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Equanimity

CalmWithin

Give up to grace. 

The ocean takes care of each wave till it gets to shore.

–    Rumi

          The Four Brahma Viharas or Divine Abidings are often grouped under the phrase “Metta” when actually there are four different qualities we can cultivate in this practice of unconditional care:  Metta or Loving-Kindness, Karuna or Compassion, Mudita or Sympathetic Joy, and Upekkha or Equanimity.  I will be focusing on this fourth quality in this dharma talk.

 

Equanimity, in its most basic understanding, is all about “letting go”.  “Of what?” you may ask.  The Buddha would answer trying to control what cannot be controlled including all the inevitable changes that are apart of life.  We experience our fears, frustrations, and joys and sit with them all, trying to eventually come into an evenness or peace around them.

         

The same is true with the pain of the world.  We see that we can’t fix it but rather meet it with a compassionate heart and bring peace to ourselves and others in the presence of our witnessing, helping where we can without attachment.  Jack Kornfield, Theravadan Buddhist teacher,  reminds us that “equanimity allows us to see the woven pattern of both suffering and joy in our lives and the world.”

 

When I ask others what they want most in their lives and for their loved ones, most answer “peace”.  This, too, is equanimity.  With this understanding, we know we can’t protect our loved ones from suffering or rob them of making their own choices and experiencing their lives just as we do when we make our own choices.

 

With equanimity, we are reminded of the Buddhas’s teachings that all beings are the owners of their karma.  Their happiness and unhappiness depend on their actions, not on my wishes for them.

 

          E. B. White, a famous American writer, once wrote “I wake in the morning unsure whether to save the world or savor it.”  With equanimity and compassion, we can be present to both.

 

How is “letting go” different from “getting rid of something”?  Is it really possible to get rid of something?  We can repress, reject, and resist until we are blue in the face and still not be rid of something.  By burying, hiding, denying, and then refusing to look, we fool ourselves into believing that we’ve gotten rid of something.  This is ego’s way of handling what ego doesn’t like or want.  It is based on the illusion of separateness and duality, namely that ego (“I”) is separate or different from whatever it finds objectionable.  Ego assumes that it has control over this unwanted something else and can get rid of it whenever it wants to.  Letting go allows us to see that we were never in control in the first place.

 

Joseph Goldstein from his early book Insight Meditation shares student questions and his answers regarding equanimity.

 

Q:  I have passions for many things:  gardening and writing, to name just a few.

Without these passions, my life would feel pretty meaningless.  Does the

cultivation of equanimity mean flattening out the intensity of my feelings

about the things I care about?

 

A:  Equanimity doesn’t mean not caring.  When we open our hearts, we can

connect to all things, and that’s as it should be.  The point of equanimity is not

to lose one’s heartfelt connection with the things going on around us.  Rather,

it means balancing that connection with a clear recognition of the way things

are.  So, for example, we see what we genuinely cannot control, no matter

how obsessed we might become with trying to.  We see how much things are

constantly changing.  Even in the midst of intense devoted activity, we can be

served by seeing such truths clearly and remaining balanced.

 

Q:  I have a friend who smokes three packs of cigarettes a day.  She suffers from

a chronic disease which makes this addiction even more dangerous to her

health.  It’s hard for me to keep my cool when I see her suffering so much,

and then lighting up another cigarette on top of it.  I mean, if someone won’t

wake up to something that’s killing them, isn’t it appropriate to yell?

 

A:  We all wish ardently for the well-being of those we love.  The gift of

equanimity is to be able to recognize where our boundaries are and what our

responsibility really is.  The source of your friend’s suffering is beyond your

control.  Your job, in this case, is to continue to offer her compassion and to

support her health in whatever ways you can, but to maintain the perspective

of wisdom.  The fact is that she is ultimately responsible for her behavior.

Psychologists would say that this understanding releases us from

codependency.  That release actually helps our loving kindness endure,

regardless of outcome.

 

Q:  I often find myself identifying with my emotions, believing that they define

my experience.  Then I feel trapped and hopeless.  How can I work with these

feelings?

