Opening the Door to Equanimity
Between every action and reaction is an interaction. Sometimes that interaction is with another – a loved one, a stranger or a pet. Sometimes that interaction is with ourselves. How can we greet our emotions and acknowledge them without being overtaken by them and falling into reactivity?
I have to admit that I can be a bit fiery. Maybe a little stubborn. Okay, probably a bit more naturally inclined towards proving my point than letting things lie. I feel emotions strongly - everything from joy and peace to frustration and anger. A yearning for evenness of temper was one of the primary pulls for me in learning to meditate. What I’ve learned is that sometimes to get there, I need to ride the wave all the way out to the shore - even if it’s a tidal wave.
Equanimity requires conscious action. It isn’t a state you achieve after a certain amount of hours of practice. Mindfulness practice helps to build the foundation so when you are faced with difficult situations you can remain calm and composed. But, like most things in life, it requires effort and intention. And sometimes, in the moment, it requires choosing between what your ego tells you and what you know will bring you out of the entanglement.
My daughter, Phoebe, and I were talking about how to quench the fire of anger the other day. She has a naturally calm and collected presence, so I asked her what she does to maintain her sense of inner peace, especially in times of feeling triggered. She said:
“Just let it go. Sometimes it feels hard to let go but it’s not as hard as holding on.”
Sounds easy enough, right? Not for me. So I asked her what she does when letting go hurts. She astutely responded that in the big picture, nothing is that momentous that if you are present you can’t make peace with it.
There is always a choice. The choice is always between entanglement and liberation. Usually, the energy it takes to feed the ego and create entanglement far outweighs the energy of breathing, listening and staying quiet (although it may not seem that way in the moment). Of course, if you are in a situation where staying quiet is harmful, the path to liberation is quite different. But the circumstances that we typically encounter in our daily lives are often better served by slowing down to breathe, gain composure and step fully into the present moment. For it is in the present moment that we will find what we are looking for. It is in this moment that we can access compassion. It is the practice of mindfulness and meditation that builds this muscle.
Equanimity is the space in which resilience is strengthened. The goal with mindfulness practice is not to shut the door on our emotions. It is to greet them at the door and welcome them all inside. The teacher Pema Chödrön describes it this way:
“The traditional image for equanimity is a banquet to which everyone is invited. That means that everyone and everything, without exception, is on the guest list.”
Meditation sometimes shows us more clearly who is knocking. Ignoring the call of anger, sadness, resentment or jealousy (unfortunately) doesn’t turn them away. Sometimes the knocking becomes so strong that you’ll find one day your door has been busted down and there’s a party in your house with guests you didn’t invite. Learning to open the door and graciously deal with your unwanted guests takes practice, but in time you may find that they come around less frequently and when they do, you understand why they’re showing up.
Training in equanimity is learning to open the door to all, welcoming 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.” ~ Pema Chödrön
The gift of mindfulness is that we can always begin again. The practice of beginning again is one of compassion and letting go. And letting go is often the (hard but) necessary act towards the path of equanimity.
Questions For Self-Reflection
What does equanimity look like in my life?
What prevents me from embodying and expressing equanimity?
How could I open the door to more equanimity in my daily routine and interactions?
What is one small step I could take to practice equanimity today?
For gentle support on your path towards equanimity, please enjoy this lovely practice with Maggie from our Pause Library:
Nicole Rush is Pause's Community Manager and an Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor. Meditation is like digestion for the mind, guiding us to a place where we are able to let go of what no longer serves us, we can recognize the true self within, always there to guide us.
Our days are filled with activities that sometimes feel less than extraordinary, such as cooking dinner, doing the laundry or walking the dog. But, if we pay attention, we will recognize the richness and abundance in the seemingly mundane. We don’t have to wait for a special day to find joy and happiness — it’s available now.
In 2018, Nicole traveled to the mountains of Kathmandu to complete her yoga and meditation teacher training. She also holds a Yoga Nidra certification and a Bachelor of Fine Art from Marylhurst University. Outside of wellness practices, Nicole finds joy in poetry, knitting, long walks, French films and her ever-vibrant family.