“To cultivate equanimity, we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity.” – Pema Chodron
When I was in high school, I experienced a huge range of both positive and negative experiences and emotions. Although largely positive, I often felt like a ship being tossed around at sea. I began to write the letters “IP” on the back of my hand, just behind my thumb, where I would see these letters when I looked down. This was around the time when I had become more interested in Buddhism and meditation. These letters stood for “inner peace,” which I hoped to gain. Several of my friends eventually started to write these letters or the phrase “inner peace” on their hands as well and it became a relatively popular trend amongst my classmates.
What I hoped to gain by writing these letters on the back of my hand sounds much like what is referred to as equanimity. Equanimity can be defined as mental and emotional calmness, or an even-tempered state of mind in the face challenges. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.” Translated from Pali, “equanimity” means “to look over” and refers to the ability to see without being caught up in what we are observing. Another translation becomes, “to stand in the middle of all this.” Together, we can understand equanimity to involve a kind of alert, yet calm and engaged steadiness in the face of whatever we find before us.
We can cultivate equanimity in a number of ways. Foremost, cultivating equanimity requires mindfulness or awareness and effort. We must first become aware of our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions as well as our patterns of behaviors in relationships. Are we stuck in a pattern? What drives our behaviors? Have our decisions become fixated on what we want or wish to avoid? Are we clinging to certain expectations or outcomes that we have no control over? Has our caring intent become more blinding than revealing? The second step involves the deliberate practice of letting go. With repeated effort, we practice letting go of our clinging or resistance so that we do not become stuck in undue suffering.
The powerful peace and steadiness of equanimity arises from our effort to see life as it is or accept life on life’s terms as containing both joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, or success and failure, while not becoming overidentified with any single experience. In contrast to passivity, the awareness and letting go process inherent in cultivating equanimity involves an active stance as we gently work to rise above the suffering fueled by our own struggle to control life or cling to expectations.
Trying to change what we cannot change often only makes things worse. As we loosen our grip, slow down our reactivity, and relinquish the struggle, we may discover greater freedom and possibilities. Equanimity calls on us to remain present in a new way and remain open-hearted to accept life as it is today.
I view the cultivation of equanimity as a powerful and decisive stance grounded in acceptance and faith. We do not abandon the ship, nor do we sail blindly, but we chart a course based on our own intuitive wisdom as the core of our personality begins to flourish. We let go, while remaining alert and flexible as we calmly adjust to the waves as they unfold before us, knowing that while we cannot control the sea, we are all innately equipped to sail.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
Sign up below to receive our free weekly blog to your inbox