When asked how he stayed so even and content, J. Krishnamurti put it this way, “I don’t mind what happens.”
Some days, along with Rhett Butler, I put it like this: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
While that’s not entirely in the spirit of the fourth immeasurable, the idea of letting go of outcomes is at the heart of equanimity.
Equanimity, the last (but not least) of the four immeasurables.
In previous posts, I wrote about the immeasurable qualities of loving-kindness, compassion and empathetic joy. These are recognized in both the Hindu and Buddhist views as foundational cornerstones of emotional stability.
Equanimity is an attitude of radical acceptance. It is regarding all sentient beings as equals. It is also the practice of viewing all apparent phenomena as dreamlike, illusory and impermanent. That way, we can accept whatever arises, whether or not the situation conforms to our wishes.
Full cup, no new tea.
Recently I realized that an entire phase of my life that I thought was a long-term path needed to dissolve. I was hanging on to something that ended long ago – or never really came to fruition. I kept hoping things would come together in a coherent and conclusive way. Finally, I had to accept that the vision I had created of this “ideal life” was at odds with how things were actually going. By hanging on I was blocking a natural evolution to the next phase of life.
The only way to move on was to let things fall apart.
We have to unravel the knots before we can weave a new cloth. Or, as a friend shared with me recently: full cup, no new tea.
Change is part of life, and sometimes we have to accept some hard truths before we’re willing to let go.
What inhibits us from accepting failure as readily as we accept success? If all appearances are projections of mind, then why do we get so attached to one illusion over another? By hanging on to a situation that had surpassed its shelf-life, I was delaying the uncomfortable admission that the situation had not been a success. I had to admit defeat.
We know change is part of life, and yet most of us still get hung up on certain experiences, hoping they will work out and last forever. Without an attitude of equanimity, failure is virtually synonymous with suffering. But failure is simply a big cosmic NO, directing us to something more suitable.
Mental steadiness and emotional balance in the face of change is our best defense against suffering. Put in common language, this simply means we don’t let things get to us. But how do we do this?
Immeaurable Equanimity: The Universal Panacea
When we practice cultivating equanimity, we strengthen our ability to tolerate experience. To become a sublime state of mind, however, the attitude of equanimity has to be extended to all sentient beings. We recognize that, like us, all beings suffer. This eventually allows us to be more accepting of others when they act out of suffering. We see how easily it is for our relationships to transform. A friend becomes an enemy; a lover becomes a stranger; an enemy becomes a family member. And these relationships may transform yet again.
We can never rely on things staying the same. The only way I’ve discovered to tolerate these situations without falling victim to emotional landmines is to develop immeasurable equanimity. Then the reference point is internal, so whether friend, lover, enemy, family member or stranger, I can see a sentient being struggling to find happiness and I can wish them well. I can wish us both well.
Then, while I may give a damn, I don’t mind what happens.