Finding Equanimity

The Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chödrön tells a story about a friend who was struggling with feelings of anger and decided to go to the San Francisco Zen Center for an afternoon of meditation. As she started to meditate, she heard this irritating clicking noise. She quickly determined it was just the radiator in an old building, so she ignored it. She then proceeded to meditate for several hours, never noticing the clicking again. After she concluded her meditation, she encountered two friends who had also spent the afternoon meditating. They were both angry at the woman who had been making the irritating clicking noise. They generally had no struggle with anger, but were incensed at the rudeness of this woman's clicking. She had completely ruined their meditation. Ironically, it was the same sound that was ignored when it was perceived as an old radiator.

Have you ever noticed that your attitude about something or someone is often wrapped in judgments and biases that may seem to be valid to you but not to someone else who judges differently or has another bias? Would the response to the woman's clicking have been judged differently had it been the result of an uncontrollable medical condition like Tourette's Syndrome? Might she have been perceived with more compassion and less judgment?

There are days here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp when I think I might go postal. These people and this place are driving me nuts, and then there are the inmates, too. To have any degree of sanity, I have to try to maintain a spirit of equanimity. If I can remain calm, if I can just experience the moment without believing my own judgment of the experience, my chances are much better to not say or do something I would later regret.

Brené Brown makes a perceptive point in her book Rising Strong when she admits to have reluctantly determined that most people are just doing the best they can. It might appear they aren't, but they really are. The advice actually came from her husband Steve who told her, "All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be." We can't accurately judge anyone's life or any situation from our perspective, and the sooner we realize that, the better off we'll be.

That insight provided a breakthrough moment for me, and it beats going postal.