One of my dear students, before I left Tacoma, gave me a book: Zen Shorts by Jon Muth. It has quickly become my favorite book, children’s or otherwise. We read it to Elden even though he is too young to absorb the content just yet, knowing that part of it is sinking in, but also knowing that the lessons contained within are so essential for us as well.
In one of the short stories, Stillwater the bear teaches a little boy about equanimity. Equanimity: mental composure, calmness, stability. I like to say it is the ability to not be shaken or stirred when things come up; to be able to see that everything is not good or bad, everything simply is. Very easily said, not so easily done.
Stillwater teaches this lesson through a story in which the main character, a farmer, despite those around him making judgements about the goodness or badness of happenings in his life, always responds with one simple word: maybe. When his son breaks his leg, they remark on how awful, what bad luck. He says maybe. When the government comes to enlist young men for the armed forces and his son is spared due to his leg injury they remark on how wonderful, what great luck. He says maybe. And so the story goes … the same exact happening or situation can be seen as awful one moment, wonderful the next, all in relation to everything else that happens. But the nature of the initial thing hasn’t changed, which shows that it was neither awful nor wonderful to being with. It simply was. A broken leg is a broken leg and that is all it is.
Again, easier to say and to know intellectually than to do and believe. So often throughout the day as things happen I catch myself immediately deciding if this is a good turn of events or a bad turn of events. As I move each day more fully into this role of Mother I am very aware of the danger of this thought pattern. The need to categorize everything as positive or negative can be very exhausting! With my limited capacity for clear thought these days, due to lack of sleep, why waste any of my precious brain power on categorizing things that will happen no matter which category I put them in? Especially since my idea about whether or not something is good or bad will certainly shift as the day wears on.
I want my son to have mental calmness and stability, equilibrium. I want him to be able to see the world and the happenings around him as things that simply are, that require no judgement. And I know that in order to teach him this, I must be demonstrating it through my own behavior. And so, this is what I am working on right now.
Am I succeeding? Maybe. Am I failing? Maybe. It all depends on the day and the moment, which is to say that I am neither succeeding nor failing; I simply am.