“You can’t calm the storm so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself and the storm will pass.” ~Timber Hawkeye
After another driver pulled out in front of me and narrowly missed a collision, I put on my brakes and waited for the car to stop. As the other driver sailed off ahead of me, my hysterical passenger screamed, “What an idiot! Didn’t you see him? Why didn’t you blast the horn? These people shouldn’t be on the road!”
I realized my reaction, or lack of reaction, was out of the ordinary, and I also noticed that despite the circumstance I had remained equanimous—I hadn’t let it disturb my peace of mind.
I wasn’t angry with the driver, my blood pressure hadn’t increased, and no damage had been done. I was at peace.
It hadn’t always been this way. I inherited a short fuse from my dad (at least, that’s the excuse I used for years).
I was a footballer and with it, competitive and aggressive. Road rage was common, even when I wasn’t in a car, and I’ve been known to throw things across the room in frustration.
The person I am now could not be more different in this respect, and I’m a lot happier as a result, not to mention the improvement in my relationships and my health.
Imagine a day where very little upsets you and in the face of annoyances you just sail through, calm, peaceful, and happy. It may seem like an impossibility, but when I look at where I was and where I am now, I can assure you it’s not.
So how did I become equanimous and how did it change my life?
It started when I began daily meditation.
I took up the habit to try to control stress in a busy life. As I progressed I noticed I was becoming more relaxed, centred, and calm. But there was more to it than that; my brain was changing and I was becoming more self-aware, and also more considerate and compassionate toward others.
I was able to notice my emotions arising and slowly regained control over my moods.
This isn’t the same as supressing anger and emotions; this can be even more damaging. It’s getting to a point where the emotions don’t even arise in the first place.
It’s a long journey, it doesn’t happen overnight, and like with everything it takes practice.
Before I could do anything about controlling them, the first step was just to notice them. I spent a long time at this point prior to progressing! But with awareness comes progress, and just noticing the emotions arise is a huge step in the right direction.
The funny thing is that, as I traveled with a friend recently, I was shocked by how frustrated she got with drivers doing the speed limit but getting in her way.
I watched how her demeanor changed as she got more agitated and how the experience affected her mood after the journey, and I thought, This is crazy, how can people live like this? Then I thought, Well, exactly how you did not so long ago!
It’s become so common we consider it normal, but when I spend time in Thailand and other Buddhist countries it’s refreshing to notice that people don’t really lose their temper or scream, swear, and shout.
I used to think it was an unattainable goal. I’d look at monks and nuns being zen and think, Well surely it’s easy to be zen if you live on a mountain top away from the world. But as one old monk (who looked very young) told me, while they may not have the outside pressures like traffic jams, shopping, and emails to test their equanimity, they still have human internal pressures.
He explained to me about his separation from his mother when he was a young child, living through a war, the death of his brother, and his overcoming cancer. There’s enough there to make any human mind an unpeaceful place!
Our minds are so precious and powerful it makes sense we should keep them as peaceful as possible. Not only does it impact on our mood, our relationships, and our effectiveness, but also our health.
Imagine how different life could be if the ups and downs and little annoyances didn't affect us anymore, if our brains were trained to not react, not suppressing anger but not having it there to suppress.
It’s not as difficult as we’ve been lead to believe, and it opens up a whole new way of life, one I am experiencing now. Having been both sides of this fence I can tell you which I prefer, and the way to get there—equanimity!
I learned this skill by meditating most days for just ten minutes, and the change was so subtle that sometimes I’m not quite sure when it all changed and how I arrived here. But looking back in hindsight, I can see how far I’ve come and what a difference it’s made to my life and the life of those around me.
My days are not the same if I don’t get some yoga or meditation done first thing. Once I’m up out of bed I like to sit for just ten minutes and focus my awareness on my breathing.
On my more distracted days I might chose a guided meditation to help me focus. Some days if I don’t have time to sit on a cushion I find ways to incorporate stillness into my daily life. It could be a few deep breaths while I wait for the kettle to boil or a mindful walk on the way to work.
There are so many opportunities throughout our day to stop for a second, bring our awareness to our breathing, and notice what is going around us and within us. This is the key to developing equanimity.
The more awareness we have of our thoughts and feelings, the easier it becomes to detach from them, over time, with practice.
Imagine what a different place the world would be if we could all learn equanimity. Well, be the change you want to see and start today! Bringing stillness to our mind also brings peace, and when we are at peace nothing disturbs our equanimity.
Meditating girl image via Shutterstock