What is Equanimity?
Equanimity is a state of mind that allows us to find balance in our lives and to accept and appreciate things as they are. It is an essential practice in today’s chaotic world and can help us from getting overwhelmed.
Equanimity allows us to experience both pleasure and pain without clinging or dwelling. We cannot become happy by avoiding or trying to eliminate pain. A Zen master was once asked, “What’s the key to your happiness?” and he replied, “Complete, unrestricted, cooperation with the unavoidable, and the unavoidable is life.”
We develop equanimity by staying in the moment and keeping our hearts open. We meet whatever is happening in life with full presence, an open heart, and a spacious mind.
Equanimity removes the feeling that we need to fix a situation or another person. It’s an intention to be with whatever arises, holding it with patience and understanding, not trying to force any particular attitude.
Instead of getting caught up in one thing, equanimity leaves room for all things. Equanimity helps us develop a broad perspective that appreciates the entire web of life. It encourages us to see the preciousness of life and to live more wisely.
Equanimity vs Indifference
It may be easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are equanimous when we are actually indifferent, detached, or apathetic.
Equanimity is not a lack of caring about a person or situation, it is acknowledging the limits of what we can do and realizing that it’s not up to us to make another person happy or take away their suffering.
Equanimity is not disconnecting from or suppressing our emotions. It actually involves full acceptance of our emotions and responding with wisdom rather than out of fear or confusion.
Shutting down our hearts, giving up in hopelessness, or withdrawing from life is the opposite of equanimity, which is staying open to all aspects of life.
You can tell if you are detached by noticing your body, there may be a sense of numbness or a feeling that you are not truly present in the situation. You may also notice your thoughts are elsewhere.
To bring yourself back to present moment ask your self “Am I here?”, “Where is my mind?” or “Where is my heart?” Once you are present, you can determine if you are really in a state of equanimity rather than a state of indifference or detachment.
When Should We Practice Equanimity?
Most of us feel thrown off balance on a daily basis. Equanimity is a practice that helps us restore balance in times of agitation or emotional turmoil and prevents us from getting caught up in overwhelm.
Those going through difficult transitions or experiencing significant loss or illness may find equanimity practices particularly useful because equanimity also teaches us that all things are impermanent. It helps cultivate resilience and the ability to hang in there during difficult periods.
It is also good to practice equanimity anytime you catch yourself falling into extremes, such as seeing people as good or bad, or a situation as black or white.
A Five Minute Equanimity Practice
This practice is called Anchor at the Bottom of a Stormy Sea and is adapted from a meditation taught by the Dalai Lama.
- Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and take a few deep breathes to centre
- Visualize a boat anchored in deep water. The water is still and it is a tranquil, sunny day.
- Suddenly, the wind picks up and dark clouds roll in. Waves begin to crash against the boat.
- The storm becomes more intense with high winds, rain and hail. The waves are enormous.
- Drop below the waves and notice the anchor on the ocean floor. Allow yourself to rest near this anchor and look at the storm and waves high above you.
- Even though there is a turbulent storm above, you find a spacious stillness at the bottom of the ocean. Rest here in the quiet, still, point in the midst of the storm and know that you can return to this calm place whenever you need to.
- When you are ready, take a few deep breathes and slowly open your eyes.
You can find an audio recording of this practice on www.sittingtogether.com.
Note: This practice is not suitable for anyone with a fear of water or trauma related to accidents on the water such as boating accidents or near drownings.
I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated and a person humanized or dehumanized. ~ Haim G. Ginott
- Susan Pollak – Interview – The Psychotherapy and Spirituality Summit – Sounds True.
- Susan M. Pollak, Thomas Pedulla, and Ronald D. Siegel. – Sitting Together: Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy.
Photo: Kristofer Williams