Working towards true emotional freedom
EQUANIMITY AND EMOTIONAL INTENSITY
Equanimity offers the gift of freedom from the constant pull of emotions.
Equanimity is a deep-seated sense of spacious stillness and openness that is undisturbed by the emotional ups and downs that go on on the surface. This is not to be confused with the suppression of feelings, apathy or detachment. Equanimity is not about disconnection, in fact, it does quite the opposite- equanimity gives us the stability and strength that deepen our presence, patience, and connection with the world around us.
One way of cultivating equanimity is through mindfulness. In the tradition of insight meditation (Vipassana tradition), the student is taught to notice the ever-changing sensations, feelings and thoughts, whilst cultivating a sense of healthy detachment with whatever is happening. Being in equanimity allows you to see the ever-changing and unfolding processes in life without getting caught up in reactivity or over-identification. Eventually, you will learn to ‘ride the waves’ of life’s ups and downs. As Jon Kabat Zin says, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf!” . Or, quoting Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
The goal of this practise is to find a way of living that is free of our compulsive need to hold onto the good and to push away the bad. In the Buddhist tradition, equanimity provides us with protection from the “eight worldly winds”: praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute. With equanimity, we can feel pleasure without clinging to it or worrying about its ceasing, and we can feel pain without perpetuating it.
Ultimately, you can feel more and more free by expanding the range of life experiences you welcome into your world. Instead of expending endless energy in resisting reality, welcome whatever arises, and allow them to change you.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness can be defined in a variety of different ways, but they all basically come down to: paying attention to the present moment with an intention to cultivate curiosity and compassion.
Whilst it has only recently been embraced by Western psychology, it is an ancient practice found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga. Evidence has mounted up to support it as an effective way to reduce stress, increase joy and self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and undo various unhelpful cognitive and behavioural patterns.
It is a powerful tool because it offers a space that is outside of our usual autopilot way of thinking, feeling and behaving. We may define mindfulness as ‘a process of awareness’; it is a unique experience as it is about paying attention to the experience that comes up, rather than being caught up in them – just like watching clouds pass in the sky. The discovery of this new headspace often opens up possibilities – for more joy, more peace, more positive habits.
Mindfulness skills can be learned and practiced by anyone, whatever their background. Although mindfulness practise finds its origin in Buddhism, therapeutic approaches such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are completely secular in nature.
The ultimate goal of mindfulness practices is to strengthen and deepen the human capacity to live more meaningful, balanced and peaceful lives.
‘BUT I CAN’T SIT STILL. I CAN’T MEDITATE’ ?
We hear this a lot when introducing the concept of mindfulness to others.
In contrary to the urban myth, mindfulness is not about sitting on an uncomfortable cushion for hours or chanting “omm”. It is about being ‘more awake’ in your daily life, tasting fully the wide palate of human emotions – without getting stuck in them.
There seems to be a misconception that people you see sitting on a mat has all reached a state of serenity, and that idea may be so far from your own experience that it has made you decided ‘I cannot meditate’, or that you are ‘bad at meditating’.
If you ask anyone who practises mindfulness regularly, you will know that complete serenity is a far cry from what actually happens.
Mindfulness teachers sometimes describe our mind as ‘monkey minds’ – It is constantly busy thinking, planning, reminiscing, and judging… this is completely natural. Our goal in practising mindfulness is not to get rid of all thoughts and feelings, but to create a space for them to come and go, so that we no longer feel trapped in them.
Despite the usual misconception, mindfulness can be practised inside or outside of formal meditation. It can take a variety of forms, from ‘formal’ practices such as sitting breathing exercises, to other practices that aims at cultivating a continuity of awareness in your daily living. In the mindfulness group I go to, for instance, we regularly practice walking slowly together, eating in silence as a group, we even joke about using the toilet mindfully.
In other words, mindfulness is cultivated as ‘a way of being’.
It can be learned and practised by anyone, whatever their background. Although the philosophy finds its origin in Buddhism, mindfulness informed therapeutic approaches are secular in nature.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
By delivering intensive experiential training in mindfulness, we guide clients to access resources that they can use in daily lives (e.g. breathing techniques, self- compassion, mindful eating) in order to respond more effectively to stress, pain and illness.
Evidence based research shows MBSR Program (8-week) to be effective in helping chronic pain and fatigue, depression, anxiety, life stress, psoriasis, cancer and in supporting self-care.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
As an adaptation inspired by the MBSR, MBCT is especially developed for the treatment of depression.
MBCT offers a different way of relating to experience, and helps prevent rumination— the negative patterns of thinking and feeling that may escalate towards depressive relapse.
MBCT is now recommended in the guidelines of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a treatment of choice for people who have suffered three or more episodes of depression.