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Experiencing Equanimity

Experiencing Equanimity

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Published by Charles Day
Equanimity is a mental state that can accompany all negative and positive emotions.
Equanimity is a mental state that can accompany all negative and positive emotions.

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Published by: Charles Day on Feb 25, 2011
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02/25/2011

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Charles Daywww.DesMoinesMeditation.orgcharlesday1@mchsi.comWhat is Equanimity? It's a mental state that can underlie all other emotions,enabling one to accept that what is, is, no matter what one experiences,and to respond more appropriately and compassionately, especially in theface of negativity and adversity. The practice of meditation is a verypowerful way to develop equanimity.Following is an exchange of emails regarding the experience of equanimitybetween Todd, a meditation and Buddhist student, and myself. Hopefully,this exchange will facilitate a more refined understanding of the meaning of "equanimity" within the Buddhist framework.
Student:
Equanimity has always been difficult for me to completelyunderstand as part of a skillfully, active, and engaged life. It holds a senseof arbitrary, uninvolved ambivalence - neither attracted nor repulsed, notsiding with causes. How do we transcend the conceptual right and wrong,good and evil, and do we want to? I know I'm not grasping the non-dualBuddhist meaning, but it is difficult.
Charlie:
Equanimity implies a calm and peaceful recognition andacceptance of the reality of whatever is being experienced, that what is, is,in thinking, in speaking, and in acting, particularly in the face of negativity or adversity. It is one of what Buddha called the four divine virtues, along withlovingkindness, compassion, and appreciative and altruistic joy, that may or may not predominate in any given circumstance.It is not arbitrary, since it can potentially be present in any experience. It isnot nondual, since it is one of different emotional states. And it does notmean having no emotion, nor does it imply being passive, insensitive,indifferent, or detached.I think equanimity is best reflected in the classic Zen Buddhist statements,"The way is not difficult for those without preferences for their preferences"or "The way is easy for those who do not cherish their opinions." One is
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equanimous in holding and expressing one's preferences, opinions, andideas and in accepting or not accepting those of others. Answers.comdefines equanimity as "The quality of being calm and even-tempered;composure" and its opposites as "agitation, alarm, anxiety, discomposure,excitableness, upset, worry." I think that definition would have beenacceptable to the Buddha. Equanimity is a mental state that canaccompany all negative and positive thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.Equanimity appears to underlie all experience for the fully enlightenedindividual who spontaneously experiences the divine virtues and positivefeelings while transcending and overcoming negative emotional states asthey are ordinarily experienced. Negative thoughts and feelings mayoccasionally be triggered as a result of previous conditioning, but they aresimply observed as they arise and pass away. They are not resisted,indulged, or acted out in proliferating thoughts, speech, or actions, becausethere is no sense of a separate self that is attached to or identified withthem, that needs to defend or deny them. I hope this changes the way youthink about equanimity in the future.
Student:
Yes, but this is where it gets slippery. I see this issue now in "myown" thoughts and actions. One can get to a "that's the way it is" or "that isjust the unfolding." Detached and non-attached are very close in attitude.
Charlie:
Your comments still suggest that you interpret the word equanimityto mean a kind of passive, indifferent, or uncaring response. The word“detached” is sometimes used is imply such disassociation and isdistinguished from being “non-attached,” which leaves one free to have andto choose to let go of or act upon a thought, opinion, preference, or passiondepending upon whether such a response is appropriate and beneficial.These distinctions may be slippery for you, but for whatever it's worth, theyare not for me. Admittedly, semantics may blur the differencesconceptually, but experientially the differences are clear for me, even onthose occasions when my conditioned negative responses prevail.
Student:
That helped. Maybe it seems more like a passionlessness. I don'tknow. I used to have such strong convictions and now even my attitudetoward something like injustice and equality seem muted.
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