As I write this, I have an image in my mind from the film, “Man on Wire”, of the French tightrope walker, Philippe Petit, dancing on a wire stretched between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974. It’s not just the fact that he’s perfectly balanced up there, one tiny mistake away from certain death, but that he is enjoying himself so much. That’s what I call equanimity.
I remember once being told that, “the Universe doesn’t care about you…and that’s good news!” What I think this means is that life is full of little (and sometimes no-so-little) disappointments and frustrations. This is absolutely inevitable. Life is inherently disappointing so there is little point in crying up to Heaven “Why me?!” whenever you run out of de-icer on a frosty morning or burn the last slice of bread in the toaster; the Universe really doesn’t care. To put it another way, believing that the world ought to be the way we want it, is a sure-fire way to achieving misery. One of the fruits of mindfulness practice is something we call “equanimity”. It’s that wonderful sense of resting in perfect acceptance of life as it is without wanting or needing it to be any different. It’s not the same as indifference or hopelessness; it’s actually an enormously powerful aspect of life that is truly worth cultivating. Essentially, whatever your circumstances, however painful or unhappy life may be, it is always possible to start from this place, right here, right now. Accepting that the Universe doesn’t care about us isn’t a pessimistic view, it’s liberating. It means we don’t have to take everything personally any more. We can accept that it’s up to us to act wisely and compassionately in the world even in the most extreme circumstances; WE are responsible for our actions and we start from wherever we find ourselves right now.
Cultivating equanimity it tough and I don’t pretend to have it worked out – not by a long way – but this is what I find helpful: There is a moment of awareness when we recognise that the emotion is taking hold and that the thoughts are rattling through our minds, telling us the same old story about how unfair it all is. The moment of awareness is also the moment of letting go. Letting go of the storyline is incredibly important. Just let it go and if it’s helpful to do so, tell yourself that it’s not personal. There is a wonderful formula I heard recently that I find really helps me to do this, "Right now it's like this." In other words, acknowledge what is going on for us and and yes, accept it. The traffic jam, the irritating neighbour, the worrying lump, the friend who is ill, the angry dog, the tax bill – none of it is personal. "Right now it's like this." Knowing this, it is possible to let go and really take control. It’s ok to be sad or scared or angry – that’s just life – but in letting go we discover that we are not defined by these things; we are more than our sadness, fear or anger. Much more. I don't think of this as any kind of esoteric or even as a spiritual practice; it's actually a very practical, down-to-earth process of reconnecting with the moment as it is. It's no more than creating a slight gap, a pause, in the flow of experience. Stop, breathe, feel your feet on the ground. Repeat those words silently to yourself, "Right now it's like this." I think they help a lot and if we do this “letting go” practice hundreds of times every day for the rest of our lives, who knows, we might get quite good at it. And the actions we take in response will be a lot smarter. We may even find that it’s possible to dance on the wire.