Equanimity is about having balance, level-headedness and calmness of spirit. It is approaching all situations and rising above them, realizing their temporary nature and working through them whether they be good or bad. Equanimity imbalanced can either appear as out of control and hysterical, or completely oblivious and apathetic. Achieving a middle ground of equanimity is ideal, as it is the means by which we can go from situation to situation with grace.
-from “middah of the week: equanimity”
In reading over the articles that arrived in my email inbox on equanimity, it seems a trait designed to maintain inner calm in a moment of excitement or crisis. A crisis, by definition, arrives suddenly and ends quickly. But there are situations that build up over time and then persist like the cold, snow, and ice I’ve been experiencing this past week in my own little corner of Idaho.
How do you remain in balance, not just for a few seconds, minutes, or hours, but for days, weeks, and months? Even if I master the appearance of calm, it’s only because I’m holding everything inside as tightly as I can.
There’s no one thing.
There’s just a lot of everything.
- When something challenging happens, quote the memory phrase before reacting.
- View a challenge as a test and score high by staying calm.
- React to an unpleasant situation by finding the positive in it and speaking it.
Again, that works (potentially) in a moment of crisis but doesn’t help manage long-term stress in a situation that has no easy solutions and in fact, is almost totally in the control of other people.
A person who has mastered peace of mind has gained everything.
-Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, the Alter of Kelm
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
-Romans 12:18 (NASB)
I have to agree, at least in principle, with the Alter of Kelm, but peace of mind, when pressed beyond a certain point, doesn’t seem achievable. All I can do is what Paul suggests, but how to let go of the rest?
This can be compared to the story of a rabbi from the days of the Apostles named Nacham. Everyone called him “Nacham This-Too” because, no matter what happened, he would always say, “This too is for the good.” Amazingly, God honored his faith by continually providing miracles for Nacham.
Once it happened that Nacham This-Too was serving as an ambassador to Rome. He was presenting the Roman Emperor with a gift from the people of Judea in an attempt to bribe him into reversing some anti-Jewish legislation. While en route to Rome he stopped at an inn. While he slept, the inn-keeper stole the precious treasures meant for the emperor from Nacham’s chest and replaced them with sand! Nacham went to Rome, unaware that he was carrying a box of sand. When the emperor opened the chest and saw the sand, he ordered Nacham to be put to death. Nacham simply replied, “This too is for the good.” Just then Elijah the prophet appeared in the guise of a Roman officer and suggested that perhaps the sand was “magic sand.” The emperor agreed to test the theory, and indeed, when his troops hurled the sand at their enemies, they prevailed in battle. The emperor immediately released Nacham, reversed his decree against the Jews and rewarded Nacham with great wealth.
The story of Nacham This-Too is a good illustration of Joseph’s story. Like Nacham This-Too, Joseph refused to be pushed around by life’s circumstances. Instead he looked to God for strength and encouragement, and he kept on believing.
“This too is for the good”
Torah Club commentary on Torah Portion Miketz
First Fruits of Zion
Riverton Mussar also has a commentary on the concept of gam zu l’tovah, so it falls within the realm of a character trait that one can develop, and I believe it’s adaptable to long-term circumstances as well as an immediate crisis.
I actually touched on some of this in one of my blog posts not too long ago, and one person commented that it’s extremely difficult to maintain this attitude and perception when the circumstances are difficult or even woefully tragic.
Whatever the answer is, it seems to depend on two things: the ability to differentiate between circumstances you can act upon and change and those you can’t, and possessing bitachon or trust in God.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
“The Serenity Prayer”
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
The Hebrew phrase for equanimity is menuchat hanefesh, which also means “calmness of the soul.”
Calmness of the Soul
I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
I’m actually writing all this and inserting these quotes more for me than for anyone reading this, although it’s my hope that others will benefit. I suppose you could consider blogging “mussar” of a sort, since mussar does involve a certain amount of journaling. My journaling just happens to be published online.
I have to believe that things won’t stay the same forever and that what’s been damaged can be repaired. If others can’t repair their connections with each other, then at least I can try to establish or re-establish my connectedness with them. It’s a difficult balancing act no matter how I approach all these circumstances. Trusting that there is a larger purpose that only God can see, even though things don’t look so good to me, is a difficult mussar.
Is it possible to change my perception of being pressed down to the ground into something that lets that pressure simply wash over me like rain?
Only if it rains can there be rainbows.
I’m not looking for anyone reading this to come up with answers. I’m just writing to find my sense of balance.
Men stumble over pebbles, never over mountains.
-H. Emilie Cady, American author