Editor’s Note: The following is the last in a series of posts by Nora Murphy about the “10 paramis,” or qualities of heart-mind. With these posts, she’ll take an informal, personal approach to each of the paramis, in an effort to reveal the simple, everyday lesson in each.
Equanimity and the summer sun are rushing past and I can’t seem to hold on to either one.
Yet, equanimity is the last of the ten paramis and sooner or later I’m going to have to come up with something to share about it for this series.
What does equanimity conjure up when you hear the word? Balance, ease, acceptance?
Good for you! But I’m just not feeling it.
Even the word ‘equanimity’ scares me a little—just trying to pronounce it causes my stomach to tighten. Forget turning it into an adjective—equanimous—super tongue twister. The original Pali word is upekkha and that’s not much better.
Pronunciation is the least of my troubles with equanimity.
First off, I had hoped to finish this series on the paramis before Kamala Masters returned to Minnesota to lead the annual June TCVC retreat with Steven Armstrong. That’s because at last year’s retreat, Kamala inspired me to explore the paramis in daily life. But she and Steve have come and gone and I missed my deadline, even though I have written and re-written this essay on equanimity half a dozen times. As one dharma friend noted recently, “Don’t you find it ironic that of all the paramis, equanimity is the one that you’ve struggled with the most?”
Yes, she’s right, but am I smiling? No! Ever since June when I started writing this piece, I can’t find equanimity anywhere. Only its opposite. Everywhere I turn, I see clinging to opinions, to strong points of view, and to cherished emotions and storylines.
OK, so of course the ‘trick’ is to be…what the hell…equanimous with these clingy feelings, thoughts, and emotions. If I welcomed all these guests into the heart-mind rather than push them away or grasp at them, I could find moments of space, relief, and of course, equanimity. Right?
Sure, you betcha!
But I vowed to finish this series, so even in this frazzled and humbled state of heart and mind, I will share a few tidbits I’ve learned about the sublime state of equanimity.
The Buddha described equanimity as an ability to accept everything without reacting, “like the earth”:
“Rahula, develop meditation that is like the earth, for then agreeable and disagreeable sensory impressions will not take charge of your mind. Just as when people throw what is clean and unclean on the earth—feces, urine, saliva, pus, or blood—the earth is not horrified, humiliated, or disgusted by it; in the same way, agreeable and disagreeable sensory impressions will not take charge of you mind when you develop meditation like the earth.
In the Buddhist Studies class at Common Ground last fall Mark Nunberg shared the traditional phrases used to cultivate the divine abode of equanimity. They go something like:
“This is a lawful universe.
Everything is unfolding according to causes and conditions.
Still, I care.
May I relate to this changing world with wisdom and ease.”
Practicing these phrases offers a taste of what it would be like to live without responding to everything that enters the sense gates. That’s because when said with commitment and faith, the traditional equanimity phrases give rise to a connective, yet accepting energy.
For me, this energy is a soothing balm—like lotion on dry parched winter skin.
Now that we’re inside a long hot summer, equanimity probably feels a little different. The relief is still there, but it’s probably more like water gently showering the potted flowers in my back yard.
Either way—lotion on dry skin or water on parched earth—the energy of equanimity is a soft, accepting “Aaaaahhhhh.”
Equanimity spreads this relief, sprouting invisible roots that ground us. No matter, what’s going on around us, this rooted force of equanimity remains balanced. And from this place of gentle strength, it lets us connect with the whole earth with easy open-heartedness.
It doesn’t cause harm or interfere. It touches everywhere equally. Just like water flowing gently out of a wide-spouted watering can, equanimity showers its gentle attention everywhere evenly so the natural radiance of each heart and the whole world can unfold, even bloom.
But of course having a mental idea of equanimity is not the real thing and as I said at the beginning, I’ve been grasping and interfering at life rather than experiencing the gentle relief of equanimity this summer. So as I continue this investigation, I’m going to try something else—when equanimity is present, I’ll notice that; when it isn’t, well then I’ll notice that, too. Aaaaahhhh!
I close by sending out a wish that all beings experience lots of equanimity in these last days of summer!