In a fast-paced world with many moving pieces, we may struggle to find peace and balance. This is especially true when we care deeply about and are strongly impacted by the people and events in our lives. How can we prevent burnout and hold healthy boundaries without becoming apathetic? Cultivating equanimity allows us to keep our compassion while maintaining our footing and staying calm through the chaos.
What is Equanimity?
Equanimity is a state of mental and emotional calmness and composure, even in the face of challenging situations. When we cultivate and practice equanimity we are objective, patient, centered, and wise. Rather than reacting or catastrophizing, we can accept things as they are without taking them personally. This helps us to cope with all the ups and downs of life in a healthy way.
How Do We Cultivate Equanimity?
We can begin to cultivate equanimity through wise attention and mindfulness. One aspect of this is nonattachment. Nonattachment comes from releasing the need to control people or situations in our lives. It is associated with increased empathy, kindness, self-actualization, and mental well-being. Nonattachment is based not on apathy or fixation, but on acceptance of reality. It is the balancing of emotions.
Mindful eating is a way of practicing mindfulness and therefore cultivating equanimity. Notice whether you experience strong cravings or aversions to certain foods. Also, stay present while you are eating and notice how certain foods affect you physically and emotionally. For example, you may feel excited or energetic while eating processed foods or foods high in sugar but may experience a “crash” afterward. Also notice how quickly or slowly you eat, and whether this is related to your emotional state.
Do One Thing At a Time
When we have many things to do and limited time in which to do them, multitasking seems like an obvious solution. The trouble, though, is that multitasking doesn’t actually work very well; it increases stress levels and decreases performance. Being fully present with the task at hand and focusing on one thing at a time creates a calmer, more peaceful mind, improves productivity, and cultivates equanimity.
Allow Your Feelings
When we experience equanimity, we do not ignore our feelings, but we are also not controlled or consumed by them. Practice being aware of your emotions and the physical sensations of your body. See if you can notice these feelings and sensations as a neutral observer. It is perfectly fine for the feelings to be present in your body and mind. They do not need to be banished, but neither do they need to be running the show. They can simply exist.
Meditation is another way of practicing mindfulness and cultivating equanimity. Basic mindfulness meditation involves finding a comfortable position (seated or lying down) and bringing awareness to the breath. When you notice your mind has wandered, simply notice your thoughts without judgment and return your awareness to your breathing. Meditating for just three to five minutes a day reduces stress, improves focus, and increases resilience. I have also created a guided meditation for compassion with equanimity that I invite you to enjoy.
Visualization can help us to embody the spirit and experience of equanimity. For example, you might imagine yourself as a mountain, huge, solid, and strong. Even as the sun beats down upon you and the wind swirls around you, you remain grounded and unshakeable. You can thoughtfully observe your surroundings, but they do not control you.
“You are not in the mountains. The mountains are in you.” – John Muir
Alternatively, if you are feeling like a small boat being tossed about in a seastorm, see if you can shift your perspective and imagine yourself not as a small, helpless boat, but as the entirety of the ocean. The ocean is aware of the many objects and animals that float upon it or travel through it, but it is not harmed or distressed by them. Visualizing yourself as a mountain, the ocean, or even the entire Earth can help you tap into your inner sense of stability, wisdom, and peace.
The Language of Equanimity
We can tap into equanimity through intentional statements or mantras. Try reading and reflecting on these phrases or speaking them aloud:
- I care deeply for others, yet I am not responsible for their suffering.
- May I acknowledge and accept things just as they are.
- Everyone is on their own journey through life.
You can also create your own intentional statements for equanimity.
Equanimity allows our minds to be more peaceful and protects us from the distress of being swept up by emotions – our own or others’ – or desperately trying to control people or situations. When we cultivate equanimity, we can maintain empathy and compassion while accepting ourselves and others as we are.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.” – Marianne Williamson, from A Return To Love
Photo by Keegan Houser