Practicing Equanimity When It’s Hard
Think of the last situation that really riled you up. Do you have that moment in mind? Are you mad just thinking about it? Sure. That’s normal. Okay, now imagine you press the rewind button and approach that hair-raising scenario with equanimity.
Equanimity is a calm abiding in a state of unemotional, compassionate and peaceful mind and it’s one of the core principles of Buddhist practice. Of course, it’s impossible for any of us only-partly-awakened folks to be equanimous all the time. This is a practice like any other. So we keep trying.
The point is to keep on keepin’ on. We aim for it, sometimes we fail, we forget, we lose our temper, sometimes we overreact and embarrass the heck out of ourselves… and then we remind ourselves gently and without judgment (on a good day) to come back. We practice this in ‘real time’ and in our ‘real life’, just like we do in meditation, with awareness as the goal.
Aside from our own state of peace and calm, there is an aspect of equanimity that concerns how we deal with other people’s “stuff”. It’s that place where we find an equal balance between being too involved (or even co-dependent) and being too detached.
I’ve found a few trick or treats on the path to equanimity:
1. When a friend comes to me with a problem, I invite my compassion and empathy to the party.
2. I focus on listening instead of giving advice. This one can be hard. But, less is more, here.
3. As Alanis Morissette screamed in her 1990s anthem, “I am NOT the doctor.” So when I am being most skillful, I help my friend talk through their own options. That’s far more empowering for them (although this way I don’t get to hear myself talk. Ha!).
From a yogic perspective, we all have to deal with our own karma. If we try to “fix” someone’s problem for them, we hijack their opportunity to work through their personal karma. Or to put it another way, if we step in to save the day then we know how to solve their issue, but do they? Often not.
And here’s yet another nuance of equanimity, and perhaps the hardest one of all to master: not letting the people who really bug us, bug us. They will likely still trigger us. We all have people who bother us. These preciously annoying creatures and moments are where powerful lessons are learned, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. And even if the lesson is to walk away from that relationship or experience.
If we learn to bring compassion to those extremely challenging (or just slightly annoying) situations and even to those people that trigger us the most, then folks, we’ve made some major progress on our path to equanimity.