Balance vs Indifference

March 21, 2021

The idea and practice of balance has been on my mind in the past few months. A quote from Jack Kornfield that had been very helpful to me is “The near enemy of equanimity is indifference or callousness.” This insight on the brahmavihara of equanimity is an important word of caution. When a lot of us start a mindfulness practice, it is from the venue of stress-reduction, and our motivation is to find balance. While it is healthy to find balance in our lives and get off the rollercoaster of unconscious peaks and valleys in our moods, it is very easy to misunderstand this balance: what it feels like and what it looks like.


My most practical takeaway from this quote is that we cannot rely on simple conclusions to determine how much mindfulness is helping us create equanimity. When we say we need balance, it often arises from one event or a series of events that made us realize we don’t want to continue to feel the way we were feeling.Whether it was immense pressure from continued stress, or anxiety that was lowering our quality of life, or a rush of emotions we didn’t know how to deal with, we knew something could be changed, that we could be better supported in our lives.


Indifference must not be mistaken for balance, as even if some symptoms may be the same, they are fundamentally different. With both, we may feel less affected by happenings in our lives, but the reason we do needs to be watched. With indifference, we are refusing emotions, and saying no to life. We are not getting any stronger with indifference, rather, we are just blocking out the full flavor and spectrum of life in fear of experiencing our old stress again. With equanimity,we can say yes to life, feel great joy and great sorrow, but stay grounded. Numbing out might feel like a great relief compared to the ups and downs of the emotional weather, but it is not the only way to feel okay.  


Balance is to be strong and coordinated along with the difficulties of life, not to eliminate those difficulties altogether, which is an impossible task. You can see this when you stand on one leg. If you are great at standing on one leg,you can close your eyes. Notice the muscles in the foot and the leg and maybe the hips and core adjusting and bracing to keep you balanced as you may sway to whatever degree from one side to the other. It is not because you are placed perfectly, or have magically become immune to all the things that make balance difficult. The tree stands strong because it’s roots grow deep and its trunk can bend without breaking, not because it is untouchable by the wind or rain.


If along our mindfulness journey we start to feel unaffected by events, but life starts to feel empty or colorless, take a look at where our intentions of practice really are. Is it to avoid pain? If so, can we turn towards resilience instead?