7. Antidotes to Agitation and Dullness

As we directly experienced, some meditation sessions are easier, while others are more challenging. We may sessions where we can’t help but obsessively think about something that upsets us, or where we might unintentionally drift into sleep. This is to be expected. We will now explore the two main obstacles we’ll inevitably run into when meditating: agitation and dullness.

Recognizing Agitation and Dullness

Learning to identify agitation and drowsiness is the first step in overcoming them.

Agitation occurs when the mind is unbalanced, anxious or stressed. An agitated mind jumps from one thought to the next with such speed that it may seem impossible to slow down. In meditation, agitation usually occurs in the form of excessive thinking, but can also arise in emotionally as worry, stress or anxiety.

Dullness occurs when the mind becomes lethargic, drowsy or tired. A dull mind can give us the impression of being narrowly focused on our meditation object when, in fact, it is slowly drifting into drowsiness. In meditation, dullness makes our meditation object more fuzzy and “dream-like”, while shutting down peripheral awareness of our posture and environment.

We must train our mind to work with and overcome these obstacles, because by giving in to them, we actually train the mind to be agitated or to be dull. Therefore, as soon as we notice a hint of agitation or dullness, we must apply the antidotes below. The stronger the obstacle is, the stronger the antidote should be.

Antidotes to Agitation

These antidotes to agitation are ordered from light to strong.

Agitation
Recall why you are meditating. Why is this important to you?
Intentionally direct attention to the meditation object with more effort
Count the breaths up to 10
Widen attention to include breath sensations throughout the body
Widen attention to include body sensations, external sounds and the atmosphere of the room you’re in
Intentionally relax and let go of worries
Take deep, conscious breaths until the mind has calmed down

Antidotes to Dullness

These antidotes to dullness are also ordered from light to strong.

Dullness
Recall why you are meditating. Why is this important to you?
Intentionally direct attention to the meditation object with more effort
Straighten your posture
Open up awareness to external sounds and body sensations
Take a few deep, conscious breaths
Take a deep breath and hold it for 10 to 20 seconds
Open your eyes and meditate with eyes open
Squeeze your whole body until it shakes, and release
Stand up and meditate standing
Go splash water on your face, and repeat until drowsiness is gone

The sooner you notice agitation and dullness, the easier they will be to work with. By applying the right antidotes to the challenges we face, our meditation sessions will become more enjoyable and fruitful.