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Equa... What?

In my previous blog post I mentioned the concept of equanimity without explaining what it means. It's a concept that I've been working with for so long that I've automatically assumed everyone knows what it means. My bad!

A dictionary definition of equanimity might be "calmness and composure, particularly in a difficult situation." The inference is clear: the mind remains at peace despite unpleasant situations and experiences.

If I'm practicing equanimity - that is, I'm being equanimous - then no matter what situation I find myself in, I will remain calm and will not react emotionally. Equanimity, then, refers to calm acceptance of what is.

There is a huge difference between equanimity and "I don't care," which indicates disconnection, disinterest, indifference, self-centredness, powerlessness and hopelessness. These are all symptoms of "stuckness;" that is, someone who's really not happy in their life, isn't really going anywhere, doesn't know what they want in their life and consequently feels directionless, dissatisfied, unfulfilled and purposeless.

There's also a huge difference between equanimity and fatalism: "It doesn't matter what I want, say, or do, everything's foreordained and shit will happen anyway." Or, "it's the will of God" (or gods, the Universe or whatever). This, also, indicates powerlessness, and an abdication of personal agency and responsibility.

Equanimity arises in someone who is fully engaged with life and who does care about what's going on, but who also understands the Buddhist concept of impermanence: "Anicca" (pronounced ah-neet-scha) is the Pali term, often translated as "this, too, shall pass." There is nothing disconnected or fatalistic about that. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that inevitably things will arise that are beyond my control, but that anything and everything that happens will eventually - inevitably - change and pass away.

Life brings us not only things we'd call "bad," it also brings us things we could describe as "good." We might say that a "bad" thing is something we don't want and don't like, whereas a "good" thing is something that we do want and do like. If I'm practicing equanimity, though, whatever life brings me is just a part of what is. It's neither bad nor good, it simply is. Now I don't feel like a victim or that I'm unlucky or hard-done-by. Nor do I feel like a winner or that luck is on my side. I feel at peace, secure in myself, aware that "this, too, shall pass," grateful that I am here, now, witnessing the unfolding of life, and in the driving seat of my own progress towards living a fulfilled, purposeful life.

The Buddha teaches that our dissatisfaction with life (dukkha, "suffering") arises from two things: craving for things we perceive to be "good," and aversion to things we perceive to be "bad." However, everything that arises, no matter how big or seemingly consequential, must inevitably pass away. Everything is impermanent. Therefore, to crave for something or to hold a strong aversion makes no sense at all. Understanding the law of impermanence, Anicca, underpins the practice of equanimity (Upekkha) which in turn leads to true peace, and eventual enlightenment.

If the concept of equanimity seems like something I'd like to put into practice in my life, where do I start?

The first thing is awareness of what equanimity is, and what it isn't. That's what we've just been discussing.

The second thing is mindfulness. If I'm constantly mindful of where I am, what I'm doing, what's happening around me, and what I'm thinking and feeling, then I'll be able to recognise and catch any emotional triggers and stop them leading to an automatic reaction that arises from old conditioning. When I catch a trigger in this way, I'm able to consciously choose a reasoned response instead, and that's likely to lead to a better outcome. Catching a trigger, choosing a rational response and experiencing a better outcome will lead me to being able to choose my feelings about whatever the situation was. If I practice this enough, over time I will find that nothing will be able to throw me off balance or disturb my mental, emotional and spiritual equilibrium. When that happens, I'm practicing equanimity.

In short, equanimity is a vital component in being at peace, living authentically and from the heart.

I have been working on developing equanimity as part of my regular practice of Vipassana meditation. "Vipassana" is a Pali word meaning "insight" or "clear seeing" and is an ancient practice that seeks insight into the true nature of reality. Far from being an esoteric or ritualistic practice, I find it to be a practical, no-nonsense approach to developing a true, experiential understanding of life, the universe and everything.

If you'd like a bit more balance and harmony in your life, I highly recommend that you put some effort into cultivating a habit of practicing equanimity.

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