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Mental Health Blog

What is Equanimity and How Can We Cultivate it?

April 21, 2022

man meditates in park overlooking city

Most of us can relate to feeling fear or frustration in times of uncertainty. We have our life mapped out, and suddenly everything changes. Countries lock their borders, schools send their students home, and death counts surge by the minute.

It’s no secret that the past two years have stirred a range of emotions within us: fear, angst, and uncertainty to name a few. Moving forward, we can ask ourselves: how do we stay resilient when our lives start to feel overwhelming? How can we find inner calm among outward chaos? We can learn to cultivate equanimity.

What is equanimity?

Equanimity refers to the state of being mentally calm and collected, particularly in times of difficulty. With equanimity, you’re able to monitor your immediate judgments and reactions to situations by taking time to pause, notice, and reflect.

The ground for wisdom and the protector of compassion, equanimity allows you to open your heart to the world, while staying grounded in the body and mind.

Equanimity arises from the power of observation- the ability to see what’s happening around you- without getting attached to what you observe.

You can see the bigger picture with patience and understanding, rather than reacting to what you see with hostility or fear.

What is equanimity not?

The close enemy of equanimity is indifference.

While it might seem tempting to withdraw from a difficult situation, and tell yourself that it doesn’t matter anyway because life goes on, you will not experience the level of engagement and groundedness that equanimity avails.

Indifference is grounded in fear: withdrawing from situations and unpredictable energies will only lead us to abandon ourselves or someone close to us.

Equanimity is not a withdrawal, insensitivity, or apathy; it is a balanced engagement with all aspects of life. It is standing strong in the midst of turbulence. With equanimity, you do not hide from the aspects of life that you dislike or cling to the aspects that you prefer. The collected mind allows things to be as they are: accepting what is without judgment and reaction.

How Can We Cultivate Equanimity?

Mindfulness meditation

One way to cultivate equanimity is to engage with mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation involves moment-to-moment focus of changing objects of perception. Instead of forcing yourself to sit still and focus on mantras or the breath, with mindfulness meditation you learn to exist through any experience- easy or difficult- and bring awareness to the whole experience: including sensations, emotions, and thoughts as they come and go.

You might find phrases that resonate with you, and practice them as situations come up. As you say these phrases, take time to relax and linger in the moment motivating them:

  1. May I witness things just as they are.
  2. May I remain peaceful and let go of any fixation.
  3. May I offer care without hesitation.
  4. May I offer care knowing that I cannot control the course of what’s next.
  5. I care for all beings, just as they are.
  6. My way is not just the only way. All beings have their journey, and I have mine.
  7. May I see the world with quiet eyes.
  8. May I be free from judgment.
  9. I care about the pain of others, but I cannot control it.
  10. May I know that I am enough, just as others are enough.

Observance

As you go about your day, you can observe what aspects of your life you’re attaching to and if you’re striving for results from your actions.

On your commute to and from work, as you’re preparing meals and washing dishes, as you’re walking or resting in bed, can you focus on the action without attachment to results? Can you enjoy a walk without checking your steps, or wash the dishes without expecting a thank you?

The willingness to observe without getting caught in reactivity and results leads to a more peaceful and fulfilled state of being.

Tips for a more guided practice:

Affectionate Breathing

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Become aware of any discomfort you may feel in your body and release it.
  3. Notice your breath flowing in and out. Bring a loving awareness to your breath.
  4. Notice with every breath in, you are nourishing your body: with every breath out, you are calming your body.

Hand over Heart Practice

  1. Place your hand over your heart. Feel the warmth of your hand against your chest.
  2. Breath gently and deeply: focus on the warmth of your hand over your heart.
  3. Remember a moment when you felt safe, loved, cherished with a friend, partner, or pet.
  4. Embrace the feelings from that moment: let them wash over you.

Visualize a Friend

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Focus on the gentle rhythm of your breath.
  3. Place your hand over your heart.
  4. Imagine you are in your own warm and safe place.
  5. Imagine welcoming a friend to that warm and safe place.
  6. Bring a worry you have to mind: share that worry with your friend.
  7. Notice how it feels to share your worry with your friend. Imagine your friend responding with compassion.
  8. Notice if anything shifted in you and how you feel and think about your worry.

Moving inward through mindfulness meditation practices- taking time to notice, relect, and then respond to a situation- strengthens your self-awareness, and prepares you for future situations that might be difficult to respond to.

What are the benefits of cultivating equanimity?

By cultivating equanimity you allow for life to change and shift. Accepting the unknowable nature of things to be just as they are, instead of letting them overwhelm you, invites greater peace into your life. You can have a clearer mind, and have control over the ways in which you respond to situations.

Practice saying, “This moment is like this, and it doesn’t have to be different right now. I can allow what is here and offer what is needed.”Imagine if we all learned to let go a bit more, and accept that there is little we can control other than our reactions to circumstances? We might all find more compassion, kindness, and love in our hearts, to spread to ourselves, and others.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting and nonprofit communications and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College. Nettie is a believer in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing and storytelling as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. Nettie is endlessly curious about all things mental and behavioral health.