Dynamic Equanimity

How difficult it is to sit still with calm mind. We practice calming the mind while sitting, because the stillness of body reduces distractions of the mind. If you wanted to practice drawing a straight line or a perfect circle, you would not do it on a bus. You would find a stable surface to draw upon. So we meditate while sitting, because it gives us a stable body in which to center the mind.

Life is not just sitting. We have to get up and move about also. Ideally, we carry with us the clarity, calm and balance from meditation as we work and play. Our friend Richard describes what he calls dynamic equanimity as "keeping one's calm center while in rapid motion, including in the midst of chaos and complexity." Equanimity is a state of being balanced, and undisturbed by events. Dynamic equanimity is a skill one can develop to remain calm, centered and relaxed while being highly active.

Martial artists learn this skill. Typically, sitting meditation is part of the practice, but progress is made when the student learns to move and react with a calm mind. In sparring, there is no time for the observing mind to tell the body to block an attack. The body and mind must be one. The response must be unified thought and movement.

It is the same in dancing and sports. When one is in a state of dynamic equanimity a flow happens. Basketball players talk about being in the zone. The ball moves as it should, and the player's emotions, while not precisely calm, are in harmony with the play. Artists paint or sculpt for hours and time passes with little awareness of it. Something is created while the ego is out to lunch.

What is absent in these states is interference from clinging and fearful thoughts and the emotions that go with them. When we know our skill and we get our fears and cravings out of the way, we have the potential to act effectively and effortlessly. As we act with clear intention and undisturbed mind we move into a frictionless state. The roughness and resistance of emotional conflict no longer impede us. Rather than losing energy we may be recharged by the experience.

So how to attain this ability to be in dynamic activity while maintaining balance and composure? Here are a few suggestions:

Start with a calm mind. Find out what that is and practice attaining it through meditation.

Practice a physical skill until your body responds effortlessly. Martial arts, dance, other arts, crafts or sports can give you a structure for your practice. As you work on your skill, endeavor to bring your calm mind with you. As you move, seek balance and fluidity.

Practice mindfulness in all that you do. Bring full awareness to the little things you do. As you prepare food, be in the moment, attentive to what you are doing. As you eat the food, attend to the eating. Smell it, taste it, feel yourself chewing and swallowing. Bring yourself to the activity wholeheartedly no matter how trivial it is.

As you go through your day and events unfold unexpectedly, practice acceptance of what is, and limit the amount of energy you give to complaining and worrying about things you can't change.

Relax as you go. Remind yourself to breathe more deeply and calmly. Your awareness of tension or negative emotions is a good trigger for the intention to breathe and remind yourself to relax. If the people around you are swept up in their emotion, that is their business, you can be the calm in the eye of the storm.

Thanks to Richard Powers for his thoughts on this topic

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© 2004 Tom Barrett