BV-Equanimity for Traveling

During travels in the winter holiday season, I had many opportunities to practice the divine abode or brahma vihara of equanimity. Known as upekkha in the ancient Pali language of the Buddha’s teachings, equanimity combines mental clarity, wisdom, and open-mindedness. With an equanimous mind that is free of judgment, desire, or aversion, we can accept the reality of life’s high and low points, and we develop an attitude of inner peace amidst inevitable changes. The practice of equanimity helps us to let go of preferences and to liberate ourselves from reactivity and attachments.

On December 16, Mark and I set forth on our first international trip since the pandemic began. We were excited about visiting Mexican friends in the state of Puebla, where we lived for 15 years before moving to Houston in 2011. To avoid the huge, chaotic airport in Mexico City, we arranged to fly directly to Puebla. As we were about to check our bags at the United Airlines counter in Bush airport, an agent informed us that the flight had just been canceled due to weather conditions in Puebla. She suggested that we wait on stand-by for a plane that was completely booked to Mexico City in case some passengers didn’t show up for the flight.

I noticed my mind starting to fill with worries about being stranded at Bush airport or having to return home for the night. Then I remembered to breathe into my belly and to sense my feet touching the ground. Feeling calmer and more balanced, I prepared my mind for not knowing what would happen. Mark and I walked to a noisy, crowded waiting area near a gate for the departing plane. There I had time for reflection about the many travelers whose flights are cancelled or delayed because of winter storms, and the countless migrants who have no shelter as they endure seemingly endless waits for a safe refuge. Recalling our relatively comfortable circumstances restored my equanimity.

While Mark and I watched long lines of people scanning their tickets to board the plane, we had little hope that any seats were still available. To our surprise, a United Airlines official announced our names over the P.A. system. Handing us two tickets, she explained that a connecting flight had been delayed in snowy Aspen, Colorado. Even though I felt happy about our good fortune, I was aware that we were taking the place of two people whose travel plans were disrupted.

At Mexico City’s airport, our flight arrived about the same time that five other big airplanes landed. We joined throngs of deboarding passengers who were communicating in various languages and heading towards an enormous hall to prepare for migration processing. There, uniformed marines herded weary travelers into looping lines that snaked back and forth, with no access to food, drink, bathrooms, or cell phones. Whenever I made eye contact or exchanged smiles with someone in the undulating line, the wait seemed easier. Covertly, I sent metta prayers for the wellbeing of an anxious boy whose mother was trying to soothe him as she pushed his wheelchair. After more than an hour of inching our way forward, Mark and I reached a migration official who stamped our passports. Fluent Spanish helped us to navigate claiming bags, obtaining pesos at an ATM machine, and purchasing bus tickets for a three-hour trip to Puebla in rush-hour traffic. Although we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, there was no time to buy food.

On the bus, I tried to phone a friend in Puebla to let her know that we would be late for a dinner date at our hotel. After repeated failed attempts to complete the call to Marina, I turned to a friendly looking Mexican man sitting across the aisle for help. Before long, we were on a first name basis, and Héctor kindly offered to loan me his cell phone to contact Marina. Once that mission was accomplished, Héctor conversed with Mark and me about traveling to Puebla from his hometown of San Cristobal de las Casas to give a workshop about psychology and the arts. When I mentioned my music therapy career, he asked, “By any chance have you heard of the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music?” Flabbergasted, I replied, “I knew Helen Bonny, and for decades I’ve been a GIM international trainer!”

It turned out that one of my students in Mexico City had given Héctor a transformative GIM session, which inspired him to read about Stan Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork. Héctor was astounded when Mark said, “Stan trained me to become a certified HBW workshop leader.” Amazed by our common interests in transpersonal psychology and creativity, the three of us decided that it was no accident that we ended up sitting together on that bus. My equanimity was enhanced as I considered the positive consequences of our cancelled flight to Puebla.

At the Puebla bus stop, however, Mark and I had another long waiting period—this time for a safe, authorized taxi. In the interim, we became painfully aware of how hungry and tired we were. I did my best to remember that all conditions are impermanent. Our relief at seeing the taxi driver was tempered as we slowly wended our way to our hotel over dark, winding, bumpy roads. When we finally arrived, I jumped out of the car and felt a wave of dizziness as I adjusted to the altitude of 7000 feet.

Hours later than planned, Marina and her husband greeted us with warm hugs. To staunch our hunger pangs before the meal was served, they brought us a very welcome gift of pistachio nuts. After a hearty dinner and a wonderful reunion, Mark and I retired gratefully to our room for much-needed rest. Just as we lay down in bed, a rowdy fiesta began in the hotel’s courtyard. To our dismay, drunken revelers sang off-key love songs over a blaring microphone until 2:00am. At that point, I threw a coat over my nightgown and went downstairs to beg for merciful quiet from the only person still standing at the party. Thankfully, he complied.

Before I drifted off to sleep at the end of a very long day, I felt gratitude for the practice of equanimity that helped me appreciate high points and stay balanced in low points during our travels.

Traveling teaches me to adapt to unexpected events and changes in routine. I become more conscious than usual of how my preferences and attachments lead to reactivity and suffering. There is no doubt that I travel more peacefully and harmoniously whenever I accept reality just as it is.

Now let’s prepare for a guided practice of equanimity:

Sit in a comfortable position with eyes closed.

Bring a gentle attention to your breath.

Take a moment to reflect upon the benefits of a balanced mind and the gift of bringing a peaceful heart to the world around you. 

Then silently repeat these phrases to yourself:

Breathing in, I calm my body.

Breathing out, I calm my mind.

May I be balanced.

May I be at peace.

Stay with these phrases until you feel quiet in your body and mind.

Then expand the sense of tranquility into a spacious equanimity. 

In silence, recite the following phrases to yourself:

May I learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.

May I be open and balanced and peaceful.  

Once you’ve established a sense of peace and equanimity, visualize, or have a felt sense of someone you love, and repeat the same simple phrases for that person’s benefit:

May you learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.

Gradually, as equanimity grows, you may expand the meditation to include a neutral person, whom you don’t know well, perhaps someone in our  sangha now. Remembering that everyone benefits from inner peace, recite the phrases for this neutral person:

May you learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.

With growing equanimity, expand the meditation to include a person whom you find difficult, perhaps someone with whom you have conflicting views or unresolved issues. Sense your wish to be free of reactivity towards this person. Repeat the equanimity phrases for the benefit of both yourself and the person who causes you difficulty.

May we learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.

May we be open and balanced and peaceful.

Finally, expanding the perimeter of your attention to include everyone in our sangha, all who live in Houston, in Texas, in the USA, in the hemisphere, in the entire world—those of every race, ethnicity, culture and belief system, those who are young and old, rich, and poor, healthy, and ill—, all animals, all sentient beings on our planet. Repeat the equanimity phrases for the benefit of all life everywhere.

May you learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance.

May you be open and balanced and peaceful.