Equanimity Practice – 3/6/2017

Tonight we will be practicing the 4th Brahma Vihara, or Divine Abode, that the Buddha taught his disciples. Equanimity, or Upekkha, is associated with clarity and wisdom and with a fearless, open mind that is free from judgment, desire or aversion. Equanimity implies accepting the reality of life’s highs and lows and developing an attitude of inner peace amidst inevitable changes.

Upekkha practice aims to balance the mind and to liberate it from attachments and habitual emotional reactions. It takes regular practice to be able to open the heart in a stable, sustained way, while letting go of preferences. Sometimes equanimity is confused with indifference, known as its “near enemy.” With indifference, the heart is closed and defended in self-protection, but with equanimity, the heart is open and compassionate.

In my own experience, equanimity practice has proven invaluable. A while ago, I visited Tomas, a fellow meditator and a longtime friend who recently received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. He was frank with me about the challenges of losing his olfactory sense and of developing a noticable, uncontrollable tremor in his dominant hand.

As he shared some of his fears about the degenerative course of this currently incurable disease, I was struck by how, at just one year older than me, Tom is facing a daunting timeline that includes well-documented disabilities and premature death. I had to admit that my own anxieties regarding aging and dying are buffered by having a more vague sense of the time frame for my inevitable demise. Our honest discussions deepened our relationship and gave us a shared  appreciation for our ongoing meditation practice.

When I returned home to Houston, I noticed involuntary twitching movements in my left elbow. A few days later, during an appointment with Elizabeth, a sensitive masseuse and energy healer, I asked her to treat my quivering elbow. As she cradled my left arm, the involuntary movements intensified, and I had an image of Tom and another friend who has Parkinson’s disease. My heart hurt, but the arm movements calmed down.  Then I felt intense heat suffusing my entire body and a stabbing pain in my left elbow.

As Elizabeth massaged my affected arm, the elbow started quivering again, and I realized that I was experiencing empathic Parkinsonian symptoms on the heart side of my body. Once I made that connection consciously, the tremor ceased, and I could speak about my sadness and feelings of impotence when I was witnessing Tom’s PD symptoms. By recognizing the truth that Tom is learning the lessons of his karma, while I am learning mine, I returned to a state of equilibrium. Now from a base of more equanimity, I can feel compassion for my friend and send him prayers of loving kindness, without taking on a burden that is not mine to bear and that does not help him.

Tonight I’ll guide you in a form of equanimity practice that I learned from Trudy Goodrich, one of the teachers on a March retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center:

Sit in a comfortable posture with eyes closed, and imagine that you are a venerable mountain, witnessing with balance and stability all that comes and goes, maintaining dignity throughout changing seasons, droughts, floods, heat, cold, and life cycles of many different animals, plants and minerals.

In order to develop the sustained equanimity of a mountain, we need three mutually reinforcing tools: concentration, investigation and mindfulness.

Concentration develops the ability to remain calm and steady in the face of both pleasure and pain. Investigation into the cause of joyous or sorrowful moments develops the capacity to let go of preferences. And mindfulness of the impermanence of all things develops the capability to accept each moment as it is. Over time, these three tools create the tranquilty, balance and acceptance that contribute to equanimity.

A Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu addresses the theme of equanimity in a Haiku collection titled The Ink-Dark Moon:

“Seeing the moon at dawn,

Solitary, mid-sky,

I know myself completely,

No part left out.”

Now breathe through your heart and silently recite to yourself the following phrase:

May I accept myself completely just as I am, with no part left out. 

 Note whatever seems hard to include.  Notice any resistance that arises during the practice, and see if you can include that too in your acceptance.

After a while, let go of the phrase and return to the sensation of breathing through your heart.

 Visualize or sense the presence of a loved one who is suffering in body, mind or spirit, and repeat the following phrase in silence:

May you accept yourself completely just as you are, with no part left out. 

After a while, let go of the phrase and return to the sensation of breathing through your heart.

Visualize or sense the presence of a difficult person in your life, and silently repeat the following phrase:

 May I accept you completely just as you are, with no part left out.

 After a while, let go of the phrase, and reconnect with the image or sense of being a noble mountain.

 Consider the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of life, and silently repeat the following phrase:

 May I accept life completely just as it is, with no part left out.

 Trusting that this mountain awareness is available whenever you need it, exhale deeply and let it go for now, slowly opening your eyes and appreciating the practice of everyone here.