During my recent New Year's meditation retreat, I learned the spiritual definition of the word, equanimity.
Sharon Salzberg, one of our teachers at the retreat, and now a good friend, provides this beautiful spiritual explanation of equanimity in her book, Love Your Enemies:
Equanimity is the spacious stillness of mind that provides the ground for the boundless nature of the other three mind states of enlightenment: loving kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy.
This radiant calm enables us to ride the waves of our experience without getting lost in our reactions. Equanimity, or balance of mind, is in many ways the foundation of the other three boundless states. It is the unspoken wisdom that allows us to broaden our caring beyond our own inner circle, making the practices of loving kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy true expressions of a generous spirit.
Without equanimity, we might offer friendship only when our offering was acknowledged and appreciated, or only when the person responded in kind.
We might offer compassion to ourselves only when we weren’t overcome by pain, and offer compassion to others only when we weren’t overcome by their suffering. And we might offer sympathetic joy only when we did not feel threatened or envious.
When we cultivate equanimity, our tremendous capacity to connect with others can blossom, for we don’t feel the need to reject or cling to anything that happens in life.
The foundation of equanimity is reflecting on what are called, in Buddhist teachings, the eight vicissitudes, or eight worldly conditions: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute- the inevitable ups and downs of life. The eight vicissitudes make up the very fabric of life, true for us all, not just for some.
Recognizing and accepting this reality provide the largest possible context for developing loving kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy.
In equanimity practice we begin by repeating the phrases with a neutral person in mind, then a benefactor, and so on through the sequence, finally ending with ourselves.
Possible phrases would be:
Things are as they are.
I care about you, yet I can’t control how your life will evolve.
All beings are the owners of their actions; their happiness and unhappiness depend upon their actions, not upon my wishes for them.