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spiritual essayEssay 6/2013

Equanimity

 

 

In the following essays, I intend to shed light on qualities that help the seeker on his spiritual journey. Besides, they also support those who already know who they truly are by dissolving annoying automatisms in their ways of thinking and feeling.

 

Equanimity

 

Most spiritual seekers are aware of the value of equanimity and everyone wishes for more of this precious quality. True equanimity is based on trust and it is an asset. True equanimity has a lot to do with one’s attitude with regard to facts. It is based on the ability to acknowledge and accept facts as facts, the willingness to change those facts that one can change, the ability to accept those other facts that one cannot change, and on the ability to recognise the difference between both kinds of facts.[1] All this forms the base for the kind of equanimity serving the spiritual seeker.

 

From the point of view of Advaita Vedanta, equanimity consists of several components:

  • the ability to not overrate the positive aspects of life
  • a mind that is at peace with itself and the world
  • peaceful senses
  • the ability to accept the antagonism of life and
  • trust.

 

Trust

 

All this is intertwined and one promotes the other. As mentioned earlier, trust (shraddha) is fundamental to equanimity. But trust is precisely what is difficult for many people, at least if I they have not experienced an affectionate childhood that lends trust.

However, everybody trusts, or else he would not survive. Few people trust by 100%, but on the other hand, not a single person is entirely without trust. If I cross the street at a green traffic light, I trust that the cars facing the red light will stop. If I pull out my purse in a store to pay, then I trust that nobody snatches it from behind and runs away with it. If I order something in a restaurant, I trust that it is not poisoned. If I fall asleep at night, I trust that I will wake up in the morning. Actually, each one of our actions is carried by trust. But for the spiritual path, I need more than just the little quantity essential to survival. After all, I move in a direction regarding which the whole world tells me that it does not lead anywhere. I need three kinds of trust: in my own longing for truth, in life that is going to support me in my search and in the statements of those who encourage me in my longing. 

There are many methods that promise to strengthen trust. One of the easiest ones consists in truly perceiving and appreciating the amount of trust that already becomes apparent in one’s own actions now. This means that one does not focus on what is missing but on what is already there – day after day, as a meditative practice pervading one’s whole life. Hence the trust that is already there can slowly increase. And with trust increasing, so does equanimity.

 

Apparent equanimity 

However, there is also "equanimity" appearing as true equanimity, yet having little in common with it. For example:

 

Fanciful escapism – being “equanimous” because one is completely out of touch with the actual circumstances.

Comfort – being “equanimous” because otherwise one would possibly have to act

Conflict shyness – being rather “equanimous” than risking to possibly offend others

Poverty of imagination – being “equanimous” because one is unable to imagine something better than what one is facing at present (i.e. one does not need to worry about possible future difficulties, and possible positive aims are not even considered)

Disinterest – being “equanimous” because one lives on one’s own little island

Naivety – being “equanimous” because one wishes to have a positive outlook on everything, thus shutting one’s eyes with regard to what may be negative.

Then, of course, there is apparent equanimity brought about by patterns of addiction – to alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs. There is food addiction, shopping addiction, gambling addiction, Internet addiction, compulsive acts, etc.

  

Essentially, true equanimity differs from its fake counterpart by virtue of the fact that to begin with, it is an expression of freedom, while the latter is an expression of being captured in a certain behavioural pattern. Considering the above examples, it becomes obvious that equanimity attained by blanking out part of reality, is actually no equanimity at all. True equanimity takes reality fully into account; it is informed with regard to all its dimensions and faces up to it without reservation.

 So, true equanimity increases to the same extent that one is able to emotionally and mentally rise above internal (and external) restrictions and accept reality the way it is. However, first of all one should know whether the equanimity one feels is, in fact, true or not. This is rather easy to ascertain, one merely needs to ask oneself a single question: What is it that should not happen in my life by any means? And answer honestly.

The more such things come to mind, the higher the likelihood that one’s own equanimity can be considered a fake phenomenon. For example: losing one’s job, a dentist appointment, being laughed at, losing one’s holiday luggage, child/ partner/guru turns away, an empty fridge, illness, house key gone, computer broken, spot on the white blouse when applying for a new job, etc.

 

Vice versa, if virtually nothing at all comes to mind while at the same one is NOT a bubbling, happy and successful person, it is very likely that one merely blanks out all disconcerting possibilities, rather than being beyond them.

Should any of the above possibilities regarding apparent equanimity apply to oneself, one is well advised to shelve this self-deception straight away, because there is no other way of acquiring true equanimity. When leaving behind false equanimity, the motivation to develop true equanimity automatically increases. And being highly motivated is a precious asset for the seeker, because without it, one simply does not take the trouble.

Merely suffering does not suffice, as whenever suffering increases one is sorely tempted to contend oneself once again with one or the other false equanimity. A motivation is something positive, a positive guiding light: this is the direction I want to go! Originally, every spiritual seeker has got this positive guiding light; after all, he/she wants to arrive sometime and find what he/she is seeking. After all, this is why he started the search in the first place.

 

In this respect, one particular kind of apparent equanimity may surface; namely the (misunderstood) idea that the way is an end in itself.

The way being an end in itself implies that the seeker is already where he wants to reach, although he may think that he is still on the way. However, it does NOT mean that longing for the aim is wrong.

What the seeker is in search of is not separate from the seeker and his search. That’s why the way is the end in itself. But because the seeker is not really aware of it, he has to seek. And in order to keep up his search, he needs to long for this end. If he does not feel this longing, because he successfully denies it, then he is stuck in his current position. It is precisely this longing that is the only lasting motivation for recognising/understanding/realising one’s true nature. And in this sense, it is also the only lasting motivation that may help the seeker to develop true equanimity instead of settling for apparent equanimity (see essay 1, 2011, The longing for the truth).



[1] This is the simple and deeply true principle, which the so-called Equanimity Prayer of the Alcoholics Anonymous is based on.

 




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