Filed in Vipassana

Equanimity in Every Bite

Shaila Catherine on how a balanced attitude can afford true happiness.

Shaila Catherine

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Tim FabianNEITHER the coarse feeling of unpleasantness nor the agitated feeling of pleasure, equanimity, the Buddha said, is one of the highest kinds of happiness, beyond compare with mere pleasant feelings. Superior to delight and joy, true equanimity remains undisturbed as events change from hot to cold, from bitter to sweet, from easy to difficult. This neutral feeling is so subtle that it can be difficult to discern.

Equanimity is steady through vicissitudes, equally close to the things you may like and the things you do not like. Observe when the tendency to move away from what you do not like ends and the tendency to hold on to what you like is also absent. Personal preference no longer dictates the direction of attention. Equanimity contains the complete willingness to behold the pleasant and the painful events of life equally. It points to a deep balance in which you are not pushed and pulled between the coercive energies of desire and aversion. Equanimity has the capacity to embrace extremes without getting thrown off balance. Equanimity takes interest in whatever is occurring simply because it is occurring. Equanimity does not include the aversive states of indifference, boredom, coldness, or hesitation. It is an expression of calm, radiant balance that takes whatever comes in stride.

The taste of a favorite meal, perhaps eggplant Parmesan, may be exquisitely clear: the sweetness of cooked tomatoes, the aroma of basil, the soft texture of the eggplant that melts on the tongue, the saltiness of the Parmesan cheese. Each taste may be discerned with acute precision and clarity. They are also enjoyed as a unique blend and appreciated for their combined qualities. When equanimity is dominant, the experience of craving another morsel is absent. The eggplant Parmesan will instead be fully experienced with equanimity rather than delight. For many people such balance around taste would be a unique moment.

Some of my beginning students have told me, "But I don't want that kind of happiness. I enjoy the gusto of delight. I relish a passionate involvement with my life. I love the excitement of experience." I understand. As a concept, equanimity may appear unappealing, but students nonetheless discover, quite to their surprise, that the exquisite peace of balanced states has a taste of happiness beyond pleasure and beyond pain. Every experience of liking something has as its counterpart disliking something else. The fickleness of personal preference agitates consciousness. The deeply balanced state of equanimity makes a sustained investigation of things possible. Out of this combination of concentrated stability, penetrative investigation, and mindful awareness, consciousness may awaken the unshakable nature of happiness.

Spiritual practitioners thrive in unpredictable conditions, testing and refining the inner qualities of heart and mind. Every situation becomes an opportunity to abandon judgment and opinions and to simply give complete attention to what is. Situations of inconvenience are terrific areas to discover, test, or develop your equanimity. How gracefully can you compromise in a negotiation? Does your mind remain balanced when you have to drive around the block three times to find a parking space? Are you at ease waiting for a flight that is six hours delayed? These inconveniences are opportunities to develop equanimity. Rather than shift the blame onto an institution, system, or person, one can develop the capacity to opt to rest within the experience of inconvenience.

From Focused and Fearless: A Meditator's Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity, © 2008 by Shaila Catherine. Reprinted with permission from Wisdom Publications, wisdompubs.org.

Image: Photo by Tim Fabian © 2004 / 2008 timfabian.com

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MindfulnessTherapistOnline's picture

Another word for equanimity is FREEDOM - from the habitual tendencies of greed, hatred and delusion. Developing equanimity (upekkha) is an essential part of vipassana meditation. It means learning to sit with our emotional pain, our negative thoughts and views, our painful memories and any other content of mind (citta) without becoming reactive. Learning to do this effectively and in a sustained way is the whole purpose of mindfulness meditation, and a necessary condition for healing, transformation and the resolution of emotional suffering (dukkha).
Of course, it also means being able to sit with our pleasant emotions and thoughts - but without becoming reactive and without grasping - so that we can fully enjoy and appreciate our pleasant feelings and sensations.
Equanimity is not about renouncing pleasure (sukha) nor is it about abandoning suffering (dukkha) but rather cultivating the freedom to respond skillfully to both.

fbartolom's picture

On the issue of equanimity, I am trying to develop it regards to Tricycle that is keeping proposing me to subscribe and hiding contents, notwithstanding I did it on iPad and does not answer my emails...!

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

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fbartolom's picture

It is important, to me, not to also confound equanimity with fatalism, nor to trust oneself too much. Muslims have the saying "Trust in Allah, but tie your camel" that well explains this concept. So Equanimity, Upekka, should be balanced with the other factors, especially wisdom. First I organize my life to minimize the possibility of experiencing extremes, than I develop equanimity. It would be mad to try and develop equanimity for a young woman in a short skirt in the Kasbah of an arab city, as well as holding diamonds in one's house, pursue a political career or even have children.
In fact the life of monks is finely organized to this aim. I think other people should get theirs as near to that as possible to develop equanimity and the other factors.

Dominic Gomez's picture

After all is said and done, Buddhism is common sense, indeed the highest form of it.

sds's picture

I strive for equanimity and find that when it comes to small things such as traffic difficulties, shopping difficulties, unpleasant encounters with co-workers and acquaintances, etc., I am pretty much able to maintain equanimity - stand back somewhat, observe what is going on and not take it personally. But then there is the mess in which I am currently embroiled - I am in the process of attempting to negotiate a legal separation with an ex-partner who is being entirely irrational and unreasonable. Basically, my ex appears to want to bankrupt me and claim the lion's share of all future wages/pensions that might come my way. My ex is also fighting hard to take my child from me. I am finding it very difficult to consider these events as mere inconveniences and be thankful for the opportunity to practice equanimity. I also find it difficult to be grateful for the opportunity to experience groundlessness (as Pema Chodron might advise). Perhaps, years from now, I might look back on this time as a fantastic learning experience which gave me an unparalled opportunity to develop equanimity. Somehow I doubt this but even if this turns out to be the case, how on earth am I to meet present circumstances with equanimity? This is my question.

