Saturday, May 08, 2010

Emotions & Equanimity

This is a small part of a larger essay i am working on for publication....Enjoy....

A lot of people have the misconception that Equanimity means sitting around while things are happening, escaping from the world, suppressing one's feelings, missing out on some fun and opportunities, being complacent. Emotions are seen as two kinds – positive ones you want to have more of and negative ones you want to have less off. Let us investigate.


What are emotions? No one really knows how to define “emotions.” There are numerous theories of what they are and how they come about. The definition, explanation and classification of emotions vary depending on the school of thought. No one has a clear definition, but who needs one. We all know emotion when we see it and feel it.

The drama and spice of life is associated in people’s minds with emotions. The pursuit of happiness is nothing more than wanting more pleasant, or positive, emotions which people seem to think they can get by getting more stuff, status, power… Everything else is a cause for unpleasant, or negative, emotions which people seem to think are brought about by the lack of the aforementioned.

Things like peace, love and compassion are not merely emotions. They are states of being. Joy is a state of being too. According to yoga and Buddhist philosophy, those are the characteristics of our natural state of being, naturally present when one learns the truth of who they are and the nature of reality.

Anything that can arise unconditionally is how we really are. The so-called “negative” emotions cannot arise unconditionally. They are dependent on circumstances to which we react emotionally. Example: Love is unconditional unlike “being in love,” which is conditional on someone else being there. Compassion is absolutely unconditional unlike “feeling sorry for” someone, or something.

The side effect of this emotionality is what everyone is trying to avoid, namely suffering. Suffering comes in many shapes, forms and levels of intensity – from being competitive, to being downright unhappy, stressed out, agitated, depressed, impatient or afraid. Basically, all of the “negative” emotions can be called by one name – suffering. Avoiding suffering leads to more suffering. The Buddha and yoga tell us that suffering is part of life, that it can be transcended and they leave tools for how to transcend it.

Humans continue to suffer - because, says the Buddha and yoga philosophy, we are ignorant of who we really are (and generally ignorant). This ignorance is the root cause of all afflictions of the mind. Craving, grasping, attachment and aversion follow as a result of this ignorance. Fear of death, too. Make a note that suffering and the causes of suffering are all strongly related to Me, Myself and I – the egoic personality that makes choices, experiences emotions and seeks to improve its lot.


Equanimity allows one to do things selflessly and with attitude of compassion. It is a state in which one is fully present and not disturbed by fear, pain and aversion, likes and dislikes, or any other distractions and afflictions of the mind, and does not escape the reality of the moment as it presents itself.

Inaction and silence in the face of injustice and cruelty is not a sign of equanimity, but rather a lack of it. It is a sign of cowardice even selfishness. In some situations the best action is inaction. In others, specific action is absolutely necessary. Which is which, and how one chooses will determine where things go from there. Unless wisdom is present, things can get worse.

The basis for equanimity is mindfulness. When one becomes more mindful, one lives a little more. Moments are richer in colors, tastes, smells, textures, sounds and meaning. Mindfulness gives one the strength to stand in the full experience of the ever present waves of feelings, not their suppression. Only when one is fully able to experience oneself without the constant chatter, interpretations and negative self judgments does one start to develop equanimity. If one suppresses one's feelings, equanimity does not develop.

A mindful person eases into a state of equanimity. As the state is disturbed by an emotional event of some sort, it is mindfulness that naturally quiets the ever arising feelings and returns the mind to equanimity. A mindful person is aware of arising feelings, thoughts, reactions and moods but observes them and acknowledges them with acceptance and without judgment for having them. Instead of being owned by the emotions, confused by the thoughts, or blinded by the feelings, a mindful person returns to a state of equanimity and sees the right choice of action in whatever way the situation necessitates, rather than the way the emotions dictate.

By learning to observe and be mindful, we know the fleeting nature of things and we become grateful for the gifts of life that come our way. We thoroughly enjoy that which is happening without attachment to it, without grasping and wanting more. Equanimity does not imply a stone cold demeanor. Joy is our natural state of being and it naturally expresses itself when we are not tangled up in our own egoic personality. We are life as we are and we are constantly expressing life just by being here.

Valentina Petrova is a yoga teacher & personal adviser. She owns Holistic Movement Center in Morro Bay, CA where she teaches group and one-on-one sessions. She leads workshops and retreats locally and abroad and produces the “Yoga for Life” TV program on Ch. 2, Charter. To contact Valentina, call 805-909-1401, or visit the web at