Fitness Magazine

It's Complicated: Moving Toward Equanimity

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Beth
It's Complicated: Moving Toward Equanimity“It’s complicated.” That was our tour guide speaking from the front of the bus as it rumbled toward La Habana (Havana). She was describing the history, politics, and economics of Cuba. On day one of my 10-day cultural trip to Cuba with Global Arts/Media, I learned that in spite of certain guarantees from the Cuban government—free housing, education, health care and a monthly ration of food for each family—life is hard. Living in poverty is a daily reality for many Cubans, who supplement their meager salaries by selling whatever they can offer. Many simply beg and American tourists are the new target audience. 

When approached by Cubans selling books, CDs, caricature sketches, or food, or simply asking directly for money, our guide informed us that the appropriate response for refusal was “No, gracias,” and that we could expect to repeat that phrase many times as once would not be enough for those who wanted our dollars or CUCs (special tourist pesos). How true that turned out to be.Dealing with the street vendors was easy. Because there was a concrete exchange involved, my answer always came after a few seconds of conscious thought. Dealing with begging was different. I’d seen examples of begging on television travel shows but I’d never experienced it up close and personal. Before leaving on this trip, I did what I do every December, sifting through the pile of solicitation letters from non-profit organizations and writing out checks to those that help feed, clothe, provide medical care for the poor and help children. But give money to people who walked up, looked me in the eye and asked for money directly with an open expectant hand? That was unnerving and I said, “No, gracias.” As an introvert, I felt really uncomfortable. And that feeling was later complicated by an emotional residue of guilt and “maybe I should have.” Then two things happened. I was standing outside Artisano Cubanos, an artists’ collective, looking at my purchases, a necklace and a beautiful hand carved box with an OM symbol on the lid. I heard two sounds, a tapping and a clinking. When I looked up, I saw him. His blind eyes were filmed over and unblinking. The cane in his left hand tapped the cobblestones. His right hand shook a can with coins in it. He made his way carefully past me and continued down Obispo Street. Immediately, without a single conscious thought, I wove my way through the throng of tourists and locals to drop a handful of coins into his can. “Gracias,” he said.“Por nada,” I replied.The next day, again, spontaneously, without a conscious thought, I gave money to a one-legged man in a wheelchair who silently held out his hat as he sat by the fence at Plaza de Armas where our tour bus dropped us off. Back home the phrase, “It’s complicated” filled most of my mind time. After thinking, mulling, and pondering for a couple of weeks I came up with three questions I wanted to answer in order to put my experience with begging in a context that would allow me to find some measure of peace with the emotional residue of guilt and “maybe I should have.” 1. Why was I so focused on this aspect of the trip as opposed to the artists and musicians I met and the culture I experienced?This answer to this one was, thankfully, uncomplicated and twofold. First, I needed to understand the “why” behind my emotional response to direct begging. And, second, at this stage of life being free-tired,’ (I prefer the word “free-tired” to “retired”), I find myself blessed with time and a strong inclination to ponder how best to apply the tools of yoga to healthy aging. ,2. What factors, conscious and unconscious, influenced my responses? Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is my first go-to source for insight. I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I started from the beginning. My plan was to go one by one until I found what I was looking for. Turns out I didn’t have to go very far. I hit pay dirt at 1.7. I used The Unadorned Thread of Yoga (Salvatore Sambita) to survey 12 translations and then turned to the translation and commentary by I. K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga, which states: (Facts of) right knowledge (are based on) direct cognition, inference or testimony. My observation of the two men I gave money to offered direct cognition of their situation. One was clearly blind. If he had worn sunglasses, I might not have been able to deduce that fact. The other clearly had one leg. They did not directly ask for money so my “discomfort button” did not get pushed.The other begging situations felt complicated. Although I had some general background on poverty in Cuba, I could not determine from observation or inference what their personal stories might have been, and since I did not speak the language, first-hand testimony was not possible. And as an introvert, I would not have asked.3. Did I respond appropriately from a yogic perspective?This one got really complicated for me. It took more thinking, pondering, and reflecting until I had my answer. In Sutra 1.33, I. K. Taimni states: The mind becomes clarified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference respectively toward happiness, misery, virtue and vice.The word "indifference" threw me. It can be so easily misconstrued as apathy or not caring, so I checked some of the other translations and chose the one by Georg Feuerstein: The projection of friendliness, compassion, gladness and equanimity towards objects – [be they] joyful, sorrowful, meritorious or demeritorious – [bring about] the pacification of consciousness. The word "equanimity" felt right. It means mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain. My experience with the blind man and the man with one leg was peaceful. My response was immediate—there was no emotional charge, positive or negative. Equanimity was present. Even though I felt compassion toward those who asked directly for money, I did not experience equanimity, as my discomfort and the emotional residue of guilt and “maybe I should have” clearly demonstrated. I reacted instead of responding. If equanimity had been present, no matter my choice of action, there would not have been that strong emotional charge. This was the Aha! moment that uncomplicated my confusion and discomfort, and raised two more questions. How does one respond to both perceived joy and suffering with equanimity? Is it possible to experience life’s ups and downs in this five-senses material world without emotional charges, positive or negative? The answers, for me and for many of us, are both complicated and uncomplicated. It can feel complicated when we first confront and grapple with the concept of equanimity. It’s less complicated if we practice svadhyaya (self-study) and reach a point of understanding. It slowly becomes uncomplicated when that understanding filters through body, breath, and mind as we practice equanimity using the wisdom and tools of yoga. So, it looks like I have my work cut out for me. It’s been six weeks of thinking, mulling, and contemplation. With this new awareness I can begin practicing. I am sure that it will be a long slog. I will, no doubt, take one step forward and two steps back, and then repeat the process over and over again. The concept of equanimity is now “top of mind,” and will be a new aspect of my yoga practice, from asana to meditation. Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

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