it is not in your hands to save the world

Jack Kornfield on EQUANIMITY

The natural compassion and love of the heart (which cares for ourselves & others in the times of difficulties) has to be balanced with the wisdom of equanimity. If we fall too far into compassion and love without the balance of wisdom and equanimity, we can begin to be attached to the way things should be, and – as a result – overwhelmed by the struggle of others.

The wise one sees things as they are, without the wish to control them. With equanimity we surrender our illusion of control. We should love and care for others, assist them, and pray for them. But we cannot control what will happen. And we cannot possess other people – we do not own our children, our lovers, and our friends …

We can love and care for our dearest, but the their happiness and suffering depends on their actions, and not on our wishes for them.

 It is not in your hands to save the world.

Peace is not an absence of change or difficulty. Equanimity is not withdrawal or indifference. True equanimity is openness, balance and ease. True equanimity is a vast stillness in the midst of this ever changing world.

The wise one sees things as they are, without controlling them. She is balanced in the centre of her life – she has surrendered her illusions of control.

Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy), “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)

The only thing certain is that things are uncertain: this is the wisdom insecurity, this is the foundation for equanimity. 

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Harold Rhenisch says:

    In “The Puppet and the Dwarf” Slavoj Zizek points out that Christianity introduced a new equation into human spiritual and physical understanding: a unhealable moment of breakage that allowed one to do something. I think that a lot of the time he is a bit stuck in his post-iron-curtain opera, but here I think he has a point. A literal view of the particular kind of equanimity mentioned above leaves it open for the continued destruction of the earth, and thus ourselves. The West often takes a literal view. Western languages are good at that, too. For instance, within the vast stillness, there is also the work. The stillness contains the work. But the words don’t openly show that. I offer this footnote as a clarification and extension, not a refutal. Nothing to refute. One thing to say: More. The same thing again: Less.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Hi Harold,
      you have to give me some intellectual guiding here, what do you mean by: “A literal view of the particular kind of equanimity mentioned above leaves it open for the continued destruction of the earth, and thus ourselves.”

  2. Isaac Yuen says:

    A much needed idea in my circle of environmentalist friends and colleagues. It’s sad to see them burn out from trying so hard to make the world right when they don’t afford themselves the space and time to be right themselves.

    1. Sigrun says:

      hm – sounds familiar …

  3. Harold Rhenisch says:

    I was thinking about this: “The wise one sees things as they are, without the wish to control them. With equanimity we surrender our illusion of control. We should love and care for others, assist them, and pray for them. But we cannot control what will happen. And we cannot possess other people – we do not own our children, our lovers, and our friends …” which is really a very Western idea. For instance, it speaks of ‘our’ (not a proven universality) ‘illusion of control’ (quite the reduction of a broad range of responses within the territory of power). It also says “But we cannot control what will happen,” which presupposes that ‘we’ (an unproven universality) believe that ‘we’ can do just that. In comparison, I remember back in 1978, those summer evenings discussing the Tao under the sumac tree with Wayne, and the days when he’d be under his pickup truck, banging around at the transmission in the weeds and the cactus, and pointing out to me that his work, mechanically, with the transmission was as creative as any poem I was writing about Spider and Coyote on the ridge lines, and the Tao of all things. He was right. The work. Buddhism, he taught me, is a practical pursuit. Work is spiritual practice, too. The equanimity I learned from Wayne was one of being all the world, in which even the word ‘control’ was not operative. He practiced it with his bees. What Kornfield says is not like that. Kornfield is living in either/or dynamics — very Western. There’s yet another way to parse it, which is through looking at English and how it is put together out of layers … at the bottom is Old Norse, very magical; at the top is Latin, all in the head. Buddhism, though, although ‘mindful’ is not ‘all in the head’, and therein lies a bit of a difficulty, as, in this case, the very words that English uses to talk about these concepts prevent any achievement of them. I am intrigued, though: what would a description of Buddhism, or a translation of Buddhist texts, look like written in a Norse and Anglo Saxon-based English vocabulary? It would be exciting to try. As for Zizek, he considers Buddhism to be narcissism, as it can’t differentiate the viewer from the viewed. I think he doesn’t really ‘get’ Buddhism, but has an interesting take on Christianity, in its own East European way. Then again, Europe used to be pretty Eastern. There’s something, perhaps, trying to come home there.

  4. I really like what you said about equanimity being openness, balance and ease. It looks like you have to be in the eye of the storm to be able to experience that stillness.

