Equanimity is one the most magnificent qualities one can cultivate according to several spiritual and religious practices. It is not the outcome of a passing mood or sentimental experience. Mature equanimity is not ruled by the changing seas of emotions, but it is an unshakable balance of mind and heart that grows naturally from years of adhering to disciplined training practices. In Yogic or Buddhist traditions, the character of equanimity can be met and strengthened with the additional practices of pranayama (breathing exercises) and asana (yoga postures).
Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Theravadin monk, and scholar defines equanimity as, “…a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset… [It] is freedom from all points of self-reference, indifferent to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position.”
Some people mistakenly believe that equanimity means being aloof or neutral, when in fact, mature equanimity blossoms with radiance and warmth. It protects us from the tumultuous winds of ever-changing emotion and circumstance. If we are too caught up in our successes we can become arrogant. If we believe we are failures, we cause ourselves pain. If we compare ourselves to others, which happens all too often in this small, global world in which every minute detail of our lives is visible to others (she has more ‘likes’ than me, he has more ‘friends’ than me, they do more things than we do, their house is nicer, her hair is prettier), our investment in seeking praises will manifest conceit and inflate the ego to such a circumference that the afflicted wails out with self-righteous preaching about their egos ability to keep their ego under control. It’s a ridiculous battle not won without the presence of equanimity.
Life continually moves us through contrasting emotions and experiences. Whether success and failure, happiness and sorrow, pleasure and pain, hope and fear, disappointment and satisfaction, praise and blame, these tides of emotion scatter us all over the coastline like fragmented and fragile seashells. We finally pull ourselves together only to watch as a new wave approaches in the distance to once again steal our balance. It is clearly difficult to maintain a steadfast mental and emotional posture but imperative that we find the way to sail our vessel in fair winds and following seas.
The demon to equanimity is indifference. We may think we appear serene when we cast off disturbances—“I’m done with him,” or “I could care less about that”—and we may even fool ourselves into believing that we are at peace with such callous dismissals and therefore released of any uncomfortable energy. But such indifferences are based on fear and cover our inner light with a thick dullness. It is easy to accept the beautiful things of this world and terrifying to accept the rest. We must examine our roles. Are we really always the victim? Or can we perhaps own a sense of responsibility? Equanimity is vital to spiritual growth, and spiritual growth works with the obstacles, not against them. True equanimity is a balanced engagement with all of it. It embraces the plethora of tumultuous waves by allowing us to be fully present and in harmony with the motion.
So how do we go about cultivating these qualities of equanimity—mental calmness, evenness of temper, composure? How do we nurture psychological stability in difficult situations?
- Maintain a regular practice of meditation. A well-developed mind supports our mental stability just as a physical workout lends strength to the body.
- Live with integrity. Be confident with our words and actions.
- Pay attention to our reactive habits. Observe the things that make us want to lash out or judge, and become mindful of how we respond.
- Understand the nature of impermanence. Things change so quickly in our lives it is most often not worth clinging to what will soon no longer be.
- Practice self-care. It is appropriate to enhance our sense of well-being, and it can be done in the smallest of ways. Stop. Look. Breathe. Or drink tea, nothing else. Just. Drink. Tea.
- Give up excessive thoughts of ego-centered self. Release the preaching dialog of “I believe this, I do that, I am this way, I will always.” First of all, no one probably cares how highly we think of ourselves, and furthermore, the world doesn’t revolve around us individually. It will only survive through our collective spirits.
- Settle into wisdom. Understand that people’s actions (our own included) do not always define them. Genuinely accept differences of opinion. If we don’t take things so personally, we are more likely to sustain an even temper. Who among us has not engaged in confidential dialog with a perceived enemy in our mind only to later realize that the demon battled was illusory?
- And finally, be honest. Being honestly aware of what makes us imbalanced will bring us a greater freedom to develop a vigilant and loving presence of mind.
It takes nothing less than a courageous heart to look deep beneath the surface of our own limited and often disfigured ideologies. Equanimity is the crown jewel that will pay tribute to the sovereign peace that reigns in each of us.
“May all circumstances serve to awaken our hearts and minds,
especially those circumstances we deem to be challenging,
and may our lives be of benefit to all beings.”
~ Buddhist prayer