December 2, 2020

Choosing Equanimity Over Impassivity

“As a solid mass of rock is not stirred by the wind,
So a sage is not moved by praise and blame. As a deep lake is clear and undisturbed, So a sage becomes clear upon hearing the Dharma. Virtuous people always let go. They don’t prattle about pleasures and desires.

Touched by happiness and then by suffering, the sage shows no sign of being elated or depressed.”

-The Buddha (Dhammapada)

What The Buddha says is beautiful. It conjures this image of the unmovable sage, convicted and unworried by the world. But I fear The Buddha is missing something.

That rock may not “stir,” but it does change as the wind and rain wear it down. The deep lake may appear to be clear and undisturbed, but beneath the surface it is teeming with activity and even conflict. And virtuous people may let things go, choosing instead to embrace the calm of equanimity, but their minds will still change and morph over time merely because they are wholly human.

The principle of equanimity is all about balance, resilience, and equilibrium. But it doesn’t mean that we must accept a life of passivity, in which we exist without emotion, without vibrancy, without humanness! 

Think about the last time you held a baby in your arms, and they started crying. Maybe this is a little close to home for some of you who are new moms! Hopefully, you remained calm and composed, choosing to be unmoved by the wailing. But does this mean that you were not taken by some emotion, that you were relegated to checking your humanity and maternity at the door? Of course not. 

But why am I bringing up what may seem to be a purely semantic debate? 

Well, besides the fact that words are fun, I feel it is so easy to be prodded and pushed to become, to expect, and to react at this time of year that it can challenge our ability to embrace equanimity, and, as a result, we may seek refuge in passivity.

Hi, I'm Laura.

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The holidays are rich in beauty, joy, and generosity. But they are also filled with stimulants, poking siblings, children or relatives, and societal expectations that can challenge our ability to find the quiet that allows us to truly and deeply enjoy those riches of the season.

This odd mix of chaos and beauty is why I try to challenge myself as the season begins to reinforce my practice of equanimity, but to do so without resorting to passivity. Of course, that’s far easier said than done, and I could write a whole thing about the neuroscience behind impulse and equanimity, habituations, and how what we consume can be detrimental to the ability to make those choices. (If you are curious, I actually did, in a section of The Focus Factor!)

But what it really comes down to is being gentle with ourselves and cultivating that child-like wonder that so naturally comes with the Holiday season. If we can do that, we can avoid getting caught up in the chaos of all things red, green, blue, and silver, and instead become fully invested in practice of questioning our relationship with our mind, as we allow ourselves to revel in the true beauty of the season.

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