Engaging life challenges us to be fully present and actively involved in our moment-to-moment experience, without clinging to joy and without resisting sorrow.
~ Toni Bernhard
The act of greeting whatever confronts us with an even temper and steady reaction.
Cultivating this state is how we stay calm regardless of whatever confronts us rather than adding on top of our suffering with the emotions that come from clinging to joy and resisting sorrow.
When we face particularly difficult emotions or situations, without any training, it can be very easy to pile suffering on top of our experiences without realising it.
Toni Bernhard says:
Grasping at what is pleasant sets us up for impermanence dukkha because change is inevitable.
Resisting what is unpleasant serves only to add stress to what is already a difficult situation.
When I was first told by my doctor that there wasn’t much to do about my pain, I came home and was so angry I kicked a hole in my door.
During a summer, I had a few days when I didn’t experience any pain and it was so strange but I became extremely happy thinking that my pain had solved itself.
In both of these situations, I didn’t treat them with an evenness of temper. Rather, I allowed myself to become overly consumed with them which led to suffering later down the road.
Calm in the pleasant
Please don’t mistake what I’m saying to mean “evenness of temper means to kill hope”. It does not. As Martin Luther King Jr says:
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Rather, it means that we allow ourselves to fully experience the good times but not to expect it to last forever. When we remember that pleasant moments don’t last forever and they’re simply one of the ten thousand joys we’ll experience, it gives us the opportunity to savour the present more!
If anything, it’s simply a reminder of the truth. However, it’s not a depressing one when we come to understand that when one joy ends, it means another will come again! If I worry that the happiness is leaving, then I’m only adding to the extra sadness that I’m going to experience. It’s a funny little paradox.
“I’ll enjoy this experience while it lasts, knowing that, like all phenomena, it will pass and another experience will take its place”
Calm in the unpleasant
Now, this is more difficult.
Tough emotions tend to bring out sadness, fear or anger. All of these emotions have the uncanny ability to pull us into the darkness they create and keep us there. While we remember that these emotions will change and leave, it still seems hard to keep ourselves out of its gravitational pull.
However, in order to explore your emotions, you will first need to have some kind of calm and the ability to look inwards.
The main thing to realize is that the emotion won’t going to last forever. It never does.
How to stay Calm during pleasant and unpleasant experiences
This is tough stuff. To start our practice, we can begin with meditation and a few personal sayings. (Click here if you want a short beginners guide to meditation.)
Sit down with some alertness. If it’s more comfortable, lie down.
Asking yourself “what emotions am I experiencing right now?”
Then describe it neutrally. If you’re angry, try saying “Anger is present”. If you’re sad, try saying “sadness is being experienced”. If you’re happy, try “Happiness is in the air”.
Whatever it is, your aim while meditating isn’t to solve anything.
While we meditate, we want to acknowledge how we’re feeling and simply experience it. If you find your mind running away again (because that’s what minds do), calmly bring yourself back to the moment and see what happens.
If we go in with no expectations, then it’s going to make the entire process smoother. If we go in with expectations that we’re going to screw up or that we’re going to come out an enlightened person, we’ll only be disappointed.
This releases us from the burden of trying to keep sadness from ever infiltrating our lives and from straining our best to keep happiness from leaving. They both leave. They’ll both return at some point.
2. Utilise Positive Self-talk
Meditation is like practising before kick-off. What about when we become angry or sad, what do we do then?
- Describe emotions neutrally.
Like mentioned above: Take yourself out of the equation and just describe the emotion. This removes the force that personal attachment has when thinking about how we feel.
“I am sad” -> “sadness is happening”
“I am in pain” -> “pain is present”
“I’m really happy” -> “happiness is in the air”
2. Acknowledge ups and downs come and go.
A common theme recently – emotions come and go. To remind us of this, we can say the following:
- “May we accept with grace both our successes and disappointments”
- “This is only one of the ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows”
- “We can experience things without needing to fix them”
- “Let’s not get lost in this moment but engage with it meaningfully”
Talking in terms of “we” rather than “I” helps reinforce the idea that I can talk to myself as though I am my friend. It’s worthwhile.
Equanimity is a small practice on the face of it but also remarkably difficult. It’s not something I have down completely but I can thank myself for the small times when I do manage to get it done because it helps me enjoy happier moments and not add suffering to the times I’m in a lot of pain or remarkably tired.
Some days it’ll go well, some days it’ll suck. Other days we’ll forget about it completely. We don’t hate ourselves for these fluctuations in progress. We treat these realizations with calm then move on. With time and practice, it becomes easier.
We’ll appreciate more that we’re simply a working draft with flaws, mistakes, sorrows, and joys.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
How do you remain calm during difficult times?
Comment down below :)