The Power of Equanimity: Finding Balance in Life
Equanimity, a state of calmness and composure, has long been revered as a virtue in many cultures across the world. It is the ability to remain centered and balanced amidst the ups and downs of life. We errantly try to create a peaceful life through faulty beliefs that we can create a peaceful world around us. However, the world will never comply to these unrealistic demands. No matter what we do, or where we go, life will throw countless, unplanned, unwanted surprises our way. Accordingly, peace comes from inner equanimity. Peace is the product of how we process this rascal world and all its unsettling events.
We refer to this inward quality as equanimity. Consequently, with equanimity, we can enjoy peace while in the middle of storms. Over the last several decades research of mindfulness has exploded. Doctors and medical clinics often include mindfulness based interventions for a number of illness, primarily focusing on stress reduction. Some researchers suggest that equanimity is “the most significant psychological element in the improvement of well-being” (Weber, 2021). Basically, mindfulness is just a vehicle for creating equanimity.
Equanimity is a state of inner peace achieved regardless of external circumstances.
What is Equanimity?
At its core, equanimity refers to maintaining an inner peace regardless of external circumstances. It is not about suppressing emotions or being indifferent, but rather about developing a deep sense of mindfulness and acceptance. Equanimity allows us to navigate through life’s challenges with grace, resilience, and a clear mindset.
The clear mindset perhaps is the most salient feature of equanimity itself. Ancient Buddhist text explain that mindfulness has four conditions: being diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, removing greed and sadness from the world (Anālayo, 2021). Since mindfulness is a practice of the mind, we can assume removing greed and sadness from the world may be interpreted “removing the greed and sadness of the world from our minds.”
Xianglong Zeng and colleagues interprets it this way, “equanimity refers to a peaceful attitude towards those bodily sensations, feeling neither greed regarding good feelings nor hatred toward bad feelings” (Zeng, et al., 2013). Equanimity is a non-judgmental practice of the mind in response to internal sensations.
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”
The Buddha’s Description of Equanimity
In the Indriya-bhavana Suttra, the Buddha describes the equanimous states as:
When seeing a form with the eye…When hearing a sound with the ear…When smelling an aroma with the nose…When tasting a flavor with the tongue…when touching a tactile sensation with the body… When cognizing an idea with the intellect, there arises in him what is agreeable, what is disagreeable, what is agreeable and disagreeable…if he wants—in the presence of what is loathsome and what is not—cutting himself off from both, he remains in equanimity, alert, and mindful (Weber, 2021).
Phillip Simmons was diagnosed with ALS at thirty-five years of age. He was told he had less than five years to live. He gracefully worked through his life challenge, learning to live with poise and coolness through the most difficult circumstances. During his final years, he wrote Learning How to Fall. His book is a spiritual classic from a person that learned how to live with equanimity while facing an early death from disease. He exhorts, “what we’re after is equanimity, the poise that allows us to accept gracefully the blessings and burdens that are beyond our control. What we’re after is the ability, regardless of circumstance, in the face of disappointment and happy surprise, in the face of tragedy and bliss, to return home to our true selves and our highest natures” (Simmons, 2021, Kindle location: 1,895).
Indifference vs. Equanimity
Markedly, the point is not to foster and attitude of indifference of inner sensations. Life is a felling experience. We need the richness of emotion in our lives. What we don’t need is the constant judgmental commentary of whether a feeling is good or bad.
Jack Kornfield, writer and teacher in the American Vipassana movement, wrote “the near enemy of equanimity is indifference. True equanimity is balance in the midst of experience, whereas indifference is a withdrawal and not caring, based on fear. It is a running away from life. Thus, with equanimity, the heart is open to touch all things, both the seasons of joy and sorrow” (1993).
Robert Augustus Masters, PhD., an integral psychotherapist explains that “the more we label our difficult emotions as negative, the greater the odds are that we’ll tend to overvalue our “positive” emotions, making too much of a virtue out of being happy, upbeat, optimistic.” He warns “we may confuse emotional flatness with equanimity and emotional dissociation with transcendence…” (Masters, 2013, Kindle Location: 957). Equanimity allows and even advocates the fullness of emotion. We just experience the richness without judgement.
The Benefits of Equanimity
Joey Weber suggests that “equanimity mediates prosocial change and mental well-being as a form of emotional regulation” (Weber, 2021). The mindful contact with emotions without judgement changes the experience of arousal. Focusing on emotions without being carried away allows for the wisdom without a maladaptive reactionary response. Catherine Juneau and her colleagues wrote that “the development of equanimity brings a new perspective on our emotions and allows for better emotional regulation” (Juneau, et al, 2020).
However, a state of equanimity provides more than just emotional regulation. A few other benefits mentioned in equanimity literature are:
- Emotional Stability: Equanimity helps us regulate our emotions, preventing us from becoming overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, or anger. By cultivating equanimity, we can respond to situations more thoughtfully and rationally, rather than reacting impulsively.
- Mental Clarity: When our mind is peaceful and equanimous, we gain clarity of thought. We can make better decisions, solve problems more effectively, and approach life with a rational and objective perspective.
