October 19, 2012 by blogmasterjdeam
“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”
~ Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Yet here we all are, trying to keep our chins up, to feel compassion for one another, to even love one another, while at the same time recognizing our time here is so very brief. How do we find this balance? For me, it is in striving toward equanimity.
Equanimity, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is an evenness of mind, especially under stress. In Buddhism the definition is a little more complicated:
Thich Nhat Hanh says (in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, p. 161) that the Sanskrit word upeksha means “equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go. Upa means ‘over,’ and iksh means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.”
In asana we learn to become the mountain. We practice this with our bodies and minds in a pose called Tadasana – the mountain pose. It is a pose that, when done properly, recruits every muscle in the body. Every muscle is either purposely relaxed or purposely engaged (tightened) to make this pose work. There is a balance to this process, an awareness of where to hold and where to release, while at the same time allowing the breath to freely circulate through the primary breathing system. As we hold the pose, and our muscles become fatigued, we may find we are breathing with our secondary breathing system. When we breathe in this manner, the pose becomes even more difficult to hold. The secondary breathing system, as you may recall from an earlier blog, causes a surge of adrenaline, and other “fight or flight” hormones to be released into our bodies, where they cause great damage.
Interestingly, we can create this adrenaline hormone release with our thoughts alone; no lion needs to be chasing us for it to happen. Some of us need this hormone coursing through our bodies in order to keep us from a state of depression. Again, our thoughts are controlling our breath, for good or bad.
I use Tadasana as an example of not only control of muscles and breathing, but also control of the mind. Tadasana is hard to maintain if we are mentally doing the grocery shopping, or re-living the fight we had with our spouse that morning, or anticipating the uncomfortable telephone call we need to make later that day. Tadasana, done properly, requires a state of no thought.
When we fully embrace our version of the mountain pose, we are in a state of equanimity. And, too, equanimity is necessary to fully embrace the mountain pose. This is why we practice asana. We may think we are getting exercise, and perhaps we are, but ultimately we practice asana in order to re-train our brains, to create that state of being exactly in the moment, not anticipating the future and not regretting the past, which, in turn, creates equanimity.
Faithfully yours, Chris