Equanimity:
Even-Mindedness

When we lost our brother, Martin, in 2020, his beautiful qualities were acknowledged and praised by many. He was even-tempered and cheerful, thoughtful and kind, peace-loving and helpful. In the throes of his painful final illness he showed consideration for others, including all the hospital staff, and concern for the people he would leave behind. His last words, in true selflessness, were God Bless All. Pondering on a virtue that might be ascribed to Martin to sum up so many admirable qualities, equanimity came to mind. Equanimity is the quality of being calm, even-tempered and non-reactive, especially in the face of difficulties.
          The term “equanimity” first entered the English language in the seventeenth century. It is derived from the Latin “aequanimitas,” which means “aequus” (equal) and “animus” (mind). The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as “calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation”. The French call it equanimite, meaning evenness of mind. The Sanskrit term is Upeksha. Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, exploring the word upeksha in The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, included in its meaning "non-attachment, non-discrimination, even-mindedness. Upa means 'over,' and iksh means 'to look.' It is the ability to look over the whole situation and to see the bigger picture.
          It is difficult to capture the true essence of equanimity in any language. Equanimity is a myriad of virtues in one package. Reactivity needs to be eliminated if equanimity is to be maintained. A disposition to look favourably upon the behaviour of others is an antidote for frictions in life, to look at people with fresh eyes every time we meet them, rather than harbouring aversion towards perceived enemies. Evenness in relationships is the key. Excess attachment to people and things leads to clinging and a fear of loss. Equanimity is non-reactive. It is the capacity to not be unduly caught up with what happens to us. Its inner calm, acting like ballast in a ship, ensures stability and endurance in turbulence.
          Non-attachment is based on acceptance of what is happening in the present moment. The mind rests in an attitude of balance and an acceptance of situations, and of people, as they are. An awareness of impermanence facilitates the letting go of what cannot be changed, Instead of controlling the uncontrollable we reach a state of acceptance of transience in all things including relationships.
          In her book Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron, Tibetan Kagyu teacher, said "To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion before it hardens into grasping or negativity. The Buddha taught that we are constantly being pulled in one direction or another by things or conditions. These include praise and blame, pleasure and pain, success and failure, fame and disrepute. The wise person, the Buddha said, accepts all without approval or disapproval. Rather than striving directly towards the ideal of balance and non-reactivity we can turn our attention to how our balance is lost and how reactivity is initiated. We get distracted and excited by pleasant objects or situations, or worked up into a state of agitation when confronted by unpleasant objects or situations. When we become aware of the obstacles, and can let go of them, we can aspire to attaining equanimity, through practices that cultivate calm, concentration, and mindfulness.
          With acceptance of situations equanimity is strengthened. Before reflecting deeply upon the qualities, and essential ingredients, of equanimity I had considered it to be an innate virtue, or a birth-given trait. I had considered equanimity to be for the most part unattainable, that some people, like our brother Martin, were blessed with the quality. But equanimity will grow if we are open to it and to the virtues which are its foundation stones.

Fran Brady
Eustace Street Quaker Meeting.


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