The ability to remain consistently calm, in this time of incessant turbulence and rapid unpredictable bipolar shifts, is a cherished resource. Equanimity greets every moment with equal attention, appreciation, clarity and calm.
Buddhist practice embraces equanimity as the ultimate attitude needed for successful transition from human to infinite life. The ability to be present, to not sow a seed of reincarnation—by distraction or attachment—in the dying process, frees the energy body to evolve in its definitive journey beyond human life.
The Shamans of Ancient Mexico also valued the relationship of equanimity and death. They reasoned that any moment in life could be one’s final moment, hence one should be fully present, alive, and equally appreciative of every moment in life, regardless of personal preferences.
The Shaman’s perspective is the ultimate Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all moments are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Shamans cultivate equanimity as a program for living, the Buddhists as the key in dying. Both cultivate an attitude of deep calm in approaching life’s greatest encounter—its final moment.
How can we cultivate equanimity?
The Shamans contribute an attitude shift. Each day they remind themselves, ” My name is ________, a being who is going to die.” Far from being a morbid ‘Good Morning, World,’ this use of death as an advisor heightens one’s awareness to be fully present and engaged in every moment of the day, regardless of the activity.
How often do we lament a Monday morning, or the end of a joyous encounter? Even worse, how often do we dread an encounter or work task, and pray for it to quickly end. The intent of equanimity is to be equally calm and present to each equal moment, regardless of its intensity.
The Buddhists contribute the practice of meditation to still the mind, a great perpetrator of non-equanimity known as worry. Yoga, with its Hindu roots, uses self-regulation of the body to achieve equanimity. The practice of pranayama breathing exercises greatly enhances voluntary control of the autonomic nervous system’s mobilizing defenses, in the face of real or imagined stress, a valuable tool to achieve equanimity.
Autogenic training and self-hypnosis are tools to deepen the conscious relationship between mind and body. When we give the body a specific instruction when in a deeply relaxed state, the subconscious begins to listen and override its genetic, archetypal, or habitual programs.
Thus, we can instruct every part of our body to remain deeply calm while we remain fully awake and present to all conditions. Jan and I recently discovered the gift of Dr. Eleanor Eggers, a 97-year-old semi–retired psychologist, who developed a simple website giving away the secrets of her life’s work. This is her contribution to the greater good.
Her website offers the autogenic phrases that Elmer and Alyce Green developed at the Menninger Foundation, for deep relaxation, as well as other resources from her long and fruitful career. We happily pass on her website link: Dr. Eleanor Eggers.
Though, at present, we may experience limitation in exacting needed changes to our chaotic world, we are all free, as Victor Frankl would say, to assume the attitude we will embody in our encounters with that world. Equanimity ranks highest in our approach to life, in and beyond this world.
We’ve all been taught to be nice girls and boys, to not rock the boat, not make anyone uncomfortable by bringing up disturbing issues. Who among us grew up in a household where things were really discussed, addressed, and resolved by coming to a deeper understanding of why we do the things we do? Not me.
In my house you kept quiet. You didn’t rock the boat, make anyone uncomfortable, or even talk about what bothered you the most. You held everything in and hoped for the best. If you got caught doing something bad you were blamed, shamed, and punished, but no one ever asked if you needed something. No one ever asked if you were in pain, in need, or suffering. No one wanted to know if something was disturbing you or confusing you. No one wanted to deal with feelings or emotions. They wanted it simple. You followed the rules so everything went according to plan, or else. You were told to act like a lady, get good grades, and stop being an embarrassment to your parents. In the end you just ended up feeling guilty, ashamed, and bad.
But growing up where nothing is ever discussed, where you are supposed to figure out some of the most frightening and complicated experiences in your life on your own is a daunting task, especially for a small child who just shuts up and shuts down, finds ways to self-soothe and somehow makes it through childhood and into adulthood. Having been sexually abused, I empathize with others who also had a bad time of it, but I also know that we must move beyond our traumas, not only entertain a new vision for ourselves and the world but embrace it as well. We must all dare to change.
