Having a clear recognition of the way things are allows us to stay with the ebb and flow of existence. It provides us with calm, which is a natural state of the mind; we add on all the chaos, anxiety, and suffering. Think of it as climbing the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. From that vantage point we see everyone as equal and don’t discriminate between ourselves and other people. When embroiled in conflict, we can remain impartial in an effort to truly understand others’ points of view. We drop our discrimination in order to truly love. In this way, the ego diminishes and we can connect.
Often people think of this feeling of equanimity from clear recognition as “indifference,” as if we are supposed to be detached and unconcerned with other beings. Indifference is the near-enemy, clear recognition does not make us cold or indifferent. It doesn’t mean not caring. The calmness is not due to coldness of heart but to the clear recognition of the way things are. When we open our hearts, we can connect to all things, and that’s as it should be. We balance our connections with a clear recognition of the way things are. We see what we genuinely cannot control, no matter how obsessed we might become with trying to. What it really means is to not be ruled by passions, desires, likes and dislikes.
Three Pre-Requisites for Clear Recognition: Balance, Letting Go, Wisdom
Balance is the middle ground. This balance comes from inner stability; remaining centered when surrounded by turmoil. The strong presence of inner calm, well-being, confidence, vitality, or integrity can keep us upright, like a ballast keeps a ship upright in strong winds.
We are constantly being pulled in one direction or another by things or conditions we either want or hope to avoid. To develop balance, we work with the eight worldly winds: praise and blame, pleasure and pain, success and failure, gain and loss. The wise person accepts all without approval or disapproval.
The balanced heart feels pleasure without grasping and clinging at it, it feels pain without condemning or hating, and it stays open to neutral experiences with presence.
Letting Go: To recognized the way things really are, we have to give up all possessive thoughts of “mine.” This starts with little things from which it is easy to detach ourselves, like my favorite color is purple so everything I buy has to be purple. Gradually we work up to possessions we cling to. I can give the clothes I don’t wear to Goodwill, I don’t need to hang onto them in case I want to wear them sometime. Then there are the aims to which our whole heart clings. I was Catholic although I disagree with many of the teachings of the Catholic church. When I let go of identifying as Catholic, I found an ecumenical church with very rich homilies. I also allowed myself to be part of a Buddhist community where I feel more at home than I ever did in the Catholic Church.
We also have to give up all egoistic thoughts of “self'”, beginning with a small section of our personality, with qualities of minor importance, with small weaknesses we clearly see. I am replacing the story I am shy with the intention to show up for people. Gradually we work up to those emotions and aversions which we regard as the center of our being. I am having to give up my need to control and to always be right. My whole heart is still clinging to being right. I have to work at remembering to ask myself which is more important, being right or this relationship.
Wisdom: Wisdom can teach us to separate people’s actions from who they are. We can agree or disagree with their actions, but stay connected to them within the boundaries we intentionally set. We can also understand that our own thoughts and impulses are the result of impersonal conditions. By not taking them so personally, we are more likely to stay at ease with their arising.
Another way wisdom supports us is in understanding that people are responsible for their own decisions, which helps us to find equanimity in the face of other people’s suffering. We can wish the best for them, but we avoid being buffeted by a false sense of responsibility for their well-being.
Clear recognition of the way things are is a two-step process. First, we learn to see what’s going on externally around us and then we see what’s going on in our body and our mind. This allows us to notice when we are wanting something different from what is. Really noticing what’s happening right now replaces delusion. And not trying to change what’s happening replaces aversion and greed.
Four ways to cultivate clear recognition: Mindfulness, Working with Difficult Emotions, Reducing Reactivity, Acceptance of the Present Moment
Mindfulness: our training in mindfulness helps us to see with awareness and compassion. The ability to see without being caught by what we see; a calm presence that is aware, open, engaged but not swayed or caught by any experience of the moment. With mindfulness, we start where we are, naming what is going on and opening to how it feels in the body. We will get pulled away as we are rigged to try to control the experience, usually by self-judgement. Our mindfulness practice helps us to stay with what is really here, not lost in the stories in our mind.
Working with Difficult Emotions: Learning to be with our difficult emotions helps us to let go instead of pushing them away. In letting go of the ego’s grasp through acceptance of all that is, we realize contentment. Pema Chodron said, “To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion before it hardens into grasping or negativity.”
Reducing Reactivity: Suffering comes from reaction to experience. We want to engage with experience but not react to our reactions to our experience. We are wired to react to unpleasantness by pushing it away and to pleasantness by trying to hold on to it. Clear recognition allows us to see what cannot be controlled in life. As we become aware of our emotions we can choose to act responsibly rather than react unskillfully. We practice to train ourselves to be constantly aware of whatever enters our mind, feeling the emotions and their effect before acting. By doing so we expand the range of life experiences in which we are free from reactivity.
We open to the truth that there is actually very little we can control other than our own reactions to circumstances. However much you may care for someone, however much you may do for others, however much you would like to control things or you wish that they were other than they are; all beings everywhere are responsible for their own actions and for the consequences of their actions.
Acceptance of the Present Moment: Rather than the ups and downs that come from a state of happiness based on sensual desires, we accept what is happening in the present moment. Becoming attached to or excessively elated with success, praise, fame or pleasure can be a set-up for suffering when the winds of life change direction. These waves of emotion carry us up and fling us down; and no sooner do we find rest, then we are in the power of a new wave again. If we understand or feel that our sense of inner well-being is independent of external conditions, we are more likely to remain on an even keel in their midst. When the mind is calm, we are less likely to be blown about.
To learn how to be more equanimous with external conditions, we have to be able to see their insubstantiality. Through being mindful we become more aware of the impermanence of both the pleasant and the unpleasant. We see the conditional nature of fame, and that lasting peace and happiness doesn’t come through being famous. We see that disrepute is temporary, and need not bring lasting unhappiness. The more balanced we can be in relationship to these, the more we free ourselves from having to be seen by others in any particular way. When no longer swayed by changing tides of fame or disrepute, we discover a peace that doesn’t depend on how others see us.
Think about your last week. How many moments did you have that kind of presence that is not trying to manage anything, just being receptive, open with room for experience to come and go. For most of us the answer is not many moments. But we can train our minds to experience more moments of openness.
Sharon Salzburg says, “Equanimity’s strength derives from a combination of understanding and trust. It is based on understanding that conflict and frustration we feel when we can’t control the world doesn’t come from our inability to do so, but rather from the fact that we are trying to control the uncontrollable. We know better than to try to prevent the seasons from changing or the tide from coming in. We may not prefer it, but we trust it because we understand and accept its rightful place in a larger cycle, a bigger picture. Can we apply the same wise balance to the cycles and tides of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral experiences in our lives?”
If we can, it frees us to cherish our life moment by moment. In the moments we are not fighting, judging and grasping, but just being, we gain the deepest wisdom. We can realize who we are because our grasping self dissolves. We have a baseline of equilibrium in our body where we’re not disturbed and we’re not zoned out to avoid being disturbed. Our brain is relaxed and calm, engaged and alert.
My wishes for you:
- May you accept things the way they are.
- May you have inner stability.
- May you have the wisdom to see what you can control and what is uncontrollable.
- May you be at peace.