Insight Meditation Houston

Equanimity – 7/2/2018

Tonight we will be practicing the fourth Brahma Vihara or Divine Abode in the Theravada Buddhist tradition: Equanimity or Upekkha has to do with clarity and wisdom and with being fearlessly open-minded, without judgments, desire or aversion.  Equanimity implies accepting the reality of life’s high and low points and developing an attitude of inner peace amidst inevitable changes.

Upekkha is considered a wise practice for balancing the mind and liberating ourselves from reactivity and attachments.

It takes regular practice to be able to open the heart in a stable, sustained way, while letting go of preferences.

Sometimes equanimity is confused with indifference, which is considered its “near enemy.”   When we are indifferent, the heart is closed and defended in self-protection, but equanimity stems from an open and compassionate heart.

Recently, I encountered some opportunities to test my capacity for equanimity. Last week, I accompanied an ACLU delegation on one of many buses traveling to the Texas border to rally for reuniting families of asylum seekers who are fleeing violent and dangerous situations in Central America. At 4:30am on June 28, under a full moon and the brightly shining reddish planet Mars, about 300 sleepy travelers gathered at the Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church parking lot in the Heights.

Amira Góngora from our IMH sangha found me and introduced two of her Mexican amigas. Seated with us on our assigned bus were a young Muslim couple, a group of fiesty African American women, and some Caucasian elders, who like me, are seasoned protesters from the Vietam War era. After a 5-hour ride, we felt like old friends as we joined a spirited rally in front of the Brownsville, Texas courthouse. Behind us, weary pilgrims from Dallas arrived, boasting that they had traveled for over 10 hours.

Although thousands of protesters were permitted to chant, wave placards, and applaud speeches broadcast on loudspeakers in the park across from the courthouse, strict border patrol officers prohibited any signs or loud voices at the building’s entrance. Only 5 representatives were allowed inside the courtroom to witness the sentencing of scores of asylum seekers as “guilty” or “culpable.” Some of those being sentenced were told that they would not see their families again unless they pleaded guilty, and some had already been forcably separated from their children, without any idea of where the youngsters had been sent.

Despite our collective outrage about these policies, we protesters abided by strict instructions from ACLU organizers to maintain a nonviolent stance. A slew of TV reporters filmed the peaceful, orderly protest. In 98 degree heat, I retreated to sit with my back supported by the trunk of a shady tree. There I could observe a myriad of homemade signs:

“We should all care!” “I really care. Do U?” “This is not a border crisis. It is a moral crisis.” “The whole world is watching.” “Love thy immigrant neighbor.”

A little girl in a stroller had a sign proclaiming, “No Baby Jails!” Her mother’s placard read, “Why are children caged in the Land of the Free?” A Latina teenager held up a sign that declared on one side, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” The other side read, “No human being is illegal.” A Mexican American school teacher held high my favorite poster, “I’m an immigrant, I’m a teacher, I’m a voter, I’m a citizen, I’m America!”

By the time the ACLU buses returned to the church parking lot in Houston, it was 9pm. Above me, the full moon and ruddy Mars seemed to share my equanimity. I felt good about standing up for Buddhist principles of loving respect towards all. Whether or not this protest results in kinder governance, I feel heartened by being in the company of kindred spirits of all ages, colors, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and religions.

Noah Levine’s Against the Stream includes a guided equanimity meditation, which I have adapted:

Please close your eyes and sit in a comfortable posture.

Reflect on both the joy and the sorrow that exist in the world.

Be conscious of your heart’s longing for truth and well-being.

With each breath, breathe into the heart’s center, acknowledging your intention to create positive change along with the reality of your inability to control others.

Repeat to yourself the following phrases:

All beings are responsible for their own actions.

Suffering or happiness is created by one’s relationship to experiences—not by the experiences themselves.

The freedom and happiness of others is dependent on their actions, not on my wishes for them.”

Relax into harmonizing the heart’s deepest desire to help others with the mind’s wise acknowledgment of human limitations and powerlessness.

Breathe gently into the area of the heart.

Visualize or have a felt sense of the presence of someone you know who is going through a rough time.  Direct the equanimity phrases towards that person.

All beings are responsible for their own actions.

Suffering or happiness is created by one’s relationship to experiences—not by the experiences themselves.

The freedom and happiness of others is dependent on their actions, not on my wishes for them.”

Letting go of the image or felt sense of the person towards whom you are directing equanimity phrases.

Sense the steady beat of your heart and the rhythm of your breathing.

Now visualize or sense a challenging situation that you are facing in your own life. While practicing to maintain balance and equanimity, repeat the equanimity phrases on your own behalf:

 All beings are responsible for their own actions.

Suffering or happiness is created by one’s relationship to experiences—not by the experiences themselves.

The freedom and happiness of others is dependent on their actions, not on my wishes for them.”

Finally, let go of the image or felt sense of the difficult situation.

Return to the sensations in your heart.

Sense breath arising and passing away in your body.

Remembering the impermanence of all things, slowly open your eyes and reconnect with the sangha or community of meditators around you.

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