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Upeksha by Sarah Sullivan

Welcome Sarah Sullivan, Cambio YTT graduate & teacher, to the Yoga Living Project! Sarah's love of yoga philosophy shows through in this thought-provoking piece on Upeksha, or equanimity. Give it a read to boost the ways in which you care for your mind and experiences, and join Sarah for class on Saturdays at 5:45 at Cambio Austin Bluffs.


Upeksha by Sarah Sullivan

Imagine a life where everything was always perfect. A life where everything was always peaceful and in harmony. Imagine living in a world where we easily get along with everybody and our inner peace was never tested or disturbed. ‘Imagine’ is the key word here. There is a reason why a life like this has to be imagined. That reason is because this type of life is not and will not ever be reality. A life of perfection where everything goes the way we expect and everybody acts in a way that we identify as just and moral is opposed to the laws of nature. Life creates friction between ourselves and others; life is bound to put us in difficult situations. If we were always at peace with everyone around us, there would be no room for learning or growth. The truth is learning and growing is why we’re here, isn’t it? We are here to learn, grow, heal and liberate ourselves from our own ignorance. According to yoga Sutra 2.25 the goal of Yoga is to remove our own self ignorance to liberate ourselves and break the cycle of karma. 

So what are we supposed to do when we come across this friction? What do we do when life puts us in difficult situations where we feel like others have done wrong? It’s inevitable that in life there are going to be times where you feel that someone is acting immorally or in an unjust way. Our initial biased reaction to this may be to feel overwhelmed by their actions which can lead to an anger that often feels justifiable. We may even feel like that anger is the best way to correct an injustice. This reaction of anger is not the appropriate attitude to have in these situations, Upeksha is. 

Upeksha is a Sanskrit word that comes from the Yoga Sutra’s Locks and keys which helps the mind retain undisturbed calmness. Upeksha challenges us to have equanimity when we are faced with what we feel to be non-virtuous acts. The Brahmavihara from Buddhist philosophy discusses four main practices, which are perfect virtue of sympathy, perfect virtue of joy, and perfect virtue of equanimity. Equanimity is the wholesome mental factor cultivated on the Buddhist path to Nirvana through Jnana, self-knowledge. Equanimity can be described as a mind that is in balance, free from discrimination and rooted in insight. A mindset of equanimity helps us take control of our own karma and destiny through the acknowledgment that we are responsible for what we think, how we act and what we say. Cultivating an equanimity mindset when we face difficult situations with others may feel counterintuitive because it feels natural to react when we feel that we are victimized by other’s acts. All anger does is create harm to ourselves. The anger that arises deprives us of our inner peace and neutrality of mind. Anger destroys reason and stifles creativity, both of which allow us a more effective approach to resolving conflict. Without reason and creativity, positive solutions will likely go undiscovered. Every time we react with anger, we become predisposed to more of these reactions in the future. These repeated actions of anger generate the habits that eventually form our character. It is in the upanishads that we are encouraged to practice self-control, austerity and charity, as well as looking within ourselves, which are all factors that help build character. Even when we might feel that a reaction of anger would benefit others or ourselves, all it really does is hurt both parties. You don’t need anger to motivate right action, we can act from higher motives than anger. Instead we should act from the motives of compassion with the goal of harmony. 

When we find ourselves confronted with a self-identified non-virtuous act, not only should we not act with anger, but we also should not walk away from the situation to avoid the discomfort. Instead it’s best to have a clear perspective, to be focused and centered to correct the event or issue and its ramifications. When we’re able to clear our mind of the initial reactions that arise, we are then more able to have an accurate perception which then fosters creative solutions where none may have been apparent before. 

We’ve all heard of the saying, “don’t swim against the tides.” That's exactly what upeksha is asking of us here. We have to strengthen our ability to not work against life and the inevitable changes and difficulties that come with it. We have to strengthen our ability to accept life as it is, building that resiliency to have that ability to keep a neutral mindset to allow us to work with what’s happening, rather than fight against it. It’s important to be able to be sincere in accepting both loss and gain, praise and blame, sorrow and happiness on the roller coaster of life. It’s important to accept with equanimity, rather than the initial reactions of resentment or reluctance; to accept that all people have their shortcomings and everyone makes mistakes. We need to not condemn others, but rather have clear perception when examining the actions of others. This is so we can come to a place where we can rightly perceive, accept and love others in their entirety- faults and all. We have to accept others for who they are, regardless of their origin, beliefs, or behavior. This is not easy to do, especially in today’s political climate. It’s easy to condemn others, who have strong beliefs that oppose our own. When we are able to accept and love others, regardless of these factors and have compassion for every side of each story, we hold the power to make this world a more loving wholesome place, even in the darkest of times. 

When we feel wronged by someone there is an inherent reaction to look at the other person and condemn that person or action. Instead we must look within ourselves. We need to look at our own thoughts, words and actions that may have contributed to the hardship. This is what helps us develop compassion. We have to look within ourselves to be able to sincerely accept others with equanimity. When we’re able to cultivate this mindset of equanimity, it becomes easier to not have an overly sentimental or pessimistic view of life, but rather a clear and neutral view of the world around us. We have to look within ourselves to be able to come to the understanding that all our thoughts, words, and actions have side effects and create reactions. Sometimes these reactions of life can be more pleasant and beneficial where other times they can cause hardship and troubles. Whether the reaction feels good or bad there is purpose in both. 

There’s no way to avoid negative situations or difficulties with others. Upeksha teaches us we need limitation rather than elimination. We have to work to limit our self effort. When we’re able to limit our self effort we are then able to cultivate humility, which softens the grip that the ego can hold over the mind and in turn cultivate forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.

The reason it’s so easy to quickly react to others who hurt us is because Hridaya, the spiritual heart, is sensitive. Hridaya is your natural and essential nature, the deep almost indescribable dimension of yourself. It is an aspect of your inner being of supreme consciousness, also known as atman. This heart is a powerful energetic space that closes easily to avoid getting hurt. It’s in this heart space where we hold our inner peace. When we are unsure how to protect our inner peace and we find our heart space open, we are bound to get hurt. Discernment, viveka, is the key to protecting our inner peace. When we’re able to cultivate discernment, through the clear mind of equanimity, we are then able to build an armor around that inner peace. It’s the armor of discernment that allows us to walk through life with an open heart space without disruption of our inner peace. When we practice Upeksha we cultivate a mindset of equanimity and discernment, both of which encourages the heart space to open while allowing our inner peace to stay intact. 

Feelings stemming from unjust actions often create resentment. When we feel like a person has wronged us, we can come to this space in our minds where we subconsciously feel the need to punish them or ourselves for not being able to effectively work through the situation. There cannot be joy where there’s resentment. Resentment is an injured ego that’s striking out in anger. It is natural to feel hurt when someone wrongs us. However, holding onto resentment can be detrimental to our inner peace and well-being. Instead of cultivating resentment, we can practice friendliness and forgiveness. One way to cultivate friendliness and forgiveness in these situations is to talk about the issue at hand that you may have been putting off. When you’re able to talk about the issue at hand, you then begin to reveal something in yourself that you need to talk through. It’s an opportunity to be vulnerable, strengthen your friendships and learn more about yourself as well. Upeksha teaches that we can avoid the feeling of resentment by staying firmly centered and rooted in knowing who we are. This knowing can be identified as jnana. Jnana can be translated to knowledge, but not just any type of knowledge; it's a self-realized knowledge that is unchangeable based on life events. It is a self-realized knowledge that is unchanging and is connected to your deeply rooted spiritual self, Hridaya. Our identity is not determined by how others perceive or treat us. When others criticize or observe us, it’s important to listen attentively while holding on to our inner knowledge of who we are. Staying connected to this inner knowledge is imperative in order to strive to live a moral and virtuous life. We can connect to our inner self by engaging in uplifting practices that nurture the best and kindest version of ourselves. This helps us stand firm in Jnana, our self-knowledge and allows us to avoid the feelings of resentment, leaving room to rather hold compassion for others instead. When we practice Upeksha, we cultivate a mindset of equanimity and discernment, both of which encourages the heart space to open while allowing our inner peace to stay intact. By extending compassion to ourselves and others, we can heal and process our pain with mindfulness and kindness. We can also explore why the situation or person caused resentment and try to see things from another perspective. This can help us reduce resentment and lean into gratitude. 

Karuna (compassion), viveka (discernment), as well as staying centered help us view life from a vantage point where instances that once caused resentment lose their power to disturb our inner peace. That’s really the issue here isn’t it? When difficult events arise, our inner peace, that lives within our heart space, that we really work hard every day to protect becomes disturbed. The reality is that the only person who has the power to hold your inner peace strong, still and undisturbed throughout all of these waves of life is our own self. This may sound scary, but through Upeksha we build the resiliency to have the ability to do this. The powers in our own hands to keep our inner peace. That is the work that Upeksha is asking us to do. We are asked to work on building up the skill set in our mind to be able to protect our inner peace regardless of the situation and not let others' decisions or lack there of disturb us. We are building an armor of discernment around that inner peace that we store in our heart so that we can keep our heart open and our inner peace intact. If Yoga is a science, Upeksha is the field where balance is maintained. When confronted with any unpleasantness, rather than shrinking away, you should instead examine it, look for its roots and ramifications without having to be aggressive, confronting, etc. When you are able to respond to confrontation in this way, you then create a clear perception with compassion and discernment, allowing you to walk forward with an open heart, while continuing to protect your inner peace.


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