“When we solve the equation between our outer surroundings and innermost wishes, equanimity resides within oneself.” I have not read Ester Schaler Buchholz’s book, “The Call of Solitude,” from which this quote comes, but I’ve given the quote a lot of thought since encountering it. I’ve found myself wondering about this word, “equanimity.”
Equanimity is something we rarely talk about in church circles. It seems it should be related to something we do talk about a lot — the concept of peace. I was surprised, though, that when I checked a number of sources, I found that peace is never given as a synonym for equanimity. That led me to wonder what the difference might be between these two, and if the Christian vocabulary might be enriched with the inclusion of “equanimity”?
Aequo animo - with an even mind – is the source of our English word “equanimity.” We use it sometimes in referring to our physical selves but more often having to do with our mental state. When we are unperturbed by the stresses of life, when our psychological state remains stable in the face of the “experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind” (Wikipedia), we are said to be in a state of equanimity.
I don’t think any Christian would say that is a bad thing. It seems to me, though, that we in the church are also concerned with matters of the heart — perhaps even more so. So I find myself wondering if we can be at peace while still losing our equanimity. I suspect we can. I remember once seeing an animation of the ocean’s activity. While the surface ran the gamut from still as glass to raging storms with waves as high as multi-story buildings, at its depths it was calm. That’s not to say the ocean’s depth is without movement, but it is not vulnerable to those actions that affect the surface. Might that not describe the difference between equanimity and peace?
Given that all the “parts” of who we are interrelated, it would be folly to suggest that the mind is separate from the heart. But I wonder if they might not affect one another differently. The person who is truly at peace carries within him/her a “place” of calm that the great religions will tell you can be born only of silence. Whether that silence comes with meditation or contemplation, it is a result of kenosis — of self-emptying.
Writing of kenosis, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, in her classic book “Poustinia,” says that the final goal of self-emptying is “a holy indifference.” Perhaps that is where equanimity and peace differ. Being at peace, in a state of “holy indifference,” would support equanimity. Equanimity, however, being situated in the activity of the mind, could point to but might not necessarily give rise to the self-emptying that leads to peace.
In a society that supports neither equanimity nor peace well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if those of us in the church, along with other religious as well as non-religious communities, were more consistent in being training grounds for peace? What if, as we went about living our lives doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God (those things God requires of us according to Amos 6:8), we were to let go of the outcomes? What if we were to trust the Spirit to bring good out of our doing and our loving and our walking with God, and quit all our fretting about success? Wouldn’t that help free these busy minds we have from always analyzing how we are doing and anticipating how to be better prepared for the next contingency, whatever it may be?
Just considering what it would be like to live life that way, I find my energy level settling, my breath calming, and my whole person feeling more relaxed. Imagine if I were to make it a practice to regularly go one step further and move from calming thoughts to calmed being. Then just imagine what it would be like for the world if we all were to do that.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4.7)
Well, there you have it – heart and mind – peace and equanimity. God’s peace has it all covered. Now if we’ll just do our part and participate.
Leigh Waggoner is rector of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.