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How often are you practicing equanimity?


Today is February 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you practicing equanimity?” Leveraging your mind, body, and spirit each day to translate one dream after another into reality often requires a steadiness so you remain balanced in each facet of your life. This balance allows you to see more clearly, think more openly, and act more purposefully. In its abbreviated form, the definition of equanimity means balance. Fortunately, modern research has provided us with a greater understanding of this important word and strategy to use while Navigating the Chaos. The etymology of the word stems from the combination of two others: equal (from Latin aequalis uniform, identical, equal) and animus (from Latin animus meaning rational soul, mind, life, mental powers, consciousness, or sensibility). Going back even further, equanimity stems from the ancient language of Sanskrit upeksha referring to a complex definition of ‘eye’ and ‘see’, suggesting ‘gazing upon’ or observing without interference.


In their January 21, 2014, article “Moving beyond Mindfulness: Defining Equanimity as an Outcome Measure in Meditation and Contemplative Research” published in the journal Mindfulness, a team of researchers led by Gaëlle Desbordes provided a modern definition of equanimity as “an even-minded mental state or dispositional tendency toward all experiences or objects, regardless of their affective valence (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) or source.” The author clarified that the term even-mindedness refers to its common definition as a state of being calm, stable, and composed. Equanimity also involves a level of impartiality in such that one can experience unpleasant thoughts or emotions without repressing, denying, judging, or having aversion for them. Desbordes and the research team also added how in a state of equanimity one can have pleasant or rewarding experiences without becoming over-excited (e.g., to the point of mania or hypomania), or trying to prolong these experiences, or becoming addicted to them.” Moreover, in a September 27, 2017, article "Mindfulness is not enough: Why equanimity holds the key to compassion," published in the journal Mindfulness and Compassion, Joey Weber put forth a hypothesis that "equanimity is the key mediating factor in being non-judgmental and therefore having the ability to generate compassion." Thus, the word equanimity is complex and has a long and storied history holding tremendous value for those willing to practice it to help them navigate the chaos.


Noting just how important equanimity is for personal and professional development today and in the future, Kelly Williams, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association noted in a March 2, 2021, interview “I would love to see equanimity as a core competency in schools. At the heart of it, it is about being grounded and centered amidst the chaos. Like all skills, it requires practice.” Being grounded and centered amidst the chaos is a skill that individuals can apply to a wide spectrum of life situation. For today’s reflection, let’s use the illustration of how we can apply equanimity while driving. In this example, you are driving alone on a highway and someone dangerously cuts in front of you. Recognizing this life-threatening situation, you leverage your fear and hit the brakes cautiously in order to avoid collision. In this situation, equanimity does not mean suppressing emotions or giving up the affective coloring of your life experience. In this moment you are probably upset at that driver and might even feel you heart beating because of the adrenaline.


Your mind, body, and spirit will tell you how they feel at that moment in time. As Desbordes and the research team noted, “once the danger has passed, however, it is more adaptive to bring attention back to current experience rather than continue to dwell in disruptive emotions.” In other words, once you have removed yourself from that dangerous situation, you can leverage equanimity and recenter yourself to focus on where you are driving to, instead of dwelling on what could have happened. The obsession over what could have happened is often a sign of an unbalanced mind. “An even more skillful response, Buddhists would say, might be to forgive the person, have compassion for whatever conditions are compelling them to act so rudely, and even wish them well!” Such a response would indeed require a great deal of practice!


In his October 15, 2013, Psychology Today article Christopher Bergland identified four strategies people can use to replace hostility with equanimity:


1. Keep the concept of equanimity in the front of your mind.

2. Remember to breathe and count to 10.

3. Let go of the drama and conflict.

4. Engage in some form of physical activity and meditation.


Bergland’s four strategies align with the leverage mind, body, and spirit theme of this Navigate the Chaos series and offer the following questions for today’s reflection:

  • How often do you keep the concept of equanimity top of mind? (Mind)

  • How often do you remember to breathe and count to 10? (Body)

  • How often do you let go of the drama and conflict around you? (Spirit)

  • How often do you exercise or meditate? (Body, Mind, and Spirit)