Calm, Clear Mind
My three-year-old son, Skye, started preschool a few weeks ago—the same week, coincidentally, that my editor at Yoga Journal began gently reminding me that my article on upekkha, or "equanimity," was overdue.
The transition to preschool was a tough one for both me and Skye. He's a quirky, sensitive child who's uncomfortable in groups—the sort of kid who loves nature walks and loathes birthday parties, who prefers dismantling a music box with a screwdriver to kicking a soccer ball around the backyard. Skye gamely made it through the first day of school, but the second morning, he burst into tears as I dropped him off. He had thought that going to school was a one-shot deal, and he was devastated to learn that it was likely to go on day after day for the next 20-odd years. ("Don't even tell him about work," sighed my editor.)
I drove away in a smog of guilt and anxiety, and spent the morning pacing around my office, trying to conjure up insights into equanimity while fighting off images of Skye brushing tears out of his eyes as he waved good-bye. Feeling about as equanimous as Sylvia Plath on acid, I picked up a Buddhist text for inspiration and landed on the classic phrase for cultivating upekkha: "All beings are the owners of their karma. Their happiness and unhappiness depend on their actions, not on my wishes for them."
I have to admit that this phrase was not immediately comforting.
Through observance of the first three brahmaviharas, we offer love, compassion, and joy to other people and ourselves. We contact our deepest wishes that all beings be joyful and free of suffering, and we do our utmost to make that happen.
Through the counterbalancing insights of upekkha, we recognize that despite our intentions and efforts, our wishes might not come true. Upekkha acknowledges that most of life is beyond our control; it's the karmic flowering of causes and conditions larger than ourselves. Upekkha reminds us that we all churn through the full range of human experience: pain and pleasure, praise and blame, gain and loss. It teaches us to let go of our attachment to things being a certain way for ourselves and for other people—even as, paradoxically, we continue to strive for the best.
Equanimity on the Mat
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