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Equanimity

Equanimity.

The first time I ever heard that term was years ago in a yoga class and I didn’t have a clue what it meant. In fact, it took many yoga classes to finally understand it’s meaning. I had a teacher explain it in a way that made the meaning come alive.

There I was contorted in some strange position, feeling the burn, and struggling to hold it. The teacher said that if my face could not be relaxed as I held the position then I was not practicing equanimity. I needed to move to the limit of the yoga pose, feel a stretching of my boundaries, without compromising my breathing and my ability to relax my face. Bingo!

In that moment I realized that my breathing was all but stopped, and I was so far beyond my comfort zone that I was probably a good candidate for injury. As I learned to scale back I found my yoga practice was more enjoyable, I was able to hold the poses longer and deeper and the whole process just made me feel more alive.

Lately I’ve been noticing the term equanimity more and more. I came across it in a Buddhist prayer the other day. The line from The Prayer Of The Four Immeasurables said, “May they remain in boundless equanimity, free from attachment to close ones and rejection of others.” If my interpretation is correct it means knowing that those close to us suffer the same highs and lows as those far away from us but we must treat them all in the same manner, with the same love, compassion and wisdom.

I wondered if there was a way to take this teaching off the yoga mat and out of the prayer for use in daily life. On the one hand I didn’t want to be emotionless or aloof by being neutral but I knew that going to the extremes would be of little value too.

Gil Fronsdal is a Buddhist teacher with years of practice and a PhD in Buddhist Studies from Stanford University. I came across a talk he had given in May 2004 on the subject of equanimity. In it he explained, “mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being.” He goes on to explain that the English word actually translates into two separate words used by the Buddha.

The first word relates to the power of observation. That is “the ability to see without being caught by what we see.” He gives the example of the grandmother who can hear all the drama of her grandchildren but not get caught up in it as she has already been through it with her own children. It creates a sense of peace when well developed. The second word relates to being centered and in balance no matter what is happening around you. As you develop your inner strength - the ability to feel peace in the midst of chaos - equanimity will arise.

Being able to maintain that balanced composure, and evenness of temper, will be especially useful to someone who is in chronic pain. The pain will naturally take you to the boundaries of what you can manage. If you can do as the yoga teacher suggested, breathe into the pain and relax your face, it will help ease it. And when you think about others in pain do you treat them and yourself with the same love and compassion?

Now, it may not mean that the pain will go away, but what if we adopted the ability to observe it? Could you leave the drama of the pain behind - that is the moaning about it, the feeling of inconvenience and burden about it - to just notice or observe the pain? Perhaps in doing so you will develop your inner strength and the equanimity will follow.

What are your thoughts about this? Do you think you could just observe the pain? Leave me a message on Facebook.

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