This is a long one about equanimity so feel free to jump in or scroll on past at this point :)
One of the questions that has appeared in various emails and chats is how do we go about making decisions in life from a point of equanimity?
One very important thing about equanimity is that it is absolutely not apathy or indifference. It isn't just being an amoeba or an emotionless jelly on a plate and letting life bash you around.
Im not a Christian but I think that the serenity prayer in the christian faith can be useful here - I have left out the first word which is God, you can replace it with whatever works for you, universe, deep wisdom, or keep God if that works:
'grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'
The serenity in the first line is equanimity, let me be equanimous or calmly accepting of the things I can't change. We can't necessarily change the way a friend acts with us, we can't necessarily change where we live every time it annoys us or the neighbours kick off, we can't change the political view of everyone that disagrees with us. Simply put we can't mould the world to fit our narrow view of how it should be. So let us find serenity in that understanding and acceptance that comes from it.
The second line can be confusing, as it might sound like it is implying we should have the courage to change everything else that we want to. Yet what can we really change? Any change that we make is fine but ultimately it will only be temporary in its effect. Soon enough something else will unsettle that calm or relief we feel or maybe the change we make will not bring about the results that we wanted. Maybe the change makes things worse?
So the only single thing that we can really change is our own outlook, our own reactivity and our own response. That demands great courage because there is a degree of submission/ faith / trust in there and trust is what we don't have.
We are so certain that we need to change the world to keep us at peace with ourself, to trust to leave it and allow it to flow (because ultimately we don't know the long term effects of any change we make) requires enormous courage. Or simply to trust that we can make a change but not know the results likewise.
It reminds me very much of the zen proverb about the man who tries to cover the world in leather to protect his feet. Instead all he needs to do is put leather on the soles of his feet. He only needs to change himself as the experiencer, not the experience.
But there is certainly, in this prayer and in Buddhism and Advaita for example, no suggestion that we shouldn't make any effort to change things. We have the freedom to choose, but remember that also lets us know that we have the freedom to not try to change certain things and allow them to be. The choice is there.
It is the final line that speaks to our gut instinct, our deeper wisdom - the wisdom to know the difference.
This line is key......when we understand at a deep level that our happiness or peace has never, can never and will never be derived from external states, experiences or objects, only from our own outlook, then only at this point can we stop reacting to the whims of 'I dont like this, I do like that' and start make wise choices about whether the effort to make a change is useful or not.
Am I simply reacting? Is this change I want to make based on the misguided idea that it will bring lasting happiness? Will that happiness really last? Or will a similar situation arise again in the future?
And this is important - if you undertsand that there is no certainty in the change you make AND can be totally free of the fruits of your decision, then it is a good change to make:
If I deal with it now and confront it with wisdom and clarity then the fruits of the action will always be wholesome. Whether the fruits turn out to be a perceived worse situation (you tell a friend some truths but they take it badly and never talk to you again) or whether the fruit turns out to be perceived better (you tell a friend some truths and they have an epiphany about their actions) we must be totally willing to accept that the result could be better or worse than it is now. There is no way of knowing, but the choice to act was a pure one, not blinded by misunderstanding.
I want a bar of chocolate, I have the freedom to buy it or not. There is no guarantee that it will bring happiness, maybe I keep buying it if I give in every time the whim appears and I become unhealthy or have a heart attack, maybe I choke on a nut in the chocolate.Or maybe I eat the chocolate and just enjoy the eating of it and leave it there? If I feel the urger ot then buy a second bar because I think it the enjoyment will grow then I might be misguided! If i think my morning coffee will always be an enjoyable ritual, I am misguided.
On a larger level maybe you move home because somewhere else appeals to you, great do it, but not because you believe it will make you happier, you might end up with awful neighbours, the place might get burgled, you have no idea. Likewise the place and town might suit you way better, or at least for a time. Make the change but dont pin ultimate happiness on it or you might get a nasty surprise.
We approach living here with that view, every day I thank the invisible whatever for plonking us here, but at the same time I see that it could also be a total nightmare, there is so much to maintain and that won't be possible when we are older or if one of us gets ill; if one of us had an accident it would take an ambulance forever to find us and so on. The place has no inherent happiness about it per se, only what we lend it. So if we lost it tomorrow, then c'est la vie. It would be a shame and a headache but not the end of the world.
I hope that is useful elaboration on a very tricky topic