- Improved Relationships: Equanimity promotes empathy and understanding in our interactions with others. By staying calm and composed, we can communicate more effectively, foster better connections, and resolve conflicts in a harmonious manner.
- Reduced Suffering: Life is full of uncertainties and challenges. Equanimity enables us to accept the inevitable ups and downs of life, reducing our attachment to the outcomes and diminishing unnecessary suffering.
- Increased Resilience: Equanimity strengthens our resilience in the face of adversity. It allows us to bounce back from setbacks, learn from failures, and adapt to change with greater ease.
Empirical Support for Equanimity and Improved relationships
Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, wrote that “there is a suggestion from a basic research study that mindfulness traits—the tendency to be aware of present-moment experience, to have an open stance toward oneself and others, to have emotional equanimity, and to be able to describe the inner world of the mind—and secure attachment may go hand in hand” (Siegel, 2020).
Basically, the more in tune we are with our emotional states the greater ability we have to emotionally attune to a partners. So, equanimity invites emotional intimacy and emotional attunement. Both essential traits for stable and healthy relationships.
Rollo May proclaimed that we need courage to experience serenity amidst the chaos. He wrote, “we refer rather to courage as an inward quality, a way of relating to one’s self and one’s possibilities. As this courage in dealing with one’s self is achieved, one can with much greater equanimity meet the threats of the external situation.” May continues, “courage is the capacity to meet the anxiety which arises as one achieves freedom. It is the willingness to differentiate, to move from the protecting realms of parental dependence to new levels of freedom and integration” (2009, Kindle location: 224).
Cultivating equanimity is no simple task. Life is disruptive on many fronts. Keeping calm composure amidst the chaos requires courage and skill. However, before proceeding, we must remember that equanimity is a state of being, but also is connected to biological traits. Basically, some people naturally achieve states of equanimity with little or no effort while others must work hard to experience fractured moments of calmness.
We must be kind to ourselves as we strive for the tranquil states of equanimity.
A Few Key Areas of Focus
- Mindfulness Meditation: One of the most effective ways to cultivate equanimity is through regular mindfulness meditation. By observing our thoughts and emotions without judgment, we develop a heightened awareness that helps us stay balanced in difficult situations.
- Acceptance and Letting Go: Practice accepting things as they are, embracing the impermanence of life. Let go of expectations, attachments, and the need for control. By relinquishing our resistance to the present moment, we can find equanimity.
- Self-Care: Engage in activities that nurture your well-being, such as exercise, spending time in nature, reading, or engaging in hobbies. Taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and mentally fosters a strong foundation for equanimity.
- Cultivate Compassion: Extend compassion and understanding not only to others but also to yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and practice self-compassion. This allows for a gentler and more equanimous approach towards life’s challenges.
- Seek Support: Connect with like-minded individuals or seek guidance from a mentor or therapist. Sharing experiences and learning from others can support your journey towards cultivating equanimity.
Kornfield encourages “even confusion and the tendency to be disconnected from life can be transformed into a wise and spacious equanimity, a wise and compassionate balance that embraces all things with peace and understanding” (1993).
Too Much Self Awareness?
As I mentioned at the opening to this section, we all have different traits and the ability to experience equanimity is strongly associated with some of our character traits. While self-awareness is a key component for developing equanimity, for some that are overly stimulated by inner feelings, perhaps, need a little less self-awareness and more external stimuli.
Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley taught that we “rearrange your environment to encourage or discourage Self-Awareness. To boost Self-Awareness, decrease distractions and choose quiet environments, which make it easier to perceive internal feelings and sensations…To decrease Self-Awareness, do the opposite: Arrange things so you have more external stimuli to focus on” (Davidson & Begley, 2012, Kindle location: 4,273).
Embrace Serenity and Balance
Equanimity is a powerful state of mind that empowers us to find peace and stability amid the chaos of life. Accordingly, by developing equanimity, we can navigate uncertain times with grace and find greater fulfillment and happiness. Embrace the serenity that comes with equanimity and discover the profound impact it can have on your overall well-being.
Davidson, Richard J.; Begley, Sharon (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live—and How You Can Change Them. Avery; 1st edition.
Kornfield, Jack (1993). A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. Bantam. Read on Kindle Books
Masters, Robert Augustus (2013). Emotional Intimacy: A Comprehensive Guide for Connecting with the Power of Your Emotions. Sounds True.
May, Rollo (1953/2009). Man’s Search for Himself. W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition.
Siegel, Daniel J. (2020). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. The Guilford Press; 3rd edition.
Simmons, Phillip (2003). Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life. Bantam; Reprint edition.
Zeng, Xianglong; Li, Mengdan; Zhang, Bo; Liu, Xiangping (2014). Revision of the Philadelphia Mindfulness Scale for Measuring Awareness and Equanimity in Goenka’s Vipassana Meditation with Chinese Buddhists. Journal of Religion and Health, 54(2), 623-637. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-014-9870-y
Zeng, X., Oei, T., Ye, Y., & Liu, X. (2013). A Critical Analysis of the Concepts and Measurement of Awareness and Equanimity in Goenka’s Vipassana Meditation. Journal of Religion and Health, 54(2), 399-412. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-013-9796-9