“Equanimity is understanding what it means to stand in the midst of all experience with unshakeable balance, to be responsive yet unbroken.” -Christina Feldman
Equanimity is that quality of mind that helps us keep us together when things get hard, our ability to weather the storms of life and to not fall apart. It’s that quality that stops you from freaking out and falling to the floor when there are setbacks in life. We’ve all been kicked in the heart and we’ve all experienced setbacks. Cultivating equanimity helps us to deal with the pain in life that is inevitable. It helps us keep an even mind, both when things are going badly and when things are going really well.
In the sense we’re using here equanimity is an attitude more than it is a virtue. We want to come from a place of equanimity. When things go wrong we want to learn how to stop thinking “Why is this happening to me?!” and instead think, “Right now it’s like this. What can I do?”
This is not easy. We have to start paying attention. Where we struggle with keeping it together is where our work is. What can we do for ourselves?
In her book, ‘Boundless Heart’, the meditation teacher Christina Feldman says, “The path of equanimity asks us to question whether it is the events and changing conditions of our lives that shatter our hearts or our reactions to them.”
This is not to say we should victim blame. I want to be very clear about that. I think we’ve all had the situation in life where we just get all caught up in what’s happening and we make our situation worse.
I’ll tell you a quick story, I’ve told this before.
This one time I was going to my car and I noticed my tire was getting flat so I went and put air in it. It had a slow leak so a few hours later I had to put air in it again. It was slowly getting flatter and flatter.
Now, this made me immediately start to worry and panic. I was on my way to a store called Discount Tire. While I was on the way I started telling myself stories and making my own experience worse. I started thinking I’d have to get a new tire and that would be expensive. And I wondered if the store would even have the tire I needed or if they’d have to order it. And I wondered if this would take a long time and I’d miss a lot of work. All that story was really stressing me out.
And then I got there and within half an hour they had patched my tire and sent me on my way. So, I was telling myself all these things that would happen and I was really making things worse for myself. I made myself more upset than I needed to be. And that is the second arrow. It would have been much better for me if I had just thought, “Right now it’s like this. What can I do?”
If I had handled that incident with some equanimity I would have had a better experience that day. “Right now it’s like this, what can I do?” was the attitude that I should have had.
In his book, ‘A Fearless Heart,’ Thupten Jinpa PhD describes equanimity as, “Staying calm no matter what life throws at us – pleasure and pain, likes and dislikes, praise and blame, fame and disrepute – and it lets us relate to everyone as human beings, beyond the categories of friend, foe, or stranger. With equanimity we are free from the habitual forces of expectation and apprehension that make us vulnerable to overexcitation and disappointment.”
Those pairs he listed are called The Eight Worldly Concerns. Sometimes they’re called The Eight Worldly Winds. They’re called that because they blow us around in life, sometimes with a lot of force and sometimes with only a little.
Two of these are directly related to other people. The thing about that is, if you care about whether other people praise you, then you’re giving too much of your power to other people. Doing things in order to seek praise doesn’t serve us very well. Too often we allow our well being to be dictated by the whims of another person or other people.
The others are about how we interpret the world. If we can remind ourselves that pleasure and pain are temporary, that helps us stop being so obsessed with them. If we can remind ourselves that our preferences aren’t that important in the scheme of things. If we can learn how to not cling so tightly to our preferences, if we can learn how to not feel like we have to have opinions about everything, we will be in a better situation.
Here is what the Buddha said about the Worldly Concerns in the Lokavipatti Sutta:
‘When gain, loss, fame, disrepute, blame, praise, pleasure or pain arise for an ordinary person they do not reflect, ‘Gain has arisen for me. It is inconstant and subject to change.’ He (or she) does not discern it as it actually is. He welcomes the gain and rebels against the loss. He welcomes the fame and rebels against the disrepute. He welcomes the praise and rebels against the blame. He welcomes the pleasure and rebels against the pain.”
It’s all impermanent and you can’t take any of it with you. Understanding impermanence helps us learn how to let things go.
Christina Feldman said, “Reflecting deeply upon the truth of impermanence reveals a kinder way of being in this world with all things and all people. Life is too fleeting to be spent in conflict and argument. Reflecting deeply upon the truth of our own mortality, we find an urgency to live a meaningful, caring, and compassionate life. Absorbing the reality of impermanence focuses our mind on what is truly valuable in this uncertain, changing life….Impermanence, held at the forefront of our consciousness, has the potential to guide us to a life of integrity, appreciation, care, and wakefulness.”
I’m reminded of that song, “Live Like You Were Dying”
I like to say that sometimes life feels like we’re stuck in a burning building with other people and we’re just arguing about the furniture instead of trying to get out. We’re all connected, we’re all in this messy life together, and we’re all facing many of the same things.
We know that lack of compassion puts us at odds with other people. Lack of equanimity does that too. It is very clear that when we are lacking in equanimity, we have the habit of thinking everything is about us.
Thinking everything is about us can cause us to have certain expectations of the world. And those expectations can make us miserable. So, an attitude of equanimity helps us find happiness in life, or at least to avoid feeling quite so torn up when things don’t go the way we want them to.
if you are interested in Christina Feldman’s book “Boundless Heart” you can get it here. Highly recommend.