When it comes to the practices of lovingkindness & compassion in Buddhist psychology, it’s pretty well understood that if we only practice these things, we can end up getting attached to the way we think things are supposed to be.
… And want to run off into the mountains when things don’t go as we want them to. We want to check out. Withdraw.
… Or we may grasp and struggle with the world rather than serving it. We resist and we fight.
This is why equanimity if often taught along with compassion and lovingkindness. Equanimity does not mean indifference or callousness. Indifference is based on fear.
True equanimity is not a withdrawal from life. It is a balanced engagement with all aspects of life. It embraces the loved and unloved. The things that being us pleasure and the things that don’t.
Knowing that all things are of the nature to change – ourselves, others, the world – with equanimity, we’re able to be fully present and in harmony with it.
When we don’t have equanimity, we get hooked by things, like we’re in a trance. But if we’re present in it, we’re less likely to react to things that activate us, and instead are more free to respond. We’re more likely to be able to access our wise mind and respond to life with compassion and lovingkindness (metta), forgiveness, and we’re more open to joy, too.
We open ourselves up to joy and pain. Because we really connect with ourselves and others in both of these states, right?
Now, the reality of suffering as part of the human condition is talked about in the First Noble Truth. It’s really hard to embrace this, right? And sure, it could be seen as a bummer. But it’s so essential to understand the reality of suffering, because that also helps us understand how to end it. After all, pain is not the same as suffering. Pain is inevitable, and suffering is optional.
The whole purpose of Buddhist psychology, its ethics (or sila), philosophy, practices, and ways of living in community, is the discovery that freedom and straight up joy are possible, even in the face of the suffering we experience as humans.
Now, while pain is inevitable, suffering is not. Pain happens just y being born a human. If nothing else, we all experience sickness, old age, and death. But we also experience abundance and scarcity, love and hate, pain and joy…
Suffering, however, is caused by our reaction to the hard parts of life, to the pain. It arises from grasping, from attachment to what we want and how we want the world to be.
Our personal suffering can include anxiety, depression, fear, confusion, grief, anger, addiction… but it’s not just personal. Our collective suffering grows from human greed, hatred, and ignorance, creating things we see all around us: warfare and racism, unnecessary hunger, sickness, and abandonment of humans all over the world.
That First Noble Truth is what we are working on understanding and transforming. The Second Noble Truth helps us understand the grasping, or attachment – the cause of the suffering.
Attachment to things needing to be a certain way leads us to also having an aversion towards some things, and even incorrect views of what’s going on, of the nature of existence.
Then we get all messed up and start to experience that unnecessary suffering that looks like anger, hatred, anxiety, buffering and addiction, jealousy…
Freedom from suffering is possible when we let go of our need for things to be different than they are.
So nirvana, my friends, is not some place with clouds and rainbows or cosmic stars and supernovas. This is nirvana. I think of it as a letting go of the need for things to be different than what they are and therefore letting go of our suffering, our fear and grasping.
And I’m not saying I hang out here or know this space well, even. What I am saying is the more I learn and the more I talk with my teachers who have a much more intimate knowledge of nirvana themselves, I realize it is not a place of escape or transcendence of this world, but rather a very intimate knowing of the true nature of this world, and a letting go of how we need it to be.
This is true freedom.
Equanimity is part of the middle way, which helps us, amidst the pain of the world and of ourselves and others, to experience peace wherever we are, here and now.
When we’re present in equanimity, it’s not that we don’t have a response at all. It’s that we’re less likely to react to things that activate us in an unconscious way, and instead are more free to respond with access our wise mind and respond to life with compassion.
This is really different from an attitude of indifference. Some people think equanimity is experiencing the world and not having any response to it. Like…meh. Like my patients that had low testosterone. They didn’t feel awful, but they also didn’t feel stoked about anything. Or upset or angry about anything. Just…meh. That’s not equanimity.
When we don’t grasp at or resist life as it is – in a state of equanimity – we can live wide awake and experience true freedom – in the midst of, as its said, the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.
Equanimity teaches us how to not run away. How not to get overwhelmed. It teaches us how to lean into the world. How to stay present. How to not become incapacitated by our caring. Only by courageously opening to the sorrow of the world as it is do we find our freedom.
In this Episode you’ll learn:
// The difference between equanimity and indifference
// What makes pain inevitable but suffering optional
// Why nirvana isn’t what you think
// Where Western psychology falls short when it comes to suffering
// How to cultivate equanimity in everyday life
// How equanimity helps us stop running away
// Episode 60: How to Avoid Unnecessary Suffering
// Episode 63: Being Human is Hard – The First Noble Truth
// If you want to start integrating all of you into this one precious life we have, apply for the Adventure Mastermind. It’s Soul Work. Deep work. Important, necessary, and essential to what the world needs right now. Be a part of it.
If you’re remotely curious, apply. It will help you get clear, and then we can chat to see if it’s actually a good fit. Trust me – it’s an intense 6 months so I am just as invested as you are in making sure it’s an amazing match. Head over to AdventureMastermind.com and apply for the Summer cohort. We have 2 altered states retreats, weekly coaching, virtual retreats, and more. I’ve got you!
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist FB group, and tune in weekly when I go live on new topics.
// Want to dive into this work on a deeper level on your own time? To study it and practice it together with a group of people with the same goals of freedom, adventure and purpose? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out.