Equanimity Now

Photo by Daiga Ellaby

Equanimity is a state of calm and composure – a balance of the mind, even under stress. It is something that arises naturally from a dedicated mindfulness practice. Cultivating equanimity allows us to respond in a clear-minded and open-eyed fashion, rather than reacting blindly out of emotion or on impulse.

Meditation teacher Shinzen Young said, “Equanimity is a fundamental skill for self-exploration and emotional intelligence,” calling it a “balanced state of non-self-interference.” Instead of being mindlessly dragged around and dominated by strong emotion or pain, the wisdom and equanimity cultivated through clear seeing bring a calm, undisturbed space in which we have the opportunity to choose our response.

Equanimity is the stability of mind that allows us to be present with an open heart no matter how wonderful or difficult conditions are. It is said that the boundless qualities of lovingkindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy stem from equanimity… Equanimity is the capacity to be in touch with suffering and at the same time not be swept away by it. It is the strong back that supports the soft front of compassion. These inter-depending qualities are the foundation for effective work with suffering. Equanimity allows us that radiant calm, peace, and trust that receive the world and at the same time make it possible for us to let go of the world. – Roshi Joan Halifax

Many of us don’t realize just how easily we’re swept along by our emotions and that we live in a chronic state of dissatisfaction. We relentlessly seek after and cling to the highs that occur when things appear to be going our way and we recoil from or fight against what we perceive as undesirable circumstances.

When it comes to uncontrollable events, are you more like a stone or a feather in the stream of life? A feather floats on the surface, riding the waves and eddies, allowing the current to carry it. A stone sinks into the mud where it is eroded; gradually worn away by friction until, it too, is inevitably taken by the current. In mainstream US culture it is considered admirable to resist or fight against unwanted things and to relentlessly pursue things we want. However, this approach can have problematic consequences when applied indiscriminately. Sometimes it makes sense to take action in order to change our circumstances. Other times anything we do will only make things worse. Mindfulness provides space to discern and respond with wisdom.

Equanimity develops over a considerable span of time, with intention and dedication. It doesn’t come pre-packaged in an 8-week mindfulness course, a 30-day yoga challenge, or even an intensive teacher training. It emerges incrementally in its own time and can’t be manufactured. But, with patience and dedication, we can cultivate a calm, undisturbed space in which we have the opportunity to choose our response. We can develop the freedom to ask ourselves, “In this moment, will I be a feather or will I be a stone?”

Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity. – Carl Jung

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