In spite of my background I have always been able to see the good in others, no matter how bad they appear to be. Perhaps it’s just part of my personality, the part of me that somehow knew how to survive and thrive in spite of what happened to me. Suffice it to say, I’m an optimist. I’ve always been able to weigh all sides of an issue. Often this makes it impossible to take sides. I was never good at debating. I’m much better at taking in the whole picture and seeing how all the pieces fit together. This is a Buddhist perspective, the middle way, all things in harmony and balance. In the end, I tend to be okay with the way things are because I know that things have a way of resolving, often in the most unexpected of ways, but often in the most simple of ways.
For most of my life I felt like I was living in a daze. I didn’t really wake up, except occasionally, until I was 50. It was then that I started to gain clarity on what had actually transpired in my childhood, why I had lived in that daze for most of my life (because I was only half in this world, the other half still back in the past), but once all that insight about my past started to flood into me all I wanted to do was stay awake. I got interested in life in a new and different way.
I wanted to know why and how things happen, and how to change myself and the things in my life that I could change. I saw the bigger picture of what had been, but I also wanted to intend a new bigger picture for the future. I wanted to be actively involved in planning my future life in a different way, consciously aware of myself as part of the process. I didn’t want life to lead me; I wanted to meet life and take a new journey with all that it offered me. It meant I had to be prepared to really change. I had to learn how to let change work for me in positive and good ways, with intent and purpose, rather than just because it happened anyway.
I have since learned that not everyone wants to change, not everyone is ready to change, and in fact many people don’t care about changing at all, they just care about themselves. This seems to be what we are being confronted with now, just how many people really only care about themselves, how caught up they are in their own hubris, their own greed, and how little they care about others. We must all be accountable for what is happening now and we all have a responsibility to try and figure out how to resolve the chaos of our times. There are many forums, and many people are taking the opportunity to finally speak out, but for most of us perhaps the best forum is quietly within.
To truly know ourselves as human beings must be the first step in changing our world. Why did my abuser rape, torture, and assault me? Why did he sell me to others like himself? Why do people do the things they do?
I have discovered that if I am to understand others I must try to understand myself. The first step in doing that, I learned, is to give up all preconceived ideas of how things should be, all preconceived notions of what is right and what is wrong, of what is supposed to be. I learned that I have to empty my mind of everything and be open to understanding life at a totally different level and from many different perspectives, be open to new concepts, new twists, new notions of possibility never before imagined. I have to be totally nonjudgmental, abundantly curious, and insatiably interested in learning new things.
In being open in this manner I come back to myself, to that young girl who could always empathize, who could always see the good in others, who could always see all sides of an issue or a problem. That little Buddhist girl is still in me and she still presents me with her open mind, and every day I am grateful for her. I had to work very hard to find my way back to her, wading through the muck of years of duty and adherence to principles and ideas I did not really believe in but followed blindly because I did not want to rock the boat, get into trouble, or be misunderstood. Then I decided it was high time for a different approach. I recapitulated. In so doing I had to break down the world I knew into dust and debris and pick from it only what was important and leave the rest of it behind, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Sometimes that’s all it is, just something to leave behind.
Now, as I said, I am awake, and in being awake I have to look at myself from all different angles all the time. How am I like those men who abuse? How am I like my own abuser? How do I abuse others? How can I judge another when I know I am not perfect?
When I accept that I have deviant behaviors inside myself, perhaps even to the same extent as some of the worst offenders, then I begin to know why people do the things they do. I do the things I do because I act impulsively or greedily or selfishly. I might be fearful, sad or lonely. I might lash out. I might take. I might overdo. I might be greedy today and selfless tomorrow. I might be hostile now and loving later. I might be inflated in the morning and by nightfall totally deflated and depressed. I might hate one minute and feel bad about it the next. I might get angry and vent, knowing that it’s important to state what is bothering me, but then I can also be the kindest person in the room, wanting the people around me only to feel comfortable and happy. I am all of these things because I’m human.
I have written about my demons, I accept them as part of me. Even if I don’t act on all my impulses, even if I don’t let all my demons out of the bag, I have to accept that they exist inside me. I too am culpable, fallible, weak, and sometimes I fail. That’s what it means to be human. And that’s why I cannot hate, even those who do bad things to me. I can only love. Love is what I always come back to. It is the glue that holds us all together and it is the glue that must keep us together as we address the current climate of change, as people in power get sacked for their indiscretions, as others suffer the shock of knowing that people they love did bad things. What do you do with all that? You just keep loving them.
