14 ways I have tried to get there!
Have we ever felt as vulnerable as this before? All the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, which we have only read about, seems to have walked into our lives. I have realised that all my learning and practice around equanimity has never been challenged like this before. In the past, there have been moments when we have been through the throes of emotional upheavals, but never have we experienced such state of negativity and uncertainty all around us. Some of us have managed these uncertain times better than others by being more equanimous.
Equanimity, at its simplest, is the state of having an even mind even in trying times. While all religions have espoused this virtue, there is hardly anything religious about it. In fact, to me, it is more a state of being and a way to live. Equanimity is a disposition of psychological stability and composure, which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause some others to lose their emotional balance.
Daniel Goleman, who popularised emotional intelligence, while de-constructing the concept talks about emotional competencies of self-awareness and self-regulation. This, in essence, is what equanimity is all about. Talking about well-being, Goleman says “Well-being is a state of being content with things as they are”. He goes on to say, “A major component is equanimity. A form of happiness that is not dependent on external circumstances, on what someone else does or says. It’s an internal state where you’re continuously reminding yourself that you’re okay as you are.”
In the language of psychologists and EQ practitioners, equanimity is forestalling an ‘amygdala hijack’ — an emotional response that is immediate, overwhelming, and disproportionate to the stimuli. The attempt is to even out the peaks and troughs of our emotional state.
In today’s world, the quality of equanimity is perhaps the only way to exist, not only for our own well-being but also for the well-being of the people around us. Equanimity for me has manifested in greater self-awareness, improved stress tolerance, better impulse control and more independence (from being at the mercy of others and one’s own emotions).
As equanimity is a skill of one’s mind and heart, hence the solutions that have worked for me, may not fit others. Here are a bunch of options that I have experimented with, in my pursuit for equanimity:
1. Staying in the Now. Neither the regrets of the past nor the fear of the future is worth wasting your present on. The Japanese concept of Ichi-go Ichi-e teaches us to focus on the present and treasure the unrepeatable nature of every moment.
2. Ego and equanimity don’t live together. When others are at their wit’s end, there are bound to be moments when they may act in a way that has the potential to hurt your ego. If you let your ego interfere, it will not be easy to be equanimous.
3. Fake it till you make it! I have tried to practice consciously maintaining a relaxed state of my whole body.
4. Being non-judgemental. I read somewhere ‘Judging a person does not define who they are; it defines who we are’ and it has stayed with me. It helps that this is also a professional competency I need to display as a coach.
5. Believing in the universal law of impermanence. Everything is transitionary and will pass, so why let things get to you?
6. Practising letting go. Nothing is worth clinging to, be it thoughts or things!
7. Slain by multitasking, saved by mindfulness. Mindfulness for me is entirely focussing on the one thing that I am doing. Just a couple of minutes of mindfulness, a few times a day, takes me to my alpha state.
8. Meditating. Quieten the mind for the soul to speak. I attempt to connect with my inner self, my being, the eternal source of all my energy for 10–15 minutes every day. Just sitting there and watching my breath, some days I am better at it than others!
9. Practising “being the observer and the observed”. My exploration of spirituality introduced me to this concept. Occasionally try and observe yourself — What am I doing? What am I feeling? What thoughts are conjuring up? Seems abstract but believe me anyone can get to do it, with just a little bit of practice.
10. Watching nature. Observing the perfection in the imperfection and being amazed at the creation where everything is in harmony. For me, my morning runs are an ideal time to do this. In traditional Japanese aesthetics, they talk about wabi-sabi which teaches us to appreciate what is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete!
11. Resetting myself in moments of emotional highs. Sometimes through meditation and sometimes physically — just a good run or few sets of push-ups is all that I need to reset that spiral of negativity, as it helps me shift the focus.
12. Breaking the thought > emotion > actions pattern. Through techniques like opposition thinking espoused by Robin Sharma, you can check my negative thoughts as soon as they form and consciously replace them with positive ones. Without negative thoughts, negative emotions have no fuel to thrive on.
13. Sometimes, the reverse (actions>emotions>thoughts) also works. At times, it is easier to act your way into new thinking than to think your way into new actions.
14. Counting my blessings and showing gratitude is another sure shot way to help you feel good about yourself and focus on the positives that you have. This helps counter negative feelings and the sense of hopelessness, which we occasionally encounter.
As a final word, I learnt that one cannot cross the river merely by standing and staring at the water. Go ahead and take a dip, explore and experience to know what works for you and thou shalt find yourself in a better place!