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The Buddha at Work - “Equanimity, or Trying to Get Through Bill McKibben's Eaarth Without Flipping Out”

Boy, I could use some equanimity right about now. After a lovely retreat weekend at the ID Project, combined with my son's birthday festivities and the joys of UFC 119, I'm back at work and my head is spinning. That's my current feeling-tone, spinning. Work work work, busy busy busy. Back to back to back conference calls since I walked in the door this morning. Agghhhh!!!! So much to do!


I was seesawing most of the weekend, too, I have to admit. I was reading Bill McKibben's Eaarth when I wasn't on the cushion, and it made me want to run away, to grab my wife and kids and head for the hills. Literally, because of the impending floodwaters.

This isn't a review; I've barely finished a third of it. But it's really frightening, so far! I've read many a book on the damage we've done to the environment, and what needs to happen in order to avoid catastrophe. But McKibben holds an entirely different attitude, at least through as much as I've read. He spends a good deal of time detailing the damage we've done to the environment, and also tells us that it's irreversible. Now, my hunch is that he provides some hope at some point in the book, but like I said, I haven't gotten that far, nor is this really about the book.

It's about my reaction to the book and to my workday today. I was flipping out while reading: This is it! That tornado in Park Slope was just the beginning. I need to sell my house while I still can and take my family somewhere safe, somewhere with high elevation and not too many people fighting over the remaining water. Each chapter made it worse, but because it was such a busy weekend, I was only able to read a chapter at a time.

Fortunately, the retreat made me keep coming back to the cushion––each time I found myself spinning, it was time to head back to the ID Project. And en route, I found a lovely Tara Brach podcast with an hour of teaching on equanimity––one of the four brahmaviharas. It was exactly what I needed, because I was  reacting  to the book which prevented me from actually acting in a skillful way. With equanimity, I might have chosen, for example, to see how the book turned out before making plans for my family's future that involved living in caves and trapping game. Granted, what McKibben was saying was frightening, but equanimity allows for me not to be embedded in that fright. Here's Sharon Salzberg on equanimity:

Equanimity draws to it and strengthens other liberating mind states. Buoyancy, an agility and pliancy of mind, gives us the ability to relate to each situation as if it were new, with lightness and sensitive resilience, instead of rigidly applying old standards and responses to it. Equanimity also strengthens deciseveness, straightness, honesty, and sincerity of mind, a lack of vacillation and unsettledness. It empowers faith or confidence, the capacity to trust in our actions and our being. Heartened by its inspiration, we resolutely cross the flood without hesitation or looking back. The mind remains tranquil and serene.

To have the radiant calm and unswayed balance of mind that we call equanimity is to be like the earth. All kinds of things are cast upon the earth; beautiful and ugly things, frightful and lovable things, common and extraordinary things. The earth receives it all and quietly sustains its own integrity.”

Wow. I need me some of that. Especially with the coming floods.

Here's Brach:

We train our mind to notice what's going on. We train our mind to arrive again in equanimity where the anger might be there. The fear might be there. But instead of being  inside  it, we're aware of it.... instead of being inside the reactivity, we're aware of those tendencies.”

This presence has a quality of openness and balance, in the midst of the winds of life. So, usually our mind thinks that whatever's going on, we're trying to adjust it, or control it, or get somewhere else. Equanimity has the wisdom of completely being here...”

When we're in this space, there's a quality of steadiness, of wisdom, there's this capacity to tap into our deepest resources... there's a kind of inner silence and inner stillness that's more secure than any hiding place. Now I find this a really powerful invitation, 'cause we think we're going somewhere, when things get rough we think we need to make something happen, but there is this space within us that we can arrive in, that really taps us into true safety, and true strength, and true wisdom.”

That's what I need. Lightness and resilience. Openness and balance. Not so much reaction, not so much running for the hills. Action is required, but it's hard to take any skillful action when I'm spinning like a top. With some equanimity, I can tap into my deepest resources and do what's needed. Whether for the earth, or for my business.

As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us:

"Breathing in, I experience equanimity in me. Breathing out, I smile to the equanimity in me."

And back to the cushion I go.

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equanimity indeed

Thanks for this. I've been giving the topic a lot of thought myself, possibly because of the very Brach talk you mention, and some well timed good news / bad news items that either make you leap for joy and hang your head in despair. As you say, though, any reaction can impede skillful action. Even joy, as pleasant as it is, can work against our ability to be aware. A good reminder to always have some level of equanimity at work or play.

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