June 14, 2011

Notes from June 12 talk on Equanimity

Dear Friends,

Here are my notes for the talk I gave Sunday on Equanimity, which I'm sending in the hope they might be of some help to some of you.

Best wishes,

Equanimity: a habit of mind that is only rarely disturbed under great strain contrast to composure.
Composure: controlling emotional or mental agitation by an effort of will

Equiniminity is not a dry neutrality or cool aloofness. Equanimity produces a radiance & warmth of being.
The English word "equanimity" translates two separate Pali words used by the Buddha. Each represents a different aspect of equanimity.

1) Upekkha, meaning "to look over." the ability to see without being caught by what we see; gives rise to a great sense of peace.

Upekkha implies sense of ease from seeing a bigger picture. Colloquially, meant (in Pali) "to see with patience," or "understanding." Eg, when we don't take insults personally, we're less likely to react. This "big picture" gives us space to feel our emotions, not get lost in them.

It could be seen as grandmotherly love: she clearly loves her grandchildren but, thanks to her experience, is less likely to be caught up in the drama of her grandchildren's lives.

2) Tatramajjhattata, a compound made of simple Pali words. Tatra, meaning "there," sometimes refers to "all these things." Majjha means "middle," and tata means "to stand or to pose." Put together, the word becomes "to stand in the middle of all this." Being in the middle" refers to balance, remaining centered in the middle of whatever is happening. It comes from inner strength or stability, like a ballast keeps a ship upright in strong winds.

I had the opportunity to help lead a retreat for women in prison with Wendy Palmer, author of The Intuitive Body,  and a 4th level black belt in Aikido. She describes Aikido as a method of entering on: 1) breathing, 2) sensing body's energy field, 3) gravity. If you aren't centered, you cant't do anything. The art of both Aikido and equanimity is always returning to center, or 'balance.' As equanimity develops, we feel it more continuously in balance.

Equanimity is also seen as protection from "eight worldly winds": 1) praise and blame, 2) success and failure, 3) pleasure and pain, 4) fame and disrepute. If attached to success, praise, fame, pleasure, we suffer when the winds of life change direction. For example, success is wonderful, but if it leads to arrogance and failure really hurts. Clinging to praise becomes conceit. If our well-being is independent of these eight winds, we are more likely to remain on an even keel.

Look for supports for equanimity in: 1) virtue (confidence of blamelessness), 2) faith (based on experience & wisdom), 3) steady mind (thru practice), 4) sense of well-being (savoring life's goodness), 5) wisdom (the big picture: karma, understanding when equanimity absent/present), 6) insight (anicca & letting go), 7) freedom (from reactivity: noticing as equanimity increases)

We can develop equanimity in life using these supports. As a Factor of Awakening, the practice is to check for equanimity during meditation (or life), "Is equanimity present?" As with all Seven Factors of Awakening, this checking is often all it takes to evoke the factor.

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