Equanimity [upekkha]

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Here, monks, a disciple dwells pervading one direction with his heart filled with equanimity, likewise the second, the third, and the fourth directions; so above, below and around; he dwells pervading the entire world every-where and equally with his heart filled with equanimity, abundant, grown great, measureless, free from enmity and free from distress.

The last of the qualities known as the brahma-viharas is, in Pali, upekkha, which we usually translate as equanimity. Upekkha means "balance," and its characteristic is to arrest the mind before it falls into extremes. Equanimity is a spacious stillness of the mind, a radiant calm that allows us to be present fully with all the different changing experiences that constitute our world and our lives.

When I first encountered this teaching, I was somewhat puzzled as to what equanimity is doing grouped with the other the three brahma-viharas. It seemed emotionally so different than the others, which I could understand being joined together in some way. Part of that problem we have with equanimity is the misunderstanding we have about the word and the concept.

I was speaking to somebody who took strong exception to the word one often hears in spiritual life, which is “acceptance.” She said, “Some things in life are just unacceptable. Why should we act like we find satisfaction in them?” This is one meaning of acceptance – to have a sense of satisfaction.

Can you imagine accepting with equanimity something you don’t actually find satisfactory? Think of something that you would find unsatisfactory and then contemplate accepting this with equanimity.

Equanimity, rather than being indifference, or not caring, or withdrawing our energy from a situation, really is “balance” — balance of mind. As when we explored acceptance, the balance that we are talking about here is one born of wisdom. It’s seeing things as they are.

When you studied compassion, you explored the difficult challenge of opening to pain and establishing an appropriate relationship to it. Reflect on the similarity of the challenge here — to stay open enough to see things as they are.

Seeing clearly is the foundation for balance. Equanimity is seeing in harmony with the truth. Not living in a way that is defiant of the truth that is separate from the truth of how things are. I often think of equanimity as being the voice of wisdom, the articulation of wisdom. When we are in touch with how things actually are, then there’s a freedom we experience that manifests as a kind of balance.

Sometimes when we talk about “the Middle Way”, people think of balance as being some mediocre compromise, like taking the extremes and mashing them together, where you are pushing away and holding on at the same time, and, by only doing a little bit of each, somehow, it works. Balance really is something completely different from the normal habits of our mind.