In the third week of our graduate meditation course, Daryl introduced the concept of equanimity. Equanimity means maintaining a balanced mind/heart, and maintaining composure despite challenging circumstances. Equanimity develops as we gain an experiential understanding and acceptance of impermanence, primarily through regular meditation practice. We begin to recognize the limits of our control, and to draw well-being and contentment from inner resources rather than outside events.
Daryl suggested that developing equanimity will make us less vulnerable to the “eight vicissitudes” (aka the “eight worldly winds” or “eight winds or change”):
- praise and blame
- success and failure
- pleasure and pain
- fame and disregard
Without equanimity, we can get quite attached to success, pleasure, praise, and fame, becoming elated when the winds blow our way. However, we have only limited control of external circumstances, and the flip side of our elation is the discouragement or depression we feel when we experience pain, failure, blame, or disregard. In contrast, equanimity allows us to maintain an even keel no matter what’s happening.
Equanimity and Mindfulness
What’s the difference between equanimity and mindfulness? Daryl explained that we develop equanimity through mindfulness practice. That is, as we cultivate moment-to-moment openness, acceptance, and non-judgment in the presence of all experiences, equanimity emerges over time. Our tendency to react–positively and negatively–fades and is replaced by a more insightful and wise relationship to experience. As a result, we are less derailed by waves of emotion every time the winds of change switch directions.
Equanimity and Attachment
Does equanimity mean that we don’t enjoy praise or success? Of course not! But we can enjoy the experiences without getting too attached to them. If I succeed at an athletic competition or receive praise at work, I can take pleasure in the experience, while noticing my mental and emotional responses to praise and success and observing their impermanent nature. So that next week, if I fail at a competition or receive criticism at work, I can try to receive the experience without judging it as awful; see that this, too, is part of life; and again try to keep some perspective on my mental and emotional responses to failure and criticism. Equanimity will allow me to get through the good and bad times without as much turmoil.