Group September 7th 2017

We began with a practice on equanimity based on one of Jack Kornfield's and Tara Brach's 'Mindfulness Daily' short practices, within the 'Present and Non-Reactive' section, which uses the repetition of the words 'may I live with a peaceful heart' to encourage a calm and open approach to the inevitable changes in our lives, including illness, separation and loss. Equanimity is one of the 'four immeasurables' or 'limitless ones' described in Buddhist teachings. In her 'Noble Heart' Pema Chödrön says how sometimes 'equanimity' is taught as a practice before 'loving kindnes's or 'compassion' and 'sympathetic joy' in order to lay the ground for a bigger perspective of what's possible, for instance, through the practice of loving kindness, melting distinctions between attraction and aversion, not getting stuck within reactive patterns. It's interesting how in the secular 'Mindfulness-Based Compassionate Living' programme, van den Brink and Koster describe these four qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity as 'Four Friends for Life', describing them as boundless 'because they are not restricted by the narrow perspective of our ego'. They continue that equanimity 'refers to an open-minded and warm-hearted state of mind .... the antidote to conceit, arrogance and overinvolvement, which means excessive identification with our attributes, possessions, views and opinions'. It's important to note this does not mean indifference or not caring, but rather gaining inner balance in order to respond more wisely and humanely to all that life throws at us!

Following enquiry around the practice and then broader discussion of our own mindfulness practices, we discussed the 'Tend and 'Befriend' reaction that is described in van den Brink and Koster as the 'fourth instinctive reaction to stress that evolved in mammals'. This is the protective, caring attitude towards offspring and vulnerable others, often displayed through social connectedness, especially evident in times of great danger (possibly seen in some recent world disasters) Although obviously helpful and even inspiring, van den Brink and Koster describe how such a reaction can become excessive, leading to over-protectiveness, followed by exhaustion and the ignoring of one's own needs. Compassion, or empathy fatigue, brings its own cycle of imbalance and alienation.

We closed with a short personal practice/reflection on equanimity.