By the time of this Wake Up Call, we'd all be so careful for so long. It had been exhausting but also, safe. The question was, how were people feeling about venturing out? Some days I had the balance, the equilibrium, to do it. Sometimes not. Equanimity helped.
Equanimity can support openness to experience: the experience of connecting and of retreat; the experience of suffering, and of joy. But equanimity is a practice. On this Wake Up Call, take a look at an old, trusted tool, S.T.O.P., and see how it can support equanimity practice, and help us all to re-learn how to stand together, in the fire of things.
Here we are, together again. And again, a lot is happening. I can’t remember a time before the last year or two when so much happened each day, whether it was the news cycle or just things in ordinary life, whatever “ordinary life” is right now.
So I feel like we need equanimity now more than ever. I need equanimity now more than ever.
In the last few weeks I’ve had moments of equanimity, when I feel open and balanced and able to be with whatever is happening. And then suddenly, I’m not feeling it. I’m unstable, I’m anxious, I’m angry, I’m fearful. I’m pretty sure a good bit of it is about what’s happening right now in the macro/global sense –the world opening up slowly, slowly. It’s like a clam, opening for a little water, nourishment, then closing. And it’s creaky. It’s like watching my 84-year-old dad unfold himself up out of his chair, slowly, glad to be getting up & stretching, also glad to fold back up and sit down.
Each crease that unfolds – walking down a not-too-busy street with my mask at my throat until I’m near someone and then pulling it up then, instead of covering my face all the time; having coffee with someone outside; having coffee with someone inside – actually I haven’t done that yet. In a year, I haven’t gone for an indoor coffee – isn’t that amazing, what we haven’t done? We’re getting ready to think about having friends over for dinner indoors (it feels scary even to write that) - each of these unfoldings have within them the seeds of joy, relaxation, letting go into the moment, equanimity; and also the seeds of anxiety and fear.
In each moment we get to choose. If we don’t choose, the moment will choose us, and we’ll be riffing off of our habits & patterns, or the habits & patterns we’ve developed over the last year, for better or worse.
What I want to share, because it’s helping me right now, is one of the most basic and also powerful mindfulness practices I know: S.T.O.P.
S – stop. I’m literally stopping in my tracks a dozen times a day. It’s only for a second or two. So far no one has banged into me. But I am literally stopping.
And not just stopping, momentum-wise. Also stopping and grounding. Feeling the ground beneath my feet, even if it’s soaking wet (it’s pretty gray and wet here right now). And then touching into the earth: imagining, beneath the concrete, or if I’m indoors, beneath the floorboards and concrete, the earth, solid and alive and right there. Steady. Holding me. Holding all of us. Sensing into the comfort of that. So that’s the S of STOP right now.
Then, T – take a breath. I love Roshi Joan Halifax’s instruction: on the in-breath, pay attention to the breath – how it feels as it flows into the body. The openness it creates. The focus it can offer. On the out-breath, connect to the earth. There’s that instruction to get grounded again: using the T of STOP to create a rhythm of presencing and grounding, presencing and grounding.
If breath doesn’t feel like a safe or comforting place, then T can be, “take a moment to listen.” See what sounds are in the room, or the park, or on the street. What can you hear? Allowing the sound, or even the waves of sound, to presence you, to ground you.
Then the really big one for equanimity practice for me these days is the O of STOP: O for observe. Right now, for me “observe” has three parts. First, observe what’s happening internally and externally. Observe how you’re doing. Observe how the people you’re with (virtually or physically) are doing. Observe your own internal experience as you’re with them. And observe what formations or old habit and patterns you may be able to see, that you’re bringing to the moment.
Second, observe what your choices are. Observe which ones will lead to joy and equanimity (even hard choices having to do with advocacy). And observe which ones will lead to fear, anxiety, and sorrow.
Third, observe your intention. Observe whether you even have an intention first, and then if not, set one. Set the intention to be solid, to stand in the middle of things, to stabilize, to see things as they are, to accept things as they are in the moment (not in the world). Remember the equanimity phrase, “may I accept things as they are in this moment.” Consider using the phrase. It can be a powerful support.
And then P, proceed. Proceed to speak or act informed by your intention – hopefully to stand in the middle of things, to see things as they are, to accept the moment even as you work mightily to change things in your life, in your community, in the world, hopefully pointing at joy, even if it’s a far-off goal.
See what your experience is if you try this version of STOP. This “equanimity” based version can bring a real lightness to the moment, in my experience. A little more letting go of what “should” be happening and a little more acceptance of what is happening.
For example, yesterday I was out & about and went into a drug store and had an experience of anxiety, that whole heart-racing thing, wanting to get out of there, but I had stuff to get, and using STOP, I could just turn to my own experience of suffering, ground, observe it, remember my intention (pick up the prescription, be kind to everyone along the way), and move on.
Also yesterday I had the experience of witnessing someone else’s suffering. I was at the Lawyer Wellbeing conference and heard someone’s talk about having been hospitalized with COVID. How they’d had to lay on their stomach for six hours each day, no visitors of course, all the medical personnel putting on clean PPE every time they came into the room so they didn’t come in unless they had to, the person feeling shame about getting sick, like they’d done something wrong, the person not wanting their firm know about their illness, and so on, on top of feeling really sick. I could barely listen. I was almost in tears. But: stop and ground and connect to the earth; observe that aversiveness, of wanting to move away from the experience the person was sharing and of not wanting this to have happened to this person, or to anyone; remember the intention to be present and compassionate; and then do that.
May I accept things as they are: sometimes, for me, it’s almost be a prayer. “The ability to be constant and endure,” is what Sharon Salzburg calls it. The ability to be with pain, and also with joy, to face the world over and over, to walk out into the world right now, over and over, to see and feel the pain, and to be ok with whatever the moment brings. Not ok with it staying that way, not not trying to change the injustice in the world. But ok with the moment. Just with each moment.