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Equanimity: The Highest Happiness

Cory Muscara






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Equanimity: The Highest Happiness

Within meditation there is one form of happiness that trumps all others. This talk explores that kind of happiness and how you can develop more of it.

Today, we're going to be

talking about equanimity.

To begin, let's listen to the

bells to help us settle in.

I first learned about the concept of

equanimity through my studies in Burma.

Although the idea of equanimity and what

it's pointing to can be found in many

different traditions, some of the best

articulations of it and how to cultivate

it do come from the Buddhist tradition.

And what equanimity is pointing to is

a deep groundedness and balance of mind

that is not disturbed by the highs and

lows of internal or external experiences.

From a lay person's perspective,

we might understand this as

just simply being balanced.

But from a contemplative perspective,

a meditators perspective, this

is actually a profound mind state

that can be cultivated over time.

So I want to address both.

The depth of what equanimity can

be and what's possible as a mind

state to be achieved, and also how

we might experience it in our moment

to moment life and why it would be

powerful or even profound in many ways.

So let's start where many

of my stories star in Burma.

When I went to Burma, I did

not really know what to expect.

I just knew that I was going to

be meditating many hours per day,

eating very little and not speaking.

I had an agenda to cultivate a

quality of peace that could exist,

I don't want to say independent of

external conditions, but much less

dependent on external conditions.

And that came with a felt sense

of what I wanted to achieve.

There was an, a sense in my mind

and my body of what I would feel

like once I get wherever there was.

Because of that, many of the

experiences I had throughout that

extended retreat were filtered through

a lens of, does this match up with

what I want or does it not match up?

So how did that look?

Well, in the beginning, I

dealt with a lot of pain.

And anytime physical pain would arise,

my mind would naturally resist it.

Ugh this isn't it.

And get angry that it was here.

Try and focus on the breath,

all in pursuit of creating a

little bit more peace or ease.

Eventually the pain would shift

or I would use some strategies

to help it soften a bit.

And then I go back, I'd be meditating

and maybe I'd have a week where

things were really good and I

felt peaceful and totally at ease.

And sometimes even my body completely

feeling like a body of light, I

have to look down and make sure

my feet were still on the ground.

I felt that great.

And then my mind will go, wow, this is it.

If I could just have more of

this, then I would really be

cruising and life would be so good.

Imagine if I could take this back

into my day-to-day life and raise a

family with this quality of peace.

I mean, this is amazing.

So I would really hold on to that.

And then sadly, that experience would

pass and it might be neutral for a little

bit, or it might go back to pain in

the body or this period I went through.

There was a lot of emotion,

like sadness and grief.

And I went through that and, you

know, I was paying attention to it,

being present with it, but there

was this sense of, ah, this isn't

it, like got to get away from this.

So I'd push, push, try and focus,

but it was focusing on with the

intention to get rid of the bad stuff.

Eventually the bad stuff would shift

and aah, go back to neutrality, then

another good thing would happen,

and I go, yeah, that's it again.

Give me more of that.

And this rollercoaster

went on for weeks, months.

Yes, months, more than weeks.

And when good things were

there, I grasp onto it.

I said, that's it.

And when the painful experiences

came up, I try and be present and

mindful with them, but there was

still this agenda of like pushing.

My, my brain was just so wired and

conditioned to push against the bad

stuff and pull toward the good stuff.

But what happens when you're paying

that careful attention to your

moment to moment experience is

that your mind starts to learn.

It starts to learn that the

more I push against the negative

stuff, well, it doesn't really

make the negative stuff go away.

In fact, it just creates more tension.

So why am I pushing so hard?

And it starts to soften.

And then it sees, well, you know, every

time I grasp for the good stuff, it's

not like the good stuff stays any longer.

And in fact, I create more stress for

myself because I'm gripping so hard.

Why do I grip so much?

And it says, huh?

Maybe I could soften around that.

