It seems that almost everyone I know is experiencing life these days caught up in some sort of crisis or conflict, be it at work, at home or in relationship. It might be stress around processes, deadlines, budgets and job security, or personal relationships and unresolved conflicts, or how to resolve health or education challenges, or whether what they are doing is what they really want to be doing with their life.
Stress is the wrapper surrounding their lives. They are consistently experiencing racing heartbeats, shortness of breath, tight jaws, facial frowns, rigid postures, negative emotions, critical and judgemental inner dialogue, illness and disease. Their lives are defined by automated, robotic reactivity to conflict and crisis.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
What is equanimity?
Equanimity - the evenness and steadiness of mind when under stress - is a practice most often discussed in Buddhist and Sufi traditions. Equanimity is the foundation for wisdom and freedom and for compassion and love. It is not, as some have mistaken, a "dryness," coolness, indifference or aloofness. It is not the suppression of feelings, apathy or inexpressiveness.
The Buddha described equanimity as a mind that is abundant, immeasurable and without hostility or ill-will. In others words, it is the capacity to remain neutral, to observe from a distance and be at peace without getting caught up in what we observe. It's the capacity to see the big picture with understanding. In essence, it is about taking nothing personally, refusing to get caught up in the drama - either our own or others'.
Equanimity allows us to stand in the midst of conflict or crisis in a way where we are balanced, grounded and centered. It allows us to remain upright in the face of the strong winds of conflict and crisis, such as: blame, failure, pain, or disrepute - the winds that set us up for suffering when they begin to blow. Equanimity protects us from being blown over and helps us stay on an even keel.
How do we develop equanimity?
There are several qualities that support the development of equanimity. One is integrity. Integrity helps us to feel confident when we speak and act. It fosters an equanimity that results in 'us feeling comfortable in any setting or with any group without the need to find fault or blame.
Another quality that supports equanimity is faith - not necessarily a religious or theological faith, but faith based on wisdom, conviction or confidence. This type of faith allows us to meet challenge, crisis or conflict head on with confidence, with equanimity.
A third quality is that of a well-developed mind a mind that reflects stability, balance and strength. We develop such a mind through a conscious and consistent practice of focus, concentration, attention and mindfulness. A well-developed, calm mind keeps us from being blown about by winds of conflict and crisis.
A fourth quality is a heightened sense of well-being which we develop by engaging in practices or activities that take us out of our robotic, ego-driven life and help us focus on a higher or deeper sense of consciousness. These might include meditation, martial arts, self-reflection, the arts, and right-brain focused activities.
A fifth quality that supports equanimity is understanding or wisdom which allows us to accept, be present and aware to our experience without our mind or heart resisting or contracting. In this place we separate people from their actions; we agree or disagree while being in balance with them. We take nothing personally.
Another quality is knowing that others create their own reality so we are able to exhibit equanimity in the face of others' pain or suffering and not feel we need to take responsibility for their well-being in the face of their conflict or crisis.
A seventh quality that supports equanimity is seeing reality for what it is, for example, that change and impermanence are a fact of life. We become detached and less clingy to our attachments. This means letting go of negative judgements about our experience and replacing them with an attitude of loving kindness or acceptance and a compassionate matter-of-factness. The more we become detached, the deeper we experience equanimity.
The final quality is freedom - letting go of our need to be reactive so we can observe without needing to get caught up in the fray - maintaining a consistent relaxed state within our body as sensations (e.g., strong, subtle, pleasant, unpleasant, physiological, or emotional) move through.
Equanimity, thus, has two aspects: the power of observation and an inner balance, both of which support one to be mindful, awake, aware and conscious. The greater the degree we are mindful, the greater our capacity for equanimity. The greater our equanimity, the greater our ability to remain steady and balanced as we navigate through the rough waters and gusty winds of change, challenge and conflict.
- To what extent do I experience quiet confidence and calmness in my life?
- Am I generally free from stress, fear, hate, anger, irritation, or confusion?
- What keeps me from experiencing equanimity?
- What attachments do I have that cause me anxiety or stress?
- Would those close to me describe me as calm?
- Do you feel you are living a life of real achievement?
- Do you engage in a practice that brings you inner peace or harmony? If not, why?
- Who in your life exhibits equanimity on a consistent basis?
- What was your experience of (your own or others') equanimity like when you were growing up?
- Can you visualize a world where you can experience equanimity. What would be necessary for that to happen?
A question of balance
When we lose our balance, we fall. In our emotional world, we stuff our feelings and emotions, deny them or contract around them. Or we identify with a particular thought, feeling or emotion, hold on to it rather than allow it to flow through us or pass like a cloud in the sky. The middle ground is equanimity - the state of non-interference.
As we develop our capacity for equanimity, we will begin to notice when we drop into a "state of equanimity." Being aware of our experience, we can explore the state and this practice will lead to more frequent and deeper states of equanimity.
What we find with such practice is that people, events, and circumstances that once caused us to be reactive no longer have any "charge" and we are more and more able to let go and feel less bothered. We suffer less.
Equanimity allows for a safe harbor in the center of the storm when we are caught up in stress. In this place, we are more capable of meeting life with inner aplomb, without giving in to the underlying currents of tension and turmoil, and more able to respond effectively instead of reactively. Our responses take place in the conscious context of acceptance and equanimity.
Equanimity allows us to live a life of true and real achievement free from the trap of ego-based likes and dislikes, and emotional reactivity. The beauty of equanimity is that it supports us to live our life in such a way that we can experience a heightened sense of well-being regardless of external circumstances. Equanimity allows us to feel relaxed, make clearer, more sincere decisions, engage in more effective communication with others, speak the truth, be genuinely interested in listening to others, and be both more trusting and trustworthy.