Session Details - May, 2018 - An exploration in how mindfulness and self-compassion can assist us to find calm in the storm, a kind of emotional resilience.
Equanimity: a quality of calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation, it is often described as a kind of emotional resilience. Our wisdom recognizes that we are all subject to a constantly changing flow of numerous causes and conditions, within the full spectrum of joyful to painful. Equanimity combines an understanding mind together with a compassionate heart: mindfulness and heartfulness.
Resilience is scientifically measured by how quickly we get back to baseline after a stressful event; I see equanimity as an important form of resilience – an important reason that it is included in the MSC program.
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s quote: ‘You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.’ Sums up for me why I practice mindfulness and compassion, I do not practice to prevent the bumps / waves but so that I can be with them with greater loving discernment and skill.
My granddaughter enjoyed making this heart on the beach, but she was so cool about leaving it to be washed away by the sea...
“May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
To cultivate equanimity, sit or lie in a comfortable posture with your eyes closed or a soft gaze. Bringing a gentle attention to your breath until your body and mind feel as calm as possible. Then, when you are ready, beginning by reflecting on the benefit of a mind that has balance and equanimity. If possible sensing what a gift it can be to bring a peaceful heart to yourself and the world around you. As best you can, letting yourself feel an inner sense of balance and ease. Then beginning to repeat such phrases as, “May I be balanced and at peace”, or “may I keep learning about balance and peace.” Acknowledging that all created things arise and pass away: joys, sorrows, pleasant events, people, buildings and animals. Feeling free to find a place of rest in the midst of this ongoing change. “May I keep learning to see the arising and passing of all nature with equanimity and balance. May I be open, balanced and peaceful.”
Understanding that all beings are part of this inter-dependent arising of numerous causes and conditions. “May we all keep learning to bring compassion and equanimity to the events of our world. May we find balance, equanimity and peace.”
Thoughts on Equanimity:
When I think of the word equanimity it brings to mind a jumper of a friends that she passed on to me; it fits with comfort, not too tight, not too big, I feel her when I wear it, and I also feel it will soon be passed onto another when the time calls. I think of words such as grace, spaciousness, ease, balance, flow and peace. Most importantly it speaks to me of trust and contentment.
I am reminded of the passage of parenthood. My children needed me to meet all their needs when they were first born and in their early years. I needed to know them more than any dr or school teacher as they were growing, but they also needed me to loosen the grip bit by bit, the invisible umbilical cord needed to stretch and stretch. Love has no distance, this is how I parent now, trusting that my love is vast and edgeless, no longer governed by doing, but rather by being. Having children with wings that fly and make their nests all over the place has helped with this learning of equanimity in parenting – they say my trust gave them their wings, so perhaps trust is a key to fostering greater equanimity?
We all understand that life does require a level of planning ahead. The rub comes when things do not go according to our plan/s. Can we make decisions in our life with a sense of commitment and still be relatively ok and bounce back when things don’t work out the way we planned? Equanimity seems to ask this of us, I once heard someone say it was a quality similar to riding a horse, you need to hold on not to tight and not too loose, too tight and you and the horse will be stuggling with one another, too loose and you will fall off.
I found the UK insight meditation teacher Christina Feldman's words helpful to understanding the role mindfulness and compassion play in fostering greater trust in our capacity for equanimity.
Compassion - Christina Feldman, from her book entitled 'Compassion'
We fear that we don't have the capacity to embrace suffering, and that we have insufficient inner resources to be present with pain without being overwhelmed.
Yet the more you find the willingness to embrace adversity and affliction rather than resisting it, the more you discover you are not helpless.
You find within yourself levels of resilience, kindness, and balance that are the source of wise action and speech.
Just as it is awareness that opens your eyes and heart to the bottomless pain in the world, it is awareness that rescues you from helplessness.
Nothing can be understood or transformed without awareness.
The alchemy of awareness turns despair into possibility, turns fear into strength, turns resistance into openness.
Awareness is not complex or elusive.
It is born in any moment you are willing to stand still, turn toward what you want to flee from, and listen wholeheartedly.
How perfectionism gets in the way of equanimity:
I am a recovering perfectionist. Self-compassion, in particular the common humanity component allowed me to truly validate the suffering that setting such unrealistic bench marks for myself brought. Practicing MSC allowed the wisdom to arise regarding how to relax about my human glitches – truly joining the human family. Below is an exert about relaxing perfectionism from Rick Hanson and his blog of Just One Thing.
"Imperfections" are all around, and they include: messes, dirty clothes, weeds, snarled traffic, rain during a picnic, wine stains on carpet; injury, illness, disability, pain; problems, issues, obstructions, losses - including with others; objects that are chipped, frayed, broken; mistakes, errors; confusion, lack of clarity; war, famine, poverty, oppression, injustice.
In a nutshell, an imperfection - as I mean it here - is a departure from a reasonable ideal or standard (e.g., dog poop on your shoe is not ideal, nor is the hunger that afflicts one in six people worldwide). These departures-from-ideal have costs, and it's reasonable to do what you can about them.
But we usually don't leave it at that: we get anxious - uneasy, nervous, troubled, stressed - about imperfection itself, rather than recognizing it as a normal, unavoidable, and widespread aspect of life. Instead of dealing with conditions as they are - weeds, injuries, conflicts with others - and just handling them, we get caught up in worrying about what they mean, grumbling, feeling deflated, becoming opinionated and judgmental, blaming ourselves and others, and feeling woe-is-me and yet again disappointed/ mistreated/wronged.
These reactions to imperfection are major second darts. They make you feel a lot worse than you need to, create issues with others, and make it harder to take skillful action.
Make appropriate efforts to improve things, but realize the impossibility of perfecting anything. You just can't perfect your personality, thoughts, or behavior; trying to do so is like trying to polish Jell-O. Nor can you perfect others or the world. Open to this fact: you cannot perfectly protect your loved ones, or eliminate all of your own health risks, or prevent people from doing stupid things. At first this opening could feel poignant or sad, but then you'll likely feel a breath of fresh air, a freedom, and a surge of energy to do the things you can now that you're not undermined by the hopelessness of making anything perfect.
Further, many things transcend fixed standards. For example, could there ever be such a thing as a perfect rose or a perfect child? In these cases, anxiety about imperfection is absurd - which applies to trying to perfect your body, career, relationships, family, business, or spiritual practice. Nurture these, help them blossom, but give up on perfecting them.
Most fundamentally, all conditions, no matter how imperfect, are perfectly what they are, all conditions are utterly, thoroughly themselves. In this sense, whatever is the case - from dirty diapers and everyday hassles to cancer and plane crashes - is the result in this instant of the perfect unfolding of the entire universe. Try to see that unfolding as a vast, objective process in which our personal wishes are as consequential for it as a patch of foam is for the Pacific Ocean. In this light, perfection and imperfection vanish as meaningful distinctions. There are only things in their own right, in and of themselves, without our labels of good or bad, beautiful or ugly, perfect or not. Then there is no anxiety about imperfection; there is only simplicity, directness, engagement - and peace.
‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ – Shakespeare (Hamlet)
In the poem below Michael Leunig invites us to be more playful with our tricky human brain:
God give us rain when we expect sun.
Give us music when we expect trouble.
Give us tears when we expect breakfast.
Give us dreams when we expect a storm.
Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.
…play with us, turn us sideways and around.
- Michael Leunig