“It just goes to show, it’s always something!”
– Gilda Radner
I love that line. It makes me laugh every time I hear it. It’s true – just when we think we’ve got everything in order in just the right way, boom! Something happens that changes our plans.
All weekend I’ve been looking forward to a quiet afternoon of writing – writing about my general sense of summertime ease and peace despite the horrendous fires, despite big changes at work, despite the painful conditions of some of those close to me. Just as I settled in to write about Equanimity, of all things, (the balanced spacious stillness of mind that easily accommodates everything that happens, good or bad), the phone rang. Boom! My lovely plan changed in a moment. My mind got twisted around, annoyed and inconvenienced by completely avoidable events that required my immediate attention and hijacked my afternoon. Equanimity…It just goes to show…how ironic.
Equanimity is not luxuriating in continuous spacious stillness, which actually doesn’t exist. Equanimity is the quality of even-mindedness that allows us to experience whatever occurs with soft resilience and wise response. If we can soften our edges, we can roll with the punches without getting a black eye. Nothing is too sharp to bump up against, painful experiences don’t sting as much or for as long, and it’s easier to come down from the most wonderful, exciting and joyous events.
Equanimity allows us to loosen the tight grip around the imperatives our desires, and stop pushing so hard against adversity. When we recognize “It’s not what I wanted, but it’s what I’ve got,” we gain some perspective and expand our capacity to accommodate whatever is happening. This is the expression of a balanced mind. Equanimity makes room for it all, it says “this, too.”
And sometimes it’s not so easy. When we get caught in our struggles and can’t see clearly, it’s helpful to pause. Take a breath, look around, feel your feet on the ground, and get your bearings. The intentional pause helps reset the nervous system. It lets us see that our equanimity is inextricably tied to our actions and the results of our actions. This is karma. In fact, the proper definition of karma is action. Or as the revered Buddhist teacher Ruth Denison once said, “Karma means you don’t get away with nothin’.”
We know all actions have consequences, so it makes perfect sense that our capacity to act and respond with a balanced mind is dependent upon our capacity to see clearly. Training the mind to see clearly so we know what’s what, is one of the most profound outcomes of mindfulness practice, especially formal meditation practice.
By developing awareness moment-by-moment, breath-by-breath we begin to see that in this moment we are probably basically alright. We may have many difficult challenges in our lives, but in this very moment we’re okay. We’re right here, breathing, aware of right now. That’s it. And it’s this sense of okay-ness that softens our edges, lets us relax, widens our view and brings us back into balance.
Here’s a simple practice for developing Equanimity:
Try silently saying to yourself,
May I have balance in this moment
May I be centered in this moment
Balance and centered
Balance and centered
Imagine what being balanced and centered feel like, and drop into that. This part is important. By getting a sense of how this feels in your body, it becomes more easily accessible both right now and later. We’re training the mind and body to know what balance feels like, much like any repetitive motion. The more you practice, the more natural it becomes.
As we begin to see the way karma works with greater depth and clarity, we begin to see just how freeing the truth of it is. We really can only be responsible for what we do, despite our wishes to help another, or despite our fantasy that we can fix or change another person. The only thing we really have any control over is ourselves – our own actions and our own responses.
This is best done in formal meditation practice when you’re quiet and settled. You might bring to mind an image of yourself feeling well and happy. Then silently repeat this as many times as you like:
I am the owner of my karma. My happiness and unhappiness are dependent upon my own actions, not on anyone else’s wishes for me.
When you’re ready, bring to mind someone else, someone you care for …
You are the owner of your karma. Your happiness and unhappiness are dependent upon your own actions, not on my wishes for you.
This practice is done in the spirit of giving a gift. It’s a precious realization to know that our happiness and unhappiness is directly connected to what we do, not to what others do for us. Enjoy!