The Definition of Equanimity
A couple of posts back, I wrote about the definition of insanity– doing the same thing time and again, and expecting a different result each time. We get a handle on this insanity (and huge congrats when you do!) in order to come closer to its antithesis, i.e., equanimity. Is it possible to live in a way that embodies sane, thoughtful responses to the inevitable vicissitudes of life? A life that is characterized by a steadiness of heart that neither excludes nor clings to the waves of feelings and emotions that are the hallmark of what it means to be human?
Equanimity has the potential to sound passive, boring, crazy or even unattainable. How on earth do you keep it together when you’ve just been fired from your job, or your partner has just blind-sided you? Isn’t it normal and healthy to enjoy pleasant experiences such as sex, dinner with loved ones or a walk with the dog? Shouldn’t we be doing something if we’re about to be attacked like, umm, hitting the robber and running away?
Equanimity never means doing nothing. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t feel anything. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite. Stepping into equanimity is a conscious decision to fully inhabit this human life. So, instead of engaging with the endless march of internal mind-chatter, when we really pay attention to what’s happening, our experience of sensations becomes heightened. Pleasure is that much pleasurable, whether it’s an amazing dessert, a romantic sunset, or a favourite song. We also feel our pain- every exquisitely excruciating moment as it rises and falls away. In so doing, we decrease the suffering that follows when we try to push pain away, running ourselves in circles and inevitably hurting even more. Everything belongs, and we experience it all fully.
Equanimity means that life no longer fazes us. The heart experiences whatever is happening. Yet, at the same time, the heart can achieve a deliverance from clinging when the pleasant experience inevitably passes away, and pushing and fighting when something is unpleasant.
This journey towards a state of equanimity is far from passive or boring. It requires courage, patience and endless compassion with ourselves, because we have been so deeply conditioned to mentally spin off, grasp, or attempt to refuse certain experiences. We might even observe ourselves doing the same insane thing time and again. Raise your hands if you’ve been there (I certainly have)! But if we practice paying attention and coming back to whatever is really happening, we are taking steps to unlock this ingrained pattern. Then we can respond or make changes if needed, but instead, it comes from a more skillful place. For example, we may need to have an honest conversation with a difficult relative, but we probably don’t need to lose our temper and descend into a screaming match. And we may definitely need to smack the robber and run.
The equanimous heart is a heart that is ready for anything. Through careful, patient observation, we can cultivate this steadiness- becoming more aware of our thoughts, feeling and emotions is an important first step. And the reward? Life in full living colour. What could be better? 🙂
Thanks for this insightful post on equanimity. That is so true that equanimity is not indifference. I find that my expectations of how I want a situation to go definitely keep me from experiencing the moment as it is. I appreciate the reminder that suffering is optional!