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Fuzzy Mind

 

Question

Sometimes my mind gets fuzzy and my motivation fizzles. I should probably do something about it, but it's hard to focus in on a question and I don't care very much. So if you want to form a question, go ahead. But I don't have the energy.

 

Answer

This is a classic description of sloth and torpor. There are variety of ways do deal with it : mindfulness, increasing energy, physically moving, taking a nap.

 

Elaboration

Sloth and torpor used to be my favorite of the five hindrances. By this I mean it often took up residence inside my head. When it does, awareness becomes fuzzy and dream-like. It's as if we're walking through a fog. This is torpor.

At the same time we think, "I'll deal with this later." Or, "I suppose I could six R this, but I'll rest a little first." This is sloth.

They can be thought of as two different qualities. But they are good buddies who othen show up to sing a drifty, sleepy duet together.

It is a difficult hindrance to cope with because it is both sticky and lugubrious. I often began to dislike it in a vague, non-specific way. This just added another hindrance (aversion).

 

Strategies

There are more effective strategies for dealing with it. They run from approaching it with a light but clear awareness to physical intervention. Which are most effective may take some trail and error as well as self-knowledge. If we're physically exhausted, getting some physical rest may be wisest. But sloth and torpor can arise when our physical energy is not the problem. In this case, there are lighter strategies:

 

Mindfulness

This is probably the lightest approach: simply be more mindful of the state itself. And a good way to cultivate more mindfulness is to six R the state.

It was surprising to me to discover that sloth and torpor have tension in them. That may sound counter-intuitive. But there is some density underneath them. When we recognize this clearly, let it be as it is, relax and smile the mind may begin clear and brighten.

 

Increasing Energy

Sloth and torpor are both a symptom of insufficient energy. This might be the result of tiredness or fatigue. Or it might be the result of the awakening factors of equanimity, collectedness and tranquility being very strong without sufficient energy to support them.

Three other awakening factors – energy, joy and inquiry – bring in more energy. So another relatively light approach to sloth and torpor is to balance them with these qualities. Energy is just what it says it is: energy. If we're sitting in a lugubrious states we can simply invite more energy in. This may brighten the mind and clear out the cobwebs.

Joy will can do this as well. Smiling and having a slightly humorous attitude brightens things up.

Inquiry is curiosity. Simply take more interest in the object of meditation. Inquiry is similar to mindfulness, but it more intentionally explores rather than passively receiving what's going on.

 

Eyes and breath

If increasing energy doesn't work, we can open the eyes. This allows a little more stimulation to come in and enliven the mind-body system. Another technique is to take some deeper breaths to get more oxygen (and energy) into the system.

 

Physically moving

Sometimes the body truly just needs to move. If we've had enough sleep but are having difficulty sitting for more than 20 or 30 minutes, then we're more likely to be restless.

But if we've been meditating for a hour or two, sometimes we may just need more blood circulation or a oxygen. In this case, the first thing to do is take two or three deep breaths. That may be enough to get things back in balance. Other times, shifting to walking meditation may enliven the system.

 

Nap

If none of these work, the body might truly need more rest. The mind and body are deeply connected. Many of us live stressful lives with accumulated fatigue. Sometimes meditation tricks are to no avail. It's time for a good nap.

Meditate after you wake up (or, if you need to stretch or move around a little, do that first then meditate). If you find your meditation goes deeper, physical sleep was probably the issue.

There are some schools of meditation which push to get by on less and less sleep. But if the body is genuinely tried, this enthusiasm is probably misplaced: better to care for the body and get some rest.