Clear-seeing and Equanimity
In general, we’re a very stubborn people.
We host lots of bold opinions; we often become immovable in our beliefs.
It’s not much of a surprise considering we spend our lives looking for answers: accumulating information, educating ourselves and creating theories intending to gain understanding. We read books, perform tests, investigate and analyze to find answers to help us better relate to and comprehend the workings of the world. However, all of our experience and education can create a fog over reality and cloud our judgement.
Your understanding can distort your view of reality.
While you probably think your knowledge opens doors to enlightenment, it can frequently do just the opposite. It closes you into a very small concrete concept, and shuts you down from embracing other information or opportunity. When you experience the world or an event through the preset cognizance of your mind’s eyes, it affects your ability to see clearly what is right in front of you. Rather than simply experiencing something, raw and honest, you have to fight with your existing theories and opinions. You are blinded by perception and prejudice. And because you mistake it as knowing, you don’t even see your own misperception or prejudice when it shows up. A lifetime of researching, theorizing and fact-hunting causes you to go numb to your own biases. They exist, but they're automated, unconscious and unseen.
In Buddhism, this fogged perception is called avidya. Avidya is the culprit to most of your neurosis, your anxiety, your obsession and your anger. It happens when you cling too tightly to what you think you know. Your mind’s perception of a person, place, matter, subject obscures the actuality of it.
It’s opposite, vidya, would be the ability to see clearly. Vidya requires you to drop what you know and stay open to the nakedness of the experience. You take in an experience, any experience, and drop any conclusions that come along with it. Observe without evaluating.
Avidya and Illusion
When I first read about the concept of avidya, it blasted open all of the doors I didn’t even realize I had shut up all around me. I finally saw my own self-deception, animosity, resentment. I realized that it was me, not others, who brought up this hostility. My own mind was tricking me.
You may not even realize that you spend much of your day assessing and analyzing and critiquing everything and everyone around you. It’s certainly challenging to stay open and undecided as you take in an experience because your mind instinctively wants to evaluate it or compare it to a memory or existing understanding.
Take just one day to notice how much time you spend in conversation with yourself, analyzing and assessing a situation or person or idea. Recognize how quick you are to criticize. Be aware when your mind jumps to judgement.
Know that all of these calculations and opinions are illusions of your mind.
You make decisions about a person, place, matter, subject, whatever based on direct or indirect interactions. These opinions are based on your perception of what’s good or bad, right or wrong, fun or boring. Further, they affect your future interactions with the given subject. Don’t doubt your ability to judge and make assumptions-and those assumptions will linger.
Of course, you may be just as quick to change your mind as you were to decide. You hate someone for years only to become great friends later in life. You think you don’t like golfing because you think it’s too boring, only to play once and fall in love with the game. Our perceptions can often blind us to the reality of them.
Vidya and Clear-seeing
Clear-seeing is a practice. It calls for compassion and kindness with yourself and others. It requires you to be completely honest and open with yourself, catch yourself when you are evaluating or critiquing, and end the internal commentary without any excuses or exceptions for your behavior. It’s difficult to watch yourself this way, but acknowledging those dark corners of your mind is the only way to bring light to them.
Drop what you know. To truly see, you have to see through fresh eyes and a fresh mind. You have to fully immerse yourself in the present state and observe life free from preconceptions. Don’t base fresh experiences on stale perception. Just like stale bread, old opinions and impressions harden in your mind over time and become difficult to bite through. You get boxed in by your own understandings, and it makes it much harder for fresh air or new information to make its way to you. You grow hardened and stale and moldy. As your understandings harden you, you become defensive over them. You might be snappy toward politics or people or opposing views because they want to air out your staleness and shake off your mold-and that isn’t a very comfortable situation!
Acknowledging your own neurosis. You are most often your own worst enemy. No one else can affect the workings of your mind without you letting them through the gates. You are the keeper of your own mind. You guard what enters, what lingers, what manifests in your mind and life. So recognizing that you are the culprit to your own emotions, anxieties, obsessions and embarrassment is a hugely important step the clear-seeing.
