Monday over Coffee: Equanimity

Need a Word of Encouragement?


Equanimity

“The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
— John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I

"For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." 
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

"Shut up, brain, or I'll stab you with a Q-tip!”
— Homer Simpson

I suspect Shakespeare and Milton are right. How we think about and consider our experience within our minds makes all the difference. We hear we should ground ourselves in gratitude. We should meditate, be still, reframing events in our lives to see the bigger picture, find balance, peace, calm, all the while funneling our energy into the good and noble. I know this.

But, unfortunately, more often, I’m Homer. My mind ponders upon things on its own whether I like it or not, and my feelings are even worse. I feel what I feel until I don’t feel it anymore. I can’t stop it. I get caught in a loop. I get stuck.

Jesus tells us, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” He’s wisely encouraging us to live each day in the present, trusting that God loves us. But as much as I try, I’m not wired to be a ‘now’ person and further, the way He puts it, tomorrow doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a picnic either. And with a pandemic, this confinement, and no solid timeline ahead, how can I be expected to stop my mind from running and worrying? Just give me the Q-tip.

Dr. Molly Colvin is an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. In a recent online article, she writes about the ‘fight or flight’ mode our brains enter under acute stress. From an evolutionary standpoint, this works superbly to avoid predators, but when the stress we face is more chronic in nature, as it is now, things become more problematic.

Chronic stress, she says, leads our brains into a fog, but she hastens to add that, while frustrating, this brain fog may actually be a good thing. It’s a signal, that what we are experiencing is abnormal. It prevents us from taking on too much or from trying to move too fast in uncertain times. “The fog,” Colvin writes, “forces our hands and minds to be still so that fear, grief, and sadness may visit.”

I once heard a preacher say, if we find ourselves in a time of tribulation, then we best start “tribulatin’.” That is to say, as Colvin herself does, when we’re under chronic stress, we must make time and space to process our emotions. Then we should stay patient with ourselves, allowing our foggy, racing minds to absorb it all, indeed, as Christ urges, resting in and trusting in God’s care.

Ancient Christians called this aequanimitas. Equanimity — that evenness of temper, that sense of composure, that balanced temperament we all want and need to face the day well. At the very least, equanimity probably involves first gaining a better understanding about the signals our minds and bodies are sending us. It also requires us to listen to them.


As you pray the prayer below, perhaps picture yourself sitting in the fog in a forest, by a lake, or in a city park. Just rest there until it clears, until it lifts.

God —

 

Help me to slow down, to find a moment of solitude, and to rest my racing mind. In this moment, as I hit the pause button, as I breathe deeply, bestow upon me a glimpse of clarity in my bustling consciousness to identify the fear, the grief, the sadness, the uncertainty that is there, and to just sit with it all for awhile. Let me think upon it, considering its sources, considering the fleeting nature of all of it. God, I now lift all this before You, just holding it all still before You. God, work on this with me.

Let me find equanimity, based on the trust I have in Your love for me, a love that created me, a love which died for me, a love that now bestows upon me this blessing. Clear the fog. Let my mind rest until I hear Your voice speak: “Rise, let us be on our way.”

Amen.

—Greg Funderburk


Subscribe to the SMBC Blog