Equanimity is defined as “evenness of mind especially under stress.” “Equanimity” comes from the combination of “aequus” (“level or “equal”) and “animus” (“soul” or “mind”) in the Latin phrase aequo animo, which means “with even mind.”
Most often, we tend to value equanimity when things are going awry. When life gets tough, it seems appealing to find a calm place of balance within ourselves, in which to take refuge…
There is another side to this coin, however. What about when things are going great? It may be more difficult to understand the value of maintaining an even mind when one is riding high on life – but this is just as important to finding that elusive quality of inner peace.
Equanimity could be seen as a point of balance between extremes – or as a quality of abiding, and being able to calmly hold the full spectrum of our experience. When we are feeling good, it’s easy to just want to cling to that good feeling – but good feelings are as delicate as a butterfly’s wings – when clung onto, they can quickly to disintegrate. Also, the fear that the good feeling is “too good to be true” or is going to leave can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. William Blake sums it poetically: “He who binds to himself a joy, doth the winged life destroy; He who kisses joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
The truth is, of course, that all emotional states are impermanent – after all, the word “motion” is embedded right there in the word. If moods are like weather, equanimity is the atmosphere that weather arises in and passes through. The wild weather patterns in this area this time of year can be a powerful reflection of the fluctuations of our own bodies and minds.
Practicing equanimity does not mean we become boring, or cease to feel things! In a sense it is the opposite of numbing ourselves to sensations. It means that we can feel sensation arise, but not attach our minds to that sensation. Really practicing equanimity gives us access to a greater range of feeling and sensitivity, not less. One might think of equanimity as being the fulcrum at the center of a see-saw, or the point from which a pendulum swings – we are still connected to a full range of motion and experience, but our position in relation to these extremes is different.
But how does one “practice equanimity”? There are certain physical practices that can encourage this state – alternate nostril breathing and balance poses are good examples of these. Truly, anything we practice on a yoga mat is an opportunity to practice equanimity. When we have an off day or fall out of the pose, we can remind ourselves gently that the pose is a reflection of our experience of this moment, not of who we are as a person. Rather than carry that feeling of failure into the next pose, we stay with the breath and move on. The next pose might be “good” or it might be “bad” – but it won’t last more than a few breaths. If we nail every pose and feel giddy with excitement, it may be even more important to apply this wisdom. When we are feeling good and that good feeling passes, or we get an injury because we lost our equilibrium in the excitement, the pain that is apt to follow can be even more damaging than if we just felt bad to begin with! The best protocol for inner peace in any given situation, bad or good, big or small – is to keep a light but steady touch on the present moment. Know that it is passing. And know that you have the capacity to experience and enjoy a wide range of experience gracefully.