Equanimity is a cornerstone of mindfulness practice. Equanimity is the practice of accepting each internal experience of thinking, feeling, and sensing. Equanimity may not always apply to external circumstances. There are times when action or intervention on our part may be needed. So when this is the case we are confronted with certain questions: “How do I know what to do? How do I know which particular action is skillful?”
Before asking what to do let us first ask “Why do I want take action?” Look at the motivation behind the urge to act. What state of mind is giving birth to my desire to act?
The key is to first experience your feelings fully before acting. If you can, examine the beliefs underlying the desire to act. If you are experiencing any form of suffering then work with the experience of suffering itself before you act. If you act out of resistance to your own suffering then you will inevitably create more suffering--more suffering for yourself as well as for others.
You cannot always choose your feelings but you are always responsible for your words and your actions. I am not saying that the problem you are experiencing is all your fault and that no one else is responsible for the conditions in your life. Other persons may be responsible some external condition in your life but you are always responsible for your response to this life situation.
Equanimity does not mean suppressing your feelings. Do not suppress any emotion that arises—just don’t act from it.
Fear and anger are linked to the basic survival instincts often referenced as the fight/flight syndrome. Accept fear and anger without getting lost in the mind’s narrative and without unconsciously acting out the feelings.
For example: you are criticized by someone and you feel very angry. Let yourself feel the anger without getting lost in determining whether or not the criticism is justified or planning your response to the criticism. Just feel the emotion in your body. And breathe.
Anger, if handled wisely can provide energy needed for positive change. Mohandas Gandhi was asked about his feelings of anger in light of the injustice he saw perpetrated upon the Indian people. His reply:
I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson, to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world.
The first question to ask before taking action: What is my intention? “Do I want to dissolve suffering or perpetuate it?”
After cultivating internal equanimity you might see that no action is needed. You may discover that what seemed like a problem really isn’t, or perhaps the condition itself has been resolved without your intervention.
But, if you do choose to act, then act boldly. Put your heart into whatever action you choose to take-- and then release all attachment to the outcome.
It’s not always easy to act with both passion and nonattachment, but this can be developed through practice and can become the way you live your life. If you are able to do this consistently then you may open up to a deep wisdom that will guide you in all that you do. If you can join with others who do the same, then you may collectively access a wealth of wisdom and compassion that will guide all of your actions. This is a very powerful force for positive change!
History shows us that the deepest and most enduring changes arise not from hatred but from a love for truth, freedom and justice. If we study the lives of Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama, Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela we see that their enduring legacy was that of love--not hatred.
Rather than acting from your hatred of what’s wrong--act from your love of what’s right and true in your own heart. When you make peace with your own experience before taking action then whatever you do will contribute to peace in our world.