Maintaining composure under duress defines equanimity. Its antonym is anxiety or extreme apprehension. In essence, being equanimous is about not getting caught up in the drama – either our own or others, while exploring context, no matter how stressful the situation.
The impact of stress has been explored ad infinitum. It is true that we all experience some level of stress on a daily basis. Pressure or tension under the right circumstances can enhance performance making us more productive and creative. Pressure translates into stress if we let it get to us. Whether it is writing an exam, presenting a client proposal or chairing an emotionally changed meeting, the increased energy induced by pressure heightens our focus, our being in that moment and our experience. Too much and prolonged stress dulls our presence and the quality of the outcomes we desire. Apart from the psychological impact, stress is also potentially damaging to our physiology.
Stress that activates the body’s fight, flight or freeze reaction increases our heart rate and blood pressure. Hormones, such as epinephrine and cortisol, are released into the bloodstream. In the short-term, these hormones may boost focus, memory, and creativity. Yet, sustained release of these hormones impacts physiology as normal body functions are compromised, as they are not required during these adrenaline charges.
Pressure, on the other hand, is a good thing – being outside of our comfort zone promotes growth and firmly puts us on track to achieving our goals. The degree that we are outside of our comfort zone is the degree to which we will be challenged and most of us love a challenge. Yet, being in our comfort zone may seem appealing for a while. If we don’t create our own pressure, our subconscious creates tension for us conjuring up all sorts of nonsensical thoughts and feelings, as hence, anxiety.
It is apparent that there is a delicate balance between construct pressure and destructive stress. When does the pressure inflection point manifest as stress in our reality? When does a challenge become adversity? How many challenges with their varying magnitudes place us at our own individual tipping-point. What is our own individual threshold, our ability to withstand extreme pressure. At what point does pressure become stressful, albeit self inflicted or induced by extraneous factors?
Equanimity allows us to “stand in the midst,” of conflict or crisis in a way where we are balanced, grounded and centered. The pressure is embraced, tension is self-created without a chance of translating into stress. Equanimity has the qualities of tranquility, resilience and steadfastness.
The calm appearance of equanimity should not be confused with resignation or indifference. These are characterized by aversion to the way things are; then we feel stuck and unable to act. By contrast, equanimity is characterized by evenness of temperament, an open acceptance that is no deterrent to action.
There are distinctive qualities that define our being equanimous. What are they?
Awareness is an equanimity quality that makes us present to whatever is happening around us. Tension is inevitably embraced by the power of observation and the presence of mind that some factors that may impact us are beyond our control. We always have the ability to choose our own created responses – controlling our own tension.
Acceptance is also an equanimity quality by virtue of tension being inevitable by the law of attraction. Accepting that the degree to which we are out of our comfort zone is the degree to which we are challenged allows the world of unlimited possibilities – without the mind resisting or the heart contracting. This is an accepting awareness.
Insight perceives things as they are and a key to equanimity. A primary insight is the realization that everything is evanescent; change is the only permanence. Detaching from our conditioning brings freedom and equanimity. Not having to be right and not making wrong, that our truth is not the only truth brings ontological humility to our equanimity.
Wisdom then teaches us to separate people’s actions from who they are, their value from their behavior. We can choose to condone actions and remain balanced in our relationships. It is our relationships that determine our experiences and our reality. Yet, wisdom supports equanimity with compassion that people are responsible for and have the power over their own decisions. This helps us to find equanimity by demanding the best from them while getting what they are going through – compassion in our equanimous being.
Equanimity is regulated by the creation of context, our context. According to Violetta Plashakova, managing director of Creative Consciousness, everything we have in our consciousness comes with a context. All events, circumstances, situations, people, even ideas and emotions, have context, which determines our relationship with all of the above. Having a context for something means having a frame of reference for that something, with subsequent thoughts and feelings about it and resulting beliefs and behaviors. That something is what it is – a plain compilation of facts, an occurrence in reality. “What is” is neutral, yet our context, either self-chosen or conditioned gives it flavor. It is our choice as to how we react automatically or respond creatively. All our highs and lows, joys and dramas directly result from our context, says Plashakova. And, context can be dictated from our past conditioning and our automated reaction governs our behavior. Or our context can be created – consciousness is the context in which the creation of equanimity can occur.
Creating and regulating our own tension is equanimity in action. Taking responsibility for coherent created responses and commitment action with poise. This being comfortable with our self-imposed challenges that come with the degree outside our comfort zone. When we live and act with the virtue of essential integrity, we feel confident about our actions and words, which results in the equanimity of blamelessness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are, sees parallels between the mind and the ocean – waves of emotion may roll on the surface, but 10 metres down all is peaceful. By tuning every breath as it travels through your body, you can dive into that basal oasis.
When we craft our own equanimous tension, the often turbulent momentum that follows is of our own creation and is powerful. This rather than our being caught up the tsunami of flotsam and jetsam that comes with being anxious and erratic.
“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn.