How to Gain—and Lose—Equanimity
For many years I have admired my younger brother’s capacity for maintaining equanimity. Well, not in his youth. He may actually have possessed it then, but I wouldn’t have been able to notice it, let alone make an assessment.
But later it became evident. After he went to and dropped out of an advanced entry program at Seattle U. After his years working at Shorey’s, the iconic emporium for used books in Seattle, where he attempted to master the art of antique bookbinding After he moved into the Ramakrishna Center in Seattle, where he learned to take care of his ailing swami, learned to maintain the center’s vehicles, and finally served 10 years as a Hindu monk. And later, graduating from the University of Washington with a BA in philosophy, after his marriage, even after his stint at Microsoft that seemed to have set him up for life.
It was even after we began meditating together. My wife once remarked that meditating with John was like being swept up for a ride on a magic carpet. And indeed it was: It felt as if he had laid down a powerful field one could easily join. Your meditation was still your own, but he gave you a powerful boost.
“When equanimity is quite well established in the mind, then it is as if the mind is not touched by anything anymore, it’s not shaken or perturbed by anything anymore.” --VEN. SAYADAW VIVEKANANDA
I had another friend, a Buddhist psychologist who brought similar qualities to group meditation. I was always grateful for this jump-start. And at least there were two: proof enough for me that my younger brother had not put me under a spell.
I did notice John’s equanimity later, after he left Microsoft and moved to Oregon. For awhile it seemed as if he had mastered the capacity to ride a magic carpet wherever he went. But that came to an end. He experienced a series of reverses, some quite widely spaced, any of them powerful enough to drive most people into anger or anxiety. It is not my place to enumerate them here. But I noticed that he always took these periods in stride. He would set about creating new initiatives in his life, which he would pursue with interest, discipline, and patience. I once mentioned this to his wife, Margaret—herself a devoted meditator—and she ascribed it to his years of meditating.
Then I began noticing something in myself that seemed to debut about three years ago, after I had started practicing loving-kindness meditation. I still would experience bouts of anxiety, but the edge was removed. They had neither the power or longevity I once knew as my … should we call it birthright or nature? I—who more than once had hurled a pile of cards across a room after losing at bridge—was beginning to exhibit equanimity. I welcomed it, and made mental notes to write about it, but it never seemed that its time had arrived … until it slipped out of my grasp..
Wouldn’t you know that my misstep involved personal technology? It started with my first cellphone. I carefully avoided overreaching, sticking with flip phones. No smart phones for me, I would smile; I refuse to have a phone that’s smarter than I am. For 15 years I had a series of flips, all iterations of the same brand and model. The first one expired after about 12 years. I ordered another just like it. Two years later, it was time for a third. It lasted a few months. So I ordered a different model.
One thing about flip phones: you cannot import your contacts. You have to type them in, one-by-one. But something was awry. I entered a few contacts. But then I couldn’t remember how I had done it. Even the directions in the owner’s manual didn’t work. I figured out that I could make a new entry if I rebooted the phone. But I’d be damned if I would reboot this phone every time I wanted to enter another contact. So I called the carrier and complained that my phone didn’t work. Cheerfully and patiently, an agent spent more than half an hour trying to help me. Finally, he let me go, suggesting I go to the section on the carrier’s website with videos on each model. Those videos showed the same processes the agent had shown me. And they still did not work.
By the time I was finished with that, I was angry. Perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if the agent had said there must be something wrong with this phone; would I like them to send me another? I probably would have said yes. The videos left me feeling as if I had been shuffled offstage like a dithering old fool with a dodgy memory.
I didn’t immediately call back. In the end, I went to the provider’s website and bought a modest, somewhat smart phone. I secured the right to return the faulty one. My hopes surged when I learned that my wife had used an earlier iteration of the same model with happy results. Maybe she could be my coach.
But in the meantime what could I do to regain my equanimity, unhorsed before it even became vaunted? Looking on the internet, I found a few entries that link equanimity with mindfulness. Just as mindfulness is linked to loving-kindness. If I can build those links up in my mind, perhaps I can regain some equanimity. Plus, I could do better at being my own advocate, even with kindly agents who are about to shuffle me along. Blogger’s note: Here is a link to one of those posts on the mindfulness-equanimity connection: