Blog: Equinox, Equipoise, Equanimity
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
I have been arriving at the Sacred Stream Center before dawn and leaving after dusk during this vernal equinox season. As the days have stretched to meet the length of the nights, I have had the good fortune to be in the Center’s sanctuary all day teaching the Depth Hypnosis Foundation Course. So, I have been very aware of the sun’s rise through the arched stained-glass window above the main altar on the eastern wall, and the sun’s setting through the huge stained-glass window that covers the whole western wall.
All day, the light moves through the room as the sun passes through the other large stained-glass window that occupies the southern wall. In the morning, the sun illuminates the thangka of Chenrezig, then reflects off the northern wall onto the altar in my office. In the afternoon, the sun rolls down the main altar on the eastern wall as it sets, shining through the stained glass. The play of light in the sanctuary throughout the day is magical.
The evening of the spring equinox, as I watch the shadows lengthen across the room, I reflect on how the magic of this play of light is around us everywhere, all the time. Many of us take for granted the sunrise and sunset. Indeed, we may not even notice the incremental lengthening of light throughout the late winter that brings us to this moment, where the day meets the night in equal measure.
On the equinoxes, the idea of balance always seems emphasized to me. How do we find our way to this moment of fleeting equilibrium each spring and fall? How well do we hold center in the tension of opposing forces around us at this moment of equipoise? These questions seem to take on more import now, when many of us are striving to counteract the effects of polarization that have increased in almost every aspect of our lives since the last spring equinox.
The Oxford Dictionary definition of equanimity is “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Cultivating equanimity is an activity we can all benefit from during these difficult times. On his website, His Holiness the Dalai Lama offers a teaching on equanimity as a way to address this seemingly intractable problem.
By addressing the issue of detachment, His Holiness focuses on how we might regain the middle path between polar extremes. When he talks about detachment, his teaching demonstrates how our tendency to prefer one group, situation or experience over another leads us down a path to polarization.
He says, “The practice of developing or cultivating equanimity involves a form of detachment, but it is important to understand what detachment means. Sometimes when people hear about the Buddhist practice of detachment, they think that Buddhism is advocating indifference toward all things, but that is not the case. First, cultivating detachment, one could say, takes the sting out of discriminatory emotions toward others that are based on considerations of distance or closeness. You lay the groundwork on which you can cultivate genuine compassion extending to all other sentient beings. The Buddhist teaching on detachment does not imply developing an attitude of disengagement from or indifference to the world or life.”
How can we cultivate this detachment without becoming indifferent? As we are poised equally between the two extremes of night and day, it is a perfect moment to try to understand these opposites which seem so similar. The difficult conditions of the current time are so much worsened by indifference, and so much improved with detachment.
When we are detached, we bring equal interest to all the factors in a given situation. We take in all the information about an issue without reacting. This requires a lot of attention, energy, and engagement, which deepens our understanding and broadens our learning. Indifference is quite the opposite. It requires nothing from us. The effort to take in all points of view, to try to understand deeply without preferences is a discipline which requires us to forego the laziness of indifference.
Here, at dusk of the day of the equinox, where the opposites of day and night meet in the middle of the sanctuary of the Sacred Stream Center, I watch the play of light and dark. I practice not preferring one over the other. I just take in the experience of light and the experience of darkness as it settles around me. I try to hold everything I know about both in this single moment, where both are completely equal.
The New Return to the Great Mother: Birth, Initiation, and the Sacred Feminine – Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.