A few years ago, I took up rappelling, the art of descending sheer cliffs by rope and harness, so that we could explore the red-rock canyons of Southern Utah. After I had begun to learn the basics, Steve, our guide, said to me, “You’re one of those people who wants to speed up when your adrenaline starts to flow.”
When I was a young rabbi, my time was consumed by people who were constantly in a state of anger, frustration, and offense. I was not usually the cause of it, but they contacted me to express their emotions over whatever it was that upset them.
With the pressures of the modern world, Equanimity, or even-temperedness is a rare commodity among people. In Jewish life, it is a virtue, because it is an issue of character.
Just this morning as I was finishing a Yoga session I casually overheard an interesting and perhaps telling conversation. As I was coming out of the locker room I passed a common area where one of the instructors was “holding court” with a few students.
Forget about it! Just get over it! How does one achieve equanimity? Certainly not by ignoring those issues in our lives that create anxiety, fear and imbalance. Such a philosophy is akin to pretending that the check engine light on our dashboard is not lit. Anxiety can be a valuable warning signal indicative of issues that need to be considered and perhaps confronted. If nothing else, awareness is often half the battle.
Rabbi Akiva sailed from Israel to Cyprus. Before he left port, he saw his prized understudy, Rabbi Meir, board an older vessel, also sailing to Cyprus. In the midst of their journey, a terrible gale struck the Mediterranean. Rabbi Akiva's heart broke as he gazed into the distance, wincing while the storm lashed into the decrepit craft that carried Rabbi Meir. In a matter of minutes, the latter's ship was utterly destroyed...
A tear slid down Rabbi Akiva's cheek. "What a waste of a brilliant mind!" he lamented.
Several days later, upon reaching the shores of Cyprus, Rabbi Akiva entered a local synagogue and house of study. Flabbergasted, he froze in the doorway. Rabbi Meir was in the middle of a lecture to a group of Cypriot Talmud students. Seeing his esteemed teacher and spiritual guide in the doorway, Rabbi Meir ceased lecturing. "Rabbi Akiva, my honored master, please come inside!"
Rabbi Akiva could barely speak. "M-Meir! Y-You're still alive! H-How did you get ashore?"
"Simple, my master. Instead of focusing on the stormy sea, I rode one wave at a time. I caught wave after wave until I reached the shore!"
The remedy for many of these troubles comes through conditioning. One must approach whatever is disturbing and confront it. Understand it through touching, feeling, questioning of intention. Seek the root of your discomfort. Many times our reactions to situations obscure the real root of the problem. It is much easier to condition one's self once the root is addressed.
For example, if you are overworked and any new tasks make your existing work unmanagable, perhaps you should try organizing your workload by making lists and prioritizing the more important things to do. By writing them down, you don't have to remember all the details. As new items arrive, simply adding them to your list can help eliminate some worrisome thoughts.
So often we get caught up in the torrents of life, being tossed this way and that by everyday events. This has a bad effect on the tranquility of our soul. We become unsettled and unfocused. Our perspective and clarity are drawn to only the drama of the present moment and we lose vision of the big picture of life. Our goal is to rise above these events and have a sense of wide perspective at all times. By imagining the “big picture” of each life event, we gain a peacefulness of the mind and soul.