Equanimity

I learnt this word when I stared using a mediation app called Calm towards the end of last year. It’s since become one of my favourite words and one I think everyone should have in their vocabulary. 

If you Google the word the definition that comes up is “Calmness and composure especially in a difficult situation” 

Or according to Wikipedia a slightly more elaborate definition: 

Equanimity (Latin: æquanimitas, having an even mind; aequus even; animus mind/soul) is 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.

The year has begun tremulous for many. Uncertainty over global events like Brexit, geopolitical instability, the rise of populism, climate change, and now COVID-19 virus bringing many economies to a halt and affecting the economics of many businesses and households. 

On top of that social media and the ever increasing influx of information in front of us and digital stimuli puts us more out of balance and reduces our focus and headspace.

Yet it’s in times like these where we all need to seek and find equanimity. Maintaining calm and composure is the only way to think with logic, act rationally and make sensible decisions, unemotionally, with toughness yet humility, and unwavering conviction. It’s the only way to weather a storm. 

Without equanimity our cerebrum – often referred to as the ‘CEO of the brain’ responsible for making logical decisions – shuts down and our limbic system – often called our emotional brain – takes over. The Limbic system operates on emotion and instinct not logic, and while it has a crucial part to play in survival (it is after all what every animal outside of humans exclusively operated on) it’s de facto wired to see the world negatively and fearfully  as that has more evolutionary chances of ensurIng survival. Seeing the world under a rosy lens may ensure more happiness but doesn’t necessarily ensure survival. 

In other words: panic. When we operate outside of that balance between logic and emotion we are in flight or fight mode. We make knee jerk reactions. We erupt and react emotionally. We are in jungle territory survival mode. Nothing good comes out of panic.

Paradoxically in a world constructed and operating on logical principles this dramatically reduces our chances of survival in today’s world. If you’re not thinking with logic and composure, whether it’s a business you run or a household or a country, you’re dramatically reducing your chances of survival 

Which is why maintaining equanimity is paramount especially in volatile and tough times. It’s the ultimate  test of true leadership. Everyone’s a great leader when things are rosy. It’s only when the tide goes out when we see whose swimming naked. 

I’ve found three daily habits help me maintain equanimity more than any. Other than starting with acknowledgment of what it is and realising it’s importance 

  1. Meditation

I’ve started meditating last year and since then do it every day religiously. First using various apps like Headspace and Calm (both very good) but then I did a course in TM (transcendental meditation) which I’ve found life changing. I used to be one of those guys who laughed when hearing people say that it’s life changing. Then I did it and now I’m one of them. It truly is. 

Meditation is ultimately training of the mind. Most of us acknowledge the importance of working out, training our body and staying healthy. Very few people would doubt that training your muscles has multiple benefits both physically and emotionally. So if we accept that as a truism, why would we not accept that the same holds true for your brain? It is after all another muscle and the most important one we have. 

Meditation is training your mind to control your thoughts and emotions. But it’s also finding stillness and quiet. It’s emptying the mind from the over-information we get bombarded with, the clutter and the noise. It’s like the release of toxins from your muscles when you work out. It’s a cleansing process of the brain. That’s what gives us fresh headspace to think clearly and fresh. With composure and equanimity. 

There are various kinds of meditation, I’ve dabbled at a few of them. TM in particular is a natural and unforced type of meditation that trains your mind to go from conscious thoughts (often pictured as the waves at the surface of the ocean), to finer and finer finer thoughts as you sink deeper in that ocean, until you eventually reach pure consciousness. No thoughts, just undisturbed consciousness. The bottom of the ocean. This is the origin of thought, the source of our intelligence, and much like in that analogy, you can’t go straight down to the bottom of the ocean, thoughts pop in your head and kick you back up a bit, then you sink a little further and further in zig-zag fashion till you reach the bottom. You transcend from one state to the other in oscillating fashion because you cannot prevent thoughts popping in your mind for ever. Hence transcendental. 

That process puts you into a better state of equanimity. If done consistently. It’s the only time you are truly present. There’s also a more biological explanation to why you think better. Alpha 1 waves are generated in your brain (alpha waves are what are generated during sleep and are responsible for the repair  of the mind and body) which make all the parts of your brain work better together. So your creative side, your logical brain, your emotional brain start working more in sync. Which is why people attest to getting some of their most creative ideas while meditating (I’m one of them). 

2. Training

The second habit is training your body. This I’ve been doing this far longer than meditation but meditation actually helps your training too because when the mind relaxes the body relaxes. In fact with TM it’s been proven that you can get into a state of deep rest, deeper than even sleep (this is to do with the difference between alpha 1 waves which you get in your brain during TM versus alpha waves during sleep). Which is why meditation gives you more energy. 

