Equanimity: Developing a Mental Buffer
Have you noticed how our brains constantly and automatically jerk us around? Your brain doesn't even scream "react to this! react that!!". It reacts reflexively, stealthily, slipping under the radar of consciousness. I'm referring not only to reactions to negative events; but also to positive events. For instance, have you ever received a compliment, only to automatically think "oh, I don't deserve this, I'm really not that good at XYZ..."?
The ability of our minds to process and code factual and emotional information rapid-fire is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it allows us the mental space to think freely about a lot of things. On the other hand, we can get hung up unnecessarily without even knowing it.
Whenever an event occurs, the amygdala (part of the lower/reptilian brain), automatically assigns an emotional feeling tone to the event, which can be positive, negative, or neutral. The feeling tone, especially if negative, prompts a negative reaction from the cortical (higher) brain. This can easily lead to a vicious cycle of increased emotional activation, and over time, an established negative pattern of thinking.
So how can we create a buffer between our conscious thoughts and this unconscious, automatic chain of events? We can't stop negative feelings from arising - and why should we? Life is filled with so many things, positive, negative, and neutral. The key is to build a buffer around your automatic reactions, to try to observe them objectively instead of being swept away by emotion.
In essence, the goal is to use the cortical, rational part of your brain - to sit back and watch your emotional reactions, without necessarily stepping in and adding fuel to the fire. The goal is not to fight and struggle against any negativity you may be feeling, but to simply be aware of what is arising in your mind, positive/negative/neutral, and to calmly give it some space. A tactic I find very helpful is to say: Yes, XYZ is happening, and I'm frustrated, or I'm disappointed. Simply saying yes to a negative feeling can be helpful; it's a natural way to put some distance between yourself and automatic thoughts.
It's also helpful to realize that many things are simply the downstream effect of a million factors. This doesn't meant that you can't try hard to change things, or to improve - but even then, a lot of things are out of our control. Simply stepping back from our automatic reactions creates a sense of mental spaciousness - a way of riding the waves without beating yourself (or others) up unnecessarily.
On a deeper level, equanimity is about letting go - which isn't in any way the same as throwing up your hands and saying " I don't care" or I'm helpless". It's about recognizing that yes, sometimes life is great, and sometimes life is terrible, and a lot of the time life is neutral, but we don't have to get so worked up about everything that happens. With time, cultivating equanimity can lead to greater resilience, understanding, and a realistic attitude about the world. We can sit back, understand long-held assumptions, and move forward with good intentions.
I hope you have a wonderful week. Thanks for reading.