A Few Words About Balance and Equanimity in these Times
When we study nature closely we learn about balance. The year is balanced by the seasons and the interplay of spring, summer, fall and winter. Each creature has its own means of maintaining balance – whether it has two legs, four legs or two wings. The trees attain balance through a robust root system that reaches deep into the earth, and branches that reach up into the sky. Think of the beautiful balance that is present in a rose or a lotus flower.
It is my understanding that much of the current system of government of the US was adopted from the Haudenoshone (Iroquois) system of governance, rooted in a study of nature, and based on establishing a careful balance of power. The different nations of the Haudenoshone Confederacy agree to work together because they are stronger together. They agree to respect each other’s unique identity and independence, while honoring their interdependence. The leader of the Confederacy (usually a male) is selected by the clan mothers who have the power to remove him any time he acts out of integrity. Women are a central power in the society.
The US system of government has a fairly complex system of checks and balance which are intended to protect its citizens from abuses of power. The bad news is that, too often, people in power figure out ways to circumvent those checks and balances. And it seems that Donald Trump, a business man with no background in democratic governance, has very little regard for these checks and balances, especially when it comes to his own interests and viewpoints.
I have spoken to many people who are very distraught about the election of Donald Trump and about his seeking to appoint advisors and cabinet members who are outright racists, homophobes, climate-change deniers, advocates of big oil and business people who can directly benefit from decisions, policies and oversight agencies they would have control over. It can be disheartening, depressing and embarrassing when we speak with friends and family members from other parts of the world who can’t believe what is happening in the US.
It is disheartening that one way this country seems to seek balance is that we toggle back and forth between the two major political parties – half the people happy with an administration that the other half hates and then, like a ridiculous merry go round, every decade or so, we switch sides and the other party goes into power to undo whatever was done by the previous administration. That isn’t balance, its insanity that stifles any real progress.
What is happening in the US now is not simply about differing views of policy. With the election of Donald Trump, many people - young, middle age and old - now feel less safe in their classrooms, neighborhoods and communities. Are we to be a nation that assures safety and equality for all or are we to devolve into a society that allows intolerance, hatred and violence to be the rule of the land? The good news is that each day we hear stories of groups of children escorting to school one child who was bullied the day before and stories of people in the subway standing up to prevent violence or abuse.
If the checks and balances built into our system of government are being circumvented and if people are unsafe because they are somehow different from the “norm”, then it is even more incumbent upon us, as citizens, to speak out. To me, speaking out means expressing ourselves as forces for equality and peace in any and every venue we have available. There is a long and important history of non-violent direct political action in this nation and around the world. It is important that we express ourselves, whether through direct political action, through our profession, by teaching our children, taking time to complete internet petitions, being thoughtful in how we buy consumer goods and products, in how we power our automobiles, at the grocery store and importantly, in the quiet of our own hearts.
An important principle in my spiritual practice is equanimity. Equanimity is the capacity to be at peace no matter what is happening around me. Maintaining inner equanimity, I need not run away from anything I fear or dislike and I need not grasp or be dependent upon anything I consider pleasant. This is a core Buddhist teaching. The life lesson that I have been seeking to master for years is: “How do I passionately embrace and protect justice and human life while practicing inner equanimity?” In my experience, the key to this practice is to live in the present. In this moment, right now, I am at peace, experiencing equanimity. If I see something that needs to be addressed, in the moment I seek to address it and return as quickly and gently as possible to a place of equanimity. I may or may not be able to change everything that I see that is unjust. But, we can follow the inspiration to address injustice and then return to the best of our ability, to a state of inner peace. This is not an easy dance, but it is one that is important to learn if we are to maintain any level of mental or physical health. My loss of equanimity does not help anyone, but rather contributes to the overall state of imbalance in my life and in the world. Loss of equanimity leaves us torn and out of sorts, stressed out and un-centered.
When we are the subject of injustice, it is in our nature to assert our human worth and seek justice. Similarly, it is natural for us to feel upset when we witness others suffering or the subject of injustice. These are important impulses that arises from the very fact that we are human beings. The underlying truth is that we are part of an interconnected web of life. This is the reason we can experience another’s pain and it is also at the heart of our capacity to transcend and experience deep peace. When we move into a deep sense of peace and reflect on who we are, we have the capacity to experience ourselves as “at one” with all of this.
In a deeply rooted spiritual practice, it is clear that love is the true constant and that beyond time and space, I exist. The river of humanity, the cosmic whole, is supported and sustained by pure consciousness and that consciousness is my very being. It is an act of spiritual and political courage to act with compassion in the world while having the discernment to maintain equanimity of mind and heart. That equanimity is central to experiencing the highest truth – the stillness of mind within which one experiences the oneness of all beings.
Blessings and peace,