One year ago, I was inspired to spend 2012 practicing love, meditating on the four brahma-viharas (translated as “divine abodes” or “best homes”). I was to spend three months on each:
- lovingkindness — goodwill and friendliness toward others and oneself
- compassion — often felt as a quivering of the heart, a sense of caring for the suffering of others and oneself
- sympathetic joy (and gratitude) — happiness over another’s (or one’s own) happiness
- equanimity — an inner spaciousness and an the ability to hold all the experiences of life.
The last quarter of the year was equanimity. Balance. Like-a-mountain balance, with the spaciousness of the sky.
So the irony is not lost on me that I spent most of the time feeling dispersed and dizzy.
First, a re-inflammation of ye olde sinus and inner-ear infection. What a surprise to be lying on my cot at the meditation retreat at the end of September, and to feel the pinch and pain inside my sinus, the irritation in my ear, the pressure. Just like that — snap! — and my old friend was back. I was amazed. And curious.
Then two weeks later, I banged my head so hard on the banister (as I was standing up from leaning over) that I was dizzy ever-after. Each time I lay down or sat up or moved too much, it was if I had just stepped onto a roller coaster. Whooosh, I went whirling for seconds at a time, until I found myself again.
And two weeks after that, a cold — a deep, serious cold that gave me a crackly, sultry voice and a head like a brick.
Then I lost my wallet. And then I lost all our family photos — everything digital from 2001 to today — and paid a small fortune to get them back. Orlando started school. Rom started traveling for work, and began a weekly class. I started babysitting once a week and attending my twice-a-month practice group.
I stopped running, I stopped meditating, and I started spending a whole lot of time feeling wound up and groundless.
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A mistaken belief about equanimity is one must be “above it all” or somehow untouched by the chaos of life. But the beauty of equanimity is that we find balance even in the midst of life. Equanimity means we can connect to what is happening with compassion and we can respond with wisdom. We move with life.
Some movements are more graceful than others.
In the middle of all the dizziness and sickness and wound-upness, I saw a dear friend for a type of introspective bodywork called the Rosen Method, and what came up?
Oh, just the fact that my two legs are completely different. One is strong and solid, and the other (the left one, the one I always notice when running) is small and sad. Hesitant and very quiet. If I could draw, the right leg would belong to a superhero — all defined muscle. The left leg would be a little chicken leg, much shorter than the other leg and curled inward at the tip. Unexpressed.
What do we stand on? Our own two feet.
Mine are very different. Not very balanced.
I had never seen this so clearly, but I had inklings of it for some time. Years.
During the bodywork, a lot of memories came up, and it surprised me that they were about Mica’s pregnancy and birth and infancy (which was when I first had the sinus infections, et al.). A re-experiencing in a completely quiet and held way. Just like watching my sinus infection come back, I was amazed to see what is happening in my mind/body/heart.
You could call all this — the last three months of the year — a lot. You could call it chaos.
You could also call it listening, and healing.
I realize in some way that I have been practicing equanimity all along — it is with compassion I see myself swaying and it is with wisdom that I right myself.
Balance is a verb.
Wobbling and righting, and wobbling and righting. Asking questions. Paying attention. Adjusting. Resting.
And now, these days, I am also sitting on my cushion.
I sit on my cushion, and invite the quiet. I say silently to myself:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I calm my mind.
May I be balanced.
May I be at peace.
I take my time, and when I am ready, I turn my attention to the realization that all things arise and pass away: joys, sorrows, pleasant and painful events, people, buildings, animals, nations, even whole civilizations. I let myself rest in the midst of this, and I say…
May I learn to see the arising and passing of all things with compassion and wisdom.
May be I be open and balanced and peaceful.
And then, one at a time, slowly, I begin to picture a neutral person, a benefactor, a loved one, a person with whom I have difficulty, and then myself. I picture each, and I think about them, what I do or don’t know about their lives, and I say…
This is how it is for you in your life right now.
And I notice whatever it is that arises in my heart. Am I feeling distracted? Distressed? Am I feeling sad or hopeful or afraid? Or not much of anything? And I say…
This is how it is for me in my heart right now.
May I open with balance and ease to whatever is arising is in my heart.
It is traditional in the equanimity practice to acknowledge that all beings are heirs to their own karma. As Jack Kornfield says, “All beings receive the fruits of their actions. Their lives arise and pass away according to the deeds created by them. We can care deeply for them, but in the end we cannot act for them nor let go for them nor love for them. If it is helpful in freeing the heart, you can recite” something that acknowledges this. I often say something like…
I wish you deep happiness, all while knowing that your happiness does not depend on my wishes for you, but on your own thoughts and actions. I give a little bow, and say, May you be well.
Or sometimes I say…
I care for you but cannot make your choices for you.
Then at the end, I imagine all the people together, myself included, and I say:
May we each learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.
May we rest with peaceful hearts.
May we have compassion and equanimity with all the events of the world.
Just as I wish these things for myself and all of you, I wish them for all beings, everywhere, without exception.
May it be so.
~ * ~
The following teachers have been invaluable in my practice this year. The above is based on their teachings.
Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace (book).
Kamala Masters equanimity teaching.
Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindess (book).