As I work to deepen my understanding and practice of meditation, I am delighting in increasing my experience of equanimity.
Equanimity is defined by Shinzen Young as the ability to allow sensory experience to come and go without push and pull. As you move through life, equanimity is a kind of ‘radical non-self interference’.
“When you apply equanimity to unpleasant sensations, they flow more readily and, as a result, cause less suffering. When you apply equanimity to pleasant sensations, they also flow more readily and consequently deliver deeper fulfillment.”
For me, at my present level of understanding, equanimity is to be able to let go of ‘want’ and ‘should’ enough simply to dwell in what is without any sense of conflict or friction. I can also see the potential for deepening my experience of pleasant sensations, even of joy.
Few of us would choose pain, physical or emotional, but it is part of our human existence. ‘Being with’ whatever is happening, embracing and ‘befriending’ it rather than fighting or resenting it, is not easy. Yet the ability to do this is very powerful.
“All kinds of energy are freed up when you stop fighting with yourself. As your capacity to accept what’s actually happening in your life increases, so does the amount of juice you have to actually be of service to the world.”
(The third of three interconnected posts on gratitude)
Increasingly science suggests that gratitude is good for us.
Research by Robert Emmons indicates that people who consciously focus on gratitude experience greater emotional wellbeing and physical health than those who don’t. Gratitude:
- Brings us happiness, boosting optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm and other positive emotions.
- Reduces anxiety and depression.
- Is good for our bodies, strengthening the immune system, lowering blood pressure, reducing symptoms of stress, illness and aches and pains and encouraging us to take care of ourselves.
- Improves sleep
- Makes us more resilient
- Strengthens relationships
- Promotes forgiveness
- Feeds altruism and compassion
In particular, says Emmons,
“I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”
Greater Good Website – Why Gratitude is Good
He suggests that “true gratitude involves a humble dependence on others”, whether other people or ‘higher powers’ and lists four reasons for its transformative power:
- It allows us to celebrate the present and magnifies positive emotions
- It blocks toxic, negative emotions
- It provides resistance against stress
- It results in a heightened sense of self-worth
He acknowledges that the practice of gratitude can be challenging. It is predicated on acceptance rather than control. It is at odds with the ‘self-serving bias’. It contradicts the ‘just-world’ hypothesis, which says that we get what we deserve, and the sense of ‘entitlement’ that rest on this.
Cultivating gratitude, therefore, has to be a conscious choice and lifelong practice.
The infomatic below, included by Robert Emmons on the Greater Good website, gives a great sense of why you might want to cultivate the practice of gratitude.
For more details of this fascinating research, I would encourage you to explore the University of California, Berkeley Greater Good website.
(See also Gratitude and Joy – an intimate relationship and Grateful to whom?)
Compassion implies ‘being with’ someone else in their experience of pain or misfortune, of standing alongside them in suffering. It seems to me it is a quality of being rather than of doing.
I question whether charitable giving can really be classed as compassion. I don’t wish to detract from the response to give alms in the context of natural or human disaster. But I am not sure that this is a situation where we truly ‘suffer with’ those affected. More we respond to the tragedy in a general way.
I rather like the following:
Compassion therefore is a quality that brings people together. It is in effect “divine respect”. There is no greater emotion than to feel and absorb the pain of someone else to help ease their burden . . . compassion is helping other humans in the present moment . . . (UCADIA article on compassion)
However, there is something missing for me here. Surely the truest tests of compassion come when faced with people or situations that run contrary to one’s own values or when faced with behaviours that may be difficult of even dangerous? Again, the generalised response to victims of disaster or war is very different from the personal ability to stand beside an addict in their pain, with the hope but no expectation that they will find a better way forward. That presence without expectation, accepting someone as they are, is a true gift.
Interestingly, the UCADIA article places compassion very firmly in the present moment, alongside respect, honesty, consistency, enthusiasm and cheerfulness, describing these as the six key present moment emotions. The point is well-made that most negative emotions are rooted in the past or future.
When I first started to explore how we perceive joy in contemporary society, I was surprised to find how few references there were to it on the web.
I spent last week as a volunteer at ideaCity, ‘Canada’s premiere meeting of the minds’. Fifty inspiring presenters from the most diverse backgrounds spoke, unscripted, to an audience of 700. Over the three days of the conference, the word joy was used or implied frequently, sometimes unexpectedly. Continue reading “ideaCity 2010 – brim full with joy!”
Look round any bookshop, scour the web – it seems to be a lot more difficult than you would imagine to find any coherent definition of ‘joy’!
Below is a mind-map that brings together some of the initial ideas that seem to relate to how people define joy.