Thursday Evening Online Program
January 26, 2023 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern time
Dear Still Water Friends,
Lately I’ve been reflecting on equanimity, mainly in the context of being aware that I don’t have it. For example, early in December I volunteered to help plan an event that would take place at the end of January. As soon as I put that future event on my calendar, my habit energy of anxiety arose – worrying about how the event would unfold, wanting it to be successful, attaching to this outcome of success so that no one would have anything critical to say about it – or about me. I lay awake at night ruminating on an event that was more than a month away! Where was my equanimity then?
While there are many definitions of equanimity, in Buddhist writings two meanings are usually addressed. The first is the ability to maintain an inner balance and calm, no matter what may be happening around us. The second is about observation, the ability to see and understand the whole situation.
Sharon Salzberg, in her wonderful book Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, observes that equanimity is one of the brahma-viharas, or divine abodes, along with lovingkindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy.
In Pali equanimity is called upekkha, which means “balance,” and its characteristic is to arrest the mind before it falls into extremes. Equanimity is a spacious stillness of the mind, a radiant calm that allows us to be present fully with all the different changing experiences that constitute our world and our lives.
Salzberg elaborates upon the Taoist idea of “the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows.” Our lives are constantly changing, sometimes in the space of a minute. The Buddha taught that pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute (sometimes called the “eight worldly winds”) are constantly arising and passing away, beyond our control. We suffer when we cling to pleasure, gain, praise, and fame and expect them to be always present. When instead we get pain, loss, blame, and disrepute, we feel that something is terribly wrong, or that we’ve done something wrong, and we resist what is happening in the present moment, bringing ourselves more suffering. Instead, we could try to meet whatever is arising. Salzberg writes:
No one in this world experiences only pleasure and no pain, and no one experiences only gain and no loss. When we open to this truth, we discover that there is no need to hold on or to push away. Rather than trying to control what can never be controlled, we can find a sense of security in being able to meet what is actually happening. This is allowing for the mystery of things: not judging but rather cultivating a balance of mind that can receive what is happening, whatever it is. This acceptance is the source of our safety and confidence. … Sometimes we discover that right in the heart of a very difficult time, right in the midst of a painful situation, there is freedom. In those moments when we realize how much we cannot control, we can learn to let go.
In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) discusses the second meaning of upekkha (upeksha in Sanskrit), the meaning of “looking over.”
You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. People who do not understand Buddhism sometimes think upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indifferent. If you have more than one child, they are all your children. Upeksha does not mean that you don’t love. You love in a way that all your children receive your love, without discrimination.
Pema Chodron (in The Places That Scare You) also emphasizes this ability to be open to and to accept everything, without discrimination. A traditional image for equanimity is a banquet to which everyone is invited. Everyone and everything, she says, is on the guest list.
Training in equanimity is learning to open the door to all, welcome all beings, inviting life to come visit. Of course, as certain guests arrive, we’ll feel fear and aversion. We allow ourselves to open the door just a crack if that’s all that we can presently do, and we allow ourselves to shut the door when necessary. Cultivating equanimity is a work in progress. We aspire to spend our lives training in the loving-kindness and courage that it takes to receive whatever appears—sickness, health, poverty, wealth, sorrow, and joy. We welcome and get to know them all.
On Thursday evening, after our meditation, our Dharma sharing will explore how equanimity manifests in our lives and when it is absent. Here are a few questions that we may like to consider:
- When are you able to cultivate equanimity in your life?
- When do you notice the absence of equanimity?
- How do you practice to restore your equanimity?
We hope you can join us!
Below, after the Still Water announcements, are two excerpts relating to equanimity. The first is by Sharon Salzberg. The second is from Thay’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness in which he asks us to look deeply into experiences that we have labeled “successes” and “failures.”
A lotus for each of you,
Here is the link to Mitchell’s blog where he describes his experiences in Vietnam this month: https://smileofthedandelion.wordpress.com. You can follow his blog and get emails whenever there are new posts.
To receive the Zoom link for this and future Thursday evening programs, please register at https://swmpc.breezechms.com/form/3a13952343463126. (If you already have the Thursday Zoom link, there is nothing you need to do.)
An excerpt from Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg
In six months, even in one day or one hour, we can experience so many extremes of pleasure and pain. The question is, how can a human heart—my heart or your heart—absorb the continual, unremitting contrasts of this life without feeling shattered and thinking that we cannot bear it? … Can we actually experience freedom in the midst of all these immense changes, as they roll through our lives over and over again? Can we actually be happy in this continuous arising and passing away?
An excerpt from The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
Sit in the full or half lotus. Follow your breath. Recall the most significant achievements in your life and examine each of them. Examine your talent, your virtue, your capacity, the convergence of favorable conditions that have led to success. Examine the complacency and the arrogance that have arisen from the feeling that you are the main cause for such success. Shed the light of interdependence on the whole matter to see that the achievement is not really yours but the convergence of various conditions beyond your reach. See to it that you will not be bound to these achievements. Only when you can relinquish them can you really be free and no longer assailed by them.
Recall the bitterest failures in your life and examine each of them. Examine your talent, your virtue, your capacity, and the absence of favorable conditions that led to the failures. Examine to see all the complexes that have arisen within you form the feeling that you are not capable of realizing success. Shed the light of interdependence on the whole matter to see that failures cannot be accounted for by your inabilities but rather by the lack of favorable conditions. See that you have no strength to shoulder these failures, that these failures are not your own self. See to it that you are free from them. Only when you relinquish them can you really be free and no longer assailed by them.