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Equanimity: The Highest Happiness

Within meditation there is one form of happiness that trumps all others. This talk explores that kind of happiness and how you can develop more of it.

Today, we're going to be talking about equanimity. To begin, let's listen to the bells to help us settle in. I first learned about the concept of equanimity through my studies in Burma. Although the idea of equanimity and what it's pointing to can be found in many different traditions, some of the best articulations of it and how to cultivate it do come from the Buddhist tradition. And what equanimity is pointing to is a deep groundedness and balance of mind that is not disturbed by the highs and lows of internal or external experiences.

From a lay person's perspective, we might understand this as just simply being balanced. But from a contemplative perspective, a meditators perspective, this is actually a profound mind state that can be cultivated over time. So I want to address both. The depth of what equanimity can be and what's possible as a mind state to be achieved, and also how we might experience it in our moment to moment life and why it would be powerful or even profound in many ways. So let's start where many of my stories star in Burma.

When I went to Burma, I did not really know what to expect. I just knew that I was going to be meditating many hours per day, eating very little and not speaking. I had an agenda to cultivate a quality of peace that could exist, I don't want to say independent of external conditions, but much less dependent on external conditions. And that came with a felt sense of what I wanted to achieve. There was an, a sense in my mind and my body of what I would feel like once I get wherever there was.

Because of that, many of the experiences I had throughout that extended retreat were filtered through a lens of, does this match up with what I want or does it not match up? So how did that look? Well, in the beginning, I dealt with a lot of pain. And anytime physical pain would arise, my mind would naturally resist it. Ugh this isn't it. And get angry that it was here. Try and focus on the breath, all in pursuit of creating a little bit more peace or ease.

Eventually the pain would shift or I would use some strategies to help it soften a bit. And then I go back, I'd be meditating and maybe I'd have a week where things were really good and I felt peaceful and totally at ease. And sometimes even my body completely feeling like a body of light, I have to look down and make sure my feet were still on the ground. I felt that great. And then my mind will go, wow, this is it.

If I could just have more of this, then I would really be cruising and life would be so good. Imagine if I could take this back into my day-to-day life and raise a family with this quality of peace. I mean, this is amazing. So I would really hold on to that. And then sadly, that experience would pass and it might be neutral for a little bit, or it might go back to pain in the body or this period I went through.

There was a lot of emotion, like sadness and grief. And I went through that and, you know, I was paying attention to it, being present with it, but there was this sense of, ah, this isn't it, like got to get away from this. So I'd push, push, try and focus, but it was focusing on with the intention to get rid of the bad stuff. Eventually the bad stuff would shift and aah, go back to neutrality, then another good thing would happen, and I go, yeah, that's it again. Give me more of that.

And this rollercoaster went on for weeks, months. Yes, months, more than weeks. And when good things were there, I grasp onto it. I said, that's it. And when the painful experiences came up, I try and be present and mindful with them, but there was still this agenda of like pushing.

My, my brain was just so wired and conditioned to push against the bad stuff and pull toward the good stuff. But what happens when you're paying that careful attention to your moment to moment experience is that your mind starts to learn. It starts to learn that the more I push against the negative stuff, well, it doesn't really make the negative stuff go away. In fact, it just creates more tension. So why am I pushing so hard? And it starts to soften.

And then it sees, well, you know, every time I grasp for the good stuff, it's not like the good stuff stays any longer. And in fact, I create more stress for myself because I'm gripping so hard. Why do I grip so much? And it says, huh? Maybe I could soften around that. And slowly as that retreat went on, when difficult experiences would arise, my mind would get a little softer. And when good experiences would arise, my mind got softer still.

This happened slowly. But one day, several months into that retreat, I ran the four, four month mark, I found that I was no longer pushing and pulling. When I would sit down in meditation, there was this really deep peace, which I can only describe as hiking up a mountain with a hundred pound backpack for years at a time and just the exhaustion of that. And then finally getting to the top, being able to sit down and take that backpack off. You can imagine the ease that would come with that.

That's what this felt like. It was just pure balance, no tension that came from grasping at good experiences, no tension that came from pushing away the bad experiences. My mind was just able to hold it all. It was spacious enough to allow everything to be there and not make an issue out of it. And it truly was profound.

In fact, this mind state, at least in the Buddhist tradition is considered most similar to that of an enlighted being. It's the highest form of happiness we can experience. There are forms of pleasure that give us happiness or forms of social interactions, relationships that give us happiness. There are forms of wisdom that give us happiness. And then equanimity is considered the pinnacle of what we can experience in terms of happiness, because we're no longer experiencing conditional happiness, where things need to be a certain way to feel good.

