Our Tuesday evening meditation group recently returned from a few weeks off! Since reconvening, we’ve been taking up the topic of Equanimity, which is a quality of steadiness that helps us navigate the ups and downs of life. It seems quite relevant right now, with so much change and tension in the air, along with all the challenges and delights of the holidays upon us.
Equanimity is such a universally-recognized and valued trait. It’s called Upekkha in Pali (the language of the Buddha) and Upeksha in Sanskrit (as in the Yoga Sutras). I think we have this concept in pretty much any language, but I mention the Pali and Sanskrit words, because their literal meaning illuminates equanimity further: Upekkha/upeksha comes from the word for looking down at the world as if from above, like a birds-eye view. This encourages us to pause and take in the larger perspective, in order to stay balanced within our individual experience.
Equanimity also implies a sense of groundedness, and a kind of presence that makes us unshakeable. (Or at least less shakeable! Or better at returning to equilibrium after we get shaken!) It’s a practical and realistic tool to call upon in our practice and daily life.
Our Mindfulness practice trains us to be steady with life as it comes. And, over time, it grounds us in a stronger connection to our essence, rather than our habitual identification with the changing flux of events.
Sometimes a quality like equanimity can sound like a lofty goal – and in real life, when we do lose our cool, we may fall into the trap of becoming self-critical, as if we’ve failed at equanimity.
An analogy: One of the signs of cardiovascular fitness is how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after you’ve done some exercise. It’s not that your heart rate doesn’t accelerate if you run around the block, but the more fit you are, the more quickly it returns to its resting rhythm.
Likewise, I think the strength of our equanimity can be seen in how quickly and how often we come back to a state of inner balance after some event has created a disturbance. Yes, with practice we do get less reactive over all, and generally create less drama. But, in this world of change, and of relationships, we do not control all of the circumstances outside of us. Sometimes our buttons do get pushed.
So, I highly recommend the following practice of Pratipaksha Bhavana, or “cultivating the opposite.” This is a concept from the Yoga Sutras, explained in this guided meditation by teacher Janice Gates: http://www.janicegates.
This practice shows you how to mindfully acknowledge troubling states that arise, how to explore their intensity, and also how to find a little bit of perspective on them. Within that space, you can call in an opposite, balancing quality. It develops some mental/emotional agility that keeps us from getting stuck in our out-of-balance states.
Come join us on Tuesday evenings for meditation if you’d like to learn more. Wishing you peace and balance in the meantime!