TThe 8th-century nondual sage Adi Shankara emphasized the importance of equanimity in attaining liberation:
He whose mind lingers not over the past, nor goes out after the future, when perfect equanimity is gained, this is the mark of him who is free even in life. In this world, whose very nature is full of differences, where quality and defect are distinguished, to regard all things everywhere as the same, this is the mark of him who is free even in life.
The Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, p. 69. Translated by Charles Johnston. Theosophical University Press, 1946.
We work hard to establish a safe, secure and pleasant life. We may more or less achieve this at some point, but soon enough, to our dismay, we learn that it is never “established.” Like water, it so easily slips through our fingers. We encounter troubles of all sorts. Our security and comfort are continually under siege. We respond as best we can and work to right whatever seems wrong, only to have another threat rise up. Again we work and struggle to set things right. We feel a sense of momentary relief when this is achieved—until the next challenge. We continually seek security in the “up” times. But they always let us down.
I’m ready to give up the “ups,” the sense of well being I derive from things going my way. They make me nervous. I know they are only here today. The external conditions upon which they hang are in constant flux, and keep me ever anxious. Take away my reliance upon safe and pleasant circumstances, take the tenuous joy I derive from them. I offer them as a sacrifice to you, dear God. May You enjoy them for me and through me. But let me be ever mindful that they do not belong to me. Let me rest in equanimity, as purely as possible. I am weary of riding the waves. I sense the relief I will feel in coming out of the water, resting on the beach. I will watch the waves, and remember the thrill. But I will venture out no more.
True equanimity is not cold, detached or distant. It is the bliss of resting on the warm, shimmering sand. I can watch the waves, or close my eyes and just listen to their gentle rhythm. But no longer will I scale their heights and plumb their depths. No longer will I have to fight for breath.
This is the vision. It will take practice. Surfing has long been my habit. I begin with the small things: the weather, daily tasks, my food choices. Can I let go of a preference for sunshine or clouds? On any given day, this is not too hard. Both are lovely. Is it really so difficult to wait in line at the post office? Use the time to send love to everyone around--what a gift! Must I really consume chocolate every day? Give it a rest, and enjoy the sense of freedom from compulsion or anticipation. And when I do taste it again, I will notice that it isn’t really such a thrill; much of that is projection, feeling love and attachment to a mere substance. So I practice being satisfied with what might be disappointing or annoying, and also to subdue enthusiasm for perceived pleasures.
As my skill develops, I take on bigger challenges, working to remain centered as my finances, health and relationships spike or dive. I find the practice of gratitude helpful in this. As my natural inclination is to be fearful and pessimistic, gratitude does not propel me into elation, but rather balances the scales. Acknowledging the health, financial security and love that I do have, imperfect though they may be, reveals abundance as well as lack.
A welcome side effect of a balanced view is clearer thinking. Dispassion aids discernment. This can lead to more skillful action, and a smoother life. But I try not to aim for or expect this result. It will come if it does. Let me value non-attachment for its own sake, and for the freedom it bestows, here and now.
The character’s ups and downs oscillate over the ground of being. Joy and sorrow are of the same substance. May we see them both as one. To be closer to your true Self, emulate its highest wisdom. Accept all that arises as your own creation, directed by divine intelligence. See the sparkling treasure in your darkest fears and troubles, and be ever mindful of the decay and demise inherent in your brightest joys.
Equanimity is not apathy. It is love without need. It is compassion without fear. It is the natural result of resting in awareness, which is our greatest and only true security. The ups and downs of this character’s life will continue, but I give them to God, to my higher self, who delights equally in both. I will rest on the shore and watch the swirling waves, listen to their breaking, their sighs and their music. How beautiful they are from afar!