Can you imagine someone who never gets upset and is able to maintain perfect equanimity under all circumstances, good and bad? A person who doesn’t hanker for anything from the outer world to gain her sense of peace and joy, and has no attachments, fear or anger?
She sounds like a fictional character from some fantasy movie, doesn’t she?
The spiritual writings of the Bhagavad Gita describe a real person with those wonderful qualities. It can be anyone who has gone within in meditation and come to realise his or her true Self or divine spiritual nature.
Why does the realisation of one’s true nature bring those qualities? It’s because the Self is changeless, eternal, and ever blissful. It is independent and untouched by the vagaries of the ever-changing body and mind.
So long as we remain identified with our human personality and not with our real spiritual nature, we will be unable to gain the qualities mentioned above in full measure. But when we rediscover the Self, those virtues will come automatically to us.
Until we get there, we can gain a relatively greater sense of peace and happiness than we are experiencing now by striving to cultivate those qualities.
Let go of attachments
We can start by tackling one of the biggest causes for mental upset—our attachments to people, things and circumstances.
We are attached to various things such as our work, family, friends, pets and possessions. We can’t seem to live without them.
What exactly is attachment? It is a desire for a particular thing or being to be present in our life in a way that pleases us. It makes us feel that we are complete or happy only when we are with it. We feel a sense of insecurity and lack without it.
Attachment is a stream of thoughts by which we tie ourselves to things and beings around us.
Through our attachment, we give the outer world the power to control how we think, feel and behave.
Spiritual master Swami Chinmayananda explains attachment through a mathematical formula: “I” + “I want” = Attachment
Here’s an example to explain this formula. Let’s say a mother is very attached to her only son. She pours all her attention on him, fussing and insisting that he must do this or that thing. He’s very uncomfortable and feels smothered by her love.
When he’s old enough and leaves home, she insists that he calls her twice a day to tell her he’s ok and how his day is going. When he doesn’t call or gets frustrated with her, she fears the worst. When he finally calls, she becomes angry and makes him feel guilty about his behaviour.
This is not real love. This is attachment—a dependency on someone else for your own sense of well-being and happiness.
As you can see, clinging attachments bring fear and anger. They are the cause of much upset and sorrow. The greater the attachment, the greater the sorrow.
Aside from putting in efforts to overcome our attachments, it’s important to try and maintain equanimity.
We may feel that we don’t have any control over our emotions. But we do have some control.
When they show up, we can choose whether to allow them to express freely or to rein them in by redirecting our mind elsewhere. We can bring in some positive, rational thoughts, chant a mantra or affirmation or take slow, deep breaths to calm ourselves.
“Let not the storms in your heart cover the sun in your head,” says Swami Chinmayananda. What he means is that our emotions should not cloud our ability to think clearly.
It’s ok to feel emotions but we shouldn’t become emotional. When emotions overtake us, we get upset and lose our equanimity. We end up making wrong decisions, speaking words and taking actions that we regret afterwards.
Here are a few tips to maintain equanimity:
- Do not depend on outer things and people for your happiness. This is placing the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.
- When dealing with your dear ones, give your love freely without waiting for reciprocation, validation or approval. That way, you won’t get upset when they don’t give back. Simply share your love from a place of fullness and gratitude.
- Understand that nothing remains the same forever and that all things (good and bad) come to an end. Everything changes. Our problem is that we get attached to something or someone pleasant and when things change and we can’t enjoy it anymore, we get upset.
- Be a witness. Notice what is happening, enjoy and feel, but allow a portion of your mind to remain detached and focused on holding your inner peace.
- Accept things for what they are and know what to change if necessary. You may have heard of the Serenity prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Understand that while life does bring you sorrow in the form of some difficulties, it’s your reaction to them that brings you more sorrow. This is what the Buddha talks about when he describes being hit by two arrows. The first arrow represents sorrow from outer causes and the second arrow is one that we inflict on ourselves through our reaction to the first arrow. You can read more here: Reflection on Life in Turbulent Times.
See life from a spiritual perspective
The rediscovery of our own spiritual nature will bring us the highest happiness and fulfillment in life. To achieve it, we must lift our vision of life from a worldly view to a spiritual view.
None of our worldly roles, relationships, skills, possessions and situations are permanent. We will have to leave them all behind when we die. Even our bodies which we consider to be “me” and “mine” will not go with us.
Why then do we allow ourselves to get attached to things and beings around us? Why do we allow fear, anger, worry, hatred, jealousy and a whole slew of other emotions to upset and overwhelm us?
Letting go of our attachments and striving to maintain equanimity are two sure ways that will easily prevent everyday things from overpowering us.
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