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Author of this essay:

Yao Xiang Shakya
(July 18, 2010)

You Are Free To Appreciate The Middle Way
by Yao Xiang Shakya

Upekkha, (equanimity) is the balanced response to joy and misery which protects one from emotional agitation.

-- Bhikkhu Bodhi, In The Buddha's Words

Many years ago I received an invitation which I accepted rather reluctantly. The invitation was to a five hour formal Japanese tea ceremony. At the time I was a dedicated student of the Japanese tea ceremony. One might think that a student would be delighted to receive an official invitation by her teacher to such an event; but I was halfhearted - and leaning towards the dread half. It was easy enough to know why, but my knowing why didn't ease my dismay.

In a formal tea ceremony each guest is served a series of Japanese food items which consists mostly of seaweed and fish. I did not like seaweed and I never ate fish or at least fish that hadn't been rolled in batter and deep fried. This fish would taste fishy and I was simply worried that I would not be able to swallow it. And in a formal tea ceremony there is no way to chuck the food to the family dog or even a polite way to abandon it on the plate. One was expected to eat it. It was a gift to the guests and offered with great care. Yet, I was unable to appreciate the idea of eating the offering of salty, pickled fish. The more I imagined the fish the more agitated I became. The more I thought about eating it in a room where no one moved - not even to use the restroom - the more I felt trapped, ensnared by my own worries.

It may seem like a small thing, perhaps even trivial, but it was not a small thing to someone who is not awake. It's a big thing. It's a thing that disturbs the part of a human being that is called, "me." I was troubled. Some times I was frantic, and at other times I simply told myself "I am not going."

Needless to say, I did go and I ate the fish.

I didn't gag or try to disguise the taste or wave magical charms over it to shrink the size of it. When the fish was served I brought all my attention to the plate and opened myself to the experience. Pardon the pun, but I opened my mouth and tasted the fish. I chewed it and tasted it and swallowed it. It was unforgettable. The part of the human being called "me" remained upright in the middle. This experience is one experience of living out equanimity, the balanced response of joy and misery, protected from emotional agitation.

Granted, it didn't happen immediately. The balanced response took some effort to find, and it took some determined mindfulness and contemplation of what the hindrance was. Once I saw that I was caught in "like and dislike," in preferences for what I wanted, or in this case for what I didn't want, I was able to arrive at the tea room open to eating what was offered. I could give up the preference. I had used renunciation.

Once I was able to abandon my dislike of fish, I was free to experience directly what I received. Emotional agitation was not possible since there was no leaning towards or away from any bait in the realm of craving. The realization of equanimity, the calm poise and composure of not wobbling, is a support against the Eight winds of desire; gain and loss, pain and pleasure, fame and disrepute, and praise and blame. It provides a protection against the emotional turmoil of any side of these pairs of worldly stressors.

What are you craving currently in your own life? Contemplate which way the wind is blowing, for or against it. See for yourself if you are able to realize equanimity. Or at least try to begin to see for yourself what might be thwarting your composure and poise.

What is it that is hindering confidence (faith), skillful means and steadiness in receiving what is given? What blocks you from receiving whatever comes into your life?

You have the resources to receive. What blocks the resources? This is the list given by Bhikkhu Bodhi: confidence, effort, mindfulness, contemplation, labeling the "like or dislike," renunciation of the like or dislike, realization of "equanimity."

Humming Bird