The practice of equanimity can be a timely resource, a practice that arises from the power of observation, the ability to see without being caught by what we see. When well-developed, such power gives rise to a great sense of peace, even amongst turbulent political times such as now.
Colloquially, in India the word was sometimes used to mean “to see with patience.” We might understand this as “seeing with understanding.” For example, when we know not to take offensive words personally, we are less likely to react to what was said. As my teacher Jaya Devi Bhagavati has said, “It’s not about you.” What a candidate or news commentator is saying is more a reflection of their own positionality, viewpoint and experience than an accurate depiction of reality. Or, as angel Kyodo Williams says, “The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.”
With this greater perspective, we remain at ease or equanimous. This form of equanimity is sometimes compared to grandmotherly love. The grandmother clearly loves her grandchildren but is less likely to be caught up in the drama of her grandchildren’s lives. Mindfulness more broadly is a warm, friendly engagement with whatever arises. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.”
Qualities that support equanimity are integrity, faith, a well-developed mind, a sense of well-being, wisdom, insight and freedom. When we live and act with integrity, we feel confident about our actions and words, and with faith comes assurance and trust. A well-developed mind is one that has been trained to see reality as it is, and to know that reality deeply. We actively cultivate a sense of well-being, taking good care of ourselves especially during difficult times. Wisdom can teach us to separate a person’s actions from who they are. We can agree or disagree with their actions or statements but remain balanced in our relationship with them. Insight involves an understanding of impermanence and letting go, that any campaign that has a beginning will have an ending. Freedom comes as we begin to let go of our reactive tendencies. We can get a taste of freedom by noticing areas in which we were once reactive but are no longer.
The Buddha taught that to even have a human life is a precious opportunity, regardless of what that human life entails, encouraging us towards gratitude. The same could be said of the vote: the ability to vote is precious, something that women and Black people have fought for, and which many are still denied. So we vote with gratitude for the opportunity to give our opinion, having studied up on the issues and candidates, but then we must let go of the results of our vote — perhaps pleasure, perhaps pain.
We are entitled to our actions, but not to the fruits of our actions, for when we have expectations or demands on a given situation, we create suffering. We engage with the political moment with an openness to what may happen. We aspire to show up in our lives as if everything we do will make a world of difference, all the while understanding that our efforts may make no difference at all. We vote in a way that we imagine will reduce harm and perhaps even create progress or healing. We talk to our friends, our neighbors, or strangers about the elections, striving to sway them toward our own perspective and vote. We practice showing up in the election.
The Buddha taught about Eight Worldly Winds, that these experiences will arise for all of us as part of the human condition: pain and pleasure, praise and blame, gain and loss, status and disrepute, and we witness all of this, over and over, in the lead up to elections. The understanding of impermanence balances all of this, for each Worldly Wind is inconstant, subject to change, and stressful. Equanimity trusts that everything that has a beginning will also have an ending. A candidate’s bid for president will have an ending. Their presidency, too, will have an ending.
Many use these wisdom practices to broaden our perspective of the fierce debates, cutting commentary, and potential results of these elections. As Mary Oliver says, to live in this world you must be able to do three things:
To love what is mortal
To hold it against your bones knowing that your own life depends on it
And when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.