Shaila Catherine on how a balanced attitude can afford true happiness.
NEITHER 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