 

A:  Tibetan Buddhists use an analogy I’ve found helpful.  They liken the mind to

a vast, clear sky.  All our sensations, thoughts, and emotions are like weather

that passes through without affecting the nature of the sky itself.  The clouds,

the winds, the snow, and rainbows come and go, but beyond it all the sky

remains clear and unperturbed.  Let your mind be that sky, and let all these

mental and physical phenomena arise and vanish like the changing weather.

In this way, your mind can remain balanced and relaxed, without getting

swept away in the drama of every passing storm.”

 

What the ancient Taoists called “the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows” come and go over and over again.  As the Buddha said, “pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute” constantly arise and pass away, beyond our control.

 

Finally, a reminder of the connection of Equanimity and Patience comes from a poem by Walt Whitman in his Leaves of Grass.

 

I exist as I am, that is enough.

If no other in the world be aware, I sit content.

And if each and all be aware, I sit content.

 

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me,

And that is myself.

 

And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand

Or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness,

I can wait.

 

Simple Equanimity Phrases—The Meditation

 

Allow yourself to be in a comfortable sitting position, alert but at the same time relaxed.  Soften your shoulders, jaws, and eyes.  Bring your awareness to your brow, the Ajna Chakra, and draw your gaze inward at this place and drop down from the inside to the flame of your own dear, dear heart.  Reside in your own dear, tender heart and just sense it.   Settle yourself inside your heart.

 

And then take a few minutes to “remember your own goodness”.  Think of a quality you like about yourself or an incident when you thought, said or acted in a way that you felt was good.  Through memory, experience this again and remember your own goodness.

 

The traditional format for Equanimity, as with Loving-Kindness and Sympathetic Joy is to start with yourself and then spread your wishes out to a loved one, neutral one, difficult one, and then to all sentient beings.  In Compassion practice, you start with someone who is suffering.

 

In this meditation, start with yourself and say:

May I accept things the way they are.

May I be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events.

May I be at peace.

 

Repeat these phrases and take your time, lingering as long as it takes to feel complete.

 

Next, picture a loved one and say their name to yourself, repeating the same phrases:

May you accept things the way they are.

May you be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events.

May you be at peace.

 

Then, think of a neutral person, one you do not have strong negative or positive feelings toward.  Perhaps they are a mere acquaintance….someone you see walking in your neighborhood or a cashier at your local grocery store.  You may not even know their name.  If you can’t place such a person, you may remember someone you once had a strong relationship with but no longer do.

 

Knowing that neutral people also want to be happy independent of your relationship with them, is apart of seeing the connection to all beings in our basic desire to be happy.  With this simple awareness, we are less separate.

 

Say to your neutral person:

May you also accept things the way they are.

May you be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events.

May you be at peace.

 

Next, choose a difficult person in your life and then notice your reaction to your choice.  If you feel strong resistance, you may want to choose someone you have a milder reaction to since this practice is authentic, unpretentious, and unconditional. If you continue to meet resistance, incline your mind toward unconditional regard and a genuine intent for well-being toward your difficult person.

 

Often seeing your difficult person in a more vulnerable state such as an infant or on their death bed softens our emotions and feelings of separateness.

 

Another option for this category is to give these wishes to the difficult aspects of yourself, perhaps ones you have been trying to understand lately or even over a long time.  Opening your mind and heart as much as you can, say:

 

May you also accept things the way they are.

May you be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events.

May you, too, be at peace.

 

Expand your awareness out into your household, neighborhood, city, state, country, and planet Earth and beyond to include all sentient beings.  Include humans, animals, birds, fish, insects, trees, plants, flowers….all living things.  And say:

 

May all sentient beings accept things the way they are.

May all sentient beings be undisturbed by the comings and goings of events.

May all sentient beings be at peace.

Remain in this expanded awareness for as long as you like and then eventually start pulling yourself back to the planet Earth, country, state, city, neighborhood, house, room and then finally back to the center of your own dear, tender heart and reside there.

 

Remember these words from the Buddha:

You can search the entire world over and never, ever find anyone more deserving of your love than you.

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