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Equanimity & Compassion

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

“The two Virtues of Equanimity and Compassion become more available to the person whose ego-shell has been smashed-either by great suffering or by great love-or by both.”

Recently, I had a crash course in the lessons of Equanimity and Compassion, and saw, with considerable humility, how far I have to go!

In my own defense, these two virtues, according to Buddhist teachings, are considered the immeasurable qualities of a liberated being, and thus are the foundation upon which all the other virtues – generosity, morality, insight, patience, truthfulness, renunciation, resolution, and loving kindness - are built.

My brother visited with me for three days. Together, we were planning to go to his son’s graduation from a nearby university. I was really looking forward to the celebrations. When he arrived on Saturday evening, he said he didn’t feel well and went expeditiously to bed. The next morning, he tested positive for Covid! Now, not only could he not go to the ceremonies, but I’m also suspect because of my exposure! He and I spent the next three days navigating the nuances of living with Covid-in-the-house, as well as the various levels of anxiety coming at us from extended family!

I would say we did well… ostensibly, but inside, I noticed a fair amount of resistance! I was not equanimous, but rather quite disappointed! On one hand, I truly wanted to help my brother and provide a safe haven for him to ride out the Covid storm… on the other, I found myself impatient with the masking, social distancing, and intrusion. As one friend said, “You got to come face to face with your maternal instinct!” … and I found myself quite lacking!

There appears an inherent paradox between equanimity and compassion. Equanimity, at its core goes beyond internal balance (most people’s preferred definition) it is impartiality, non-preferential. This is extremely hard for most of us to truly grasp, never mind practice. Compassion is more than just empathy, truly feeling another’s suffering or joy, it is a willingness to extend oneself for the betterment of others. Compassion seems to imply preference, “I prefer others not to suffer.” Perhaps our way through is, as the Buddha might say, the middle way; in equanimity, accept that everyone suffers, and what are we to do besides attempt to relieve it.

My weekend with my brother showed me, not only do I have a ways to go to liberation, but also the way. Virtues are not imbued. We like to pretend that people are inherently patient, or kind, or generous, and while some have proclivity towards these qualities, like some are gifted in music or athleticism, virtues must be nurtured and practiced to come to fruition. They are often effectively practiced in conjunction with mindfulness, through noticing when we are falling or failing, and pulling ourselves back towards them; finding and cultivating patience, equanimity, compassion in the midst of the storm, we get better at them, and eventually they take up residence.

With love and compassion.



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