When I got back from Burma, this lasted for several weeks. I wish I could say it's still lasted, but it didn't. And then I wrote a book and that just knocked out all the equanimity. Well, the equanimity was knocked out a bit before then. It's very hard to maintain this depth of balance and equanimity in the real world, where there are people that need things from us, difficult relationship dynamics, lots of stimulation.

It's hard for the mind to get to the level of concentration next necessary to access this deep, deep equanimity. But that doesn't mean we can't deepen into equanimity and experience many moments of equanimity. Having now heard that story in Burma, I'm sure you can resonate with times in your life where maybe your mind was a little bit more still, where something was happening and you weren't grasping at it, you weren't pushing away. You were just able to meet it fully. Might've been a conversation, might've been observing a sunset, might've even been a difficult experience, like the loss of a loved one.

You were able to fully be there. Not tormented by the pushing or pulling, but just holding it with steadiness, groundedness and ease. That kind of equanimity, we can actually experience quite a bit in our lives. We can experience it multiple times throughout the day. It's simply referring to a mind that is not pushing and is not pulling, just meeting exactly as it is.

We could say it's a moment of presence. So the more we practice bringing mindfulness into our lives, the more we develop this quality of equanimity. But I think you could also appreciate how a daily meditation practice or even some form of a meditation practice could be powerful for taking you deeper into equanimity in your day-to-day life, because it's simply the willingness to show up for a series of predetermined moments, meaning, we sit for five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes of meditation. And we're just choosing to be with all of it, regardless of how great it is or how bad it is, just to meet it, soften into the experience. And what I mean by that is relax the tension that's fighting the experience, relax the tension that's grasping at the good experiences.

Just meet. Oh. This is what this moment is like right now. The moment is like this. Right now, it's like this.

That is a mind that is more equanimous. And the more we do that, the more we deepen into it. Equanimity is neither a thought nor an emotion. Rather, it's this steady, conscious realization of reality's transience. That's a quote I got off of Wikipedia, so I can't take credit for it, but it's powerful.

Neither a thought, nor an emotion. Rather, the steady, conscious realization of realities transience. Let that sink in. Not just now, but for the rest of today. When you find yourself tensing around something, take a deep breath, just relax into how it is right now.

When you find yourself really excited, but also grasping to keep that excitement, take a deep breath and see if you could just experience the goodness while it's there without needing to maintain it. It was great being with you today. Take care.

Talk

4.8

Equanimity: The Highest Happiness

Within meditation there is one form of happiness that trumps all others. This talk explores that kind of happiness and how you can develop more of it.

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

Today, we're going to be talking about equanimity. To begin, let's listen to the bells to help us settle in. I first learned about the concept of equanimity through my studies in Burma. Although the idea of equanimity and what it's pointing to can be found in many different traditions, some of the best articulations of it and how to cultivate it do come from the Buddhist tradition. And what equanimity is pointing to is a deep groundedness and balance of mind that is not disturbed by the highs and lows of internal or external experiences.

From a lay person's perspective, we might understand this as just simply being balanced. But from a contemplative perspective, a meditators perspective, this is actually a profound mind state that can be cultivated over time. So I want to address both. The depth of what equanimity can be and what's possible as a mind state to be achieved, and also how we might experience it in our moment to moment life and why it would be powerful or even profound in many ways. So let's start where many of my stories star in Burma.

When I went to Burma, I did not really know what to expect. I just knew that I was going to be meditating many hours per day, eating very little and not speaking. I had an agenda to cultivate a quality of peace that could exist, I don't want to say independent of external conditions, but much less dependent on external conditions. And that came with a felt sense of what I wanted to achieve. There was an, a sense in my mind and my body of what I would feel like once I get wherever there was.

Because of that, many of the experiences I had throughout that extended retreat were filtered through a lens of, does this match up with what I want or does it not match up? So how did that look? Well, in the beginning, I dealt with a lot of pain. And anytime physical pain would arise, my mind would naturally resist it. Ugh this isn't it. And get angry that it was here. Try and focus on the breath, all in pursuit of creating a little bit more peace or ease.

Eventually the pain would shift or I would use some strategies to help it soften a bit. And then I go back, I'd be meditating and maybe I'd have a week where things were really good and I felt peaceful and totally at ease. And sometimes even my body completely feeling like a body of light, I have to look down and make sure my feet were still on the ground. I felt that great. And then my mind will go, wow, this is it.

If I could just have more of this, then I would really be cruising and life would be so good. Imagine if I could take this back into my day-to-day life and raise a family with this quality of peace. I mean, this is amazing. So I would really hold on to that. And then sadly, that experience would pass and it might be neutral for a little bit, or it might go back to pain in the body or this period I went through.

