It’s not uncommon to experience a negative reaction to what we encounter in the different environments we frequent today. The list is not small: noise, difficult relationships, litter on the streets, smog, contaminated waterways, crime, traffic jams, greenhouse gas, orbiting space debris, and more. Even conversations with friends and family are flooded with the ecological issues that set us off. Yet little is spoken about how to turn these upsetting experiences into assets that bolster personal equanimity, the leadership characteristic that helps us to resolve and make peace with what we face.
Some will ask, “What is equanimity, and why is it so important?” Others may assume they know what it is, choose to ignore it, and deal with life unconsciously. The Macmillan English dictionary tells us the word “equanimity” means a calm mental state when you deal with difficult situations. That reminds me of the saying, “let cooler heads prevail.” If we check Wikipedia, we find that equanimity was shared by the Buddha as one of the seven enlightenment factors, meaning not being lustful or adverse to life events. Also, as a former management instructor, I’ve heard experienced students agree that it’s necessary to have leaders who demonstrate and use equanimity in making important decisions and taking action.
Obviously, this individual quality is one of the most important resources for humans to have and manage. If we use it intelligently, we maintain our sanity and realize greater peace, for the more equanimity we have, the fewer problems we have because we’re not reacting, we’re responding in a balanced way in making and carrying out wise decisions. People appreciate and rally around such behavior. Its inherent wisdom and compassion are contagious. Life is better for everyone, and we may even live longer.
The problem, however, is maintaining and applying equanimity during the difficult and disturbing situations we encounter. For example, what do we do when we’re standing in the checkout line at Walmart after a long day, and the children in front of us are screaming and crying; we’re stuck in a traffic jam in places like San Francisco, Mexico City, or London; we find trash in our neighborhood or on our front lawn; we see the news about the destruction of natural resources; we run into trouble with economical failure, giving care to those we love, or consoling our best friend who has just lost his or her job? These are but a few of the situations that give us pause to look inside ourselves and use equanimity to cope with what is in front of us. Of course, some will say, “Yeah, right….but how?”
This is a difficult question to answer. While I profess to be a lifelong student of equanimity, I know that the best experts in this field are not always successful. Even an old and seemingly unshakable Zen monk kicked the dog that had peed on him when he thought no one was around to see. As humans, we’re not infallible. Here are a few tips, however, that I’ve found useful over the years:
a. First, realize that equanimity, while mental, is a very feeling-based activity. So, men, get out of your heads and into your feelings.
b. Understand that the situation confronting you is causing an unpleasant sensation to arise somewhere in your body. It could be in your abdomen, your stomach, your heart area, your back. Find it, focus on it, understand that it’s out of balance, and stay with it until it regains a neutral feeling. (For very difficult situations, we do need to realize that it may take more than just a little while to calm down. Don’t be afraid to ask for psychological help when it’s something that doesn’t seem to change with practice.)
c. Make a decision and take action when you feel balanced. Sometimes focusing on the feeling and allowing it to become tranquil by itself is the only thing you need to do. On the other hand, if it’s an emergency situation, you may have to do the best you can before you regain complete stability. In that case, after the situation is over with, return and focus on the feeling of stress in your body until it’s neutral again.
d. As you successfully “keep your cool” by concentrating on the unpleasant feeling, regaining your equanimity, and taking action with each life event, you’ll find that such practice will make you stronger and more self-confident.
e. Finally, if you wish to really enhance your capability to use equanimity, enroll in a mindfulness course and look at www.mindful.org for more advice and assistance.
Maintaining equanimity in the face of need is one of our best resources. Instead of “going bananas” and creating chaos, we can help ourselves and others. Practicing the small technique I’ve given above, or those we learn in classes and professional settings, can inspire more of us to take a hand in resolving ecological problems at the individual, family, community, state, national, and/or international levels.
Strong, personal equanimity spirits innovations that help countless beings, especially those living in the natural habitats around us. Why not consciously reinforce and use this valuable resource as wisely as you can every day, beginning with yourself and then with others? It’s free.