How do we manage an unpleasant situation? Sharon Salzberg teaches us to drop into ourselves with the knowledge that this will pass. “I will live thru this – I am still breathing”. Cultivation of a wiser response rather than being hijacked by fear, anger or helplessness, takes intentionality.
An “unpleasant” situation is an interpretation of an event. Sharon gives the example of how two individuals see one situation differently. She met an attendee at a retreat center next to a train track, who was unable to sleep with the noise. She met a woman who lost her house, which was next to a train track, in hurricane Sandy and she had not slept well since she moved away from the train track. Sometimes things hurt, but often we construct thoughts that make it unpleasant. Our brain has a perceived threat mechanism and we can see danger everywhere. This can make people lonely, as they feel it is them against the world.
Space between our reaction and the event can bring perspective. Instead of emotions taking control – space created by meditation gives us enough time to see what is going on. This balance leads to wisdom, loving kindness and equanimity.
Equanimity can be a shock absorber. Awareness without an agenda – a curiosity. For example, If I leave work miserable every day – why is that? Pay attention for a period of time. Perhaps I am anxious about being perfect. Perhaps about people not liking my work. While it is really happening, it’s not necessarily true that I need to be miserable.
Sharon Salzberg was lunching with a friend when her first book on loving kindness was published. Her friend said she loved the book because it was just like talking to Sharon. That night during dinner with a group of people, Sharon was so happy, she brought the comment up. Someone responded, “I am reading your book and it doesn’t sound anything like having a conversation with you.” We don’t have to pretend that we don’t know the difference between the two reactions or that we don’t care. But the question is how much do we care? How much of our sense of who we are do we give away? We cannot control other people’s reactions. Sharon suggests, when you are going thru those feelings, instead of identifying with them – eg I am a terrible writer, step aside from the feelings and look into them – we shouldn’t let them define us.
Practicing metta or loving kindness meditation – “may I be happy, may I be at ease” – embrace us when we feel helpless. When someone else is suffering and you cannot fix the situation, sometimes you can offer only love by being there – “may you be happy, may you be peaceful”.
Equanimity reminds us that taking action is ok. Equanimity also reminds us that we cannot always get what we want.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
humor: Where do monsters like to swim? Lake Eerie