According to Buddhism, equanimity is one of the four virtues one should cultivate to live an enlightening life. Equanimity is mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. It exemplifies the polar opposite of what many of us experience in our daily lives – anxiety, stress, and distraction. Though creating this balance isn’t easy, and can take a lot of practice and patience, here are a few ways you can welcome equanimity into your life.
Start With Small Events. When you are just developing equanimity, don’t expect yourself to be able to confront the big issues in your life straight away and remain neutral. Start with smaller issues, then slowly cultivate emotional equanimity with the bigger ones. Examples of small issues could be waiting in line, getting stuck in traffic when you are rushing somewhere, receiving nasty comments from other people, when a program isn’t functioning properly, etc. Ask yourself, are you able to stay calm and composed under such circumstances, or do you lose your cool? Pay attention to the small, little events in your life that irk you or make you want to complain to others. Each of these circumstances gives you an opportunity to practice equanimity. Don’t let these minor, external events dictate how you feel. Instead, stay centered. Once you are able to stay calm during these events, you will be able to tackle bigger events such as losing a relationship, your job, your money, etc.
Welcome All Feelings. Even though equanimity is about being undisturbed by emotions, painful experiences, or difficult situations, it doesn’t mean that you numb, suppress, or avoid your feelings. When you suppress your feelings, there is an element of non-acceptance and resistance. Equanimity is about being neutral. You accept all of your feelings and allow yourself to feel whatever arises at the moment. You don’t run away from your feelings and resist your emotions, you keep your heart open to all feelings and fully accept whatever is happening in your mind. If you worry about spending too much time on a negative emotion, try setting a timer for a minute or two where you are allowed to fully feel the emotion. Once the timer goes off, that’s your signal to begin working on acceptance and moving forward.
Practice Mindfulness. Our minds often jump from thought to thought without us even acknowledging it, keeping us in a lower state of consciousness while worrying about mundane, trivial things. Mindful meditation can help train the brain to work for us instead of against us, changing our perceptions of the world. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to minimize emotional reactivity, distraction, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, while improving emotion regulation, cognitive flexibility, resiliency, and information processing speed. Mindfulness repeats a simple four-step cycle:
1) focusing on your breath
2) getting distracted by a thought or emotion
3) stepping back and noticing the distraction
4) reflecting on the thought or emotion without judgment, and then starting again.
During the course of a given meditation, this cycle will repeat dozens of times, and each time you quite literally train yourself to notice and reflect before responding. As a result, your behaviors become reasoned, conscious responses instead of emotional ones.