“Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable.”
-Anthony de Mello, S.J.
We dwell in a human body that is susceptible to illness, old age, and eventual death. I was recently reminded of this basic truth as I faced a brief period of illness with acute pain in my hands and feet lasting for several days. As I recover now, I find myself looking toward this period as a gift. It called upon a deeper sensibility and provided a more complete understanding of acceptance, which further clarified my understanding for the gift of equanimity.
Equanimity can be defined as mental and emotional calmness, non-reactivity, 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.” It is a cessation of fighting that which cannot be fought.
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 sorry, 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 from 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. No fighting with the past, no resistance to the future, it is just like this right now.
The moment I accepted my illness and pain it was transformed. I was no longer suffering in the same way as the pain became a source of inquiry and understanding for this moment on my human journey. I felt steady and calm as I shifted to observing my mind and my emotional states. I looked fondly upon my family and connected with the joy of watching my children play. I felt the cool autumn breeze on my face and listened to the birds on the hillside behind our house.
I am thankful to be healthier as I write today. However, I also remain grateful for the truth and understanding that this experience provided, leaving a greater spaciousness in my heart and a deeper understanding for the importance of cultivating an awakened mind. As a wise teacher recently reminded us, “things are as they should be and are only as they are. It cannot be any other way because it is not.”
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
Sign up below to receive our free weekly blog to your inbox