Equanimity: The Wisdom of Contentment, Generosity and Ease.

In this article Zeenat speaks to us of equanimity, explaining what it is, and why developing it through our meditation practice is of such tremendous support and benefit to us in our daily lives.

“Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow, come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a great tree in the midst of them all”.
(From the Dhammapada, Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha).
Imagine this scenario. You are content and at ease. You feel at home on this earth, secure in the knowing that life provides what you need. Your happiness and your self-esteem arise stably and naturally from within, expressions of your inner freedom, generosity and fullness of being. You do not overly grasp at what you desire, whether successes, pleasures or possessions; nor do you anxiously avoid things that you don’t like, failures, discomforts, or losses. Instead, you let things come, enjoying the pleasures life brings, and you let things go, recognising that everything that comes into being eventually changes and passes away. In this way, you are untouched by discontent, despair or dissatisfaction. The unpredictability and changeability of all external objects and events neither unsettle nor diminish you. Skilfully riding the waves of all transient phenomena you remain even-minded and balanced within.

Sounds nice doesn’t it? This stable state of inner harmony is known as equanimity, from the Latin words aequus, meaning even andanimus, meaning mind. Equanimity is a evenness of mind, a state of mental equilibrium in which the mind remains calm and balanced in the face of whatever life throws at us, whether pleasant or unpleasant, easy or hard, rough or smooth. We stay composed in the midst of life’s difficulties, instead of reacting out of our old emotional habits, such as fear, irritation, or despair.

All meditation traditions speak of the tremendous importance of equanimity, both in deepening our practice and in relation to our daily lives. In Buddhism it is one of the seven factors of awakening leading to enlightenment; and in Tantric Yoga it is seen as one of the five liberated wisdoms which mark the mind of a fully realised being. Yet we don’t need to be a Buddha to develop the steadfast and unwavering emotional balance of equanimity. With the right intention, and a helpful meditation practice, anyone can cultivate and benefit from an equanimous mind. 

A mental state of equanimity brings crucial support to us in our daily lives, helping us immensely in dealing with the everyday challenges we will inevitably face. All of us will face times of loss as well as gain, pain as well as pleasure, blame as well as praise, and stress as well as ease. And the normal pattern of our mind is to struggle in some way with the less-than-pleasant in our lives, and to try to hold onto the pleasant, even as it changes or begins to slip away. These reactive tendencies can lead to a great deal of inner emotional turmoil and are at the root of most of our discontent. Yet with equanimity we can deal with life’s vicissitudes in a more skilful and positive way. We find our stability, strength and steadfastness, and our tranquillity, contentment and generosity, not in outer events or achievements, but deep within the equanimous mind. 

A regular meditation practice helps us develop equanimity. One of the ways in which meditation does this is by helping us to be more aware of, and then to release, the habits of mind and the misconceptions which disturb our emotional balance, and which entrap us in mental conflict and suffering. 

When we examine the mind directly in our practice, we come to see first-hand that clinging to the so-called good things in life, or pushing away the bad, produces agitation in the mind and inevitably disturbs our emotional equilibrium. For example, if we feel we need to have something, whether possessions, status, a great body, or even the right partner, in order to feel happy or good enough, or if we base our security on having these things, then we end up living in a kind of perpetual tension. No matter how much we may try to ignore it, a part of us is always waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under our feet. Deep down we know that whatever we gain we can also lose. Easy come, easy go. Hard to come by, easy go. Our relationships, jobs, houses, cars, all of our possessions, and even our most cherished ideas about ourselves, are all subject to change and impermanence. Like death, the ultimate marker of impermanence in which we lose not only all of our possessions but our body itself, we can’t predict when or in what manner changes will come; but come they will. 

Equanimity is the quality of mind which lets us negotiate these changes wisely and with unshakeable emotional balance. With a mind of equanimity we neither overly cling to the pleasant, nor fearfully avoid the unpleasant; we do not base our happiness, our self-worth, or our security on the transient and unpredictable externals of life. We don’t over-react to life’s stresses, putting ourselves at risk of anxiety, depression or heart attacks; rather we can access the resources to skilfully cope with these demands. We ride the waves of our emotions rather than getting tossed about by them. We respond to changes, we don’t resist them or react to them in the same old futile ways. 

It is not that we are uninterested, apathetic or indifferent to our experiences; rather it is that we are not thrown off balance by them. Paradoxically, with a mind of equanimity we can get much more enjoyment from life’s pleasures, and feel more fulfilled by our successes and our relationships. We can engage with them directly, fearlessly and with complete commitment. Without equanimity, this wholehearted immersion in life is not possible. When deep down we fear falling apart if we lose something, or we fear that failure will diminish us, how can we give ourselves to any project, or any person, one hundred percent? We tend to hold something back, going into new ventures or relationships with an undeclared emotional get-out clause.

If we think our happiness depends on things that turn out to be largely beyond our control, such as having the right job, plenty of money, acclaim for our achievements, or the perfect lover, then deep down we remain insecure. We remain subject to the emotional conditions of discontent and dissatisfaction, and to all of the background anxieties and general miseries that colour much of our emotional landscape. With equanimity, knowing that our intrinsic happiness or personal value are not dependent on external causes, but on our own inner balance of mind, we can actually jump in and enjoy all of the nice things in life much more deeply. We can be nourished by them in an authentic way. 

By gaining insight into the patterns of our mind that disturb our emotional balance, and discovering from first-hand experience what gets in the way, we learn to step back from these old habits of mind and to actively transform them. Equanimity is the fruit of this practice. And with equanimity, known in the meditation teachings as one of the ‘beautiful’ factors of mind, we come to know true happiness, easefulness and inner security. We discover our own inner wealth and generosity of spirit. We come to realise our own basic strength and goodness, revealed in the accepting, open space of the equanimous mind. 

From the autumn 2015 Insight for Wellbeing will be offering new classes on the Five Wisdom teachings. To be kept up to date contact us.