Love is powerful and hopefully it will get us through this to a deeper understanding of all that we are, the human animals as well as the loving spirits. We accept the loving spirit part of ourselves so easily, but it’s much harder to deal with the other side that we are too, the instinctual animal that we have yet to fully confront and accept into our lives and our world. We all need to work at it, within ourselves first and foremost. Only then will we understand why people do the things they do, because we do them too and we know why. Then we can truly be empathic, nonjudgmental, loving, total humans. Then we will be able to not just accept the bigger picture but embrace our wholeness as well.
Some things just have to be accepted as we wade our way through the chaos we now find ourselves in. Some people just won’t get it, will refuse to change no matter how much they are confronted with how badly their behavior harms others. Some people just aren’t that evolved yet and we have to let them be where they are, for the truth is they are part of what creates balance, they are part of that bigger picture. The Buddhists know that you can’t have the light without the dark, the good without the evil, the day without the night.
At the same time that I accept all that, I do have expectations of everyone I know and everyone I don’t know. I expect to be treated as a fellow human being. I expect to be given the same opportunities as everyone else. I expect the same fairness I grant others. I expect the same kindness and compassion I extend to others. I expect to be allowed to live in a safe world, free from violence, war, nuclear disaster, free of angry people with guns. I expect the same for others.
I want us all to live in a world where we make room for others, where we share what we have with others, where we embrace everyone as human beings just like us, where color and race and gender are not issues of divisiveness but what bring us together. I want the bigger picture to be bigger in love and kindness and compassion.
At the same time, I see how we are all rushing to the same side of the boat now, tipping it too far in our exposing, in our rooting out the evil in others in our need for validation. We have gone from never tipping the boat to nearly capsizing it! The truth does matter, but it can be taken too far, doing more harm than good in our eagerness for a quick solution. There is no quick solution. We might just tip that boat over and then where would we be but all awash in the same stuff we dredged up.
Somehow we have to get back into the middle of the boat again, back on the middle way, where everyone is given the opportunity to work on their issues with support and help, because the beautiful outcome of this process could be that we have finally exposed that we all have issues that need to be addressed without judgment, without blame, and without shame. We all know what judgment, blame, and shame do to us, how devastating they can be, sending us deeper into our traumas and deeper into hiding. We are all just human after all.
We’ve already rocked the boat. Now let’s get it back into calmer waters and meet in the middle, bringing with us all that what we’ve learned about others and ourselves. Let’s offer the same support to others that we expect to receive ourselves. Let’s not be the family that refuses to accept feelings and emotions. Let’s be the family that sits down together and talks at a deeper level and tries to understand each other. Let’s be the family that talks about all that uncomfortable stuff that has left a lot of people feeling confused and frightened, perhaps resorting to acting out because they don’t know what to do with it all.
Let’s try to figure out what we’ve been missing in our personal and workplace relationships, and what’s really needed for us all to heal and finally live peaceably together, as one, in the middle of the boat.
A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries
I share a passage I was reading this morning from an old favorite of mine, Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. He reminds us “that everything changes is the basic truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth, and all the teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it. This is the teaching for all of us.”
He goes on to say, “Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transiency, we suffer. So the cause of suffering is our non-acceptance of this truth.”
Those of us who have difficulty accepting our own truths may also find difficulty in accepting the transiency of life. Often we want things to stay the same so we don’t have to feel or re-experience what once caused so much distress, that which fragmented us and sent us into depression, dissociative habits, and any number of behaviors that we deemed necessary for our survival.
The truth is that life is all about change. Life would not exist without constant change. We know this to be truth in our own lives. If we don’t change nothing happens, we stay the same, and yes, we suffer. We aren’t able to more fully live and embrace life if we are afraid of making a move to change something in our lives. In the end we may even find pleasure in our pain and in our refusal to change; we elect suffering over change.
Recapitulation is all about daring the self to accept the changing aspects of life. It means we are saying that we are ready to face what holds us back so we can finally live in this world. Otherwise we remain entrenched in a world that is not real, a world where perhaps only fear and loathing exist, where change is given the boot, and we miss out on the true reality of this world. I spent most of my life in that other world. It’s what my books are all about, the rediscovery of my traumatic beginnings but also the discovery of just how entrenched I had become in the world I had created for myself in order to feel safe.
