Equanimity: Keeping Cool in the Face of Fire

Sh*t happens. Sometimes it happens in an inflammatory way that feels like it is turning turned your world upside down. I’m writing this as an aggressive wildfire continues to grow in our area threatening homes. I am watching as my emotions oscillate; tracking my nervous system’s response to news updates and the potential of rapidly evacuating my home. It is the perfect time to practice the fourth Brahmavihara; Upekha, or Equanimity. This is defined as a mental calm, composure and evenness of temper (especially in difficult situations). My teacher Joanna Macy speaks of it as “The Great Peace”. It is an all abiding knowing that everything is ok and unfolding just as it is meant to. 

There may always be a part of my thinking mind and ego that will argue with this deep truth. Even after years of practice I still hear the voice that questions my safety and security, and/or resists the situation. However, I have made friends with this scared little voice, and when it starts squawking I now know to pause, acknowledge it, and speak back from the ever-larger part of my mind-heart that is anchored in Upekha.  

One of my mentors has repeatedly taught me that observation is enough.” We are conditioned to want to change things. When we notice that something doesn’t feel good, often our immediate response is to want to change the situation or our reaction to it. I have found that starting with simply noticing is a useful practice. I notice the discomfort and I stay present for it, no more, no less. This diminishes feelings of guilt or added discomfort about my resistance, and allows me spaciousness to be authentically present with the situation.   

More often these days, I don’t try to change the scared little voice; I simply say “I hear you, thank you for your concern and protection, we are ok”. Generally the inner response is one of tension melting, tightness in my chest or solar plexus subsiding, and a gentle smile dawning. 

When we are anchored in equanimity life is so much easier! We can go with the flow of what is occurring without attaching an idea of right and wrong to that. Like all worthwhile things, this takes practice! You have two options: practice right now in the moment with whatever is happening, and practice regularly in an intentional way to “build the mindful muscles” over time…

1.    The long view: Access the guided meditation below, and continually cultivate your ability to connect with the part of you that is anchored in The Great Peace.

 2.    Right now: When faced with a situation, person or feeling that throws you way off balance, you can try the following practice:
Pause, close your eyes if possible. Feel yourself breathing. Take a breath in and repeat the following: I am where I need to be. Exhale the breath and repeat: This is enough.

The Bramhaviharas or Four Abodes were presented to me as a cohesive response system; these are the only useful ways of relating to other living beings. Meeting others with either loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy or equanimity truly guarantees a more easeful and enjoyable life experience. At first I thought this was limiting and impossible; what if my emotion is anger, sadness, frustration?! Over time I have come to realize that when I am experiencing any of those challenging emotions in relation to another person, the way to move through it is with equanimity. It strikes me as incredibly elegant that ¾ of the prescription focuses on elevated, uplifting forms of relating, and that equanimity, the final piece of the puzzle, is able to hold any of the other states of emotion within it.

For those of us who struggle with codependency, equanimity is the perfect ongoing practice.   As Sharon Salzberg says; “Without equanimity, we might give love to others only in an effort to bridge the inevitable and healthy space that always exists between two people.” I urge you to try the practice for yourself and cultivate the healthy spaciousness that is available to you!

Please share your experience with Equanimity and/or wildfire in the comments below. We can evolve with and learn from each other!

Sun setting on the Ferguson Fire
Sun setting on the Ferguson Fire