Equanimity. That's what I need. I get much worse at it when I'm depressed. In my head I just made the link with it and faith - you know how sometimes things you know theoretically just fall into place and you can see them. In Buddhism there are three things that block awakening and happiness - greed (clinging to that which does not cause lasting happiness), hatred (violently rejecting anything that is not perfect), and delusion (not being able to see the true nature of things). They are all very, very inter-related, and their operation complicated, but any harmful practise can be traced back to those three. Buddhaghosa (like the Thomas Aquinas of Buddhism) wrote about the relative strength of each of these 'poisons', classifying people into six broad 'types' depending on their tendency towards one over the others. So there are hate types, greed types, and delusion types, but also there are insight types, faith types, and discursive types. Faith types are purified greed types, insight types purified hate types and discursive purified delusion types. Basically because faith sees the good in things which are good, as greed sees the good in things which are not wholly good, and insight sees the bad in things which are bad, just as hate sees the bad in things which are not wholly bad. I'll, er, leave the discursive bit for now. I'm probably not explaining this very well anyway. Point is, I'm a hate type. I see the bad in everything. In my head I am hyper-critical. People are often surprised by this because I'm affectionate and enthusiastic and stuff, but the only way I can explain it is... I'm more disposed to comment on the positive, because it surprises me. Does that make sense? Well my gravitation towards the hate poison gets worse when I'm depressed. I can just see negative. Everywhere. Hate types are closely allied to insight types because, well, things are shit. They actually are. There is so much wrong with the world, there is so much pain. Hate types are recommended meditation practises that foster faith (and conversely greed types are recommended meditation practises that foster insight) because it is something they need to work on. Because in the face of all the dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), they need something to focus them on the potential for good. Not actual good, because if we're looking at what is actual, then things are imperfect far more often than they're perfect. But perfection is not the only good. Things can be a little bit good and have the potential to be better, and that is what the faith types are good at seeing. So faith is something I have worked at, and sometimes I can be quite good at. Not right now. Right now I am having trouble seeing potential, seeing good, having hope. When I'm unhealthy I revert right back to type, but at least I have the memory. I have memory of faith, or confidence (the Buddhist terms for both are the same). That is something.
So how does this relate back to Equanimity? One of the meditation practises recommended for furthering faith is fostering the 'divine abidings' - developing loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. These can have quite technical meanings, for example distinguishing each from its 'near enemy' - love is not clinging, compassion is not making yourself miserable because of the misery of others, sympathetic joy is not pretending to be happy but actually seething with jealousy, and equanimity is emphatically not indifference. (This one is something that causes a fair few people confusion. It is perhaps helpful to think about how useless a doctor would be if they burst into uncontrollable sobbing whenever a patient experienced pain). But at their most basic level they can be practised by anybody at any time. And each requires an openness that the strong in faith are better equipped for than the strong in insight. Faith brings a security that enables one to make oneself vulnerable, and the shaky path to perfecting these qualities does make one temporarily very vulnerable - caring about other people opens you up to all manner of new pain, and there is often a time lapse between this caring and being able to cope with it (equanimity).
I still don't think I'm getting across the link between faith and equanimity. I'm reminded of Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Basically, the opposite of both faith and equanimity is desperation. When one has a certain trust that actually, things can be okay, the ups and downs that make up life are forced into perspective. Every bad thing is not 'the true reality about how things are, woe, woe' just as every good thing is not an indication you will never suffer again. Now if I could just realise that as well as theoretically understand it, I would be awakened :-) It also explains why religious organisations are often at the forefront of social action - it's not just because they're into loving all men etc. etc., although that can be a part of it. It's because faith can act as a talisman against feelings of hopelessness. (And faith needn't be religious faith at all, it just frequently is. I think the most socially engaged secular humanists I know have a great deal of faith). Within Buddhism, for example, strands with a strong emphasis on faith, such as Pure Land (inc. the Amida Trust), will often be more socially engaged than those emphasising insight. (This can confuse a lot of people. If you're leaving it up to Amida, why are you bothering to do anything? If you believe in God, why not just let him sort it out?) I think a lot of people who would really care about the world, and about other people, and bigger issues, block out as much of the pain as their minds allow because they just don't have the equanimity to cope with it. And that's fair enough. That's what I'm having to do right now, but it's kind of useful to me to know I'm doing it so when I'm ready I can try again.
I need someone to tell me it'll be okay. And I need to believe them. Not okay like, everything's hunky-dory. Just... okay. Acceptable. Bearable. Hopeful. With the potential for good. Not completely shit. Okay.