Some of us have been thrown off balance by recent political events. Emotions may roil; we may feel threatened, frustrated, or confused, without having a sensible channel for responding. This seems the perfect time to introduce the upekkhā pāramī, often translated as equanimity.
The only way out is through a different approach: one of developing equanimity as self-acceptance. Cultivating this is one of the ongoing themes of Dhamma practice. For example in meditation: when painful memories or ugly mind states come up, we pause, set aside how things should be, and let go of trying to analyse or fix the mind. In checking those reactions (without judging them) an even-minded empathy spreads over the mind. No need to struggle: ‘I can be with this.’
I like to define this process as having three stages: pay attention; meet what arises; and include it all. That is, feel the thoughts, feelings and emotions as they are; widen the focus to feel how they’re affecting the body; and let empathic attention rest over the whole of it. Don’t get busy, and don’t just wait for things to end – that isn’t a full inclusion. Instead, soften those attitudes and include it all. And let that process continue for whatever arises next. (from chapter Evenness of Mind: Upekkhā Pāramī, in the book Pāramī by Ajahn Sucitto)
There’s comfort and wisdom to be found in Ajahn Sucitto’s words. Upekkhā is (1) one of the perfections, (2) one of the four sublime states (Brahma-viharas), and (3) a description of the fourth jhana (a deep meditative state). And yet the way to practice with this principle is very simple: pay full, empathic attention and reject nothing in our experience. It may seem paradoxical, but we CAN fully accept and acknowledge our confusion, our fear, our hatred, our greed, our generosity, kindness, delight, and all the rest – and see that they all come and go. They rise and they pass away; they are ownerless states of body and mind, common to all humans. Our empathy for the discomfort these states sometimes cause can be extended to ourselves and to other people.
What makes even-mindedness so difficult in practice is that it is subtle. Our fear, greed, lust, and hatred are not subtle. When we feel these emotions, we usually identify with them strongly, and this might make us feel “more alive”. I recall a moment in my early 20’s when this thought took hold of me: “I LOVE these strong feelings, the good and the bad, and I have a sense that they will become less urgent as I get older. This time in my life is the peak of emotional intensity (for me); it will never be this compelling again.” This youthful perspective may not be a universal principle, but it is unlikely to be unique.
I’ve found that just noticing the intensity of strong emotion weakens its ability to take me over. After long and painful experience of being driven by feelings and desires, I’ve come to appreciate the deep peace of letting go. As I’m more and more able to simply “be with this” (whatever it is), life is less stressful and more joyful.