Equanimity and the Corona Virus

I was so pleased to hear from many of you after I sent last week’s practice.  It seems like a recorded meditation was really helpful for some of you and invited you to access your storehouse of joy.  What good news!

I am going to continue with the Four Immeasurable Qualities that I introduced last time.  What are these again?  Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.  I believe that the last one, Equanimity, could be helpful to help manage our current atmosphere surrounding the Coronavirus!  First, a little background on equanimity.

What is Equanimity?  The dictionary says, “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation”.

The teaching in the yoga sutras on this subject says there are 4 kinds of people:  happy, unhappy, virtuous and non-virtuous.  The sutra offers these 4 qualities to meet these different kinds of people:  we offer love (Maitri) to the happy ones, compassion (Karuna) to the sad, appreciative joy (Mudita) to the virtuous and Upekśanam to the non-virtuous.  I used only the Sanskrit because the meaning is slightly different from the Buddhist teachings:  here, it means indifference.  For me indifference doesn’t sit that well.  It could be a first step in shifting my attitude toward someone I deem non-virtuous, and it is the best I can do some days.  I would like to be able to go beyond indifference or non-judgement and into compassion. Sometimes I have the resources to do this.

Because of my background in yoga, I usually think of equanimity in the context of people I find to be challenging rather than situations.  When dealing with people I try to remember to notice my judgements, my assumptions, and strive to balance this with questions:  how did this person come to be in this situation?  What is their story?  What difficulties led them to make the choices that led to this moment?  How would I have reacted if faced with those same choices? Are we really so different? My idea is to balance my unconscious habit of judging someone with an equal amount of attention to thoughts that could lead to something like compassion, something that is more helpful to both of us.  I imagine a scale and a balance of items on each side, leading toward steadiness of the scale and of my mind.

When I transfer these ideas to the Coronavirus, I have noticed two general reactions to this latest health situation.  The first is alarm, which may lead to shopping for provisions, sticking close to news reports, shutting off contact with sick people, and worrying.  The other reaction is indifference, maybe discounting the news stories, refusing to let anything interfere with life as usual, staying relaxed about the whole thing.  These seem like the ends of the spectrum for reactions and are often both found in the same household!  “You are this way and I am that way.”

What if we apply equanimity here?  How would it be to give equal attention to both approaches?  The dictionary definition above invites us to have mental calmness in this difficult situation.  Could we find a balance between preparedness and peace of mind?  What about buying a few extra non-perishable foods, making sure to have a large vessel of water, and an extra book to read if illness does strike?  Could we calmly, lovingly, remember to wash hands more often than usual, to notice the sneezes and coughs around us, without a bunch of aversion?  We certainly cannot control anyone else’s behavior, but each of us could do our part to build up our own immune systems.  A huge factor in immune system health is stress.  Keep calm, they say, and eat your salmon and two veg!  Maybe now is your opportunity to take the extra time to rest, to calm your nervous system and allow your immune system to combat the little things so it is ready for battle if necessary.

I have another recorded meditation to offer you as well.  This one is breath-focused, to help build your vision of a healthy respiratory system. It was inspired by practices I did at Mindfulness Northwest, one of our local mediation centers.

You’ll find it on the practice recordings page (Breath Health) .  I hope you find it helpful.

If you know someone who would also enjoy these emails, please feel free to forward them or send me your loved-one’s email so I can add them to the list.

Take good care of yourselves.