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  • Writer's pictureBharat Ranjan

Equanimity As the Mind’s Pre-Processor

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

From the moment we are born, our five senses begin collecting data that stays with us till the death of the body. This data feed is unrelenting and is only partially paused when we sleep. As time passes, the mind, mostly via the intellect, starts to slice, dice, and categorize these inputs and combination of inputs into likes and dislikes and everything in between. These get stored in our memory and stay with us throughout, both at the conscious and sub-conscious levels. After a while, this "database" of likes and dislikes becomes a sort of model by which one responds to external and internal stimuli and is modified and updated all the time. The common word for this is personality, that combination of characteristics and mannerisms that make our individual characters unique. While most of the changes are subtle, strong experiences, positive or negative, create lasting changes. All of this, together with our imagination, shapes our responses and reactions to stimuli. This can happen from external events such as somebody shouting at you or internal events such as remembering a beautiful sunset you watched.

All input, whether internal or external, is fed into the mind which then analyses it using the many obvious tools that make up the Processing system. These include memory, imagination, emotions and for some, awareness. There are many others, but these will serve the purpose for now. Using some combination of these, the mind generates a response that is then either delivered externally via one of the senses or internally back into itself. But because most people have become their intellect, responses are formed almost before the entirety of the stimuli is received and processed. Because we want to keep our intellect sharp and require it to dissect issues, it reacts instantly drawing on memory and imagination. Throw in the powerful system of emotion that is now almost directly tied into the intellect, and we have all the conditions that set the stage for the ills of modern life; anger, anxiety, depression, sadness, envy, etc. That amazing combination of the Internet and the Smartphone (I+S) amplifies these by magnitudes because we now have a means of delivering reactions and responses while being physically abstracted from direct human contact. This is why you see people on electronic mediums (messaging, social media, email, etc.) say and react to things that would not be nearly as significant when with somebody face-to-face. And people only post their best experiences which creates the illusion of a perfect life while making viewers think their life sucks. The I+S combination also allows us to live and re-live conversations and exchanges again and again on a 24x7 basis. Worse, not only do we have instant responses to external stimuli, we also create entire worlds of suffering and drama for ourselves using the ever full pool of self-generated mental diarrhea.

All of this has led to some significant negative developments that has in many ways taken humanity several steps backwards on the mental evolutionary scale. The lack of physically present communication has allowed is to commit all manner of ills, often without even realizing it. We send an email or a message that is received and interpreted by others. Because there is no real-time feedback (visual cues) on its impact to the receiver, things can get out of hand very quickly. This is worst on social media postings that have multiple receivers, each one interpreting things in their own way using their intellect, imagination, and emotion systems. I have seen people at work get into heated email exchanges with associated anger but resolve it with a quick chat in person. Friendships have ended because of social-media posts because somebody did not like what you posted or mis-interpreted intent. I have been personally involved in these kinds of situations, both revolving around the ultra-polarized topics of Trump and the vaccine. This has also led society, especially in the US, to devolve into echo chambers where no dissent is tolerated and there is actual hate for those that fall outside. Is it any wonder that more than 50% of people in the US have experienced some form of depression and 10% having experienced major depression? As one would expect, the rates among the young (18-25) is staggeringly high and this is directly linked to their outsized use of social media and electronic communication.

The sad thing about all of this is that we are using two of our greatest gifts to cause immense suffering for ourselves, memory and imagination. Combined with the power of I+S which supercharge both, we spend most of our lives lost in thought about the past or imagining the future. Very, very seldom do we live in the present which is the only time that really should matter to us. We have also completely cast aside the other, more powerful dimensions of our mind such as awareness or stillness and instead live in this maelstrom of thoughts and emotions that constantly keep us in a state of flux, bouncing between temporary happiness and more lasting negativity. The metal diarrhea and psychological drama has become the center stage of our lives and we stay there till the body one day returns to the earth. And again, sadly, this is far more amplified and exaggerated in the young because their minds have not had the chance to build any foundation to handle that level of input. One can visualize the system as follows.

