Equanimity: as firm as a mountain

If your mind becomes firm like a rock
and no longer shakes
In a world where everything is shaking
Your mind will be your greatest friend
and suffering will not come your way. Buddhist poem

Upekkha (Equanimity) is one of the four Brahma-viharas or heavenly abodes. Upekkha is the quality of remaining stable in the midst of everything. Words often used in association with equanimity include acceptance, patience, and stability.

Most of us want to have a mind that is our greatest asset. Equanimity is defined as the mind that doesn’t shake.

Last week, my treasured iMac stopped functioning. I am completely dependent on this beautiful and useful machine and I spend most of my hours with it. I felt helpless, I have not memorized any of my passwords for the bank, email… my website – it’s all in there. I spent the next 7 hours painfully recreating them, and getting an appointment at the genius bar. By late afternoon I felt I could function normally, working on my iPad. I woke up the next day to discover that the iMac was working like nothing had happened! I wasn’t sure whether to rejoice or to get frustrated about how frustrated I was.

Equanimity describes an openness to experience, without being lost in reactions. Without equanimity we might demand that happiness occur as we think it should, rather than staying connected and loving with things as they are.

When we care, we try to help, but we can’t always alleviate pain and like this example. There lived a wealthy merchant named Anathapindika who was a great benefactor of the Buddha and he provided capital for many of his relatives to start businesses. But Anathapindika had a relative who was a spendthrift, repeatedly asked for more and Anathapindika provided. One day he said “Enough!” The relative continued his ways, became destitute and died. Anathapindika was distraught and asked the Buddha, “Should I have given him more?” The Buddha responded that Anathapindika did what he could with pure intention, but he could not control another’s actions.

Even when things don’t turn out the way we want, equanimity instils the mind with a calmness.

Equanimity is not indifference or withdrawal but accepting the world as it is, including pain. But while suffering is part of this world that is dominated by ignorance – it engages and responds anyway.

As the teaching goes:

Just as a rocky mountain is not moved by storms, so sights, sounds, tastes, smells, contacts and ideas, whether desirable or undesirable, will never stir one of steady nature, whose mind is firm and free.

I read about a Western teacher who traveled to India. Upon arrival, she needed local clothes, so she bought material and went to a tailor. He took her measurements and said to come back next week. When she returned, the clothes were not ready, but the tailor said “Come back tomorrow.” Indians or those who have spent time there recognize this. Each day she would visit the tailor, and each day he said “Tomorrow.” She realized that tomorrow does not mean the same thing in each culture. If you didn’t practice equanimity, you would have been on the first plane out, she said.

Many expectations will not be fulfilled. When we are disappointed, it is an excellent opportunity to examine the experience by turning inward and looking at the one who is disturbed. In this way, it is possible to reconnect with the open and clear nature of mind.

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