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What is equanimity? What does it mean?

How to develop equanimity and be emotionally strong?

How to stay calm and composed under pressure or when you meet a difficult situation?

Equanimity is a word that I only came across in the last couple of years. I first came across the word when I was reading some Buddhism books. Later, when I was exploring my Enneagram personality as a Type 4, this word appeared again. So I decided to study it a little deeper and understand what it truly means to attain the state of equanimity.

But before I define what equanimity is for this blog post, let’s understand equanimity from the Buddhism perspective.

In Buddhism, equanimity is one of the four immeasurables.

The four immeasurables are also known as the Four Brahma-Viharas, the Four Faces of Love, the Four Sublime States, etc. They are the four virtues that Buddha taught his disciples to cultivate.

Apart from equanimity (upekkha), the other three states of mind are:

  • Loving-Kindness (metta),
  • Compassion (karuna), and
  • Sympathetic Joy or Empathy (mudita).

Buddhists believe that developing these four virtues will help to reduce suffering and create peace of mind. Equanimity in Buddhism means to have a balanced mind. It’s the ability to look at any situation, whether good or bad, and not get disturbed by it. As per the Dalai Lama:

“With equanimity, you can deal with situations with calm and reason while keeping your inner happiness.”

What Is Equanimity and the 3 Aspects of the Definition?

In this blog post, equanimity is defined as the ability to welcome all feelings but yet stay in balance even if the situation is difficult. There are three components to this definition:

1. Welcome all feelings

Even though equanimity is about being undisturbed by emotions, painful experiences, or difficult situations, it doesn’t mean that you numb, suppress, or avoid your feelings. When you suppress your feelings, there is an element of non-acceptance and resistance.

Equanimity, on the other hand, is about acceptance.

It is about being neutral. You accept all your feelings and allow yourself to feel whatever arises at the moment. If you feel sad, you allow yourself to feel sad. You don’t run away from the sadness and resist your emotions. You keep your heart open to all feelings and not reject any of your emotions.

2. Stay in balance

Welcoming and feeling your emotions doesn’t mean that you indulge in your emotions. The second component of equanimity is staying in balance. It means that when you face a painful emotion or situation, you don’t run away from it but at the same time, you don’t get stuck in that emotion or situation.

With emotional equanimity, you can embrace all emotions

without getting lost in them. 

Instead of losing yourself in your emotions, you stay centered. You observe your emotions but you don’t add any mental story or false perception to the situation and add onto the emotion that you are already feeling.

So for example, if someone did something to hurt you and you feel angry, you acknowledge your anger. But you don’t keep thinking about how nasty or bad this person is. These thoughts will only make you angrier.

3. Remain constant through all situations

Lastly, the last component is to remain at the state of mental composure and calmness in all situations. Some situations are easier to handle than others. For example, if you lose your phone, you might feel frustrated and sad for a few days. But if you lose a loved one, the grief might last a longer period.

Equanimity creates constancy across inconsistent events. 

You are even-tempered and non-reactive when you lose a phone or a loved one, when you are praised or blamed, or when you feel pleasure or pain.

Equanimity is based on non-attachment and impermanence. When you get attached to anything, you are bound to suffer because everything is impermanent. We can’t hold on to our material possession, relationships, people, status, fame, emotions, etc forever. One day, we have to let them go. Our resistance to these changes in our life is what causes us to suffer.

So equanimity is about not attaching yourself to any situation. A situation can be good or bad. It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t disturb you. Because with equanimity, you approach all situations consistently in a calm and neutral manner.

How to Develop Equanimity and Build Emotional Strength

1. First, be clear of your objective.

Just from understanding the definition, you might think that equanimity is not easy to achieve. For most people, it seems impossible to stay balanced for all events. But this shouldn’t be the objective.

Your goal is not to aim for 100% equanimity at all times.

Your goal is to train your mind to be less reactive and attached to situations.

Practicing equanimity and cultivating this state of mind helps you to get stronger emotionally. It helps you to get better at dealing with unforeseen and difficult circumstances in the future.

