Unbridled emotions lead us toward irrational thoughts and actions, and ultimately can lead us to lose control of ourselves. When this happens, it is a slippery slope, and an uphill battle to get back toward the level of peace of mind we were at before.
Three years ago, I was stressed out of my mind. Things were not going the way I wanted them to, and the life I had envisioned was slowly unraveling.
First, here is some context. Having spent five years in France completing my undergrad and graduate degrees, I was excited and anxious to take the next step in getting established in France. I loved the country: loved the language, the culture, the history, and aesthetics. I was thrilled I had made it as far as I had: I had managed to renew my student visa and carry it over to what was essentially a “searching for work” visa, valid for one year.
I had one year to find a job in my field. Challenge accepted: I was multilingual, had a business degree from the Sorbonne, I was pumped and motivated.
I started applying to job after job. Went to interviews, did my networking. But the months passed me by. I picked up a temporary job at a café to survive. Halfway through my job search year, I was hired by a PR firm and I thought I was out of the woods. Except I wasn’t: it ended up being a toxic work environment where people were leaving in droves, and I was started off on a fixed-term contract anyways, so I couldn’t apply this to my visa situation.
I started to face the reality that I would actually be headed back to the US. This had never really been an option in my mind, but now it was the only option left.
I was stressed out of my mind. But if it were not for the learned practice of equanimity I had developed that year, I would have been much worse off.
What is Equanimity?
A very close family member had introduced me that year to the teachings of the Stoics. Along with my Christian faith, ideas from these stoics, these Greek philosophers, kept me grounded in the storm of what was my dream crumbling before my eyes.
Concepts such as Amor Fati (embracing your fate), Premeditatio Malorum (acknowledging the worst-case scenario that could happen in any given situation), Memento Mori (remembering your own mortality) brought me back down to earth from the turbulent emotionalism that was always threatening to carry me away that year.
One little word though still has the most impact on me to this day. It is still my north star and what keeps me anchored through the unpredictability of life. That word is Equanimity.
mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.
“He accepted both the good and the bad with equanimity.”
Another good definition is this: “Equanimity is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.”
How to Practice Equanimity
Here’s the deal: emotions are beautiful attributes we all have. It’s what makes us human.
But unbridled emotions lead us toward irrational thoughts and actions, and ultimately can lead us to lose control of ourselves. When this happens, it is a slippery slope, and an uphill battle to get back toward the level of peace of mind we were at before.
Hence, the beautiful usefulness of equanimity becomes apparent in controlling and refining our emotions so that we may express ourselves in a healthy manner, and weather the storms of life with calmness and composure.
Here are four main points to keep in mind so that you may successfully practice the virtue of equanimity in the future.
1. Remember that this too shall pass.
Whatever you are going through right now, remember that even this will eventually pass sooner or later.
It is so easy to get caught up and swept up by life’s little heartbreaks or disappointments. Maybe a career goal you’ve worked hard to attain falls through, a relationship doesn’t work out after having invested time and energy, or you’re dealing with a chronic health issue that is fresh, new and destabilizing your quality of life.
These things or variations of these things happen to many of us, they are things we have to work through in life. Instead of letting this define you, be mindful enough to remember that this too shall pass. Face your circumstances head on, don’t ignore them, or that will lead to bigger problems. But face them with an equanimous spirit, and be encouraged that working through hard trials will most definitely bring about lessons and wisdom you would not have gained otherwise.
2. Always keep your eyes on the bigger picture — keep things in perspective.
Along with the first point, begin to develop the habit of keeping everything in perspective. When you have a bad day, take a moment to stop and remember everything you already have, and be grateful. Focus on the little things, like the fact that you have a car that can drive you to and from work, or that you have a phone that allows you to order food and have it delivered to your door.
If someone is pissing you off at work or your partner is particularly annoying today, instead of letting this ruminate in your head, remember the good times you’ve had with your partner, or how that coworker allows you to practice patience and forbearance.
If things start to go seriously wrong in any given situation, take action. Communicate. Consider options. But make sure you do not take irrational actions based off of impulsive emotionalism. Let your emotions inform your spirit of equanimity, and consider what is wise versus what is not.
3. Incline your mind toward balance.
Balance is beautiful. When you think about it, it can be downright euphoric. It is euphoric because it is the right and healthy way of the world and the things of the world. When your body is in balance, everything is working correctly. The earth maintains a balance by cycling through the four seasons. We have night and day, work and play.
To ride through the storms of life with calmness and composure, practice equanimity by inclining your mind toward balance. Only you can define what a healthy balance looks like for you. But it is usually very practical. Do you get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night? Do you have too much sugar in your diet? Are you spending more time than you would like obsessing over something or someone in your mind?
It pays dividends to recognize these things and then actively work towards restoring balance in these areas.
4. Take some time to reset.
Finally, the beauty of equanimity is that it is a daily practice, just like any other virtue. And sometimes we can get swallowed up in the responsibilities of life and lose our edge, become worn out. This will worsen our decision-making skills and will make us more prone to becoming irrational.
Hard work consistently over time can bring about amazing results. But we are not machines. In order to maintain and nourish a spirit of equanimity over time, take some time to reset. Prioritize some alone time in order to “check-in with yourself.” Reconnect with your values, your aspirations, your inclinations. Oftentimes we can mistake what we really want with what others want for us. Taking time to reset every once in a while will keep you centered and replenish your capacity for equanimity over time.
Life can be hard. There will be some rough patches. But remember this one little word: equanimity. It won’t always be easy, but maintaining this virtue through life’s storms will strengthen you and make you a better person over time, increasing your joy and peace of mind.