A Common misconception about equanimity and non-attachment to thoughts, sensations, etc… from Newsletter Issue #10
In meditation it is taught to observe thoughts impersonally - meaning the present thought(s) is not my thought. The meaning of an impersonal phenomenon is that there is no me, my, or I involved. Essentially one re-identifies as the consciousness having the thoughts rather than identifying with the thoughts. This can sound strange to the ear (as it did for myself) because we have been taught to identify with what we do and even what we think. However, there is a major difference between what you choose to think about and what you think of (as discussed further in my interview with Rabbi Shais Taub).
A common misconception of equanimity, which is observing thoughts and sensations objectively, is that the observer does not assume responsibility. On the contrary, equanimity actually compliments personal responsibility because of the approach the person then exercises. The attachment and identification to external things can actually interrupt an effective action or decision. When we react to things internally (thoughts or sensations) or externally (events or circumstances) we act out of survival, feeling threatened -even to a small degree - by that particular thing. Of course, to react is not a bad thing - most of us do it often. The focus is to shorten the time between the reaction and when we get over it and return to our optimal state of being - gratitude, joy, presence. By maintaining a state of equanimity we can remain mentally calm towards the things in our life, such as thoughts. To illustrate the difference:
Whereas one who reacts personally would label a thought as good or bad, one who exercises equanimity observes a thought as pleasant or unpleasant.
In short, equanimity reduces the person’s subjective interpretation as much as possible which allows for healing and coherence to occur. This is taking effective responsibility because in terms of things internally, it allows the observer to detach from the thought or sensation and thus think clearly. Instead of resisting the thought, it allows it to arise and pass away on its own like a cloud or car passing by. It holds true for external situations as well. Rather than feeling frustrated toward an unexpected situation (a rude comment from someone), equanimity knows there’s a greater hand at work. By choosing to remain equanimous one understands who they are and how to respond effectively, which is also responsibly.
What’s an emotion or situation in your life that you can relabel from bad to unpleasant? Notice how it feels to no longer resist it but allow it space to be and then pass away on its own without needing it to go away.