How often do you catch yourself thinking about something that happened yesterday, last week, last month - wishing you had said this or done that or kicking yourself for what you let slip? Do you assume the intentions behind someone else’s words or actions? Do you often speculate what someone else is thinking of you or of anything?
The more you think about it, the more elaborate your story becomes. You come up with every possible meaning and theory, leave no rock unturned, instead of looking straight ahead at exactly what is. To clear the fog that veils what is right in front of you, you have to learn to see your own neurosis. You must intercept your story-telling and bring your attention back to reality. You cannot control others’ intention nor can you assume to understand. Take nothing personally and intend no harm.
Experiencing your emotions. Your emotions can clog your clear-seeing. When you get into a fight with someone, or you have a blissful experience, you feel it energetically. A feeling is a fleeting sensation, and it can only happen in the present moment. Emotions happen when your mind takes a feeling and attaches a story to it. Emotions are fueled by your internal dialogue. They are neither bad nor incorrect, but they hinder clear-seeing because they are based on perception (illusion). Next time you find yourself bottled in emotion, try dropping the issue and instead explore the energy without any commentary. Angry? Stop indulging in the angry banter in your head and get to know the feelings underneath it-the tension, the excitement, the insecurity. It’s a really efficient way to put out the fire.
In the words of Pema Chodron, “When we struggle against our energy, we reject the source of wisdom. Anger without the fixation is none other than clear-seeing wisdom. Pride without fixation is experienced as equanimity. The energy of passion when it’s free of grasping is wisdom that sees all the angles.”
You know that your mind can play tricks on you. Sometimes, you base reality on perception instead of present circumstance. It’s so important to cultivate clear-seeing because it helps you become less reactive and find equanimity.
Equanimity is the ability to keep truly calm and composed. It is your ability to remain even-tempered when confronted with even the most challenging of people or obstacles.
Different people probably provoke different reactions from you. You immediately put up your walls or open up based on previous experiences and preset ideas, even if they don’t match the present reality. This can happen with a lot of things: politics, religion, science, medicine, health, parenting, eating, life - you name it.
It’s easiest to see these reactions with people closest to us - family and friends. You know them well, and you probably see their quirks and customs better than they do. So it can be easy to get caught in the web of irritation. The way your brother chews; your neighbor who can’t help but talk about herself; your friend who can’t help but point out your flaws; your opinionated aunt; your righteous cousin; the one-upper; the belitter; the self-depricater; the liar; the over-enthusiastic - the list goes on. Sometimes, just thinking about it can make you heated. Over and over again, you face the patterns of behavior displayed by those around you. Over and over again, they elicit a response.
To cultivate equanimity in all situations, you must be willing to expose yourself over and over again to those things that make you uncomfortable, irritated and unstable.
Only when you have experienced the heat of the fire, can you understand the power of the flames. You have to experience your own edginess to be able to distinguish it.
I have a friend who was very opinionated. My friend had very different views and carried a very different experience than I did.I was easily agitated by my friend, even if they did not say or do anything offensive-because in my mind I was anticipating based on prior experience. The rigidity of this person’s beliefs and ideas were so strong that I found it made me harden when they came around. I was quick to put up walls or oppose my friend. I rarely slowed down or shifted gears to understand my friend’s point of view because I was already fighting the battle in my mind. Then, I thought maybe distancing myself was the best way to go, but that only made it worse when we did see each other. So I tried something else. I submitted myself over and over again to my friend's presence. I went in fully prepared to practice. And I did practice. I practiced catching myself when I grew defensive or hostile. I tried to understand instead of immediately reject. To this day, I feel the tension build sometimes when my friend is around. I still so often find myself opposing or analyzing my friend's views and presence. But it no longer hardens me.
We all have understandings and we all have ignorance. It’s necessary to remember this with people we find difficult.
Like everything else, it's a practice. Can you continue to expose yourself to the things that make you rigid and irritated? Can you allow them to soften you instead of harden your heart. Stay open, stay present.