What to do during long periods of dullness?

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This topic contains 4 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Sanjeev 9 months ago.

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    I’ve noticed recently that certain parts of my day seem to be inevitably duller than others. The two dullest parts of the day for me are
    1) In the afternoon, after lunch
    2) In the evening after class/work

    During these times, if there is nothing urgent I need to do, I have a very strong temptation to “give in” to the dullness by doing some activity that requires very little consciousness, e.g. sleeping, watching tv, browsing news articles on the internet. It’s certainly possible for me to do more productive things during these times, when necessary, but with more sluggishness and some sense of irritability.

    Is dullness of this sort inevitable, or is meditation practice meant to deal with it? Either way, if there are no pressing life-related matters to deal with during these periods, what is the best way to make use of them?


    Seems totally natural. We all have our particular circadian rhythms – a normal, biological patterns that repeats itself each day. I have pretty much the exact same ones as you. And of course, after eating dullness is pretty common. Personally, I apply Culadasa’s general meditation advice and just let the experience of dullnness come, let it be and let it go. If I’m on a retreat that’s another issue.

    I think the idea of being “more productive” is interesting. It’s interesting to me because it’s so “protestant.” Not that you’re protestant, but in the sense that we’ve all been born into a culture with a very strong “protestant work ethic,” a belief that “idle hands are the work of the devil.” Thus, we may not be practicing Christians, but most people feel that we should not “waste time” (as if time was a resource in short supply), that we should “spend time” wisely (as if time is money!), that every moment should be well planned, efficient, and productive. The evidence that we feel this way is when we feel guilty for “being lazy” – that is the internalization of an external, historically constructed, and culturally specific super ego. By the way, the sociologist Max Weber wrote a very famous book titled, The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism… in which he basically says modern capitalism, the demand for production and consumption, began with Protestantism.

    Ok, this is getting all academicy and not Buddhisty. But I very often wonder how much of this Protestant spirit has infected are ideas of Buddhist practice.

    I do have thoughts on meditation and dullness but that can wait


    A few corrections above. “The evidence that we feel this way is when we feel guilty for “being lazy.” This feeling of guilt is not an individual problem, its not a personal super-ego, but a collective super-ego that comes from the internalization of a set of external social demands that are very culturally specific.”

    “But I very often wonder how much of this protestant spirit has infected OUR ideas of Buddhist practice”



    Hi Matthew, thank you for your response, and sorry to get back to you late.

    Having grown up in a Protestant family and culture, I think you’re correct that Protestant ideas have affected the way I think. However, the Buddha’s own last words were, “Strive on with diligence.” One of the seven factors of enlightenment is energy (viriya), while one of the five hindrances is laziness. I think there are other references in the sutras about the value of dedicating as much time to the Path as one can.

    However, one of the other seven factors of enlightenment is calm (passaddhi). If we strive too hard, trying to do more than we are healthily capable of, then this factor of calm will not be there, and instead we will experience restlessness and weariness. So it’s important to know when enough is enough. But I think as we progress along the Path, it’s possible to spend much more time and effort than was possible earlier, while maintaining the factor of calm. But back to my original post, it could be that trying to overcome dullness during the times of day I mentioned is a futile effort – not sure what I think at this point.



    I was experiencing the dullness and feeling sleepy for many consecutive meditation sessions. I was having a little less sleep than usual and a little more work. So, I took a precautionary step: before meditating today morning, I took five deep breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth. It worked! But, I felt like I have taken a walking pill! It felt a little unnatural, a little uneasy inside me. Of course, one has to take pills when one is ill, but a pill can be too strong and have side effects. So, the question is, “Can strong and deep breathing be unwholesome in this sense – like a too strong dose of caffeine?”

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