Even if you can’t do it perfectly or remain balanced at all times, it’s okay. The more you practice, the easier it is for you to return to the state of equanimity. When the time comes when you needed to stay composed, your practice will come in handy. You will find yourself less reactive to situations and more able to let go of your emotions and your attachments.

2. Cultivate and practice mindfulness too.

Equanimity and mindfulness go hand in hand. If you are not mindful of your emotions, you won’t be able to tell if you are balanced or not. It’s only when you know your center that you will know when you are off-center.

Mindfulness helps you know where your center is. 

It provides some space between your center and your emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations so that you are not absorbed by them and unconscious of how they affect you.

With mindfulness, when a circumstance arises, you will be able to observe how it pulls you off-center in a certain direction. This tells you that you are attached to the situation. When you have this awareness, you will be able to choose whether to be dragged along by the situation or to release your attachment and this is where you get to cultivate equanimity.

Mindfulness is not exactly meditation. Read this post if you feel like you have no time to practice mindfulness daily.

3. Start with small events.

When you are just developing equanimity, don’t expect yourself to be able to confront the big issues in your life straight away and remain cool with them. Always start with the smaller issues, then slowly cultivate emotional equanimity with the bigger issues.

Examples of small issues could be like waiting in line for something, waiting for the traffic lights to turn green when you are rushing to somewhere, receiving nasty comments from other people, when something such as your mobile phone and computer is not functioning properly, being bitten by some kind of insects, etc.

The question is:

Are you able to stay calm and composure under such circumstances?

Or will you lose your cool?

Pay attention to the small, little events in your life that irk you or those that make you want to complain to others. Each of these circumstances gives you an opportunity to practice equanimity. Don’t let these minor, external events dictate how you want to feel inside. Instead, stay centered.

Once you are able to stay calm towards these events, you will be able to tackle bigger events such as losing a relationship, a job, your money, your reputation, etc.

4. Incorporate equanimity into your meditation practices.

If you want to cultivate equanimity formally, you can incorporate it into your daily meditation practices or find guided, equanimity meditations that are already available.

Here’s one way you can add equanimity into your meditation. First, take a few deep breathes, relax, and find your center. Then, bring to mind an event that you dislike. Feel the emotions you have for this event for a couple of minutes and let it go. Then, bring to mind an event that you like. Again, feel the emotions you have for this event for a couple of minutes and then let it go too.

Alternate between good and bad events

until you are non-reactive to them.

By alternating between the favorable and unfavorable events and coming back to your center, you will gain emotional strength and stability.

In Buddhism, there are the Eight Worldly Winds:

  • Praise and blame,
  • Gain and loss,
  • Pleasure and pain,
  • Fame and disrepute.

You can also alternate between them to help you let go of your attachment to the positives and your avoidance of the negatives.

If you are new to meditation, here are some meditation books for beginners.

5. Know the differences between equanimity and indifference.

To know if you are practicing equanimity correctly, you have to understand the differences between equanimity and indifference. Because some of us easily confuse equanimity with apathy.

Equanimity doesn’t mean that you don’t care about anything anymore or you have no feeling towards anything at all. That is being apathetic and indifferent. You are numbing yourself so that you don’t feel the emotions that you don’t want to feel. There is an aversion to the situation instead of an acceptance.

Equanimity is about opening your heart,

while indifference is about closing your heart.

When you are in a state of equanimity, you will still feel emotions. Just that you don’t get swept away by your emotions and lose yourself in the past or future. You stay present and centered despite feeling your difficult emotions. When you have developed such stability and strength within yourself, you are able to open your heart to all emotions and situations and feel them without getting knocked down by them.

On the other hand, numbing yourself and being indifferent is a way to close your heart and protect your heart from hurting. Because you don’t think that you have the emotional strength to deal with the difficult situation. You are afraid that if you allow yourself to feel any emotion, you will get knocked down. So you numb out all emotions.

One way to know if you are practicing equanimity correctly is to ask yourself, “Am I really okay with the event as it is? Or am I just protecting myself from the painful experience? Am I grounded and centered or am I pulling away or pushing the situation away from me?

Featured Photo Credit: Natalia Figueredo