When I began on this yogic path, the most difficult thing for me to grasp was the concept of equanimity. This is the ultimate goal of any yoga practice, learning to be ok with life, no matter what it throws at you, the good AND the bad, the gain AND the loss.
All yoga practices are geared at teaching us to develop equanimity by cultivating “sattvic” minds, minds that are free of judgement or preference. This is why, in asana practice, we twist ourselves into challenging shapes and learn to balance on arms, heads and hands, what we are ultimately learning is to remain calm and centered in even the most challenging physical positions.
But what about off the mat? For most of us a sattvic state of mind is fragile and fleeting at best. It’s easy to feel centered and at peace when things are going our way but what about when we are sick, under financial stress or devastated by the loss of someone we love?
My father in law died a couple of months ago. It was a challenging time for my husband and I, hour after hour we spent in the hopsital trying to navigate medical and financial decisions while at the same time trying to make my father-in-law as comfortable as possible. One day after 24 hours straight at the hospital I ran home to take a shower. I took a moment to sit in my garden and I noticed things. I felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I saw the bees and the birds busily darting flower to flower, the sky clear and blue and the clouds floating peacefully overhead. Things were stressful in my life, but the beautiful intricacies of the world remained exactly the same, completely untouched and untarnished by the stress I was experiencing. This actually brought me a stange sense of calm and comfort. For that moment, I was able to step out of my personal struggle to see the bigger picture of the world. It helped me put things in perspective. It made me feel supported and safe.
Developing equanimity, like any other skill, takes practice. I can’t say I have mastered it, but what I have already learned is that equanimity cannot be achieved by disconnecting or ignoring difficult situations and emotions, the practice comes in learning to ACCEPT all of it. Unshakeable internal calm can only come from developing an open, loving acceptance of EVERYTHING life throws at us; an unshakeable trust that everything is exactly as it should be. Meditation teacher and author Jack Kornfield calls equanimity a “radical acceptance of life.” He believes equanimity comes from learning to be comfortable with not knowing how things will turn out.
In life we experience all kinds of things—pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disgrace. We are conditioned to grasp at those things that feel pleasant and to push away those that are unpleasant. While those reactions seem natural and inescapable, the truth is that pushing and pulling against life makes us feel tossed about from one extreme to the other, afraid and out of control. Developing equanimity calms the wild fluctuations of the mind. It is only with a calm mind that we can fully absorb what happens to us and, in that way, learn to understand and enjoy life more deeply.