Calm as a Monk: How Equanimity Can Save Your Sanity

By SysBots

Reader Trina wrote in one of the comments:

Leo, I admire the equanimity with which you deal with the more critical comments in your blog posts here and in other websites, especially the ones that begin with “You (or what you’re saying) is bogus/nonsense/idiotic” but whose arguments do not even prosper beyond the setting up of solid premises. You said in a previous post that you are not Buddhist despite the name of your blog, but I think you have a good understanding of upeksa.

For those who don’t know, “upeksa” or “equanimity” are basically one of the four “Sublime Attitudes” in Buddhism — also called “the Four Immeasurables,” or “the four sublime attitudes” (the others being loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy).

Trina brings up a great point about my attitude towards comments on Zen Habits and elsewhere, and about my attitude towards everyday life. While I don’t always succeed (I get angry or irritated like everyone else), equanimity is a concept I strive for as much as possible. And here’s a tip: the more you practice this, the better you get, and the happier and saner you will become.

If you noticed some of the comments under my guest post at Consumerism Commentary, and especially the Firefox OS post, there are some extremely negative things said about me and my articles (including but not limited to: I hope you never reproduce; The author is a moron; This guy is an idiot). However, in response, I have several choices:

  1. I can respond with similar negativity, and thereby increase the animosity between myself and the commenter, and the general community. This has the unfortunate side effects of making me feel really angry and negative, and making me look bad in front of everyone else. People tend to judge negative people in a bad light.
  2. I can ignore the comments, which is a valid option but allows them to go unanswered, which isn’t always the best choice if others don’t know that the comments are in error.
  3. I can answer the comments but remain positive. This is the choice I try to take in all cases. If a commenter thinks I’m a moron, well, I probably won’t be able to change his mind. But if he makes an erroneous point, I should clarify it, while thanking him for the opportunity to clarify my article. The benefits of this include: a) you clarify an erroneous comment; b) you look like a positive person to the community; c) you don’t get sucked into negative feelings; and d) sometimes you can actually win people over by remaining positive in your interactions with them. This has happened to me several times, and I’ve even developed good relationships with people this way.

This philosophy of remaining positive, even under attack, applies to all parts of life, not just in responding to comments. I’ve used it in my everyday dealings with people. It takes two to argue, and even if the person refuses to rise to your level, that’s his problem, not yours.

How can you develop equanimity? Here, as always, are my suggestions:

  • Learn to meditate, even just a little. This is such a deep topic that I won’t get into it here, but basically even the simplest meditation can bring you a peace of mind and the perspective needed for equanimity.
  • Learn to detach yourself and be an observer. Try this exercise: imagine yourself leaving your body, floating above it, and going higher until you are looking down on yourself and the world and people around you. You are an observer, not involved in the situation. As an observer, you don’t get angry or emotionally involved … you simply observe without judgment. This exercise can help you remove yourself from the heat of things and see with a greater perspective.
  • Take deep breaths. If you find yourself getting angry or emotional over an issue, take a deep breath, and step back. Often it’s best not to respond when you’re in an emotional state — you might regret it later. I often will leave an email without responding to it, and come back to it later, if it provokes an emotional response. The same thing when getting into an argument with someone in real life — tell them you need a minute, get some fresh air, and step back from the situation. You’ll often find that you come back to it with a completely different approach.
  • Be Teflon. Let things roll off you. Understand that there will always be people who are angry or rude or who are having a bad day. Their problems do not have to be yours. If they are mean, you don’t need to be mean also. Let their anger and comments and meanness roll off you like water on a duck’s back. Only by letting them engage you will you allow that anger to take seed in your body and grow. If you can let it roll off you, and ignore it, and smile, things will often get better.
  • Seek understanding. If someone says something mean to you, instead of taking it as a personal insult, understand that you are not the center of this person’s world — often they are coming off a very bad morning, or are having marital problems, or perhaps they don’t understand the issue very well. There’s always a reason for anger and rudeness — and if you can understand it, it’s easier to deal with.

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