Figure 1: The Input/Output System

So, the incredibly powerful systems we have been endowed with to live and thrive in this existence have instead been turned into mechanisms for suffering, almost all of it self-created. This is truly a travesty, and it does not have to be this way.

equanimity as a solution

The word equanimity has its origins in Buddhism, at least in the spiritual context. Wikipedia defines it as “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”. From my readings and personal experiences, equanimity is simply a way to observe AND accept things just as they are, without (at least initially) associating a bias or reaction/response towards it. These biases can come from our various systems such as memory or emotion and we are never free of it because at a subconscious level, we always have a bias based on accumulated memory of experiences and emotion. Even free of memory, there can be bias as we may feel better, for example, on a sunny day to a rainy one and thus have a bias. As noted before, these biases affect the entire Input > Process > React process. Therefore, the key is to get to a point where you can look at something for what it is before reacting or formulating a response. Whatever it is, we have to get to a point where we analyze it with equanimity and then choose whether to engage the mind and all the processing functions associated with it. Further, we need to decide whether to involve the emotion system as that brings a more impactful dimension to bear. Thus, what is needed is the installation of a ‘Equanimity processor’ before the input to the mind is sent to the Processing complex of systems. This is illustrated in the following diagram.

Figure 2: The Input/Output System w/ Equanimity

In practice, this is realized by evolving the mind to become calmer and observant by nature and not instantly bringing the intellect and emotions systems to bear. Initially, this can manifest as a short pause before deciding whether something is worth reacting to and then deciding which part(s) of the Processing complex to involve. There is also a new option that becomes more apparent which is not to engage any system and simple choosing not to react at all. Yes, there is still the memory of it but because there was no other engagement, it is soon forgotten or discarded. In my experience, this has the twofold benefits of a calmer and more balanced reaction or less stuff cluttering the memory and emotion systems. I also find what I do absorb and process is of higher fidelity since there was some pre-analysis done and only something meaningful is engaged. This method also has the potential to blunt or nearly eliminate anger as one can just choose not to react at all to something that leads to anger (possibly the single most wasted emotion). Over time, this can significantly evolve to where somebody is able to calmly react to even dire situations like a heart attack. Instead of panicking over potential death, they can call emergency services or ask somebody to do so. There are obviously significant health benefits, both physical and mental by lessening or avoiding negative emotions. Observing things just as they are is very powerful tool to also raise the other dimension of the mind which is awareness. This leads to a much more dynamic existence since you can experience things that otherwise go completely unnoticed in the daily life of mental drama. The following diagram illustrates the functions of the Equanimity Processor.

Figure 3: The Equanimity Processor

Equanimity can lead to tangible and positive benefits in every aspect of life. At work, you will be able process better what is being said or asked for. Imagine being able to fully listen to and process what your boss or co-worker is saying, calmly formulating a response, and delivering something that is relevant and crafted to make the best of that situation. Or when a friend or family member gets upset at you and is shouting but you are able to either not internalize their anger at all or react in a calm and measured manner. Anger (and negative emotions generally) is one where you can hold and fester it for years causing continual harm to your body and mind. Sadhguru eloquently states that “anger is like you drinking poison hoping I die”. We are able to store these poisonous experiences and re-live them years from the actual event due to the beautiful facility of memory. You can be having the best day, but a single bad thought or memory has the power to completely ruin it. In some ways, this is actually a conceptualization of hell and as so comically presented in the series Lucifer.

Which brings us to the second area where equanimity can have a profoundly positive impact… the internal sessions! We have the power to use imagination and memory to create suffering for ourselves throughout our lifetime. This can be something as simple as foreboding before presenting to your manager tomorrow, to as complex as the hate and anger generated in a breakup or argument with a friend. Over our lives, we accumulate and store millions of these events and can re-live many, especially the strong ones, at will. But, with a mind tempered with equanimity, you can use it to blunt or even eliminate the mental remixes of past events. That vicious argument you had with your ex when you broke up can be analyzed for what it was (a one-time event), accepted and finally released from ever being remixed again. Yes, you still have the memory and maybe even some pain from it, but you no longer have to react to it and suffer. I have found this immensely helping me when I worry about upcoming events and letting my imagination preset the myriad of (mostly) negative outcomes. Now I am able to realize I will deal with it when it happens and no longer choose to explore possible outcomes and suffer now what may or may not happen in the future. This is just one example of what can happen when equanimity is applied to internal conversations.

