I just wanted to take a minute to share a short and sweet reminder of something that I constantly forget. I was recently re-reminded (is that even a word?) of this lesson in a meditation class I took while I was visiting Boise a couple weeks ago.
This class involved a series of mini-mediations that we could use in daily practice. One of the mini-mediations was an exercise for our understanding of equanimity.
Equanimity, by definition, is mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium.
In short, equanimity is the awareness that you are not above or below those around you, everyone you come in contact with is striving to meet the same set of basic needs, and all of the parts within yourself are equal, as well.
All-too-often I think that we inherently “rank” those around us.
“She only got that job because she is pretty, he would never like me because I am not cool enough, I could never hang out with her because she isn’t popular.”
We justify and explain situations based on our perception of others, or attempt to either knock them down or lift them up according to the way we view them in a particular situation.
These “rankings” are completely fear-based and only magnify our own insecurities and flaws. We use these rankings as a defense mechanism when we are feeling scared, weak, vulnerable, hurt, anxious, or fearful and without even realizing it, we harbor even more feelings of worthlessness and insecurity in doing so.
This exercise of equanimity initially began by having us think of people that we struggle with. People that we might not always see eye-to-eye with, people we have had past conflicts with, people that we might even view as “enemies.” Rather than taking the time to dwell on WHY we have these feelings towards these people, we stripped away all of the exterior traits and qualities that might be frustrating or upsetting, and looked at the very basic needs of these individuals.
The need for food and water, the need for shelter, the need for acceptance, and the need for love and belonging. Despite any differences that we may have had with these people, their basic needs are the same as our own.
Just like us, they are simply trying to make it in this crazy world.
It’s so easy to judge others, jump to conclusions, and create pre-conceived notions of their intentions or reasons behind acting a certain way. But when you strip them down to the bare essentials, they are just like us. Scared. Weak. Vulnerable. Searching for love and acceptance, trying to find a place where they belong.
This understanding might not change the outcome of a certain situation, or even change your thoughts about this person as a whole, but it CAN change your perception and help you forgive those that may have wronged you. By stripping this person down to the bare essentials of their survival, you once again view them as a human being, rather than the monster you may have created in your mind. Sure, people are still going to wrong you and hurt you and try to break you, and their reasons for doing so may never make sense in your mind, but by peeling away at their outer layers and revealing a human being with needs identical to your own, you will be able to make peace with their soul and move forward with your own life.
True peace and forgiveness is one of the most underestimated forms of “revenge” that there is. People always talk about getting even, but I believe that by finding it in your heart to truly forgive someone that has wronged you, you not only “get even”, but you get ahead. Forgiveness offers forward motion that instantly propels you forward with your life, and allows you to free yourself from the weight of your past.
I often find myself trying to remember this lesson whenever I am in conflict with another, or don’t understand their thoughts and actions. I may not always agree with the choices that others make, but the majority of these choices stem directly from their basic needs. We all have the same needs, we just find different ways to meet them.
…but the lesson doesn’t end there.
Each and every one of us contains three parts.
Yep, you read that right. And I guarantee you are pretty familiar with all three of them.
The first part is the best (in my opinion). This is the day where your hair stays in place, your clothes fit perfectly, you snag a front row parking spot at the store, and everything seems to be working out in your favor. You have a spring in your step, nothing can stop you, you are on top of the world. This is a great place to be.
The second part is where we spend a lot of our time. This is the part where we are rather indifferent to our feelings, attempting to complete a task, or focused on something other than our feelings about ourselves. We are preoccupied. Busy. Focused. We are more concerned with what we are working on than our feelings and thoughts regarding ourselves. This isn’t a bad place to be.
The third part is the worst. This is the day where you feel bloated, grouchy for no reason, annoyed with the air that everyone breathes, and can’t seem to catch a break. This is the day where the whole universe seems to be against you and you could feel completely alone in a room full of people. This is the day that you convince yourself you will never get where you want to be, will never reach any of your goals, and that your life is basically doomed as you know it. (I’m not being dramatic either…this part of yourself does not mess around.)
SO, how does an equanimity exercise help make sense of these three parts, and how can we make sense of it all? Equanimity exercises help you to view all three of your “beings” as equal. They help you strip down all of the parts of yourself and, yet again, realize that the basic needs remain the same. Whether you are on top of the world, or feel as though the entire world is resting on your shoulders, you still need the same basic things to survive. By viewing all three of these parts as equal, you can help yourself remain centered and grounded no matter what emotions or feelings you may be experiencing.
I start with an image of myself on my very best day, an image of myself feeling sad and worthless, or an image of someone in my life that I am currently struggling with. I picture that image as clear as I can, and then I tell myself to view them as a complete equal to myself, stripping the image down to the most basic form of existence.
Every time I do this, the image becomes the same.
A baby. Innocent, helpless, relying solely on others to survive. Completely unconcerned with anything other than existing.
Every time this happens, I instantly feel so at peace and at ease from whatever feelings I was previously experiencing. On the days that I am feeling worthless or overwhelmed, I picture this baby and remind myself where it all began. When I am struggling with someone and unsure of their decisions or hurt by their actions, I remember that this person started at the exact same place that I did, and that their experiences, trials, and choices have made them who they are today.
It’s so easy to view others as better or worse than us, or to view ourselves as superior or inferior to others. These perceptions change like the weather, causing a whole new whirlwind of emotions each and every time. By practicing thoughts of equanimity and realizing that on your best and worst day your basic needs still remain the same, you can create a balance that is a force to be reckoned with. Understanding that we are all the same at the core, and are each doing our best day in and day out to find our place in this crazy world, our hearts are softened to those around us and we can find commonalities in people that seem like they are our opposite in nearly every way.
When it comes down to it, we are all the same. We need food and water, shelter, love, and belonging. We seek acceptance and approval, we fear being weak. We hurt others, and they hurt us. We try and fail, and try again. We all started at the same place, and we are all living our lives anxiously as we discover where we will end up. The complexities set us apart, but our hearts bring us together. For when you strip us down to our very center, when all of the exterior walls and guards and layers are removed,