This week we considered equanimity, particularly in light of the day’s mid-term election. It felt so good being with the Sangha as we watered seeds of mindfulness, calmness, and unity rather than the seeds of tribalism, fear, judgment, and self-righteousness we might have watered by ruminating over election returns home alone in front of the TV.
Equanimity is the quality of moving through the world with an open heart. The Discourse On Happiness says, ‘To live in the world with your heart undisturbed by the world. This is the greatest happiness.’ Generating happiness like this requires some insight into what equanimity is and how to practice it.
Two Pali words are translated as ‘equanimity’ - Upekkha and Tatramajjhattata. Upekkha means ‘to look over with wisdom.’ We take in more than the surface and ask, ‘What’s going on here?’ ‘What’s behind this behavior?’ When we understand why something is happening, we can allow it. We see that everything is a process and always changing. It helps us see others as growing beings rather than as people who are difficult now and forever. This equanimity-as-mature-observation frees us from the tyranny of our momentary perceptions and reactions.
Tatramajjhattata means ‘to stand in the middle of all this.’ It is an invitation to find the equanimity of balance. We can be like trees: composed of many parts, some fragile like leaves and small branches, and some steady, like roots held in the earth by a community of living soil. ‘Standing in the middle of all this’ means we know how to connect with the solidity of our roots rather than just the fragility of our upper branches. We can endure because, like the roots, we are held by the community of interbeing.
Rather than just talk about the concepts of equanimity, we tasted equanimity for ourselves in a guided meditation. We imagined three people in the space in front of us: Someone we like; someone we dislike; and someone we’re indifferent towards. We touched how each person made us feel. But then we realized that some people we liked, we no longer like; some people we were indifferent to are now our friends or enemies. We saw that the categories we put people into (like, dislike, indifferent) all depend on what they do for us. It’s all rather self-centered and temporary.
Practicing equanimity (that is, standing in the middle of all this and looking over with wisdom) sets us free. We no longer have to carry the burden of judging and controlling the world around us. We can instead use that energy to observe kindly and respond wisely.