Training regularly I’ve found has similar benefits but like I say above complementary. The release of endorphins and heightened testosterone levels in your body puts you in a happier more positive state, akin to taking morphine. 

I find this particularly true when you’re doing something that puts you in a state of ‘flow’. Where you have to focus on exactly that thing and nothing else – like climbing or martial arts. I do boxing everyday and it takes my mind off the daily clutter: if you lose focus and your mind wanders you get hit in the face. Simple. Being in that state of focus and flow, ‘in the zone’ as they say, improves your state of equanimity. 

3. Intermittent Fasting & Ketogenic diet

The third habit that’s helped me is intermittent fasting and following a ketogenic diet. I’ve started fasting about 3 years ago initially to lose body fat (which it’s helped me do very rapidly). But since then, even when trying to put on more weight in fact, I still maintain it and do it daily because of the mental stimulus, clarity of thinking it gives you and calmness. Equanimity.

Plus multiple other benefits like a much stronger immune system and healthier organs all throughout due to the effects of autophagy (a greek word for ‘self-eating’). In essence autophagy kicks in after 12 hours of being in a fasted state, whereby your stronger cells start eating the weaker ones, therefore regenerating your organs. Your skin, hair, nails starts looking better and even chronic illnesses or symptoms (like dermatitis or eczema) go away.

When you fast you put your body into a state of ketosis (and the fastest way to get into that state is to do a high intensity training (HIT) session in fasted state – something I do daily and swear by). There’s a lot of debate and controversy around the different diets and their benefits (a lot of it being influenced by the industries that profit from their derivative benefits and the products they sell) … but for me to declutter that noise and get to the essence of it one needs to examine the pure biology behind it. 

The pure fact of the matter is that our natural state of being is ketosis. Your body and mind will either burn glucose for fuel or ketones. We are designed as animals who in nature feed very intermittently, often going days or weeks without food (in fact the Nile crocodile which is one of the most evolved animal on the planet at the top of the food chain and with one of the longest life spans. feeds once a year!) . And when they eat they don’t inject themselves with the carbs and sugary crap we eat today (which have led to the biggest killer diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even strokes). Cheese cake doesn’t grow on trees. Neither does pasta or pizza. Sugar is the biggest killer in America today – an often forgotten fact. And it’s more addictive than cocaine. Because we weren’t designed for it as animals. Simple. We are designed – as hunter gathers – to eat lean food high in protein, fats and fiber. Which is exactly what a keto diet prescribes. 

And for the sceptics who say we’ve changed since then, check your facts again. Our DNA is exactly the same today since the last mutation from Homo Erectus to Home Sapiens i.e. humans. Its our lifestyle thats changed not our genetic makup.

So when we eat a keto diet that consistently your body goes back to its natural state it’s been designed for. Your liver produces ketones, your body and brain uses those ketones instead of glucose as a source of energy. As a side benefit, to produce ketones your liver uses fatty acids (since glucose is absent) so in fact it’s burning fat to make ketones which is why a keto diet is also great for maintaining low body fat, or losing fat in the first instance.

Again biologically one can’t dispute the benefits of brain activity when operating on ketones versus glucose. Your brain is sharper, quicker and your thinking clearer. You avoid the surges – the peaks and troughs in energy levels – created by the changing levels of insulin in your body which in turn are triggered when your glucose levels fluctuate i.e. when you consume carbs. When you’re in ketosis your energy levels are constant. You don’t have sugar rushes as we call them. This helps composure, focus and, again – more equanimity.

There are probably other habits I can cite like doing something creative every day. Like keeping a journal and dumping your thoughts just for you (a habit I’ve also got addicted to as again it clears your head and gives you more equanimity). Or painting or cooking a new dish you’ve just imagined in your head (and hopefully is edible). 

Connecting with nature is another. I write this while I’m in front of the fireplace in the gorgeous soho farmhouse where I come regularly to get out of the city (and corona virus these days). Again its going back to our roots. We were designed to be in nature not in brick cities. Which is why many people attest (I’m one of them) to getting instant relaxation when they’re connecting with nature. Fire, water, fresh air, the earth, trees, animal and the sun (not much of the latter here but the fire compensates)

And lastly connecting with people. But in a deep and proper way, unlike the superficial connections that surround us in daily city life. These are connections that are just on the surface. They’re not true and deep connections. They are – if anything – more of that noise and clutter that we need to remove to find more equanimity. 

Wishing you all to seek and find more equanimity in these troubled times. 

Pythagora’s Boxer. Oil on canvas.

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