The Souls Journey – Searching for Equanimity

December 16, 2019

One of my favourite aspects of Buddhism is what is described as the four immeasurable – equanimity, compassion, loving kindness and sympathetic joy. Recently the cosmos seems to have blessed me with a number of opportunities to practice equanimity.

This is not one of my natural traits. My niece Amy refers to a common genetic response of my family that she refers to as the Simpson spin. She has noticed it in my two younger siblings as well as myself. We come by it honestly as our father role modelled the spin during our childhood. Needless to say this is practically the opposite of equanimity.

Recently I was preparing for my visit to Mexico where I am writing this. I went to check in on line but they could not find my booking. (So at least the story has a good ending) I tried a few times to no avail. It would appear fleetingly then finally disappeared completely. I decided to call Air Canada for verification but their system had imploded under call pressure as they had switched on-line systems. They could not even put me on hold.

I still had my original booking in my email so I printed it out and the next morning ready to leave I arrived at the airport with almost two hours spare to find out they had no plane flying to Mexico that day. Immediately anxiety set. I could feel this flood of stress created by the news. I could see it but in that moment despite trying to calm myself, focus on the breath and using the tools I had learned to help establish equanimity, it did not work.

I was directed to ticketing where there was a line of only two people, but I stood there impatient, angry and upset. In my state the wait seemed endless however eventually I got called to the wicket and a pleasant woman confirmed there was no plane that day but I had been rescheduled for tomorrow. I let go of my impulse to debate and complain. In fact I noticed an immediate shift in how I was feeling and as I began my journey back home I realized that my stress was caused by uncertainty and once that was cleared up I actually felt quite content to spend another day in rainy Vancouver. I did my best to see it as a gift and was quite productive which was a pleasant outcome. I did however write to the airline and expressed my concern that this it happened, and later they offered me 25% discount on my next flight.

The next day the lesson continued. The security line up was amazingly slow and I could feel tension building up. This time I was able to simply focus on breathing in and out and the inexorable line crept forward as I stayed calm and relaxed.

This was followed by a long haul through Mexican immigration but again the same strategy worked. Then the final test was clearing customs where I faced the longest line I have ever seen. This time I had a very irate, negative fellow traveller behind. The constant stream of negative comments and hostile energy was relentless.

The breath strategy was hard to hold on to and I tried sending him positive energy at the same time. Suddenly it felt calmer and I turned around to see him cheating the system and taking a short cut. Normally this would drive me crazy but I felt only relief. I think the words of the wonderful Persian proverb are a great reminder when equanimity is challenged, “This too shall pass”. In 25 minutes I was on my way, even missing my bus connection did not concern me, just arriving was such a joy.

I sense that learning equanimity is a great gift. Pema Chodren In her wonderful little book, “Comfortable with Uncertainty” teaches about equanimity as follow, “We practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion before it hardens into grasping or negativity.” I may not be there yet but I am heading in the right direction. As the great Sufi port Rumi suggested. “The real truth of existence is sealed until after many twists and turns of the road.”

The Soul’s Journey – Emotional Contagion

December 14, 2019

Recently I facilitated a small group who meet each month for spiritual support and guidance. We begin with a meditation and then each person checks in with something from their current story. One member shared her deep sense of loss and grief on the demise of a partner a year earlier.

The group does not interact during this sharing but save questions and comments until the end. On this occasion another person shared her how touched she was and launched into her own story of her own loss twenty years earlier.

I could feel a shift in the emotions of the group and thought I needed to try and moderate this so I asked a question of the person who seemed the most composed. Her response was to begin to cry. I realized then that the whole group had descended into grief.

For a brief moment I experienced a sense of overwhelment and sat back wondering what was the appropriate response? In this situation I have learned to take a few slow, steady breaths so for a moment I just sat awaiting inspiration and it came. The person who had accelerated this spiral of grief began to apologize for taking so much time sharing her old story. Then to my amazement every member of the group shifted from grief into caretaking her.

It afforded me the opportunity to talk about changes of state and that we all needed some tools or activities to manage our own feelings. It is not about repression or suppression but rather being able to shift from feelings to a more composed state. Exercise is an excellent way to create endorphins that help to calm anxiety. I find humour, walking in nature and beauty and sharing the story with someone can really help me shift.

The following day I began to explore the phenomenon of what I learned is called “emotional contagion”. Somewhat to my surprise this is an accepted psychological term and that most emotions can be transferred. I think we have all experienced being sucked into vortex by negative people and who hasn’t found themselves laughing without quite knowing why?

Recently in a podcast on Tapestry (a CBC program – a weekly exploration of spirituality, religion and the search for meaning) I listened to Dr. Steven Stosny talk about Headline Stress disorder and how people not only become more angry and resentful after being exposed to headline news, their feelings can be picked up by others. In couples counselling he finds his clients are more resentful and more angry after listening to the news.

When the next group came around I had an amazing example of both positive emotional contagion and shifting of state. The first person to share expressed her negativity towards Christmas as it reminds her of her partner who died only a couple of years previously. Once again I could feel the empathy of the group shifting. However at the end of her sharing she drew an angel card from the bowl on the table. It said “Flexibility” and her outrage was such that the whole group broke into laughter and the mood immediately shifted.

What popped into my head were the words of the Sufi poet hafiz “What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts? It is the glorious sound of a Soul waking up.” (interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky)