On equanimity

How does equanimity get made? Frustration, irritation, annoyance and many other disturbances to our equanimity are frequent and just sort of happen to us. Can we not have them happen to us? And if so, how do we make them not happen?

When we’re meditating we get distracted. Often. Usually, we don’t just bring our attention back to the breath. We first have some emotion. How do those emotions arise? Where do they arise? How do they persist?

And what can we do to change them? If anything.

In the west we have become incredibly good at studying the outside world. We have developed marvels of engineering from the cellphones in our pockets to the rockets we shoot into space. Our abilities to understand and leverage the mechanics of the world around us are directly attributable to the scientific method.

In the east people have developed a similar method for exploring our internal world. A method to turn our attention inwards, onto ourselves, onto our bodies and onto our minds. Like the scientific method, it is a fairly simple technique in principle. But like the scientific method, it yields an infinity of ever deepening detail. Neither rabbit hole has a bottom. And we’ve only just begun digging. The principal method for introspection is meditation. Focused attention on our inner experience, observing what arises, noting what happens when and where and why. Experimenting, learning and integrating our new-found knowledge.

This kind of research can only really be done on oneself. To get the benefits, we all need to do our own research, to an extent. But knowing what works and what doesn’t, sharing findings and techniques, even sharing the benefits of our work, can be tremendously helpful. This post is my attempt to share what the creation of equanimity looks like in my inner world.

I set an intention: keep my attention on the breath. I fail: my mind wanders. I notice my failure. Disappointment arises. I bring my attention to the disappointment. It seems to be made up of two elements. A feeling in the body and chatter in my mind. I investigate the physical feelings that have arisen. I can characterize them. Some pressure in the stomach. Contraction in the chest and throat. Maybe some hotness. This dissecting of the physical elements of the emotion can be as detailed as I want to make it.

Often, this investigation interrupts the narrative chatter in my mind about the emotion. Without the chatter, the physical sensations dissipate and change in character. They lose their tone of unpleasantness. The sensations on their own turn out to be more neutral. Taken individually and without the narrative they really are just sensations. Like the pressure on my arm from someone’s hand. Not unpleasant and certainly not painful.

In fact, without the chatter, the physical sensations go away very quickly. What about that chatter though? What is the character of the narrative that arises with my disappointment? There’s a lot of judgement there. My own inner voice is judging my own attempts at focused attention. Me judging me? For me failing myself? Apparently. What happens when I hold on to these thoughts? Feed them with my attention and credit them for their veracity? It seems to increase the physical sensations and adds a negative qualitative layer to them. They turn unpleasant. Which in turn keeps my mind babbling on with negative thoughts. What if I don’t focus on the thoughts, but instead bring my attention back to the breath (or the physical sensations in the body)? The whole emotion lingers briefly and then just dissolves. It goes away.

Interesting! Does that work every time? Try it. Sit. Focus on the breath. See for yourself.

Maybe, if we improve our concentration and our awareness of sensations in the body and our ability to notice negative chatter in our minds. Maybe, we could create a little gap. A gap between an event, our reaction to the event and our subsequent emotional state. If we had a small amount of time to notice our emotions and stop or change our narrative, perhaps we could be less reactive and be able to regulate our own inner state.

How to train that skill though? How to learn to create such a gap? If only we had a method. A method for exploring our internal world, a method to turn our attention inwards, onto ourselves, onto our bodies and onto our minds. Such a method should help us improve our concentration. Ideally, it should also help us connect to the physical sensations in our bodies. Perhaps it could also help us get better at noticing when we’re lost in thought. And interrupt those thoughts. And see them as arising in our minds rather than being created by our selves. Also, if we could practice these skills repeatedly, that would be nice too. Over and over and over again?

If only there was such a method. Then we could just train ourselves. Train to not be ruled by our emotions. To see how the sausage gets made and to not identify as a sausage maker.

1 comment

  1. “If only we had a method”. :)))) Vipassana??

    “To see how the sausage gets made and to not identify as a sausage maker.” Briljant my friend, very nice written. Thank you for sharing. X

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