ZenBound's picture

I think the key here is the idea of 'striving' for equanimity. I had a similar experience with a partner who left me for a friend while I was away on retreat. I came back all full of Buddhist wisdom but nothing I'd learned prepared me for the intensity of the emotions I felt. These ideas are not something we achieve simply by wanting them, it comes through extensive practice! So you may be holding yourself up to an impossible spiritual ideal and not really acknowledging your own feelings, which we are all so prone to denying. In these situations anger, confusion, fear, rage even... they are all perfectly human responses to a shattered relationship and the struggles that go along with it. I've found daily metta practice and also Tara Brach's teachings on Radical Acceptance to be very helpful. So in summary, it's ok to feel this way, instead of trying to be equanimous, perhaps turning towards and befriending your real feelings is a wiser course. Professional counselling and connecting with others is also really helpful. I hope also that one day you will look back at this time with gratitude for the lessons learned. There's a zen saying I like that I've found helpful... "My house burned down last night. Now I can see the moon." Good luck on your journey.

sallyotter's picture

I don't think that equanimity is something you "get"; it happens with the practice. It can't be sought after specifically. So meditation, mindfulness, courage are the path. I'm learning not to run away from what I consider, have been acculturated to believe, is unpleasant. The article inspires me to continue.

steph.mohan's picture

The article talks about the benefits of equanimity but not the path to it. It is unfortunately not as simple as 'deciding I am going to have equanimity about this or that'. Buddha taught the 8 fold path to guide us in all the practical aspects needed to achieve this state and it is the daily practice of the path that liberates us from our attachment to like and dislike, attraction and repulsion. :)

fbartolom's picture

It is very rare meditation masters give this kind of instructions, as they would scare away well being meditators. Equanimity develops when life conditions change relatively slowly so that it is easy to submit the few arising strong feelings to the meditation session. If on the contrary life is very "rich" and always proposes new experiences, what common sense held as desirable!, it is all but impossible to put the reins to everything.

shin's picture

just to add to Monty's point, if you check out the whole of "Focused & Fearless" you'll see that the author clearly does not ignore 8-fold path... and is full of comments on 'practical aspects' and other reflective guidance...

with metta

Monty McKeever's picture

I see what you are saying Steph. My hope is that a relatively short article like this would be "jumping off point" for some in which would inspire further inquiry, study, and practice.

For anyone who may not be familiar with the Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha, it is:

Wisdom:
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
Ethical Conduct:
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
Mental Development:
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

best,
Monty

Philvfenty's picture

"May i be at ease with everything that comes into my life" saying this phrase many times a day, at meditation, before sleep falls upon me at night is a great help in allowing me to be as it is.

cas3737's picture

great.

patw's picture

With my hands in that lovely afternoon earth,
The neighbor's pain buzzes around my head
like a pollen-heavy honey bee in July.
Only a little dangerous.

Dot Luce's picture

I'm regarded as stoic, passive, when being attacked and trying for equanimity. What to do then?

fbartolom's picture

Practice Metta.

robot2007's picture

Happiness

I have been taught never to brag but now
I cannot help it: I keep
a beautiful garden, all abundance,
indiscriminate, pulling itself
from the stubborn earth. Does it offend you
to watch me working in it,
touching my hands to the greening tips or
tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild
the living and the dead both
snap off in my hands?
The neighbor with his stuttering
fingers, the neighbor with his broken
love: each comes up my drive
to receive his pitying,
accustomed consolations, watches me
work in silence a while, rises in anger,
walks back. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks
like pleasure? I can stand for hours among
the sweet narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, this garden. Today
there were scrub jays, quail,
a woodpecker knocking at the white
and black shapes of trees, and someone's lost rabbit
scratching under the barberry: Is it
indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,
and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?
It is only a little time, a little space.
Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush
like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn't understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond self-
reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives despite their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.

-Paisley Rekdal

nelierea's picture

thank you for sharing this poem. Lately every day I am deep in grief and every day I am also deep in the earth of my garden, taking joy from what grows there, my goal is to fully live the life that is in me in both of those states (which sometimes happen together). This poem hit that happening together spot :-)

Monty McKeever's picture

Indeed, thank you Paisley. The poem is very poignant. I find that the little bit of gardening I get to do does wonders for my sanity. It's hard, living in a big city, disconnected from nature, working long hours in front of a computer, but getting my feet in the dirt is good medicine.

 

This is my backyard garden. Small is size but a giant oasis nonetheless.

awakening flower's picture

:)

jackelope65's picture

For something hard to express, this poem goes a long way. My wife and I dug in clay, waiting to be brick, sand, waiting to be beach; but somehow created gardens that melted into the surrounding forest, each playing our separate roles: me, the labourer, and she, the creator. They created us as we them, and now separate from us, the house sold, we do not seem to notice the weeds grow.

LindaG's picture

I appreciate the depth of discussion on this topic. Equanimity takes work, to bring ease. Maybe the work of "practice" is a better way of putting it. While I strive to bring equanimity to the situations I encounter, I notice the challenge - even in the simpliest of disturbances, sometimes.

margsun's picture

..Thank you..I am a beginner and householder and this spoke clearly to me....thank you...