By Kellie Schorr
There’s a sticky, sweet smell in the crisp morning air rising from the verdant grass as droplets of dew descend from the branches of the trees overhead.
It’s still early enough for the sun to be both bright but mild; It marks the stone-paved path you’re walking with streaks of warm, enveloping light.
You think of the people who built this path through the once rugged forest that is now a park. They prepared the soil, flattening mounds of dirt and digging up rocks and roots until it was absolutely smooth then they picked the perfect flat stones and placed them one by one until they were cemented to create an ideal walkway for you and your dog on this lovely early summer Sunday.
How wonderful those people were, and generous—so, so generous.
Abruptly, you stop and pull the leash to bring your puppy close to your side; it’s time to turn around. There’s a rotting wooden fence blocking the path. Though you see some footprints in the soil where some have tried to go farther, it looks forbidding and grotesque.
The way forward is cluttered with jagged, broken beer bottles and used discarded needles. There is trash piled at the base of a tree, and a swamp filled with sewer run-off. Sickly moss covers a pit of sludge. The only thing worse than how it looks is the putrid smell of rot suffocating every breath and hope out of the place. A tattered warning sign appears after the last stone.
“Enter at Your Own Risk.”
“Let’s go back,” you say to your loved companion as you return the way you came, happy to take in fresh air and be cleansed by the sunlight cascading down through the sheltering trees. By the time you get back to your car, the sheen of sweat on your sun-kissed skin confirms the peaceful fulfillment you carry in your heart. It was a good walk. All is well. That’s equanimity.
Except, it’s not.
Everything we think about equanimity is wrong.
Well, not everything. Maybe not wrong, but certainly lacking. Our understanding of equanimity in the west is often a watered down pablum of spiritual bypassing, easy phrases, and lazy encouragements. Equanimity, we are often taught by self-informed gurus and pop-psych bestsellers with trendy titles and a set of cairns beside calm waters on the cover, is a sense of peace and balance that remains strong no matter what is going on around you.
While it has some of the proper elements—peace, balance, internal strength – that definition misses the main ingredient, like Pico de Gallo made without tomatoes. Equanimity comes from and requires a presence of equality. The balance, strength, and calm originate from a fulcrum established by an understanding of the equal nature of the beings around us.
To acknowledge the inherent equality between you and another human being—neither one is better than the other, more valuable than the other, or more deserving than the other—creates a path toward acceptance (not its sad, irrelevant cousin “tolerance”). In ways large and small equanimity comes as a result of creating and inviting the middle way based on equality as the foundational unit of measure.
When you see someone throwing a fit in Subway because his sandwich isn’t right and that person is acting so rudely it actually embarrasses you, remembering that he is as precious as you, carrying some kind of baggage (as you sometimes do), and simply wants to be happy (just like you) makes the situation more relatable which allows you to deal with it from a place of peace, not irritation. That doesn’t mean his behavior is okay, or you need to affirm it. It simply means you navigate your feelings and actions from a balanced heart not a feeling of superiority or judgement.
The Haunted Path
The real challenge to our equanimity is not the petty and frustrating encounters around us, but the pervasive, systemic inequality built into the very fabric of our culture. Can we really suggest we have equanimity when the stench of racism, sexism, and homophobia rises from our government buildings, homes, and businesses?
Can you live an awakened life in a world so inherently one-sided? When churches rally for exclusion and immigrants are despised simply for wanting a chance at a safer, better life is it really okay to sit back and rest on our sense of bliss?
Can you have equanimity in a world this unjust? It’s a tricky question. You can, but like that walk in the sun interrupted by the haunted path, without change you can only go so far.
Equanimity isn’t some bland spiritual sugar high that makes you feel okay during the worst of times. It is the fuel of courage and the food of conviction. Equanimity doesn’t ask you to “accept” that dank, haunted path or write it off as “simply emptiness.” It will encourage you to step through the rotting barrier and walk as far as you can, picking up jagged glass, listening to the wounded, and offering justice in the place of potholes.
Equanimity compels you not to look away or pretend to be happy “despite” the brutality, but to transform yourself and the whole damn path around you.Equanimity isn’t some bland spiritual sugar high that makes you feel okay during the worst of times. It is the fuel of courage and the food of conviction. ~Kellie Schorr Click To Tweet
The Sacred Circle
“Peace is about what is in you, not what is around you.” We hear that in various forms as we go throughout our spirit journeys, and it has a basis in truth. However, if what is “in you” can only thrive when you close your eyes to what is “around you” then it isn’t peace. It is a fragile delusion. What is “within” is often made from your effort to understand, survive, thrive and find perspective about environment that surrounds.
How can we find equanimity in a world where equality is rarely practiced?
By developing a pattern of awareness and action starting with the central core of your own being. Equanimity starts with the small circle, the sacred circle, of your heart, your awareness and your practice. Train yourself to see recognize inequality and seek equity in situations, people, and beings you encounter. Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes you have to work on it. It takes intention, and humility. Then, you know the drill.
Enlarge that circle to include more—more beings, more systems, more situations—as you smooth the broken road, generously extending the path if only for a few steps. You don’t have to change the whole world or right all the wrongs to be enlightened. If you make the way more level for others through your awareness, and your willingness to example change, your equanimity will thrive.
You might even be able to enjoy that walk further than you ever have before.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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- A Haunted Path: Can We Have Equanimity in an Unjust World? - July 7, 2021
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