I have always loved the idea of equanimity. This is the Buddhist belief that all things are equal, that there is no good or bad. The first time I heard “there is no right answer” was actually in a marketing class and I remember that phrase struck right into my heart. Always an outlier at school, I could never seem to do the right thing in my early educational years, so to have this feeling sanctioned was amazing.
Today though, I start to question what exactly does equanimity mean? The word in popular parlance means to be calm and composed. I’ve met people who are so spiritual that they are zoned out. Equanimity seems to them to be a loss of feeling altogether, a disconnection. And yet this doesn’t seem quite right. On the surface these gurus look peaceful, but I’m not so convinced.
Recently I gave up teaching yoga because I became simply too tired, too overwhelmed with it all. I said I needed to establish my own practice. Six months went by, and now here I am at last with a fledging practice of my own again and I cannot tell you how much it has helped. I love it so much that I find myself being late for work, hurrying to get to appointments, because the act of meditating and doing yoga is so compelling that 2 hours go by without an awareness of time.
Today, this act of kindness to myself brought to mind a deeper personal view on equanimity. All things being equal does not mean that all things are without worth. The latin route of the word equanimity is actually to have an equal mind. Not a calm mind, not a composed mind, not an empty mind. But a mind in which we have a tolerance for opposites in that exist in equal measure. Kahlil Gilbran, on the subject of joy and sorrow, puts it perfectly:
"When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Some of you say “Joy is greater than sorrow” and others say “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep on your bed."
For some years I have used equanimity as an excuse to say, “Well all things are equal, I don’t need to let this or that affect me, because whatever this feeling is it has no intrinsic value.” But I realise that this isn't a good way to perceive equanimity; it's just an excuse to numb out, to not feel. Far better to open our hearts and to feel the intensity of sorrow, so that we may also know the marvellous, incredible, delightful, delirious joy that is the flip side of that coin. The other fellow in the bed.
To make the anxiety of modern living go away, so many are taking to drugs, food, TV, Facebook - a global numbing of consciousness . This numbing is a fantastic enabler for modern day commerce. We can solve lack of connection with the next consumer purchase - the latest cosmetic surgery, a new car, that computer game that will just take you away from it completely, or even just one small Starbucks. But is this the answer?
Our negative emotions are calls from the heart and soul to answer them with their equal but opposite emotion. In meditation I can sense that if I feel loneliness then this is a call for connection. If I feel overwhelmed then this is a call for peace and quiet. If I feel tired, then this is a call for rest. In meditation we can hear and understand the call.
But where does this leave business, the world of work. If we all turned to meditation to sooth the soul, who is going to buy the lovely shiny gadgets? At the heart of this question I believe is the need to re-examine what it means to work. Equanimity in capitalism is all about inputs and outputs; goods in exchange for cash; balance sheets; money in, money out. But what if work was about satisfaction, self-actualisation, self-expression? What if instead of working to get cash, to buy trinkets, to feel good; we cut out the middle men of cash and trinkets. What if we go straight from the concept of work to feeling good? Effort balanced with reward.
Steve Jobs, the innovator of our most shinest of Apple trinkets said it well:
“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
It is a strange accelerating world that we live in. The old capitalist equation of selling goods and services at a profit could get harder to sustain. I know lots of people who love what they do, but unlike Steve, the money hasn’t followed. Increasingly information previously in the heads of experts is now readily available for free. Content marketing tops investment in digital marketing in 2015. Professionals are out there giving ideas for free in exchange for search engine traffic. Those not prepared to share their ideas are left behind as dinosaurs guarding their eggs whilst the world about them changes so much that it threatens their very existence. Information products, software, music, photographs, consultancy (to name a few) are loosing their value as distribution across the internet makes everything easier to access and copy. The effort, the love, is not being balanced by monetary reward.
According to the Guardian technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed. Hard manual labour has been replaced by knowledge intensive workers, luxury and grooming products. But if knowledge is increasingly distributed for free, and as a global community we are able to disentangle our self-worth from association with luxury goods and appearance, then we may need a new paradigm. A new way of valuing work free from the dogma of capital. A new way of finding equanimity between inputs and outputs. A different form of equal exchange for our time, effort, energy, love and passion. An equal exchange that is more akin to the Star Trek economy than capitalism or communism. It isn’t going to be easy, but it seems worth preparing for. We just need to work out how to make it possible. What do you think?