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“So nothing is ever good or bad unless you think it so, and vice versa. All luck is good luck to the man who bears it with equanimity.” – Boethius (Anicius Manlius Severinus), Consolation of Philosophy
It appears lots of folks are experiencing life these days caught up in some flavor of crisis or conflict – at work, at home, at play or in relationship. They experience a form of conflict and stress around issues, for example, like leading and managing, or processes, deadlines, budgets and job security, or personal relationships and unresolved conflicts, or how to resolve health or education challenges, or whether what they are doing is what they really want to be doing with their life.
Stress is the container in which they live their lives – consistently experiencing racing heartbeats, shortness of breath, tight jaws, facial frowns, rigid postures, negative emotions and feelings, critical and judgmental inner dialogue, illness and dis-ease. A life defined by automated, robotic reactivity to conflict and crisis. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
What is equanimity?
“Philosophy teaches us to bear with equanimity the misfortunes of others.” – Oscar Wilde
Merriam-Webster defines equanimity as: an evenness of mind under stress – a habit of mind that is rarely disturbed under great strain; a controlling of emotional or mental agitation through will and habit; a steadiness when facing strain.
Equanimity is a practice in Buddhist and Sufi traditions. Equanimity is the foundation for wisdom and freedom, compassion and love. Equanimity is not, as some might believe, a coolness, indifference or aloofness, suppression/repression of feelings, apathy or inexpressiveness. The Buddha described equanimity as a mind that is abundant, immeasurable, and without hostility or ill-will.
“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.” – Albert Einstein
What does equanimity look like?
Equanimity is the capacity to remain neutral, to witness from a distance, and be at peace without getting caught up in what we observe. It’s the capacity to see the big picture with understanding, without reactivity, for example, to another’s words, ideology, perspective, position, premise, or philosophy. In essence, we take nothing personally; refuse to get caught up in the drama, our own or others’.
Equanimity allows us to be in the midst of conflict or crisis in a way where we are balanced, grounded and centered. Equanimity has the qualities of inner peace, harmony, well be-ing, vitality, strength, and steadfastness. Equanimity allows us to remain upright in the face of the strong winds of conflict and crisis, such as: blame, failure, pain, or dispute – winds that set us up for suffering when they begin to blow. Equanimity protects us from being “blown over” and helps us stay on an “even keel.”
How do we develop equanimity?
There are several mind/body qualities that support the development of equanimity. One is integrity. Do-ing and be-ing in integrity supports our feeling confident when we speak and act. Being in integrity fosters an equanimity that results in “blamelessness,” feeling comfortable in any setting or with any group without the need to find fault or blame. Another quality that supports equanimity is faith (not necessarily a religious or theological faith) – a faith based on wisdom, conviction or confidence. This type of faith allows us to meet challenge, crisis or conflict head on with assurance, with equanimity. A third quality is that of a well-developed mind – a mind that reflects stability, balance and strength. We develop such a mind through a conscious and consistent practice of focus, concentration, attention and mindfulness. A well-developed, calm mind keeps us from being blown about by winds of conflict and crisis.
A fourth quality is a heightened, cultivated sense of well-be-ing which we develop by engaging in practices or activities that take us out of our robotic, programmed ego-driven life and focus on a higher or deeper sense of consciousness, such as meditation, martial arts, self-reflection, the arts, and right-brain focused actions and activities. A fifth quality that supports equanimity is understanding or wisdom which allows us to accept, be present and aware to our experience without our mind or heart resisting or contracting. In this place we separate people from their actions; we agree or disagree while being in balance with them. We take nothing personally. Another quality is knowing that others create their own reality so we are able to exhibit equanimity in the face of others’ pain or suffering and not feel we need to take responsibility for their well be-ing in the face of their conflict or crisis. It’s a flavor of compassion
A sixth quality that supports equanimity is seeing reality for what it is, for example, that change and impermanence are a fact of life. We become detached (not unattached) and less clingy to our attachments. This means letting go of negative judgments about our experience and replacing them with an attitude of loving kindness or acceptance and a compassionate matter-of-factness. The more we become detached, the deeper we experience equanimity. The final quality is freedom – letting go of our need to be reactive so we can witness, watch and observe without needing to get caught up in the fray, the winds – maintaining a consistent relaxed state within our body as sensations (e.g., strong, subtle, pleasant, unpleasant, physiological, or emotional) move through.
Equanimity, thus, has two aspects: the power of observation and an inner balance, both of which support one to be mindful, awake, aware and conscious. The greater the degree we are mindful, the greater our capacity for equanimity. The greater our equanimity, the greater our ability to remain steady and balanced as we navigate through the rough waters and gusty winds of change, challenge and conflict.
When we’re out of balance, lacking equanimity
In our everyday physical world, when we lose our balance, we fall. In our emotional world, we stuff our feelings and emotions, deny them or contract around them. Or we identify with a particular thought, feeling or emotion, hold on to it rather than allow it to flow through us or pass like a cloud in the sky. The middle ground is equanimity – the state of non-interference.
Equanimity allows for a deeper, more fulfilling experience.
“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.” – Marcus Aurelius
As we develop our capacity for equanimity, we begin to notice when we drop into a “state of equanimity.” Being aware of our experience, we can explore the state; this practice will lead to more frequent and deeper states of equanimity. What we find with such practice is that people, events, objects and circumstances that once caused us to be reactive no longer have any “charge” and we are more and more able to let go and feel less “bothered.” We suffer less.
Equanimity allows for a safe harbor in the center of the storm – when we are caught up in the stresses of life at work, at home, at play and in relationship. In this place, we are more capable of meeting life with inner aplomb, without giving in to the underlying currents of tension and turmoil, and more able to respond effectively instead of reactively. Our responses take place in the conscious context of acceptance and equanimity.
Equanimity allows us to live a life of true and real achievement free from the trap of ego-based likes and dislikes, and emotional reactivity. The beauty of equanimity is that it supports us to live our life in such a way that we can experience a heightened sense of well-be-ing regardless of external events or circumstances, crises or conflicts, in a way that we experience clarity, alertness and ease in the moment.
Equanimity allows us to feel relaxed, make clearer, more honest, sincere and self-responsible choices and decisions, engage in more effective communication with others, speak the truth, be genuinely interested in listening to others, and be more trusting and trustworthy.
Same questions for self-reflection:
- To what extent do I experience quiet confidence, equanimity and calmness in my life at work, at home, at play and in relationship?
- Am I generally free from stress, worry, fear, hate, anger, irritation, or confusion?
- What keeps me from experiencing equanimity? How so?
- What attachments do I have that cause me constant anxiety, fear, or stress?
- Would my close friends, family, spouse/partner describe me as calm?
- Do I feel I’m living a life of real achievement? Why, why not?
- Do I engage in a practice that brings me inner peace, or a sense of calm, balance, harmony and well-be-ing? If not, what “story” do I tell myself or others to justify or rationalize my not doing so?
- Who in my life exhibits equanimity on a consistent basis?
- What was my experience of (my own or others’) equanimity like when I was were growing up?
- Can I visualize a world where I can experience equanimity on a regular basis. What would be necessary for that to happen?
“For want of self-restraint many men are engaged all their lives in fighting with difficulties of their own making, and rendering success impossible by their own cross-grained ungentleness; whilst others, it may be much less gifted, make their way and achieve success by simple patience, equanimity, and self-control.” – Smiles
(c) 2016, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful. Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.
What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”
I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.
I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, www.truenorthpartnering.com or pvajda(at)truenorthpartnering.com
You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.