    1. Sigrun says:

      – trying to touch base

  5. Harold Rhenisch says:

    In the morning, before the earth turns towards the light, I am thinking about the earth again. I find your comment about the four poles of Buddhism to be very rich, Sigrun. Thank you. Protecting the earth from ego, if I may add a morning thought, requires leaving Western concepts and words, even English words. Perhaps the issue, for the earth, is something lived through within the moment of poise, best approached with gestures and right actions (in the West, ‘art’, perhaps, in the largest sense) rather than philosophies. Perhaps, it’s something that starts here: is the consciousness the earth’s or is it human and individual? That is the kind of basic point resolvable only by wiping it away. A human take might be to consider this duality (and it’s simultaneous non-duality nature) through the kind of actions generated by koans, or in the old, pre-aesthetic culture of haiku. What would those koans look like if they were from the point of view of the earth? Would it be to approach individualism from unity? Would it have a different orientation to space and time? I think a vibrant, living future for the earth depends upon moving consciousness and personhood away from human individual ego. These questions intrigue me, for what they suggest may be possible in this direction. As a writer, I am intrigued by the issues of language embedded in them: what would be the language, or the approaches to language, that could get past the tendency of words to draw these dynamic concepts into directions that limit or humanize their potential? (Humanize, in the sense of the contemporary concept of the human embedded deeply in human societies at this point in history, resting on biological and evolutionary and statistical (etc) pillars. It is an artifice. Is it working for the earth and its creatures [humans, whatever they are, included]?) I pose the questions, not to criticize, but because your own thoughts and discoveries inspire me to this meditation. Ah, and now there’s the faintest blue in the sky!

    1. Sigrun says:

      Comments, all of them, much appreciated!

      I’m examining mindfulness through praxis, its extremely challenging for a brain like mine to be still, even for a few moments – it has words for everything; meanings, views, ideas, standpoints … nagging on & on!

      I’m trying to move behind the words, free myself from my ordinary preconceived understanding of the world, myself and our relationship to one another. Its impossible, I’m trying even so –

      Over the last years my interest has shifted from prose to poetry, I think this shift is part of the same (mindfulness) process; a kind of non-verbal-verbalness, a focus on being, on here, a new kind of intimacy. Poetry as a point, revelation –

      And here I am, in the middle of all my words, yet again.

      The sun is setting, a purple sky – streaks of gold, my husband is out in his little boat, catching supper –

      1. Harold Rhenisch says:

        Yes, poetry is a way. The prose does so tend to be a tale of a journey. Still, there are romances and fairy tales, which sit inside the journey, rather than following an individual through it. In the same way, Christian belief sits within God’s world, rather than creating a line through it. There are, indeed models. How is that poetry thing coming? Here’s a tiny piece of a long poem I’m working on. This is about Wayne, who was crawling under his truck in my previous note:

        Ezra Pound, who was a poet who dreamed of fairies
        among the trees and who abandoned us
        to the grass and the pines roaring in the wind
        for London and under the pressure of the Great
        War that took all the young men away from us invented
        modern poetry in the image of gun barrages,
        barbed wire and artillery posts in the towers
        of churches said of poetry that it is good
        to have one or two poets who you have discovered
        yourself in old books of which no-one else knows;
        you could read them while you were tying trout flies.
        Well, it’s really not all that hard now that hardly anyone
        has heard of Pound. I have taken his big orange Cantos
        out and read them at coffee time
        under apple trees, in the dandelions, and I knew then
        what it means to be no longer fighting a war,
        as bees ranged through the clouds of white and pink
        blossoms, and even got tangled in our hair,
        as we grafted there, with our white buckets of scion wood,
        our brad hammers and cigar box nails,
        our cans of latex and our chisel-bladed knives,

        but I had not yet learned then that there are very few men
        who can see poetry of any kind and any form,
        whether they are young or not, under apple trees,
        and that if you find one who is willing to listen to poems,
        ever, while bees crawl through his beard,
        catch one, let it crawl over the hairs on the back of your hand
        like a wind through trees, and hear; a man
        like that is a very good friend to have
        and you won’t find another one like that to listen to, ever.

        So, Sigrun, have you found any koans yet? Those might help with the old mind-snapping job. Supper, by the way, sounds delicious. Lucky you!

      2. Sigrun says:

        Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
        The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
        Although its light is wide and great,
        The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
        The whole moon and the entire sky
        Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.

        – Dogen

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