If we can dare ourselves to investigate just what it is that has us in its grip we slowly begin to find ourselves evermore ready to accept the changing aspects of life. And it’s then that we realize change is life, and that in daring to change ourselves, through the deep inner work of recapitulation, we offer ourselves footholds in new life, in a changing world. As we do deep work on ourselves we begin to trust and enjoy that changing world in previously unimaginable ways.
As we accept that life is change we begin to flow with all the changes that come our way, bidden and unbidden, knowing that this is how life is, and that this time will soon change too. Every time we accept that life is change we let ourselves experience more of living and eventually we are flowing right along, no longer afraid of change, no longer suffering in the way we once did.
Part of accepting that life is change and change is life is accepting that which we run from, that which we hide from, that which scares us the most. It entails turning and facing and finally accepting what once happened to us without judgment, without self-hatred, without fear but with compassion for our frightened self, with kindness for our traumatized self, with love for our noble and strong self.
We remember that those bad times in the past eventually changed too and that new things happened to us, so we see that we have already learned the lessons of change, but to learn those lessons in full awareness is what the process of recapitulation entails. To consciously elect change and allow ourselves the benefit of life in a new way is to readily accept what life offers us to help us grow and evolve.
Then we understand what Suzuki means when he says, “When we realize the everlasting truth of ‘everything changes’ and find our composure in it, we find ourselves in Nirvana.”
The road to Nirvana—to composure and to acceptance of all that is as it changes, without attachment—is one well worth traveling. If I can do it, so can you!
-A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries
A common practice among Buddhist teachers is to send students off to face what they have the most difficulty with, their fears, their dislikes, their egos, their complacencies.
A student who craves company and dislikes being alone might be sent to live in an isolated hut on a mountaintop. A student who craves being alone and dislikes noisy interruptions might be sent to work in a busy kitchen for a few years.
Jack Kornfield, in A Path with Heart, describes how his teacher found the perfect solution to his tendency to fall asleep during meditation. He sent him to sit on the edge of a deep dark well. Fear of falling into the well kept him quite alert!
Those examples might sound strict, but such practices are meant to break the habits, desires, and tendencies of a myriad of conscious and unconscious attributes that we humans must contend with. In my experience, life itself finds plenty of ways to break us of our habits, fears, and desires—no other master teacher necessary!
It’s almost impossible to avoid having to confront that which we try to hide from. Trying to manipulate our lives so that we don’t have to face what we fear the most usually doesn’t work. In the end, if there is something we are trying to avoid, it finds its way to our door.
Recent events in my own life have put me to the test, tossing me out of my quiet life and into the maelstrom of navigating through the complicated world of bureaucratic reality. I have had to become an advocate for another person and, truthfully, I have always been good about jumping in and handling things succinctly when called upon. I like to get things done right the first time, quickly and efficiently, only too happy to jump right back into my nice little life once the mission is accomplished. In this case, however, in spite of my best efforts, my tendency for efficiency was not well met.
It soon became clear that I had no control. I had to acquiesce to the unfolding of life, sit back and patiently wait for a long series of events to unfold before resolution. It has been a lesson in patient detachment, learning to be available and open to the sometimes strange and unwieldy manner in which life unfolds. Giving up control does not mean not acting. It means always acting appropriately, in alignment with what is right, but knowing when to stand back, point made, and wait. In truly giving up control in this manner, it’s amazing to stand back and watch how things go down!
During the past few weeks, I have truly gone through my own strict Buddhist training, with Life as my master teacher. For instance, I give myself labels; we all do. I’m shy and quiet, I don’t like confrontation—I’m a peacemaker not an anarchist after all—and yet in spite of those labels I have had to rip them off and become their opposites.
I have had to break out of all the compartments I put myself into, the ideas of myself as this or that, and become whatever was needed. My personal journey over the past few weeks has been quite an interesting one. The other person, I realize, is secondary to the process, for I have taken quite a journey, with myself as the primary subject.
Life just won’t let us sit and be complacent. It constantly asks us to face our fears, to flow with what comes, to change, and it sure finds some interesting ways of doing just that! In my experience, the energy of the past few weeks—and perhaps even further back—has been unrelenting, and I have personally gone through quite a whirlwind, both within and without. But as I’ve learned, in acquiescing, in patient waiting while simultaneously making sure that what is right occurs as it should, positive outcome prevails. And in the process, I’ve learned a whole lot about myself—some very valuable lessons.
