By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity toward the nonvirtuous, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. -Yoga Sutras I.33
We are a culture inflamed. We are offended and angry and quick to judge and lash out at those who oppose our point of view. We are reactionary slaves to the omnipresent feed of sensationalist news, which is exactly the way media outlets want it. Headlines are designed to grab our attention and stir up emotions so that we click over to a sponsored site, engage in combative commentary with other readers, and further share the post (thus continuing the chain of advertising revenue for the site). We are being conditioned to react, react, react. We are perpetually agitated and defensive, ready for a fight, and it’s ruining our piece of mind. We can never let our guard down. We can never relax. So, aside from disconnecting completely from our various media outlets and electronic devices (which may sound nice, but is not very realistic), how do we preserve our sanity in an increasingly fractured, bombastic world ? One way is to arm ourselves with equanimity!
Equanimity, by definition, means evenness of mind, especially under stress. It means remaining calm and undisturbed in the face of aversion or provocation. It means keeping your cool, not losing your sh*%. Now, understand, equanimity is not indifference or lack of caring. It doesn’t mean that you should turn the other cheek when witnessing an injustice, and it doesn’t make you complicit to the opposition. What it means is remaining level-headed, so that any action you do decide to take can be more effectively executed. Angry rhetoric, on the other hand, just fuels the flames and prolongs the conflict, because both parties are too entangled in their desire to be right and declare victory. It becomes more about who can shout louder, or who will get the last word, than the topic being discussed.
There was a picture a while back of a woman, Saffiya Khan, being confronted by an English Defence League (a far-right, anti-Islamic protest movement) member for defending a woman wearing a hijab who was being surrounded by angry, anti-Islamic protesters. Ms. Khan stood calmly with hands in her pockets and smiled at the caustic man, refusing to engage him. THIS is equanimity.
There was a similar case in The Czech Republic of a Girl Scout who calmly confronted a far-right protester at a Neo-Nazi rally in the town of Brno. While he was clearly agitated and angry, she also refused to fight hate with more hate. THIS is equanimity.
It would have been very easy for both of these women to respond with fury given the contagious, combative energy of the surrounding crowds. But, neither did. Refusing to be provoked can be very disarming to the provoker, for a fire that receives no fuel will eventually die. By staying calm you not only preserve your own mental well-being, but may also affect the opposition by showing there are more effective ways to deal with conflict.
On the other hand, there will always be people in our lives with whom we will never connect, or with whom we will always be at odds. Yet, the same principle of equanimity still applies. It is important to remember when dealing with these folks, or the “non-virtuous”, that:
- you cannot change someone who does not wish to be changed
- you can only control your own actions and lead by example
- sometimes the best thing we can do is to let the other person face the consequences of his/her own actions
Equanimity is not necessarily easy, because energy, whether negative or positive, is contagious (hence the “mob mentality”). But, with practice it can change your life. And, perhaps more importantly, through this contagion you, me, all of us, can start an epidemic of change whereby the default to conflict is civilized discourse and not hot-headed machismo. So, go spread some equanimity. Go be the change you want to see in the world.