The Enlightening Mat: Stretching Your Equanimity Muscle



What is Equanimity?

Equanimity is a word thrown around in Buddhist circles that makes me run straight for the dictionary. Nevertheless, no matter how many times I read the definition, it never sticks because the word "equanimity" doesn't inhabit my daily vocabulary or resonate with my life experience.

I'd like to say that over time I might be able to embrace it with continued usage; however, what I've discovered is that the words you choose to think and speak play a key role in building the neural connections in your brain. Your mind is essentially a picture making machine, and if a word doesn't conjure up a image then you might never make the connection. What I'm suggesting is that if a word doesn't connect imagery in your head to feelings in your heart, then why not find another word or phrase that can better capture its meaning and use it instead.


The definition for "equanimity" in Websters is "evenness of mind especially under stress." This explains its meaning but falls far short from the real Buddhist concept. In Buddhism, equanimity is a poor English translation of words used by Buddha that actually mean "to see with patience" or "to stand in the middle of all this." Together these ideas describe the concept of using your power of observation to see things but not get caught up in what you see. Instead you stay centered, practice loving kindness, and observe without evaluating, making judgments, or generating unhealthy responses.

A person in this state of mind has a vast sense of caring for others that is not grasping for answers, giving advice, finding solutions, or changing conditions. More importantly, a person practicing equanimity is not completely detached or aloof, rather they are fully heart present and accepting everything that arises as meaningful.

Look for Your Own Words

While looking for my own phrasing of "equanimity," I was reading the Hua Hu Ching, a Taoist book, and came across a passage that encapsulated this concept in a way that created the picture I needed to form in my brain. 

The first practice is the practice of undiscriminating 
virtue: take care of those who are deserving; also, 
and equally, take care of those who are not.

When you extend your virtue in all directions without
discriminating, your feet are firmly planted on the
path that returns to the Tao.

"Undiscriminating virtue." I totally dig that phrase. There is something about the word "undiscriminating" that paints a picture of letting everything enter my heart -- being non-selective. In addition, "virtue" has all these connotations of being pure of heart. Synonyms for "virtue" might be faith, generosity, kindness, and love. Putting my own spin on these words, when I practice equanimity ("to see with patience") in the midst of challenging situations, I might say something like this silently to myself: 

You have your path, and I have undiscriminating faith in your process.

If I take this kind of equanimity to the streets, what would it look like in action? First I would make a neutral observation by looking at only the facts of a situation and setting aside all judgments and evaluations. Next I would silently say my phrase of equanimity in my head so as keep my heart open to the experience.

Observation: My friend drank eight beers at the party.
You have your path, and I have undiscriminating faith in your process.

Observation: The man in the checkout line at the grocery store said "shut up" to his son.
You have your path, and I have undiscriminating faith in your process. 

Observation: My co-worker came to work at 9:00 am, and the meeting was at 8:00 am.
You have your path, and I have undiscriminating faith in your process.

Observation: The neighbor across the street was charged with assault.
You have your path, and I have undiscriminating faith in your process.

Observation: My partner has an outstanding debt of $20K.
You have your path, and I have undiscriminating faith in your process.

If I wanted to really stretch my equanimity muscle, I could dig even further into my observations through the 10-step Lemonade Mantras process and uncover my judgments so as to reprogram my thinking into a short positive affirmation. What I might end up whittling this original equanimity phrase down to is an easy positive affirmation that encompasses all my thoughts and feelings about "undiscriminating virtue." Something that is simple to remember and can be said quickly like this:

I trust a heart awakening.

If my mind has become more tolerant and patient, I owe the majority of this skill to routinely practicing Lemonade Mantras. The Lemonade Mantras 10-step process opens your heart and mind to seeing the bigger picture and re-frames your judgments in a way that creates uncertainty in your belief system. Over time you naturally become more patient and understanding by repeatedly seeing that the storyline in your head is only one perspective and not always completely accurate.

To learn how to make factual observations that leave out all judgments and evaluations and discover more about the Lemonade Mantras process, be sure to  download a FREE copy of my ebook Lemonade Mantras here and read Chapter 1.  

Practice Equanimity on the Yoga Playground

"Undiscriminating virtue" like what I've described might seem impossible. Especially if you have a long, complicated history with certain people. However, equanimity is a practice and a work in progress. In fact, three years ago I was struggling with simple tolerance for other people let alone genuinely caring about their personal outcomes. The playground and laboratory that helped me grow and stretch my equanimity practice -- my "undiscriminating virtue" muscle -- is Bikram yoga

The extreme conditions of the Bikram yoga classroom such as heat, humidity, length of time, profuse sweat, strange smells, distracting dialogue, lack of air circulation, harsh lighting, and personal space issues, all create uncomfortable and sometimes seemingly unbearable circumstances that test your equanimity. It's like a dress rehearsal for your worst day. By choosing to put myself in emotionally and physically stressful conditions over and and over again, gradually I learned to adapt and train my mind to practice "undiscriminating virtue" with other people in the room such as the teacher having a bad day, the guy standing next to me making loud noises, the woman who finds fault with everything, etc.

Maybe in the beginning your mind will choose fight or flight options such as complaining or daydreaming during a yoga class, but the more you do Bikram yoga the more you see that it is an incredible opportunity to practice equanimity ("to see with patience") when it's not easy to do so. If you are able to do it under the strenuous conditions of the Bikram yoga classroom, then it's more likely you will practice "undiscriminating virtue" outside in your daily life with ease and finesse when things feel completely out of control.

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures.  

1 comment:

  1. This is another one of your posts that has special resonance for me.


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