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Finding Calm in the Storm: Life and The Practice of Equanimity

We live in a fast-paced, overly busy, and often chaotic world. Work, family, sports, caretaking, community-based and online groups, might all be things we enjoy, but can easily lead to a sense of over-commitment and overwhelm. In addition, there is the stuff going on inside our heads, those everyday worries and anxieties. Our minds are busy, ALL the time. Finding calm and balance, while we know it’s what we need, can seem like an impossible task and one we put aside because of everything else in our lives. 

The wisdom of Zen offers a practical approach to navigating the ups and downs of life: equanimity. Equanimity comes from the Latin words "aequus" (equal) and "animus" (mind). Equanimity is the art of maintaining a balanced and composed mind in the face of life's inevitable challenges. In this post, we will explore what equanimity is, how to cultivate it through Zen practices, and why it is important for our well-being in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

“Be the calm one in the boat.”  ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

What is Equanimity?

Equanimity is often referred to as "upeksha" in Sanskrit, and is the quality of remaining calm and even-tempered, regardless of external circumstances. Think about a peaceful lake with undisturbed water that reflects the surrounding mountains with perfect clarity. This is the nature, the feel of equanimity. It’s not passive resignation but an active and engaged state of mind that allows us to respond to life's ups and downs with wisdom and grace.

This story, told by Thich Nhat Hanh, illustrates equanimity: 

"I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats may sink.

But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression – face, voice – communicates clarity and calmness. It is enough. It shows a way for everyone.

Practicing Equanimity in Everyday Life

We've now defined equanimity, but how can we develop internal stability and calmness so that we're able to respond from a place of wisdom in the face of frustration and challenges?

Mindful Awareness:

Zen teaches us the importance of being fully present in each moment. By cultivating mindful awareness, we learn to observe our thoughts and emotions without becoming embroiled in them or pushing them away. Stepping away from the constant stream of mental chatter, by gently pausing, noticing, breathing and letting go is the first step toward developing equanimity. At Rising Lotus, we call this taking The Sacred Pause. 



Regular meditation is the cornerstone of Zen practice. Through seated meditation (zazen), we learn to quiet the mind, observe our thoughts, and return to the present moment. Meditation is a tool for teaching ourselves to remain steady in the face of life's storms. The process of starting a meditation practice can seem daunting. You might think that “it’s not for me” or “I can’t sit still for that long” or “I can’t stop thinking.”   Our way to deal with those feelings is usually not to deal with those feelings!  So we quit or worse - never try. I encourage you to sit with us. We kind of specialize in helping people who think they can’t sit learn to meditate! Our sitting schedule is here


Acceptance of Impermanence:

Zen philosophy emphasizes the transient nature of all things. Understanding and accepting the impermanence of life helps us let go of the need for things to be different than they are in any given moment.  This can be a hard concept for those who are beginning a Buddhist path. I think we can all agree that things change.  Seasons change, people change, jobs change and death is in fact, inevitable. Once we realize these truths it makes it easier to accept what is, in the moment.  Because we come to know that things will change again, and we can be agents for that change. 


Compassion and Loving-kindness:

Just so we’re clear, equanimity is not about indifference. Equanimity actually coexists with compassion. By cultivating a sense of lovingkindness (the Pali word is Metta meaning friendliness, fellowship, benevolence) towards ourselves and others, we create a foundation for equanimity. There’s a fine line between the two and sometimes the two words get confused with each other. Jim Hopper, Ph.D.,  a teaching associate in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, made this distinction:  "While loving-kindness involves the motivation for happiness, compassion involves the motivation to reduce suffering – not because we find it aversive and are trying to escape it, but we have the loving motivation to reduce or end it. "

Compassion allows us to connect with the suffering of all living things without becoming overwhelmed.

Why Does It Matter?

As we work with developing equanimity through Zen practice, we may notice some changes:

Emotional Resilience:

Life is a series of highs and lows. Equanimity develops the emotional resilience needed to navigate the peaks and valleys without being swept away by extreme emotions. It allows us to respond to challenges with a clear and calm mind.

Improved Decision-Making:

When our minds are steady and undisturbed, our decision-making abilities reflect it. Equanimity helps us choose from a place of wisdom rather than reacting impulsively to external circumstances.

Improved Relationships:

By cultivating equanimity, we create space for understanding and empathy in our relationships. We learn to respond to others with patience and kindness, rather than reacting in a knee-jerk or habitual way. Fostering the skill of equanimity can help deepen connections and lead to more harmonious interactions.

Practicing with equanimity begins a path of self-discovery and awakening. Through mindfulness, meditation, and deepening our understanding of the impermanence of life, we can cultivate a state of calm amidst the storm. Equanimity is not an elusive goal. It’s a continuous practice, a choice that's presented to us every day. The storms may rage around us, but we can be the calm ones in the boat. 

May we each be a blessing.

- Kyoji

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