By Mark C. Brown, Ph.D., author of LIVE LIKE A WINDOW, WORK LIKE A MIRROR: Enlightenment and the Practice of Eternity Consciousness
While joy and bliss are usually considered the most desirable states of mind, equanimity is actually the most serene state that we can experience. It means that all thoughts and emotions have the same impact on awareness, which is essentially no impact at all: no discontent, no feelings of emptiness, no distraction, no need or desire or sense of missing something, and no longing.
We do not actually create equanimity; it is a condition that just “is.” But we can encourage its likelihood as a more-or-less frequent occurrence in our conscious lives.
One of the ways we can contribute to the possibility of experiencing equanimity is, paradoxically, by not by making it a goal. Instead, we encourage the possibility by recognizing that all mental states are transient and letting all of them cycle fluidly through consciousness as they arise, not trying to hold onto any of them.
Now, transience is not always a pleasant truth to accept as even the most pleasurable states, the ones we might like keeping around for a while, never seem to linger. But that is a good arrangement. Any recovering addict will tell you that trying to hold on to any of them, or to replicate the best of them, is at the center of a pattern of enslaving compulsive behavior that leads only to suffering. From an equanimity point of view, we are better off letting all states naturally pass.
We certainly do not mind that the painful ones pass. Usually, the sooner they leave the better. The problem is that even without prompting they all tend to come again, the enjoyable and the painful; the ones we again have to let go of before we want to and the ones we wish would not come at all.
What is most important is that we develop the perspective that we are not after any particular state of mind; that aversion and desire, as natural and powerful as they might be, have no place here. Self awareness is the key to successfully participating in this process of watching things come and go.
Self awareness is not hard to grasp. We have as an aspect of our highly evolved human nature the capacity to observe “us” as if the person we are observing is someone other than the person who is making the observations. We are able to be on a stage acting in a play while also sitting in the audience watching the drama unfold. We can march in a band in a parade while at the same instant be standing on the curb watching us in the parade as we pass by.
Thus, while you read this you can think about yourself reading this, and you can monitor any thoughts that come into your awareness at the same time. In other words, you can separate your awareness from the activities of your life while being fully engaged in living that life.
The problem we have is that the drama and the parade and our thoughts and emotions are highly engaging and are likely to monopolize our attention. When this is the case there is no hope of experiencing the separation needed to attend to the process of transience. This is where taking time every day for the practice of meditation has value.
Here is how to start: sit on a cushion or a chair, place your hands just below your ribcage, and when you inhale, make sure that your abdomen expands against your hands. When you exhale, let your whole body relax like a rag doll. Do this again and again. When you catch your mind wandering, just gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Over the course of twenty minutes or an hour, consciously slow the whole process down.
In time you will notice that you observe everything with increased precision, that you are more patient, and that even if you cannot control the thoughts and feelings that come into your mind, you do not react to them in the usual way.
By attending to your breathing and watching anything that comes into awareness without reacting, the fact of transience becomes clear. Like breath itself, everything that enters, exits. And you do not have to do anything to make it happen. It is just natural.
This breathing process can be used away from formal meditation, too. For example, when you stand in line at the grocery store, just pay attention to your breathing and how peaceful you feel as your abdomen expands and contracts. Same thing when driving in traffic or waiting in a doctor’s office.
When you get really good at this you will notice that where you are or what you are doing or who you are with become less and less important to how you experience life. What begins to dominate consciousness is an awareness of a calmness that is not dependent on any particular circumstance or setting. And all from simply attending to breathing.
This autonomous sense of peace is the basis of equanimity. It is the essence of a quiet mind.
Mark C. Brown, PhD