A word that keeps arising everywhere for me is Equanimity. Last Sunday I had the pleasure of hearing Allan Lokos speak about Equanimity. Equanimity refers to evenness of mind especially under stress. It is not just a state of mind, but also a reward. I always used to look at other people who seemed calm, cool and collected and thought it was just the way they existed. In reality, equanimity is attainable with attention and intention. It is an active state of being in the present… not apathetic, but aware of what is going on right now.
The practice of concentration, paying attention to your every inhale and exhale trains you to pay attention more closely to everything else. If you have a disagreement … it takes focus and skill to listen and repeat back to the other person exactly what they said without judgment. The reward is that they know you heard them and now you are halfway to a successful communication. It takes equanimity to not let drama or over-dramatization of a story take over and take you in a direction that isn’t helpful to you or anyone else. The time we spend in drama over tasks, petty disagreements and misunderstandings is so much more than just going quiet, inhaling, exhaling and observing what comes next. You can’t control anyone else, only yourself.
As Sharon Salzberg, Richard Davidson, and others say, “the act of training our attention so that we can be more aware of our inner thoughts, as well as what’s going on around us in the present moment, primes our brain cells to fire together in patterns that strengthen the vital nervous system structures that are key in everyday tasks such as decision making, memory, and emotional flexibility, and nurtures qualities considered to be crucial components of happiness: resilience, equanimity, calm, and a sense of compassionate connection to others.” Richard Davidson says that, “Our emotions can be trained.” He says that when we are stressed, our amygdala effectively hijacks our executive function in the prefrontal cortex…. It is that primitive part of the brain that makes our body react to stress as if we are being chased by a predator in the jungle. Davidson says, “the neural key to resilience lies in how quickly we can recover from that state.”
It’s like the old joke, Q. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? A. Practice, practice, practice.
How do you build muscle? How do you train for a marathon? How do you learn to play the piano? How do you learn resilience and equanimity? How do you lower your blood pressure? Practice meditation.