The Most Important Word You Don't Know

Every day, we all are confronted with situations that have the potential to unhinge us and render us temporarily crazed in the heat of the moment... 

Like driving your daughter twenty miles down the coast highway to her ballet class, only to discover that it was canceled without warning or notification; or realizing your son just pooped in the last clean diaper you had available while you are miles from either a store that sells them or your home where you have a case of them; or discovering your three-year-old just emptied the new tube of safe to swallow toddler toothpaste into his mouth like it was a fruit squeeze, without a toothbrush in sight.

Yes, we all have our challenges. Often times we find it difficult to refrain from adversely and visibly reacting to the negative things that happen to us; and old habit patterns will get the best of us. It's sometimes so hard to help ourselves... we're pissed and everyone around us has got to know it. 

Why shouldn't we let out the anger, frustration and hostility manifesting inside us? It's natural, right?

Not exactly.

Even though indulging deliberately in these thoughts and feelings seems to briefly relieve stress, this practice can cause even more stress, pain and misery in the long run. Since stress is the number one underlying factor in the onset of disease in our bodies, there is a very real possibility that these negative reactions could literally kill you.

So what's the alternative? What can we do instead?

We can find our equanimity. Equanimity just might be the most important word for us to know; yet most people have not heard it before. 

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I was first introduced to the concept of equanimity by my yoga instructor of many years, Bryan Kest. He aptly describes equanimity as "the ability to keep your mind balanced through the vicissitudes of your life." In the context of a yoga class, it's the quality or a state of calmness and non-reactiveness you strive to achieve in the face of difficulty while attempting to keep your mind focused and move through a series of physical poses that may be challenging. Bryan asserts that consistently striving to maintain this quality in your yoga practice can help you do the same in your every day life.

Yet equanimity is not an esoteric idea reserved just for yogis. Even if you don't practice yoga, the concept of equanimity is equally viable and vital to your health and wellbeing. It is a universal concept, one whose literal definition is "mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation... a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind."

More succinctly put, equanimity is being ok with "what is".

Simple concept, not so simple execution. As a wife, a mother, a human... I find my life is full of challenging situations - some days more than others, but it seems every day has at least one hurdle to clear, even if it originates from within. In the past and still sometimes presently, when not mindful, I have allowed and will allow these obstacles to take me over and get the best of me, stealing away my calmness and often, what feels like my sanity. 

But in those times that I am able to tune in and defeat the ingrained habit patterns of the past, I can hone in on what is best for me and others in that moment, and am left better equipped to react (or rather, not react) to the situation at hand. Then, I am free to simply choose a perspective. The goal being to find the one that I can live the most peacefully with and that most benefits not only those involved, but also my overall health and welfare.

After all, isn’t everything just perspective? Aren’t all things that happen to us viewed and handled by us in our own individual and unique way according to our personal history and experiences? So why not strive to choose the perspective that uplifts you and maintains the peace rather than depresses you and breeds conflict?

How we simply deal with it (with setbacks, disappointments, and toddlers run amuck) sets us apart and maps the course for our overall health, happiness and well-being. I know that trying to maintain a calm and balanced mind through the turmoil and mess of motherhood is a worthy venture, and really quite helpful when you've just discovered your toddler has taken a red ink stamp to your ivory suede bedroom curtains.

The choice is ours, always, to adopt the approach and attitude that will keep us calm and help us to carry on. We just need to be strong enough, mindful enough, and equanimous enough to remember to choose it. When I do succeed in making the right choice, it is the most empowering feeling in the world. In that moment, I am the mom I've always wanted to be.

So in that spirit, I'm gonna adopt an alternate perspective on my three-year-old’s love for sucking down his toddler toothpaste (or biting off chunks of sunblock stick, or chewing on chalk and crayons, or eating handfuls of sand at the beach). It is the choice of acceptance. Acceptance of his penchant for unusual and interesting tastes and textures. Who knows, maybe it's the beginning of an adventurous and sophisticated palate taking root at an early age. Let's hope.

I also will choose to be mindful and keep my calm the next time my son ingests one of these foreign, non-food substances; and remind myself that he is growing and changing every day and this will soon all be over. As for now, just breathe, smile, and accept what is.