Quest for Equanimity

Photo by Kevin Bluer

Equanimity is a state of calm and composure – a balance of the mind, even under stress. It is something that arises naturally from a dedicated mindfulness practice. Cultivating equanimity allows us to respond in a clear-minded and open-eyed fashion, rather than reacting blindly out of emotion or on impulse.

When sorrows fall upon the wise, their minds should be serene and undisturbed – Shantideva

I was interested in mindfulness and spirituality for many years before I began a personal practice. I attended my friends’ various religious events and ceremonies, studied theology in college, and participated in an interdisciplinary group in grad school that included psychologists, clergy and physicians in training.  But, the real credit goes to my psychology clients for inspiring me to meaningful action. I was curious about some things I was observing in people, including myself, but especially among those who were extremely outwardly focused and seemed to be lacking a sense of meaning. These folks suffered from:

  • a chronic state of dissatisfaction or pessimism
  • a tendency to be swept along by emotions

We all seemed to be grasping for and clinging to those highs that occur when things appear to be going our way and withdrawing from or fighting against undesirable circumstances. In addition, there are some undeniably painful things that occur in life that are unavoidable and outside of our control.

The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) concepts and techniques I learned in my psychology training were a very helpful foundation and a logical place to start, but there was a point at which something more was needed.  In some circumstances, it seemed that the CBT strategies became just another form of grasping, clinging and pushing away. Or they became another source of shame and self-blame. I began to suspect that a more mindful, accepting and compassionate approach to life may provide the antidote to much of the suffering people experience.

My first trip abroad really opened my eyes to some things that had been missing in my own life. I realized how much more I needed to allow myself to be in the moment. I also discovered how much better I felt when I spent more time attending to my inner experiences, connecting with my body, and seeing things with a beginner’s mind. Having a job that required me, like many Americans, to sit in a chair in an office for much of the day, day after day, focusing on the external, was having an effect on my well-being. I didn’t really understand this until I had an opportunity to step away from it.

Thus began my quest for greater equanimity. I felt strongly that cultivating balance in my own mind would reduce this nagging sense of dissatisfaction. But, what was most motivating was they ways in which I imagined my efforts might benefit my family and friends, my clients, and maybe even ripple out into the world.

What I am learning along the way is that equanimity develops over a considerable span of time, with intention and dedication. It doesn’t come packaged in an 8-week mindfulness course, a 30-day yoga challenge, or even an intensive teacher training. It emerges incrementally in its own time and can’t be manufactured. I am also learning that it must start from within. As S. N. Goenka said, “If there is no peace in the minds of individuals, how can there be peace in the world? Make peace in your own mind first.”

After all that I’ve received (thanks from the bottom of my heart to my family, friends, teachers, colleagues and clients) and everything I’ve experienced so far, things still take me by surprise and get under my skin. But, I think those that know me would agree that I am subtly changed for the better. The fruits far exceed the seeds that are planted – manyfold – and I am honored to share what I am learning with others. May others find peace and wellbeing along this fruitful path.

May every living being,
Our minds as one and radiant with light,
Share the fruits of peace,
With hearts of goodness, luminous and bright.
If people hear and see,
How hands and hearts can find in giving, unity,
May their minds awake,
To Great Compassion, wisdom and to joy.
May kindness find reward,
May all who sorrow leave their grief and pain;
May this boundless light,
Break the darkness of their endless night.
Because our hearts are one
This world of pain turns into Paradise
May all become compassionate and wise.

-Traditional Dedication of Merit
Translated from the Chinese by Rev. Heng Sure and Bhikshu Heng Lyu

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