I taught a session this weekend on equanimity. A definition of equanimity that I like is ‘a warm engagement with the world, without being troubled by it’. This counters the assumption that equanimity is cold or unfeeling. The opposite is true, as we continue to practice mindfulness and compassion, we grow to engage more and more warmly with the world, embodying a gentle friendship towards our moment by moment experience.
Clearly, we are living in troubling times. The ‘without being troubled by it’ means engaging skilfully, without reactivity and without becoming overwhelmed. This takes practice and the cultivation of qualities, such as strength and wisdom, but essentially it is common sense. If we become overwhelmed by what is happening, we are disempowering ourselves and then we are in no position to care for ourselves or for those around us.
Consider how much footage of distressed, dying and grieving people we need to expose ourselves to? I haven’t watched any, exactly because I don’t want to become overwhelmed. However, I do know enough about the situation so as to enable me to respond with compassion.
In order to not be overwhelmed we can cultivate qualities, such as joyfulness, by practicing gratitude and appreciation for all the good things in life. There are many good things in all of our lives, but often, and especially in times of difficulty, we stop noticing them. The daily practice of gratitude and appreciation is a discipline, but the resulting cheerful attitude to life is priceless – especially in the face of troubling times.
The flavour of equanimity is captured in the serenity prayer:
Please grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This is good advice!
I love my work and I especially love the people that I work with. We have been discussing between us how we can continue to teach and support people through the current coronavirus pandemic. Some things are already changing, such as a switch to online teaching, which I talk about more below.
Last week Kristine and I were talking on the phone and both came up with the same idea to support people who were ill, fearful or isolated at this time – a daily online sit, followed by a cup of tea and a chat – free for anyone to attend – every evening from 7-8pm. Here is the link if you want to join us this evening or any evening throughout the crisis.
I was delighted that we were both thinking along the same lines. When we shared this idea with the rest of our colleagues, they were enthusiastic to help. I think we were all leaping at the change to do something to help, in a situation where we were perhaps feeling somewhat helpless. In the serenity prayer it talks about the ‘courage to change the things I can’, but frankly this took no courage, and it was a relief to do something that might make a difference.
This last weekend I have been teaching the second compassion weekend of the first year of the University of Aberdeen’s MSc in Mindfulness, which is run in partnership with the Mindfulness Association. It was quite a different experience from usual because we delivered the weekend online rather than in person, as the University had cancelled all off campus events due to the coronavirus. However, it worked surprisingly well. Thankfully we all have some experience of teaching online, mainly due to the weekly online sit and monthly online teachings for members and monthly online CPD teachings for teacher members.
We shared quite deep practices, such as tonglen, working with the inner self-critic and aspiring dissolving and equalising. Sharing about the practices happened quite freely and with more people contributing to the sharing than usual, via the chat box. And more in depth enquiry was engaged with as usual in one to one conversations between the tutor and some of the participants. It was clear from this that the practices landed well and that there were the same significant moments of insight and growing understanding that we would expect from delivering this weekend in person at Samye Ling.
At the same time Alan and Jacky were delivering a mindfulness weekend at Samye Ling, which we hadn’t cancelled. However, we did give the participants the option to attend the course online. Most people attended the weekend in person and got a lot from it, and a handful who were unable to attend in person benefitted from attending the course online from the comfort of their own home. So, thankfully, we were able to connect with everyone who wanted to attend.
We will see how the next weeks and months unfold, but we will be offering an online option for our courses, wherever we can, going forwards, as Alan and Jacky did this weekend. Alternatively, we will switch courses entirely online as Choden, Fay, myself and Graeme from the University did this weekend. Thank goodness for technology.
This week I am happy that we are launching an online compassion course. It has taken some time to get to this point and now I know why. An online compassion course is what is needed now! Ten weekly emails including videos of teachings by Choden, Alan and myself and with weekly short formal and daily life practices. The first few weeks are all about building inner resources from which to face that which is difficult. Quite apt. The link to sign up for this course will be in this week’s weekly member’s digest. For just £10 you can become a member and join our monthly teaching practice and receive weekly information.
So, I urge everyone to practice equanimity. Can we engage warmly and cheerfully with whatever life brings our way? Pleasant or unpleasant? Can we cultivate openness and curiosity and each take our opportunities to make our corners of the world a better place? If we feel overwhelmed or reactive, can we pause and practice gratitude and appreciation, for whatever good thing are present? There is always something good, even at the worst of times. Can we ground and draw on the strength and stability of a teacher that inspires confidence in us? Body like a mountain. And then engage warmly again?
Then at the end of the day, why not login and practice with us, make a nice cup of tea and join us in a chat!
I look forward to seeing you there!