Most of us who are practicing meditation today have our feet squarely planted in the activities of the world, juggling busy work lives, family responsibilities, service work, social activism, and/or other commitments. Add the holidays to the mix and things become even more complicated. Do you find it difficult to maintain balance amongst these various strands of life? If so, you are not alone. The Buddha, too, noted that it was hard to keep from being blown about by the winds of activity and change that gust through our lives. He called these the eight Worldly Winds. As long as we humans have been around, these currents of gain and loss, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, and fame and shame blow through, around and within us. During the holidays, it can seem as if these winds are blowing at gale force.
When we believe that our happiness depends on the “good stuff” happening in our lives — gain, pleasure, praise and fame — we will inevitably suffer when the winds change direction and present to us loss, pain, blame and shame. When we practice mindfulness, we learn to watch and feel these worldly winds without being caught up, taken down, or blown over by them. This is the beauty of our practice – it helps us develop the capacity to respond skillfully — rather than react automatically — to the vicissitudes of our lived experience.
Equanimity is the word often used for this ability to “weather the storms” of life peacefully, and it is considered a protection against the eight Worldly Winds. Equanimity allows us to have a larger view, to stand in the middle of it all, remaining balanced and centered in the midst of the comings and goings, the injustices and the triumphs. It is so very important to note that, contrary to popular belief, equanimity is not passivity — it is, in fact, incredibly active. Equanimity enables us to be deeply engaged and, at the same time, extremely stable so we are not blown about by the winds of change. Equanimity allows us to stay grounded and on an even keel even as we work within systems that are oppressive, controversial, challenging, dysfunctional, or unjust — be they family systems or social systems. Equanimity has tremendous power.
Equanimity can come from concentration and inner balance, which is precisely what the diligent practice of mindfulness produces. One way to start cultivating equanimity in this very moment is by anchoring the mind on the body, breath, or another present-centered experience, allowing yourself to settle. This may feel challenging in the midst of complicated holiday family dynamics or after scanning heart-breaking headlines in the news. However, your Buddha Nature is always right here, right now, as is your breath and your body, as is your loving heart and the powerful mind you are training through your mindfulness practice. It actually only takes just a moment to remember to breathe and know that you are breathing.
As our practice deepens, we can learn to sail with these winds as they blow through our lives, finding gratitude for both the gain and the loss. We hope you will join us in January for our exploration of the Worldly Winds and the ballast of equanimity.
Wishing you gratitude, peace and equanimity during the holidays and beyond.