Equanimity is a wonderful gift that over the years has developed from my mindfulness, compassion and insight practice. It means that when the shit hits the fan, I am less likely to panic and am more able to accept the situation as it is and see what unfolds.
This contrasts sharply with my life before mindfulness when I thought that there was a solution to every problem, regardless of how complex, if only I could think about it enough. The problem was that constantly thinking about my problems wasn’t a recipe for happiness. I like to quote Einstein and his definition of madness – “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome’ – Still, I would continue thinking about the problem for the hundredth or thousandth time, expecting a solution.
I now know in my bones that there are no solutions that can be thought up to solve the problem in hand and that even perceiving the problem as a problem, is indeed a problem! There is no point crying over spilt milk! Instead I trust that whatever happens is for the best and am curious about what is to be learned. Then opportunities present themselves, beyond the logical scope of my conscious thinking mind and situations unfold, so called problems resolve and others arise.
Oh, and this approach takes so much less effort – which is useful when you have a full schedule of teaching and are also running a business.
I feel infused with equanimity today. I have been ill with a stomach bug, which had me confined to my bed for two and a half days. These bugs seem to happen a lot more frequently now that I travel to India each year! I was overwhelmed by lethargy and a certain relaxed couldn’t care less-ness, that still hangs around today, as I travel to Manchester to spend the day with my colleagues at MAHQ.
I became ill on Saturday morning and was sure I would be better for the very important meeting I was due to attend on Monday. But I wasn’t. I was a bit agitated to begin with – it was the not knowing more than anything that I struggled with. However, once I accepted on Sunday morning that there was no way I was going to be able to travel and do a full day meeting on Monday, I was able to trust that it was for the best. I had already spoken at length to and emailed colleagues who were also attending the meeting, so a few texts and a short phone call and I was able to let go and relax back into the glorious lethargy.
And I think it was for the best, my colleagues did a wonderful job and the meeting went very well. I can see how the old me would have caused myself heaps of suffering over something that really could not be changed.
I also enjoy how my mind slows down when I am ill. A break from the habitual excited planning that I observe in my morning practice, especially at the start of a busy day. This sounds a bit of a contradiction to my statement about not thinking about problems, but it isn’t. I don’t encourage my mind to plan and indeed, when I notice planning is taking me away from the present moment, I let it be and bring myself back. My mind does the planning by itself, without me having to be involved and I have to say, when left to its own devices it comes up with some excellent ideas.
If I have an issue I need to attend to, such as this blog, I just drop the issue in to the back of my mind and then when the time comes – generally on a Tuesday morning on the way to Manchester – it writes itself. My mind is far more powerful than the narrow bandwidth involved in conscious thinking and if I can let go of the outcomes and give the whole mind free reign it generally comes up trumps.
Still I enjoyed the dull lethargy while I was ill – a break from busyness – which was probably just what I needed. I have a hectic schedule for the rest of July. I didn’t particularly enjoy the stomach cramps, but could practice breathing in and out of them, as a way of being with the experience. I was aware of small movements of my breath and my hands and seemed to be able to see in more detail than usual. It was an opportunity to look after myself and to allow myself to be looked after – to practice self-compassion.
Don’t get me wrong – I am glad to be feeling better. I am astonished at how my energy just left me, so that it was too much effort even to watch TV. I am equally astonished at how quickly it has come back, although I still feel a bit weak and bilious.
I love a quote from Pema Chodron’s book ‘Start where you are’, in which she talks about a cartoon of a miserable looking lettuce in a field. The caption is something like ‘Oscar is reborn as a lettuce again in order to overcome his fear of being eaten’. So what fears do I need to overcome in what arises today? What can I learn? I aspire to approach my life with this attitude.
So the next time the shit hits the fan, what will you do? Panic, overthink, or accept, let go of outcomes and see what emerges? It takes practice, but I heartily recommend the latter.
We explore self- compassion and equanimity as part of the Level 2: Responding with Compassion training . I am really looking forward to teaching this course at Samye Ling this year, starting later this month. I am teaching this for the first time in the format of a weekend and a five day retreat, rather than the usual three weekend format. Training in compassion is probably the most challenging of the MA courses to train in and to teach because of the inevitable strong emotions that arise. However, it is also the most transformative and it is a privilege to walk the road with fellow brave souls who are willing to engage the world with a gradually opening heart.
I am delighted to be delivering weekend one with Kristine MacKenzie-Janson and Jan Mayor and the retreat with Jane Negrych and Jan Mayor. A dream team if ever there was one!
I wonder what I will learn today!