Equanimity: Finding Your Center in Chaos
The phone is ringing, text messages are firing at lightening speed, I’m late for my next meeting, traffic is a mess, just spilled coffee on my white blouse, some new drama is brewing at work, I realized I left one set of handouts at my hotel and it looks like I may run out of gas while I’m sitting on the 405! Can someone please stop the screaming in my head?
Does this scenario sound familiar? I have read many articles and white papers on the the subject of brain capacity, anxiety, balance and how our minds and bodies were not built for the kind of stress we experience in today’s hyper-pressured society. I do believe we are not designed for our bodies to be “on” all day and deep into the evening. I can only imagine how whacked out our “nervous”-systems are, our adrenals are pumping out more than they can reasonably handle and our poor gray matter (which, by the way was never designed to multi-task at it’s current level of demand), is about ready to call it quits.
While I am all for balance in our lives I sometimes wonder if there is such a thing or is it just wishful thinking? As the demand increases for higher productivity and lower costs, I truly wondered if balance was possible….until I remembered a wonderful teaching from Chonyi Taylor (Dr. Diane Taylor) on Equanimity. Chonyi was ordained as a Buddhist nun by the Dalai Lama in 1995. Equanimity is the capacity of the brain to come to center no matter what our external circumstance. We do this by regulating our emotions, calming catastrophic thinking and basically keeping ourselves in the drivers seat of what our mind focuses on and how it responds to our internal emotions. I found this thesis compelling enough to try it out myself and just notice what happens.
Catastrophic Thinking and Over Dramatization
Drama, drama, drama. Boy, do we love drama! On the one hand, drama can be extremely entertaining. I love watching great films and television dramas that get my emotional juices flowing! (Oh, how I miss “Breaking Bad”!) On the other hand, over-dramatization and catastrophic thinking can send us into a state of intense anxiety, worry, unclear thinking and decision making, insomnia and most of all needless suffering. Using the example above, let me share with you how being late, forgetting my handouts, being stuck in traffic actually played out in my mind. “Oh my god! I am a complete failure!, this client will never hire me again, I have no idea what I am doing, they should fire me I’m a fraud, that’s it I’m closing my business and opening a food truck, I’ll probably never get another client, lose my home and “live in a van down by the river!” (a little homage to Chris Farley). Seriously? While this chain of thinking may seem completely ludicrous, this is what the human mind is capable of. Catastrophic thinking happens very quickly and before you know it you’re down the rabbit hole with no way out. Actually, there is a way out.
The Neutral Zone
I like to think of equanimity as the neutral zone. It is that place within me that is just observing what is happening without reacting, labeling, catatrophizing or over-dramatizing the situation. I get there with a very simple technique using my breath and managing my mind.
- Breathe in and imagine you are breathing in equanimity (this can be in any form that represents equanimity or just silence)
- Exhale whatever negative emotion(s) you are feeling– anxiety, worry, confusion, pain, over excitement, anger, disgust etc.
- Take at least three breaths or more if you need them
- Ask yourself a few questions about the situation. Challenge it’s validity. “Am I really going to live in a van down by the river?” Hmmmm, seems suspect.
- Check in and note the truth. What is actually happening? I am stuck in traffic, I forgot some documents, I am late.
- Watch out for your mind’s attempt to label the situation good, bad, aversion, grasping, any of those hooks that keep you on the line.
- Once in a firm state of equanimity you can now take action. Call the client, reprint documents at their office, stop suffering. This is not a TRUE catastrophe.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- The brain is a habitual, connecting machine. It will always default to old habits and memories especially under duress.
- Practice equanimity breathing even when there is no perceived drama.
- Smile. Everything is OK.
Amy Green, CEC, PCC- Amy has been helping clients improve the quality of their professional and personal interactions for over 17 years. Amy brings an array of diverse experiences to her practice and a compassionate understanding of the challenges currently facing our changing world. Amy brings to her coaching an ability to delve deeply beneath the surface to explore and identify meaning, challenge and life purpose for developing leaders.
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