meditation to craft equanimity

So, how do you create, install, and evolve an equanimity processor. I have read a lot on this topic, but it is generally agreed that meditation is the easiest way to start building equanimity. Since mediation is mostly a mental process, it makes sense that it would also be the best tool to help evolve the mind. Another path is faith where prayer and teachings are used to just accept things due to “God’s will” or “Destiny”. This makes sense as those of deep faith become meditative during prayer and let faith temper events in their lives. But again, it comes back to acceptance of something as it is and not what you wish it to be. This, combined with the “pause before response” is the key to developing and maintaining equanimity. The first step on my journey towards becoming more equanimous was to attend a 10-day Vipassana course. Vipassana is an intense bootcamp to get one started on the meditation path and is done in a very direct and immediate way. This gave me the tools to practice Vipassana meditation a few days a week which has led to measurable and tangible changes in how I react (or not) to things. But you don’t have to take such an intense path. Even 10-15 minutes a day of normal meditation or just being mindless will give you some benefits. Becoming aware of what is in front of you will help you evaluate it better and hence formulate a better response. But most of us are stuck with an intellect that wants to respond right away. Couple this with the Ego (a topic for a separate blog) and this is why so many struggle to find sustained happiness from external events or react to them in a bad way. My advice is to start some form of meditation even if for a few minutes a day.

One other term that is complementary to equanimity and it a powerful tool to aid in your quest to become more equanimous is impermanence. Specifically, what is needed is the ability to see that nothing in this entire existence is permanent including our body. So, whether you perceive something as good, bad or somewhere in between, it does not last forever. By accepting that fact, you can now more easily embrace the concept accepting things because you know that is it not permanent. Just like the weather, every component of this existence is ever changing and thus there is no need to attach either extreme of craving or aversion to anything. An example from my life is airplane turbulence which given my travels, I have experienced many, many times including when I thought ‘this is it’ 😊. In later years, my mind would try to be calm during turbulence realizing that its only wind or thermal interference, but my heartrate would shoot up anyway and I would feel fear. I never understood or was able to lessen it until I began to meditate and then suddenly both became milder. I then realized that my subconscious was triggering a physical reaction in my body and by meditating, I was able to blunt its effects.

what equanimity is not

It is very important to realize that equanimity is not a process to become aloof or indifferent to what life brings. Both are a form of aversion in that we become uncaring because we fear what emotions an event may cause in us. Rather, equanimity is all about accepting things as they are in a balanced manner to enable you to evolve to a calmer and happier person. By become calmer, you are also able to deliver responses that are more balanced and without negativity. I also believe that this state leads to more compassion as you start to see every being goes through suffering and are deserving of our love and empathy. This state of mind, by its nature, also makes you a source of positivity that can aid others. The goal of equanimity is not to disconnect from life but rather to build a platform to become even more aware, exuberant, and involved with it. Think of what life throws at you as waves in an ocean that rise and fall. Instead of going rigid or trying to ignore them (you can’t), equanimity gives you the ability to ride the ups and downs in a calm and steady manner.

parting thoughts

I can say from my personal, ongoing experiences, meditation as a path to build equanimity has brought calmness to many encounters that would have had a different outcome even a few months ago. The gradual lessening of craving and aversion to things due to being more equanimous brings calmness and peace to many aspects of my life. This, in turn, affects the body in a very positive way where I just feel good to be alive and here. The key for me was to realize there is potential for good and bad in every situation and it just IS. This then builds a more equal attitude and perception which makes for far better reactions and responses. A calm mind and measured reactions, especially to difficult situations, can help you make peace with life. I firmly believe that this will also help me towards developing compassion for all living beings and become a kinder person. As with anything in life, you can read and intellectually understand something, but it is meaningless until you experience it directly. So, I encourage you to try it and see if it works for you. Realize that it is a lifelong journey and not a goal-oriented task where you are done at some point. If it even blunts things like anger or sadness by a small amount, it would have been worth it. For me, it is helping me become a more loving and compassionate person and that is reward enough to last a lifetime.


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