In Cultivating the Spirit, a longitudinal study published in 2010, Astin & Astin described some of the critical unnamed or unreported characteristics about spiritual development among college-aged students. One of the most salient pieces in this work is a breakdown of equanimity, a trait found in students with a positive spiritual framework. According to Astin & Astin, equanimity measures the extent to which someone
- is able to find meaning in times of hardship,
- feels at peace or is centered,
- sees each day as a gift,
- and feels good about the direction of her life.
At first glance, some of these bullet points are seemingly unrelated. Why does finding meaning in pain have anything to do with my spiritual life purpose? Well, hennies, it has everything to do with it, as all four of these bullets represent a common thread of response to life circumstances, especially stressful ones. For example, a person who can grow from a shitty life experience is the same person who is going to express gratitude even on shitty days when gratitude seems irrelevant. The same person who feels peaceful on a typical day will do so because they see the inherent value in living.
Equanimity is not an all-or-nothing concept. Of course, if a negative life circumstance were to occur, it would only be human for someone to have an immediate negative reaction. However, equanimity does not describe an immediate response; it describes a sustained response. Ten minutes after I experienced my horrific police interaction this winter, “finding meaning in times of hardship” was not at the top of my priority list. I was mad and not looking to find compassion for the other driver or the cop. After a few days, however, I began to understand the spiritual lesson in this shitstorm of an incident, which sustained my mental health because I believed there was a reason it happened.
Living this concept is hard. How many of us generate positive energy from genuinely feeling good about the direction of our lives? After a bad day, week, or month at work, or after a breakup, or after a divorce, or after illness, for example, it might also seem natural to view our lives with less optimism because dealing with shit is hard. But how many of us will hold the dual truths that life is hard right now and that we are still on a positive trajectory? Are we brave enough to accept such complexity that helps us treat outlying incidents as outliers, or do we lose sight of our peace by letting every wall of our lives crumble to pieces when only one of them needed mending?
This concept has true consequences. People who practice equanimity are the ones who find themselves in the rhythm and flow of the universe’s energy, often manifesting their desires more quickly due to their positivity, optimism, trust, and gratitude. If you think that positivity, optimism, trust, and gratitude are childish, unnecessary, or ineffective, you should reconsider whether you actually identify as spiritual. To be critical of positivity is to be trapped in the crumbling house of negativity that has gotten you nowhere. Charise and I used to spend much of our lives hiding in the basement of the “FUCK-MY-LIFE” house, and it was only when we stepped outside to see the light of day that our worlds started to move.
Which of these four bullets are the most natural to you? Which do you need more growth in cultivating? Now that you are focused on these areas, watch for opportunities to present themselves in the coming days. The universe will offer you tests to increase your equanimity as long as you are open to being tested–and passing.