There was a lot of emotion, like sadness and grief. And I went through that and, you know, I was paying attention to it, being present with it, but there was this sense of, ah, this isn't it, like got to get away from this. So I'd push, push, try and focus, but it was focusing on with the intention to get rid of the bad stuff. Eventually the bad stuff would shift and aah, go back to neutrality, then another good thing would happen, and I go, yeah, that's it again. Give me more of that.

And this rollercoaster went on for weeks, months. Yes, months, more than weeks. And when good things were there, I grasp onto it. I said, that's it. And when the painful experiences came up, I try and be present and mindful with them, but there was still this agenda of like pushing.

My, my brain was just so wired and conditioned to push against the bad stuff and pull toward the good stuff. But what happens when you're paying that careful attention to your moment to moment experience is that your mind starts to learn. It starts to learn that the more I push against the negative stuff, well, it doesn't really make the negative stuff go away. In fact, it just creates more tension. So why am I pushing so hard? And it starts to soften.

And then it sees, well, you know, every time I grasp for the good stuff, it's not like the good stuff stays any longer. And in fact, I create more stress for myself because I'm gripping so hard. Why do I grip so much? And it says, huh? Maybe I could soften around that. And slowly as that retreat went on, when difficult experiences would arise, my mind would get a little softer. And when good experiences would arise, my mind got softer still.

This happened slowly. But one day, several months into that retreat, I ran the four, four month mark, I found that I was no longer pushing and pulling. When I would sit down in meditation, there was this really deep peace, which I can only describe as hiking up a mountain with a hundred pound backpack for years at a time and just the exhaustion of that. And then finally getting to the top, being able to sit down and take that backpack off. You can imagine the ease that would come with that.

That's what this felt like. It was just pure balance, no tension that came from grasping at good experiences, no tension that came from pushing away the bad experiences. My mind was just able to hold it all. It was spacious enough to allow everything to be there and not make an issue out of it. And it truly was profound.

In fact, this mind state, at least in the Buddhist tradition is considered most similar to that of an enlighted being. It's the highest form of happiness we can experience. There are forms of pleasure that give us happiness or forms of social interactions, relationships that give us happiness. There are forms of wisdom that give us happiness. And then equanimity is considered the pinnacle of what we can experience in terms of happiness, because we're no longer experiencing conditional happiness, where things need to be a certain way to feel good.

When I got back from Burma, this lasted for several weeks. I wish I could say it's still lasted, but it didn't. And then I wrote a book and that just knocked out all the equanimity. Well, the equanimity was knocked out a bit before then. It's very hard to maintain this depth of balance and equanimity in the real world, where there are people that need things from us, difficult relationship dynamics, lots of stimulation.

It's hard for the mind to get to the level of concentration next necessary to access this deep, deep equanimity. But that doesn't mean we can't deepen into equanimity and experience many moments of equanimity. Having now heard that story in Burma, I'm sure you can resonate with times in your life where maybe your mind was a little bit more still, where something was happening and you weren't grasping at it, you weren't pushing away. You were just able to meet it fully. Might've been a conversation, might've been observing a sunset, might've even been a difficult experience, like the loss of a loved one.

You were able to fully be there. Not tormented by the pushing or pulling, but just holding it with steadiness, groundedness and ease. That kind of equanimity, we can actually experience quite a bit in our lives. We can experience it multiple times throughout the day. It's simply referring to a mind that is not pushing and is not pulling, just meeting exactly as it is.

We could say it's a moment of presence. So the more we practice bringing mindfulness into our lives, the more we develop this quality of equanimity. But I think you could also appreciate how a daily meditation practice or even some form of a meditation practice could be powerful for taking you deeper into equanimity in your day-to-day life, because it's simply the willingness to show up for a series of predetermined moments, meaning, we sit for five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes of meditation. And we're just choosing to be with all of it, regardless of how great it is or how bad it is, just to meet it, soften into the experience. And what I mean by that is relax the tension that's fighting the experience, relax the tension that's grasping at the good experiences.

Just meet. Oh. This is what this moment is like right now. The moment is like this. Right now, it's like this.

That is a mind that is more equanimous. And the more we do that, the more we deepen into it. Equanimity is neither a thought nor an emotion. Rather, it's this steady, conscious realization of reality's transience. That's a quote I got off of Wikipedia, so I can't take credit for it, but it's powerful.

Neither a thought, nor an emotion. Rather, the steady, conscious realization of realities transience. Let that sink in. Not just now, but for the rest of today. When you find yourself tensing around something, take a deep breath, just relax into how it is right now.

When you find yourself really excited, but also grasping to keep that excitement, take a deep breath and see if you could just experience the goodness while it's there without needing to maintain it. It was great being with you today. Take care.

Talk

4.8

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