Equanimity is an important concept in mindfulness practice and cultivating equanimity can be a primary benefit of a regular meditation practice. Equanimity is a mindset that reflects the capacity to take life as it comes, and not become caught up in anything that happens to us. It gives us a sense of balance and the perspective to ride the highs and lows in life. It gives us the insight to realize that most of the things we consider to be “bad” in our daily lives, aren’t really all that bad. Harder for us to accept is the idea that the “good” things won’t last forever, but that’s the other side of the equanimity coin. An equanimous mind accepts the transience of all things – thoughts, emotions, and physical states, and when we see the world through the lens of equanimity, we develop the capacity to skillfully navigate life’s hills and valleys. To oversimplify, consider the famous cliché, “Don’t sweat the small stuff…It’s all small stuff!”
Before I continue, let me make clear that none of the ideas that I’m about to present here are appropriate advice for a person who is experiencing significant trauma. You should never tell someone who is experiencing the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the victim of any kind of violence, for example, that “It’s all small stuff” or “All things must pass.” Through meditation, however, you can learn to differentiate between the petty annoyances of life and real trauma. Events like traffic jams, communication problems, and the performance of your favorite sports teams (or choirs) are not at the same level as death, violence, and destruction.
About a month ago, I conducted my first performance of the semester in my new position at Shepherd University. By all accounts, the performance was a resounding success and I felt good about the progress the ensembles made in our short time together. There were plenty of handshakes, smiles, and compliments following the performance. I received some congratulatory texts from friends, and after striking the performance space, I bought myself a milkshake and headed home to bed. Far from being a stoic practitioner of mindfulness and meditation, I felt and enjoyed all the positive emotions associated with completing an excellent performance.
Getting to bed early was important because on the next day I was scheduled to attend a reunion of the South Dakota State University Statesmen, a group I conducted for nearly ten years. Due to my concert at Shepherd being the night prior, I had already missed the banquet and a performance with the Statesmen, but I found an early flight from DC and was confident that I could be in South Dakota in time to at least visit with some of the alumni and to conduct the National Anthem at the afternoon football game. I was honored to have my past work with the group recognized and was looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect with so many people from my time at SDSU.
It’s a little over an hour’s drive from my cabin in West Virginia to Washington National Airport. After the concert, I slept for about three hours, packed, and left my house at 3am to make my 6am flight. About twenty miles from the airport, I saw some flashing lights, noticed that the traffic was stopped, and soon was in the middle of a complete standstill. No one was moving. Soon after I stopped, ambulances started arriving, then more police cars, then tow trucks. Checking my phone, I learned that there had been a multi-car accident about 250 feet from where I was stopped, and all the lanes of the road were blocked. After sitting still for about fifteen minutes, I decided to do my morning meditation. If all I could do was sit and wait, I may as well “sit” and wait.
After meditating for 15 minutes, the traffic still hadn’t moved, and I started to entertain the idea that I may not make my flight. I was bummed. I planned to go on to the airport once we got moving again and would explore my options in person with the airline agents. About 45 minutes later, now 1 hour and 15 minutes after I stopped, one lane of traffic was cleared, and I slowly started to make my way past the wreckage of twisted vehicles ahead of me. I made it to the airport, parked, and arrived at security clearance at 5:55am, obviously too late for a 6am departure. I visited with the ticketing agents, and we determined that there was no way they could get me to South Dakota for kickoff, so I grabbed a coffee and headed home. Still around 5am in South Dakota, I gave my friend a few more hours of sleep before I called him with the news of my cancellation.
These two events occurred less than 12 hours apart. A beautiful concert at a new job and a missed opportunity to reconnect with friends and former students. The “good” concert didn’t elevate my professional stature, nor did the “bad” travel situation sever my ties with my friends and alumni. And while I had a flight to cancel, a hotel to cancel, and now an open day to do as I pleased, I had enough perspective to understand that I wasn’t injured or killed in a car accident (an accident that was still being cleared 3 hours later when I was returning home from the airport).
As we enter a very busy season of performances, challenge yourself to see your work through the lens of equanimity. There are going to be long lines, traffic jams, and sick singers in your future. If you can learn not to get caught up in every little thing that comes your way, you may find that you have more energy for the things that DO matter to you.
Steve Grives, D.M.A., is a choral conductor, certified meditation teacher, and Visiting Professor of Music at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He can be reached with questions or comments through his email, . For further thoughts on mindfulness and some short, guided meditations listen to “Midweek Meditation” on “The Steve Grives Podcast” available on your preferred podcast platform or at https://anchor.fm/steve-grives