I have been contemplating equanimity lately. I used to think of this idea as a container that can hold all of me. These days I have found that my ability to feel in both pleasant and unpleasant ways is growing, which means my container has to grow as well. As life has felt simultaneously more traumatic, more beautiful, more heart-wrenching and more joyful in the last year, I keep wondering how to hold it all.
Two years ago I probably would have told you that I knew what equanimity was, and I probably would have believed that I had access to it. Maybe I did, but I also think my equanimity was, in part, a form of denial. It was a conditional equanimity that shielded myself from hardship and struggle as much as possible.
Certain experiences happened that brought hardship and struggle that I did not have control over. Other experiences I chose to stay with instead of turning away from. Through these chosen and unchosen moments I am learning a new layer of what equanimity means.
I like to go to the dictionary when there is a word I want to understand better. Equanimity, according to dictionary.com, is “mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium.” Next I went to Facebook and asked friends to offer their words for equanimity. Some words used were: The Force, “so it goes,” standing in the middle of all things, balance, flow, both/and, curiosity and love, and openness. Finally, I went to Sharon Salzburg, one of my favorite teachers on lovingkindness, to listen to her podcast on equanimity and faith. One of the things that stood out to me was when she went to sit with the Dalai Lama after things became much worse in Tibet. When she saw the Dalai Lama he said something to the effect that his mind was full of disturbed thoughts but his heart was steady.
That struck a cord with me as I was able to access equanimity in a somatic, body-based way. When I am overwhelmed or scared I can feel the buzzing in my head, racing thoughts or tension in my jaw and neck. In those moments I am typically out of my heart. When I imagine dropping into my heart I can feel the tightness in my chest, but behind that I also feel a spaciousness that can hold the grieving heart, the wild mind, the contracted body.
I do not think that equanimity means to turn away or avoid. Rather, by not turning away or avoiding, the potential to feel more fully becomes a reality. Equanimity can be the ground we can rest on in times of overwhelm. I also think the practice of lovingkindness can cultivate equanimity, as the practice can infuse our experience with gentleness and friendliness, which can be missing in times of trauma or pain.
How do you experience equanimity? I would love to hear!