by Amanda, Fattitude Intern
Last week, I touched base with a friend. We hadn’t spoken for a bit, and with my year-long hiatus from Facebook, I had little knowledge of her life and whereabouts. The last year had been rough on both of us. We had both left our jobs at the same crummy place and had to scramble for something new.
Her financial problems, however, had gotten more entangled and teased by her family obligations. As a single mother of two, she hadn’t bounced back from last year’s crisis. Her car had given out, she lacked financial/familial support, and her landlord had given her an eviction notice. When I spoke to her, she told me that all her belongings, sprinkled over the lawn, had gotten drenched by the rainfall overnight.
Months before, she had seemed at her wit’s end. We had shared our calculations over the phone, trying to gauge our ways out of our respective pits. Now, she spoke calmly. She had built up emotional reserves, rather than wasting her energy tinkering restlessly in her mind for solutions. She mentioned the negatives of her situation, but also the positives. She had a clear mind about her priorities: her children.
“Looking back at this, your children are going to be so amazed and proud of how you are handling this,” I told her. She was the perfect model of motherly resilience.
I knew she was going to be fine, and she did too, even though the moment appeared bleak.
Buddhists call this steady, undefeated attitude “Equanimity.” As the prefix “equa-” (think “equal”) and “anim-” (from the Latin “anima,” meaning “feeling” or “spirit”) suggests, all situations look equally appealing to the person practicing equanimity. In this state of neutrality, one does not make negative or positive assumptions about the nature of a situation but gives weight to the unknown.
It’s a form of surrendering to a situation.
There are old Buddhist parables that illustrate equanimity, such as this one about a farmer.
When I first heard the story of the farmer, I thought he sounded like an emotionless robot. Seriously, you’re not upset that your son broke his leg?! “You’re such a douche, Dad!”
I enjoy passionate, expressive people. Flamboyant, even. I cherish the kind of people who enter into monologues about how much they love pumpkin pie or hate a pop star. Who would want to hang out with someone who shrugs off flat tires and free movie tickets as if they were both equally enjoyable?
“Might equanimity just be a glorification of Schizoid Personality Disorder?” I joked.
As I ruminated on the story, however, I discovered that the narrative exposed two important points:
#1 Every positive situation has a negative side, and vice versa. For example, if you get a new cute puppy, you’re going to have to take care of it, for a long long time. Also, (downer) the puppy will eventually die.
Every “negative” situation has its positives too. For one thing, you may realize how lucky you are, such as the people who act as safety nets in your life. You might also realize new opportunities and find yourself –kind my friend – braver and stronger than you knew.
Example: I spent so much money on medical expenses this year, I hit my “out-of-pocket limit” and essentially have free medical care for the rest of this year! Whoo-hoo!! (True story.)
With this clarity, we recognize that assigning circumstances as “positive”/“negative” is a kind of cognitive error generated by a myopic perspective.
#2 Circumstances change. So, reacting to every roll of the dice is emotionally exhausting for you – and everyone around you! Life is a roller coaster, so you better prepare for some ups and downs.
As I began to work toward practicing body positivism, I realized how essential possessing equanimity is to stay neutral about our weight gains, our weight losses, and other alterations. Keeping changes in perspective – rather than being reactive – can help us be happy and body positive wherever, however we are.
The next time you find yourself fixated on a “problem” with your appearance, try to remember the flip-side and temporary nature of the situation. If your skin looks irritated, for example, remember it could be worse, that you have a nice serum to soothe it, and so on. Remember that the irritation is only temporary. Think of the upside, too: you gave yourself extra time to do your makeup today, and ended up with a killer look you wouldn’t have taken the time to do otherwise!
Rooting your feelings with an attitude of equanimity, you will feel more free, calm, and content to go about your day – focused on your priorities, not petty pseudo-problems. Instead of fixating on perceived negatives, when you REALLY, truly look at yourself and others, you will see the positives too: all the beauty you emanate into the world.
* This blog post includes the opinion of a Fattitude intern – and does not necessarily reflect the position of Fattitude, Inc.