Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Practicing Equanimity

"Rock Solid"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I turned on the TV last evening only to discover the frantic, even panicked "Breaking News" announcements warning of the history-making blizzard about to hit New York City.  CNN featured nonstop coverage of the impending doom, more than three feet of snow, hurricane-force winds. Reporters were interviewing anxious citizens as they waited in long lines outside supermarkets to "stock up" on the necessary supplies they would need to survive the coming storm. Store shelves were emptied out, the New York subway system shut down, streets abandoned, bridges closed.  

The CNN news anchor said that this was such an important story that they would be limiting their commercial breaks so as to help people prepare for the upcoming disaster that was already being labeled, "Snowmageddon."

As it turned out, everyone seriously over-reacted - New York City got a few inches of snow and life has pretty much returned to normal. 

Sitting in her apartment surrounded by boxes of batteries, gallons of drinking water and several flashlights, one New Yorker was interviewed on the morning news today saying that she bought enough food to feed an army in preparation for "Snowmaggedon." She will try to freeze what she can but guesses she will probably have to throw most of it away.

As I see it, the whole event yesterday was just another indication as to how much "angst" there is in today's society - the ongoing possibility of terrorism on an airplane or in a mall, the possibility of yet another school shooting, who knows when the "next shoe will drop?" An underlying anxiety seems to buzz around beneath the living of everyday life, and so when the possibility of a history-making blizzard looms, it immediately becomes "Breaking News," the dreaded impending disaster is about to hit. So the angst is ratcheted up and people go out and buy enough food to feed an army for a blizzard that's suppose to last a day or two (and then never even happens).

I think we would do well to inject a good dose of equanimity into today's angst-ridden culture.

The idea of equanimity may perhaps be a foreign concept to many people in popular Western culture.  While equanimity is a spiritual practice taught in all major world religions, it is perhaps most widely discussed in Buddhist literature. In fact, Buddhists embrace the practice of "equanimity" as one of the four major virtues to be practiced in the spiritual life - equal to the practice of compassion and kindness.

I particularly like a definition of equanimity that I came across a few years back found in a book written by a Benedictine nun (Sister Macrina Wiederkeher):

Consider the word 'equanimity.' It is an excellent word.
The dictionary will probably tell you that it means calm composure.
But here is a far better definition: 
Equanimity is the stability of mind that allows us to be present with an open heart
to everything that comes our way,
no matter how wonderful or how difficult.

We live in a world where good things happen right along with the bad. Of course troubles will always come our way- sometimes even disasters may strike. Maybe we can prepare for a blizzard by buying a flashlight or a few extra cans of food, keeping off the roads or closing schools, but after that "what happens will happen."  

When we refuse to allow our lives to be plagued by a constant sense of abiding angst and impending doom,  and with open hearts simply allow ourselves to be present to what is, "no mater how wonderful or how difficult," we are practicing equanimity. 

The practice of equanimity helps us to live our lives boldly and with confidence I think we may all need a good dose of equanimity nowadays. 


  1. How true. I remember when we had Y2K and all the computers were supposed to shut down and the power grid was supposed to fail and none of the systems we depend on to maintain civilization were guaranteed to work.

    I worked in a high traffic supermarket at that time and it was impossible to keep anything on the shelves. We would bring out a skid of bottled water and not bother putting it on the shelf. Just take the shrink-wrap off and come back in half an hour with another skid of bottled water. We ran out of batteries.

    Personally I think that was the initial psy-ops at the beginning of the war on terror to get us fearful and insecure. It frightened almost everyone. Then the next year we had the evil Muslim hordes knock down our buildings in NYC and we were doubly terrified.

    I heated with wood and had only myself and pets to feed so I wasn't too concerned. I could melt snow.

    a poem titled Let us Maintain Equipoise came to mind when I read your wise words.