2021-03-09 Mindfulness of Breathing (50) Equanimity Factor of Awakening (Part 2)
5:43PM Mar 9, 2021
regular meditation practice
Today is part two of the equanimity factor of awakening. It's also part of this series on mindfulness of breathing.
The Buddha presented this a bit like a path. As we stay present for our breath, we're cultivating and deepening meditation practice with a deep relaxation of the body and mind, so that we're not simply focused on the details of our life – the particular activities of the body or mind. We start becoming aware of our state of mind, its quality, feeling, gestalt, or wholeness of awareness that can be here holding at all. It's a mature place in meditation, which we might fall into occasionally in which the mind state is more salient, more prominent than the particular details of what's happening in our body or mind.
All of the above are important, but it's good to be more holistic in the practice – at some point to get a sense of the whole – the mind as a whole, the mood, the mind state we have. Those mind states have various characteristics when we get more and more settled – when the mind feels more whole, expansive, clear, with greater clarity and mindfulness. The Seven Factors of Awakening are part of that.
And the last factor, equanimity, is part of that. When the mind's really stable in strong awareness with a strong sense of being aware in this inner mind state – this healthy, wholesome mind state – awareness tends to come with a strong sense of equanimity.
Equanimity is, very simply, not getting caught in the reactivity of the mind, of being for or against things. It's a wonderful capacity. We still might be for and against things. We might have those thoughts or impulses, but with equanimity, we simply don't pick it up. We don't get involved – they just pass through. They're just fleeting impulses of the moment. They come and they go. We don't pick it up. We don't get involved.
And it can lead to tremendous social good. Because when we don't respond socially to the world – by our reactivity and by our quick impulses of being for or against things, then we're more likely to be impartial. There's a really healthy understanding of impartiality. We treat everyone equally. We don't treat people through the filter of our desires and aversions, leaning into wanting, or pulling back because we don't want something. We don't easily get pulled into our preferences.
A sense of justice, impartiality, of being someone who's safe for other people, becomes stronger, the more we have equanimity – the ability to not get caught up in our reactivity, or in impulses of being for or against things. It might still be wise, being for or against things, but that wisdom builds on equanimity, on being stable, and settled. It's not impulsive. There's clarity and wholesomeness in how we respond to the world.
Equanimity is both something for deep meditation and for everyday life. It's really a great boon for life. Deep meditation is a place where some people can feel the state of equanimity in a very powerful way that gives them a feeling for it, and a support for bringing it into their daily life. For the 'ānāpānasati' process, the reference point for it is very much in meditation.
In meditation, equanimity is what allows mindfulness to be uninterrupted, to stay in the flow of awareness – here. Here. We don't find ourselves drifting off in thoughts and coming back two or three minutes later. We don't find ourselves getting caught and preoccupied by what's happening. We might be very attentive to what's happening, but we're not caught by it. The steadiness of mindfulness goes the course, holds the course, keeps walking, keeps engaging step by step. Equanimity is what allows that steadiness and continuity of awareness.
Equanimity – 'upekkhā,' – as I said yesterday, has a lot to do with wisdom, with having an overview of the situation. It's not acquired knowledge that we bring with us and apply, but rather something that we deeply understand as we go along.
There's a variety of things. One is that it's not worthwhile to be reactive, caught up in thoughts, or caught up in reactivity. It's just not valuable for us. We can feel and sense that directly. Another is that we can have a clear sense of the impermanence of phenomena, the inconstancy of how things come, go, and change. To really understand that means that we don't relate to things as if they're going to be there forever. Or if they're something fixed that has to be fixed.
Having a clear sense of, "This is impermanent; this has changed as well," can let us sit back and be willing to be present and aware, with the wisdom not to take all these things personally – "I'm not unique. My experience is not unique." All of the experiences we've had in meditation, in one way or another, other people have had as well. One of the primary roles of a meditation teacher is to normalize our experiences – to normalize, make it ordinary. It's okay, and just part of the process – so we can keep coming back to equanimous, steady mindfulness which doesn't get perturbed or agitated – no matter what is happening. No matter the fear, pain, suffering, or grief experiencied in meditation – it's all normalized in a certain way. Not taking it personally is one of those ways.
There are a variety of wisdoms that come into play in support of the ability to stay equanimous, balanced, and unagitated in our experience. But also, equanimity comes from a sense of balance. And balance has something to do with an inner strength that we cultivate. When there's strength of mindfulness, concentration, and stability, we have stability – something that holds us down and keeps us grounded, allowing us to withstand the winds of the mind and of change, the things that come and go. We develop that strength by the continuity of meditation, meditating almost every day, regularly, and developing.
The mind is an instrument that can be developed, strengthened, and trained. Not everyone develops and trains their mind to be strong. Part of what ongoing, regular meditation practice is about is not just showing up and being mindful and accepting of stuff, but also developing an inner strength, the capacity to let go, really stay present, and be steady with experience, not wandering off in all kinds of things. We develop strength of concentration, even strength of joy. As we get stronger and stronger, we're not buffeted as much by the winds of change. We're more able to hold the course.
The ninth step of 'ānāpānasati' – mindfulness of the mind – is to start experiencing and sensing that we have an amazing resource, an amazing thing called 'citta' – mind – that we want to care for. It's a reference point for well-being, wholeness. Any kind of suffering we have is a subset of it. When the mind is really spacious, open, expansive, and present, and we're aware of the 'citta' in bigger way, it's much harder to take our greed, attachments, lust, addictions, hate, hostilities, regrets, resentments, or fears as being all there is. They all become a piece of the puzzle. They're not the whole puzzle. The whole puzzle feels more like the mind that can be aware of it all.
There's can be a feeling of great goodness, rightness – a great sense of the mind, an inner life that's whole. Whether it's completely whole, or feels as satisfying as I'm saying here, it keeps coming now as we continue the practice of 'ānāpānasati.'
Step ten is "gladdening the mind," feeling the satisfaction of the mind, and being connected to a mind that feels more whole. The eleventh step – 'samādhi' – is "concentrating the mind" or "unifying the mind." We'll talk about that soon enough. It's what makes the mind even more whole.
It's a fantastic process here. I know it's not easy to experience all these things I'm talking about. But part of the confidence in practice is to know that you're on a good path. Part of the equanimity that comes with practice is that confidence – "This is a good path to be on. I can walk this path steadily. I can keep going. I don't have to be too concerned about how far I've gotten, because I know I'm on a good path. I'll keep walking."
So, thank you for today. I look forward, as I do almost every day now, to coming here, sitting and teaching with you. Thank you.