Equanimity: Stillness in Motion
Equanimity is a near perfect word to describe the state of being that we call Yoga. The Bhagavad Gita defines Yoga this way in Chapter Two , Verse 48: “Equanimity of mind is Yoga.” Equanimity is also a beneficial translation of the word upekshanam that is used by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Upekshanam is often translated as disregard for the wicked, but equanimity better represents the inner attitude it is suggested we cultivate, and the ability to maintain balance when encountering hurtful behavior.
Sri Swami Satchidananda often used equanimity to describe the unflappable state of mind that Yoga practice makes possible. Sri Swamiji loved to use the compelling example of a surfer to illustrate how we can develop an internal steadiness to such an extent that we would invite bigger and bigger waves, or challenges in life, and take joy in meeting them head on.
Our culture seems to emphasize the very opposite thing by promoting in so many ways the idea of pushing ourselves to the limit. The media are constantly highlighting the extreme events and behavior, the richest people, the gold medal winners and the top performers. The recent advent of extreme sports, The Guinness Book of World Records, the Fortune 500 and even the Nike slogan, “Just do it”, are more examples of this prevalent message.
A much more natural and instinctual tendency is to find balance. Everything in nature seeks balance as part of a strategy to survive. Our bodies are constantly responding to all the conditions we are exposed to in an effort to maintain homeostasis.
To pursue our spiritual growth, we need a very refined state of mental balance that is achieved by a combination of regular meditative practice to create equanimity, and by reflecting on the beliefs and expectations that cause our minds to lose that balance.
We might ask ourselves, “What compels me to push myself beyond a healthy limit, to go sleep deprived, to strain or overdo?” If we look deeply, we can begin to discern where our attachment to an outcome prevents us from pursuing our goals with neutrality and poise. Asana practice can be a good opportunity to let go of needing to prove anything or live up to some standard, really listen to the sensations in the body, and respond to them to maintain a balance between effort and ease.
Anything we do can be an opportunity to choose equanimity, to consider the well-being of everyone and the planet we live on, including ourselves and the health of our bodies and minds. That becomes much easier when we develop a regular meditative practice that calms the mind and cultivates a non-reactive awareness and an open heart. Then all our efforts can be grounded in this inner steadiness and ultimately a sense that all we do is in service of the Divine.