Goodwill is goodwill, and we’re likely to recognize it when we see it. The same goes for compassion and sympathetic joy. Equanimity is more subtle. It can be easy to mistake indifference for equanimity and equanimity for indifference, even in ourselves.
As a spiritual virtue, upekkha means equanimity in the face of the fluctuations of worldly fortune. It is evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha is freedom from all points of self-reference; it is indifference only to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position, not to the well-being of one’s fellow human beings. True equanimity is the pinnacle of the four social attitudes that the Buddhist texts call the “divine abodes”: boundless loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity. The last does not override and negate the preceding three, but perfects and consummates them.
From Toward a Threshold of Understanding by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Sometimes if we don’t have the equipoise described by Bhikkhu Bodhi, we can fake it by withdrawing. This withdrawal is a form of indifference because we cut ourselves off from what is happening, especially from other people. In truly dire situations, this disengagement can be a practical matter of self-preservation, but usually, we just run out of patience with what’s going on. We feel that we are too important to engage with these people or this project. The ego needs to be in a different position, so we shift around, perhaps judging others or speaking cynically.
One way to check whether we have equanimity or indifference present in the mind is to see if there’s patience or impatience. If there’s impatience, we can try to shift the focus to listening to someone else’s point of view, moving our attention from our own irritation to being curious about what others are feeling, saying, or doing; trying to understand them.
If there is patience, that’s a pretty good sign that equanimity is present. We can be aware of this mind state at the same time as looking and listening, absorbing and understanding what’s going on. It’s a bit like looking through a really clean window and appreciating the cleanliness of the window as well as what we can see through it.
Another telltale sign of equanimity is that the other sublime states may also be present. If we’re feeling kindly towards others, we’re not indifferent. I’ve heard it said that there is no situation in which mindfulness is not useful. The same can be said for the divine mind states. Keeping them active doesn’t get in the way of going about our daily business, it enhances our lives.