Perhaps there are some quieter and more gentle times ahead, as times of great force and change are often naturally followed by times of calm and rejuvenation.
Looking forward to enjoying some calmness, and wishing you all the same, Jan
We publish Chuck’s blog today. Look for Jan’s later in the week!
The deepest truth of the human psyche is that we are only partially rational beings. There are forces within and around us that act upon and through us without our conscious awareness. Reckoning and reconciling with these forces lies at the heart of achieving balance, happiness and fulfillment in this life.
Modern sensibility seeks to reduce our struggle with these outside forces to chemical imbalance and structural flaw in our brains, largely correctable through psychopharmacological input. As valuable and supporting as these interventions might be, they cannot, by any means, address the intense emotionally charged feelings and thoughts that daily barrage our conscious foothold in this world.
Psychotherapy has been charged with treating the “mental illness” we see violently acted out in mass shootings that we witness almost daily. Thankfully, the tools of psychotherapy have been greatly enhanced over the past several decades by the influx of mindfulness practices introduced to the world as a result of the Tibetan diaspora. DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, owes its structure and methodology directly to mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness practice empowers us to gain control over our central nervous system and to generate neuroplasticity—a remapping of neural pathways—in the brain. The contribution of mindfulness and meditation practices, to our ability to stay focused and develop detachment from the destructive impulses and moods we experience, cannot be overestimated. Through the exercise of these tools we become grounded, able to function, and able to explore the deeper reality of who we are and who we are not. Without grounding, we are woefully ill-equipped to handle that deeper journey into our unknown selves.
Much more recent than the Tibetan diaspora has been the Shamanic diaspora of the teachings of the Shamans of Ancient Mexico through the published works of Carlos Castaneda and his cohorts and the public release of Tensegrity. Pragmatic tools have been introduced from these Shamans to enable seekers to journey into the deeper layers of self and reality.
In a recent Amazon book review of J.E. Ketchel’s The Man in the Woods, Gary Siegel, LCSWR states, “We have seen in recent times the integration of many concepts and approaches from Buddhist traditions into the mainstream of clinical work and psychotherapy. It seems to me that if techniques and awareness of Buddhism are especially well suited for things like acceptance, letting go, being in the moment, compassion and forgiveness, then the techniques and awareness of Shamanism – with their concourse with altered states of awareness, and dissociation would be perfectly suited for work with those very states that are the hallmark of trauma victims.”
In facing trauma, specifically, a seeker is challenged to reconcile with a highly emotionally charged event, or series of events, that has been stored in an altered state within the psyche. Consciously, the seeker may have little or no awareness of the contents of that altered state and may only feel the conscious tremblings or intrusions of this material through associatively triggered encounters in the flow of everyday life. From a Shamanic perspective, for healing to take place, a journey must be taken to retrieve and reintegrate the lost parts of the self encapsulated in that altered state. In addition, the journey entails the release of extraneous energy—outside energy, perhaps in the form of ideas and beliefs—that has held one’s personal energy captive in that altered state.
The Shamanic tool of Intent empowers the conscious self to engage the supports, dreams and synchronicities that initiate and lead the journey. Although stating one’s intent initiates the journey, the path will unfold outside of the control of reason.
Recapitulation is the very conscious reliving of past events. From a Shamanic perspective, reliving a past event means entering another world, a world one was once in but has subsequently left. The Shamanic practice of recapitulation enables the seeker to consciously—in the world of now—reenter an old world and take from it whatever part of the self splintered off while caught in an experience in that prior world. That energy is then brought forward and reintroduced into the self of now, where it belongs, freed of its prior entanglements. From a Shamanic perspective, this is total healing.
Shamanic journeying requires groundedness. As don Juan Matus put it, we need “nerves of steel,” if we are to journey into the unknown. Hence, the contribution of Buddhism, with its mindfulness practices, offers the perfect complement to the contributions of Shamanism with its journeying practices in healing. In fact, groundedness is a prerequisite to successful journeying. We must be able to stay present with that which once splintered us if we are to truly retrieve the lost parts of ourselves.
The Shamanic journey of intent, however, is unpredictable. Sometimes it pushes us into journeys we feel ill-prepared for. At other times, it gives us long stretches of respite to shore up our groundedness. In reality, Buddhist mindfulness and Shamanic journeying are perfect complements, the yin and yang of wholeness and healing.