Mindful of equanimity

Joey Weber writes.

12 March 2019

I spent my early years being raised in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Since then, I have questioned whether many of the therapeutic benefits of modern day mindfulness lie within interrelating and unique Buddhist constructs. Modern day programmes are laced with concepts such as ‘equanimity’, yet there is little or no explicitly recognised definition of equanimity aimed at western psychologists or mindfulness researchers.

In my PhD, I have begun to see equanimity as the emotional regulatory technique that facilitates positive mental states in modern day mindfulness programmes. This may be no surprise to those familiar with various tenets, traditions and schools of Buddhism which all accept equanimity as one of the ‘Four Immeasurables’ or ‘Four Brahama Abodes’ that are key in the development of compassion and the alleviation of mental suffering. Dr Alexander Berzin has referred to being ‘free from attachment and repulsion, with an even minded attitude directed at others… one rids oneself of the disturbing emotions of attachment, repulsion, and indifference toward all others, as well as any notions that would regard some as being close and some as distant’.

In modern day mindfulness, Equanimity is implicitly taught as early as the body scan and breath awareness. The ability to step outside of attachment, aversion, craving and clinging, with a focus on non-reactivity and acceptance, permeates much of these programmes.  

I ask, then, whether it’s time to move towards an operational definition of equanimity in order to place it at the heart of mindfulness. Equanimity seems to be two pronged, firstly aimed at cultivating an inner equanimity and also then geared towards others. My starter for discussion would be: Inner equanimity as 'open acceptance of non-reactivity towards your discrimination faculties (pleasure, displeasure, neutrality) so you can respond with compassion for self and others'. And, external equanimity could be:  'Accepting an individual's discrimination faculties (pleasure, displeasure, neutrality), so to forgive and respond with compassion for self and others'.

Joey Weber
University of Bolton