This past week marked the midpoint between summer and winter – the Equinox. These moments of balance, or equanimity, are rare, only occurring twice in a 365-day year. Similarly, as individuals, we are rarely in perfect balance.
On the Buddhist path, one aspiration is to practice equanimity toward self and others. In an ideal world, we would also have equal regard for our enemies, family, and friends. Equanimity is one of the four Immeasurable Qualities, along with love, compassion and appreciative joy. From the foundation of equanimity, we could then aspire to extend compassion, love and appreciative joy to all beings.
Our tendency to prefer our loved ones subtly reinforces our preference for self over others: I might tend to this sick child because she’s part of my community, but not the child, over there, who I don’t know.
The Thesaurus app tells me that
I try to get myself calm and serene before offering support to other folks. I do this by spending time alone, meditating, practicing āsana, and through teaching public and private sessions. This might sound confusing, because the last two practices are about serving others and I just said that I need to steady myself to prepare for this.
What I’ve learned in the laboratory of my life, is that sometimes I feel more resourced when I am giving to someone else. Some days this helps me step over myself and recognize my troubles in their true perspective, relative to my life and to all of life.
However, I sometimes witness myself losing my sense of self when I am preoccupied with someone else’s troubles. I am a mom, and I am so driven to help my children find happiness, that I can lose my own emotional balance. Sometimes this shows up as sleeplessness, restlessness, or just an overall helpless feeling.
As usual, we need to pause and reflect regularly, to find ways to process what we find, and maybe seek support to take that next step. When it comes to my tendency to parent in my sleep, my best next step is to do nothing outwardly and instead focus on coming back to my own needs.
Another way to grow equanimity is by using our bodies to help regulate our capricious minds. For an embodied equanimity experience, consider turning to some mindfulness exercises, also known as feeling what’s happening in your body:
* Lie on your back and get comfortable. Next, feel your body’s contact with the earth. Really get specific about each part, how and where it’s touching. Continue to draw your mind into your back body. Notice how much awareness is there, in your backside, and try to balance it with front body awareness.
* Next, draw an imaginary line down the center of your body and feel the left and right sides. Can you bring continuous, equal awareness to each side?
* Now we divide the body into upper and lower halves. Where does your attention usually go? Can you find that rare moment of balance?
* Lastly, to explore in a more subtle way, notice your experience of outer and inner awareness. Are there ways you can increase your inner awareness, even though your nervous system is going to emphasize outer attention, so as to keep you safe?