And slowly as that retreat went on,

when difficult experiences would arise,

my mind would get a little softer.

And when good experiences would

arise, my mind got softer still.

This happened slowly.

But one day, several months into

that retreat, I ran the four, four

month mark, I found that I was

no longer pushing and pulling.

When I would sit down in meditation, there

was this really deep peace, which I can

only describe as hiking up a mountain

with a hundred pound backpack for years

at a time and just the exhaustion of that.

And then finally getting to

the top, being able to sit down

and take that backpack off.

You can imagine the ease

that would come with that.

That's what this felt like.

It was just pure balance, no tension

that came from grasping at good

experiences, no tension that came

from pushing away the bad experiences.

My mind was just able to hold it all.

It was spacious enough to allow

everything to be there and

not make an issue out of it.

And it truly was profound.

In fact, this mind state, at least in

the Buddhist tradition is considered most

similar to that of an enlighted being.

It's the highest form of

happiness we can experience.

There are forms of pleasure that give us

happiness or forms of social interactions,

relationships that give us happiness.

There are forms of wisdom

that give us happiness.

And then equanimity is considered the

pinnacle of what we can experience

in terms of happiness, because we're

no longer experiencing conditional

happiness, where things need to

be a certain way to feel good.

When I got back from Burma,

this lasted for several weeks.

I wish I could say it's

still lasted, but it didn't.

And then I wrote a book and that

just knocked out all the equanimity.

Well, the equanimity was

knocked out a bit before then.

It's very hard to maintain this depth

of balance and equanimity in the real

world, where there are people that need

things from us, difficult relationship

dynamics, lots of stimulation.

It's hard for the mind to get to the

level of concentration next necessary

to access this deep, deep equanimity.

But that doesn't mean we can't

deepen into equanimity and experience

many moments of equanimity.

Having now heard that story in Burma,

I'm sure you can resonate with times in

your life where maybe your mind was a

little bit more still, where something

was happening and you weren't grasping

at it, you weren't pushing away.

You were just able to meet it fully.

Might've been a conversation, might've

been observing a sunset, might've

even been a difficult experience,

like the loss of a loved one.

You were able to fully be there.

Not tormented by the pushing or

pulling, but just holding it with

steadiness, groundedness and ease.

That kind of equanimity, we can actually

experience quite a bit in our lives.

We can experience it multiple

times throughout the day.

It's simply referring to a mind that

is not pushing and is not pulling,

just meeting exactly as it is.

We could say it's a moment of presence.

So the more we practice bringing

mindfulness into our lives, the more

we develop this quality of equanimity.

But I think you could also appreciate

how a daily meditation practice or even

some form of a meditation practice could

be powerful for taking you deeper into

equanimity in your day-to-day life,

because it's simply the willingness to

show up for a series of predetermined

moments, meaning, we sit for five minutes,

10 minutes, 20 minutes of meditation.

And we're just choosing to be with

all of it, regardless of how great

it is or how bad it is, just to

meet it, soften into the experience.

And what I mean by that is relax

the tension that's fighting the

experience, relax the tension that's

grasping at the good experiences.

Just meet.


This is what this moment

is like right now.

The moment is like this.

Right now, it's like this.

That is a mind that is more equanimous.

And the more we do that,

the more we deepen into it.

Equanimity is neither a

thought nor an emotion.

Rather, it's this steady, conscious

realization of reality's transience.

That's a quote I got off of

Wikipedia, so I can't take

credit for it, but it's powerful.

Neither a thought, nor an emotion.

Rather, the steady, conscious

realization of realities transience.

Let that sink in.

Not just now, but for the rest of today.

When you find yourself tensing around

something, take a deep breath, just

relax into how it is right now.

When you find yourself really excited,

but also grasping to keep that excitement,

take a deep breath and see if you could

just experience the goodness while it's

there without needing to maintain it.

It was great being with you today.

Take care.

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