We all struggle sometimes, even though we know that when we struggle with reality, we will lose. Every time. But sometimes it’s hard to recognize what we are really struggling with.
A friend recently revealed that he has been dealing with some challenging and painful circumstances. He most fervently wished the circumstances were different. I think most of us would feel the same in the similar situation. He went on to say that he thought he should be better able to release his struggle, that he should be better able to move through the circumstances with greater acceptance.
As I listened, it occurred to me that his struggle was not so much with wanting the circumstances to be different. Yes, he wished that certain things had not happened, but he knew that what had happened could not be changed. Rather it seemed his real struggle was with wanting himself to be different. He wanted to not be in so much pain in the midst of what anyone would recognize as difficult circumstances. And he judged himself for not being able to process what had happened with more equanimity, free from the buffeting waves of intense feelings.
I wonder if equanimity is always outwardly peaceful. It is often described that way. But where is true equanimity? The word is rooted in Latin concepts of fairness and impartiality. There is a sense of balance, the point between equal sides. There is a centeredness to it, which may not always look calm on the outside. Like the eye in the center of a hurricane.
One time something happened that was so startling and threatening, I was immediately thrown into my reactive, reptile brain. I lashed out in a violent response that later, when the adrenaline was spent, seemed like a humiliating abandonment of all my “inner work.”
Pouring out my misery to my taiji teacher, I bemoaned my lack of spiritual fortitude. I felt like a fraud, preaching what I utterly failed to practice in the moment of testing. He listened patiently, his face open but neutral. When I finally wound down, I looked to him, seeking guidance, penance, redemption. I expected he would tell me where I went wrong and how to do better.
He didn’t say anything for what seemed like a long time but was probably just seconds. Then he leaned forward and said gently, “How do you know that what you did wasn’t exactly what was called for in that moment?” Oh.
I wasn’t struggling with what had happened. I was struggling with how I judged myself about what had happened. Like my friend is judging himself about how he thinks he should feel. He feels the way he feels. Equanimity is accepting the reality of those feelings, even when they don’t look kumbaya. Struggling with them reinforces them and locks them in. Accepting them allows them to move through us naturally and to dissipate when spent, perhaps to rise again but with lessening intensity over time.
Thinking that we should somehow be other than what we are in any given moment is a form of violence against ourselves. Instead, we can accept who we are with compassion. And that, no matter what it looks like, is equanimity in my book.
I am what I am, and that’s all that I am. ~Popeye the sailor man