How to Cultivate Equanimity and Why
The Meaning of Equanimity in Buddhism
Equanimity is a central theme of Buddhist philosophy. We can cultivate equanimity with meditation, but also by living more mindfully. To be equanimous is not to be indifferent, but to remain stable and grounded, even in the face of forces that would otherwise have us thrown off balance.
Equanimity in Buddhism comes from the Sanskrit word upeksha, or upekkha in Pali. Equanimity is among the four immeasurable attributes of a wise and compassionate heart. These are the qualities and characteristics of enlightened beings, and we can cultivate them here and now.
To be equanimous means not only to be in a state of balance, undisturbed by thought, emotion or circumstance, but to do so wisely. For equanimity is not indifference or a detached, uncaring state.
When in a state of equanimity we apply the same curiosity, kindness and loving acceptance to everything within our field of awareness. When something pleasurable arises, we are free from grasping or attachment. And when something unpleasant arises, we are free from resistance or denial. To be equanimous is to remain balanced, free from craving, aversion and indifference.
Equanimity is often symbolized as an oak tree. Deeply grounded, the oak tree remains still despite changing seasons or the weather.
But equanimity is about more than becoming emotionally strong. Just as equanimity has a wisdom aspect, it applies to our compassion practice too. True equanimity is the experience of limitless kindness toward all beings.
In Buddhism, our compassion is not complete if not imbued with equanimity. The equanimous heart cares for all beings, regardless of whether or not they are close to us, or not so close to us.
Synonyms of equanimity include the following. As you read through the list, notice how each word feels in your body, which resonate with you, and which stir some resistance.
The last two, acceptance and contentment, highlight equanimity’s potential for guiding us to lasting happiness. For even if we do not like a situation, accepting it for what it is minimizes suffering. To be equanimous is to be content deep down, despite changing conditioned phenomena.
Examples of equanimity include letting yourself love fully without becoming attached, or allowing yourself to cry instead of pushing your pain away. Equanimity might look like listening with an open mind to someone you disagree with, or choosing to pause versus exploding when you feel you’ve been pushed to your edge.
How to Cultivate Equanimity
Equanimity practice takes place both within our meditation sessions and in-between our meditation sessions. It starts by becoming aware of when the mind is equanimous, and when it is not.
Equanimity In Meditation
In meditation, equanimity is a steady mind, undisturbed by the classic 5 hindrances of desire, aversion, too much or too little energy, and doubt. Mindfulness meditation is, in a very real sense, a training in equanimity. Whatever arises in our practice, we welcome it without judgment. We might still label things as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, but we become increasingly free from the compulsion to react based on those labels.
Equanimity in Daily Life
To practice equanimity outside of meditation, we can apply the awareness we’ve cultivated in formal practice to our everyday experience. One way to do this is to become aware of the 8 worldly concerns, and how they tend to throw us off balance.
As you read through the following list, imagine what it would be like to remain balanced, grounded and present between the extremes (or the subtleties) of these pairs:
- Gain and loss
- Pleasure and pain
- Praise and blame
- Fame and disgrace
We can practice equanimity by observing how we react to teven the smallest wins and losses in our everyday lives. We can also practice softening into a more equanimous heart by observing how we respond to those we like versus those we dislike, or those we hardly know.
Life will always have its ups and downs. Suffering arises because we mistakenly think we can control these ups and downs as a means of arriving at true happiness. We grasp to what is good and do our best to suppress what’s painful. To experience equanimity is to experience a sense of peace and ease that’s no longer dependent on wins, pleasure, praise or fame. One very good equanimity mantra? It’s like this now, I can work with it, and it will change.