Equanimity refers to a state of being calm and balanced, especially in the midst of difficulty.
In Buddhism, equanimity (in Pali, upekkha; in Sanskrit, upeksha) is one of the Four Immeasurables or four great virtues that the Buddha taught his disciples to cultivate.
But is being calm and balanced all there is to equanimity?
And how does one develop equanimity?
Thich Nhat Hanh says (in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, p. 161) that the Sanskrit word upekshameans “equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go. Upa means ‘over,’ and iksh means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.”
Standing in the Middle
Another Pali word that is translated into English as “equanimity” is tatramajjhattata, which means “to stand in the middle.” Gil Fronsdal says this “standing in the middle” refers to a balance that comes from inner stability; remaining centered when surrounded by turmoil.
We are constantly being pulled in one direction or another by things or conditions we either want or hope to avoid. These include praise and blame, pleasure and pain, success and failure, gain and loss. The wise person, accepts all without approval or disapproval.¹ – The Buddha
In her book Comfortable with Uncertainty, Tibetan Kagyu teacher Pema Chodron said, “To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity.”
This, of course, connects to mindfulness. The Buddha taught that there are four frames of reference in mindfulness:
1. Mindfulness of body (kayasati).
2. Mindfulness of feelings or sensations (vedanasati).
3. Mindfulness of mind or mental processes (cittasati).
4. Mindfulness of mental objects or qualities (dhammasati).
Here we have a really good example of working with mindfulness of feelings and mental processes. People who are not-mindful are perpetually being jerked around by their emotions and biases. But with mindfulness, you recognize and acknowledge feelings without letting them control you.
Pema Chodron says that when feelings of attraction or aversion arise, we can “use our biases as stepping-stones for connecting with the confusion of others.” When we become intimate with and accepting of own feelings, we see more clearly how everyone gets hooked by their hopes and fears. From this, “a bigger perspective can emerge.”
Thich Nhat Hanh says that Buddhist equanimity includes the ability to see everyone as equal. “We shed all discrimination and prejudice, and remove all boundaries between ourselves and others,” he writes. “In a conflict, even though we are deeply concerned, we remain impartial, able to love and to understand both sides. [The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, p. 162].” I confess, that last one is really difficult for me, but that’s what we are called to do.
¹ The Buddha
(Richard Taylor Suggestion)
Catch yourself feeling a “HIT” or ACTIVATION”.
Talk to yourself called Self-Talk.
Say: ” Remain Calm. Breathe.”
Listen with empathy (Empathetic Listening) trying to hear the other person’s points. Try to understand the underlying feelings that are driving the words spoken. Is it fear, frustration, misdirected pent up stress? What is it?
Remain silent. Try to remain neutral. Try for either being Neutral or Nice. Refrain from Nasty.
These are the 3 N’s. = Nasty/Neutral/Nice.
If flooded with feelings and you feel like yelling or being nasty…say “I am taking a 10/20/30 minute break and will discuss this when we are both calm. Please allow me to take this break without chasing me. How about you calm down too. ”
Discuss things when you are calm.
Choose to cooperate and then compromise or harmonize.
How did I do? What could I do better next time?
Form a plan for next time. Say “Next Time I will_________________”
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