how it works. When desire leads to a craving and we become preoccupied with that craving, we lose touch with the present moment. It becomes a hindrance when it prevents us from developing."

She says we should consider that we may really want liberation from the craving. That understanding can then help stop us from following the craving.

2. Aversion

“This could come up in the meditation practice as: ‘I don’t like meditating’ or ‘Why did I ever think that meditation would work for me? I'm an idiot,’” says Kopping-Pavars.

She says it could keep us from finishing the meditation session.

Aversion in everyday life often comes in the form of jealousy and that can be dangerous, she says.

“When we’re jealous of someone, it could develop into envy; envy could move to hatred; and hatred to anger. That’s just an explosion waiting to happen and it's a very subtle movement from one to the other,” she says. 

“But if you capture it, and say, ‘Oh, I feel jealous,’ that tiny capturing allows a space in thought to develop.”

3. Sloth and torpor — or laziness

“In meditation, laziness comes in the form of sleepiness, dullness, lack of clarity. When you're meditating, you may feel like you want to fall asleep,” Kopping-Pavars says.

“If you're meditating because you want to calm your nerves, or you want to get some clarity, then sleepiness is not helpful in your practice.”

Kopping-Pavars recommends taking a deep breath to break the fuzziness or sleepiness — or try adjusting your posture or position. 

“We want to have a luminous, spacious awareness of what we’re doing and have a sense of clarity,” she says. 

"Most people can appreciate the thought of going to the gym — that sense of dread or 'I don't feel like it.' But once we go and do the session, we feel energized and better for it.

“You may not feel like going but you usually come away feeling energized and that’s sort of the same thing with meditation. If you push through your session, you end up feeling wholesome.”

4. Worry or restlessness

“This is a big one and this is what most of us suffer from,” says Kopping-Pavars.

When we’re meditating, crazy thoughts come up, such as, “I mustn’t forget to answer that email because the last time I forgot to answer an email, I nearly got fired,” she says. “I can't get fired. I won't be able to feed my kids.”

Kopping-Pavars says what we need to do in these cases is notice the restlessness and whether we are feeling anxious or stressed.

We can then capture the feeling and have some control over the restlessness, she explains.

“In daily life, we can go on autopilot because the mind is so restless and busy — flying from here to there and we’re not paying attention. So, what we must do is notice this restlessness, capture it and have some control over it. Be patient and realize, ‘Oh, I just got lost in thoughts again.’”

5. Doubt

Doubt keeps us from applying ourselves in meditation and everyday life, says Kopping-Pavars. It also prevents us from moving forward.

“In meditation, we may say, ‘It’s too hard and what is the point?’ But what if you said, ‘OK, I know this feels too hard for me, but what if it isn't?’ Well, let's just try one more minute of meditation.”

She says once you realize you can meditate longer, you can turn doubt on its head.

“The stronger your mindfulness gets, the quicker you can catch the hindrance and make better decisions.”

Kopping-Pavars says when it comes to the five hindrances, try to have a sense of humour.

“When we consider our thoughts, they're often nonsensical; they're funny,” she says.

“You can recognize a hindrance as an old story that you’ve seen again and again. You start realizing, ‘I don’t have to believe it anymore.’”

Stay tuned for Part 4 in the series, where Kopping-Pavars will discuss the five rules — or precepts — of mindfulness.

To read Part 1 — an overview of mindfulness and how lawyers can benefit — click here

To read Part 2 — the four foundations of mindfulness — click here

To Read More Nicolle Kopping-Pavars Posts Click Here
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