Saying For Today: Through inner calm, we can more compassionately and kindly relate with others. We can be and offer peace rather than increase the warring.
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I called the client in quarantine due to Covid. I had never met him or spoken with him. We had a friendly conversation until I asked about when his quarantine might end. He suddenly shifted to angry. After a time of the verbal attack, in which I did not have the opportunity to respond, he hung up. I never had the opportunity to say goodbye. For some time after the call, I was surprised, observing the deep calm. I could not recall ever before such a calm detachment when being the recipient of another person's outrage. I realized the sense was not merely being free of something, there was a positive presence of something: tranquility. This response, I realized, was a result of many years of working directly with the mind, its thoughts, and the consequent feelings. Yet, it was the result of something else, too. We have the seed of tranquility within us, we cultivate it, it grows. Yet, its growth is not consequent of merely our efforts. I call this intangible something grace.
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Equanimity does not mean indifference. ... We accept the flowers and the garbage with neither attachment nor aversion. We treat both with respect. Equanimity means to let go, not to abandon.
*Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching.
Peace I leave with you. I give you the peace that is mine. I don't give to you as the world gives. So, don't be upset or afraid.
*Gospel of John 14.27
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A young religious, or brother, visited Abba Macarius, one of the desert fathers of early Christianity. The brother asked, "How can I become a holy man?" The old monk told him to go to the cemetery nearby and abuse the dead for a day. The Abba told him to yell and throw stones. The young monk thought this odd but did as he was told and returned to the teacher.
"What did they say to you?" the Abba asked the brother. "Well, uh, nothing," he said. "Go back tomorrow and praise them," instructed the Abba. "Call them apostles, saints, righteous men and women," continued the aged monk, "and shower them with every compliment you can think of." The brother did as he was instructed.
Upon returning to the monastery, the Abba asked him, "What did they say this time?" "They still didn't answer a word," replied the brother. "They must be holy people," said Abba Macarius. "You insulted them, and they did not reply. You praised them, and they did not speak. Go and do likewise, my friend, taking no account of scorn or praise, and you will be a holy man."
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The early desert dwellers used the term apatheia to refer to emotional detachment - what I have called "loving detachment." Equanimity is, likewise, one of the four virtues in Buddhism. Buddhists refer to these virtues as the Four Immeasurables, the Four Sublime Attitudes, or the Four Great Virtues. Another word in English for this equanimity is serenity.
Equanimity is comparable to the mind being a pond. Someone throws a rock into the pond, and the water remains calm. Yet, we are likely aware we are often not like that. Someone throws criticism or a compliment on us, and we lose our tranquility. The prior moment before a criticism, we were calm. Then, with one complaint, we are in a fuss. Or, we may be driving humming happily. We come upon a backup, and after a time of sitting there, we realize we are likely to be late to work. We are no longer humming happily. We are shifting in the seat. We keep stretching outside our vehicle window to see what is happening ahead, futilely lamenting. A sunny day has turned into a dust storm.
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Words, actions, and circumstances are often blamed for losing one's inner peace. Yet, interestingly, another person faces the same and remains calm. What is outside us can be a condition for loss of serenity, yet it cannot be a cause for it.
Through meditation, we are able, alone and with others in silence, to see how the mind moves from calm to disquiet. We see what leads to a loss of serenity. We observe nonjudgmentally. We practice releasing the storylines that are conditions of the various emotional states characterized by loss of inner peace. As we stabilize in this tranquility, we become more peaceful in our relations with others. They sense this shift.
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Jesus is not speaking of religious or spiritual equanimity. The peace within Jesus or the Buddha is the same peace we can enjoy. Yet, we must be honest about what leads to loss of tranquility.
We may not get to the point of never being upset. However, through working with the mind for over twenty-five years, I have witnessed how upsetness decreases in intensity and longevity. The first time I saw this was regarding anger. Before I began meditation, I could become angry and stay that way for days. After years of meditation and contemplative living, I observed how anger would arise and disappear quickly. The anger had nowhere to stick.
This transformation became true of all emotions, even what people call positive ones. Yet, to get to that point, I had to face how fragile inner peace was regarding my own self.
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Jesus' words to his early students of giving his peace to them remind us to look to what is not this self - this ego - for equanmity. In our sense of self, peace will never find a stable home. At best, peace will come and go. We may find ourselves to be peace chasers, even more upset for peace keeps leaving.
What is the non-self peace arises from? Buddhists speak of Buddha Nature. Many contemplative Christians refer to the True Self. We have different ways of speaking of this Something more than ego. And, as with those early Jesus followers, when we receive this peace the world - outside us - cannot give, we experience it as something given - a grace, a gift. No one who knows this peace is inclined to say anything like, "I attained peace." No, instead, we feel grateful to be given something. We wish to live so as to increase this serenity, not only for ourselves but for the benefit of others. Like Jesus, we become givers of peace. Like the Buddha, we share with others Nirvana.
We become givers and sharers of this peace, for, as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, equanimity is not indifference. Through inner calm, we can more compassionately and kindly relate with others. We can be and offer peace rather than increase the warring.
In what ways do you nurture inner calm? In what other ways might you cultivate equanimity in your daily life? Share inner peace with others?