I had a hard time understanding the definition of equanimity when it first appeared in my consciousness. What does it mean to be equanimous? It was a zen story that illustrated the concept of equanimity to me at a deeper level:
A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. The anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied “Is that so?” When the child was born, the parents demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly. For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the child. – source (edited for conciseness)
When I first read this story I felt it was both ludicrous and inspiring. On one hand this feels like a passive way of living, to have terrible things happen to us and yet calmly accept them; on the other hand it must feel strengthening and liberating to be so unshakable by our circumstances.
I had a glimpse of what it means to be equanimous personally when I first started running. It became much easier when I stopped approaching inclines as though they are out to get me, instead I focused on my feet: one foot in front of the other, until I ran past the incline. There were also times when I felt like I couldn’t go on any further because I was in a lot of discomfort, but again I focused on putting one foot ahead of the other. That mentality enabled me to go the distance from 1km all the way till 5.
There were numerous times in the past few weeks delivering food when I felt that the old me would have lost my temper, had a meltdown, or simply give up permanently. First of all it is physically exhausting. A typical day I cover about 12km minimum under the brutal hot sun. Some days my feet feel like they are about to break. But that’s the easy part.
When we are lucky we pick up and drop off food within a ten minute walk. Sometimes it is at least 1km from one point to another, back to back. Imagine walking 1km to your destination, trying to find the vendor in an underground maze of shops, only to find out it has closed or moved. Well, that’s still the easy part, though I think the old me would have been a little boiling at this point.
Then, because of the craziness of the lunch crowd, I meet vendors who are on the verge of a meltdown themselves. They become rude and snappish. I found myself surprised when I didn’t respond unkindly, because my old self definitely would. It seemed like something new in me understood that it wasn’t personal, that they were reacting to the unfavourable circumstances even though I bore the brunt of their frustration. Most of the time they do recover, and they seem grateful that I am there just waiting and still smiling. I do know of delivery people getting upset whenever they have to wait longer than usual, and that too is understandable, because every delay eats into their daily income. Sometimes, that means being unable to pay the bills.
Since I walk in the central business district, it is interesting delivering food to different buildings and people. People receive food and treat me in a multitude of ways. I’ve gotten a couple of tips, some take the time to wish me safety, others grab the food as though I am invisible. You can never judge a book by its cover. I’ve gone into swanky buildings and had the most pleasant interaction with their concierge and security, I’ve also had very difficult times with not-so-swanky buildings which insist that we can only use their cargo lifts. Since only one cargo lift serves an entire 20-40 storey building, it can take ten minutes just to wait for the lift per ride. The people who work in those buildings seem oblivious to these rules, and they insist that we take the passenger lifts, trying to be kind to us but causing us more delays.
So, there is a lot of waiting, frustration, wasted time, unkind treatment. Just yesterday I had to deliver food while being ankle deep in the torrential rain. My umbrella was too small, so I was soaked through. It felt amusing delivering a sandwich while I dripped rainwater all over their hardwood floors. I contemplated asking for a break through the system, but I wanted to know what it was like to continue. At the end I was cold, soaked and tired, but strangely luminous. Once in a while I have to carry food for ten people in two big bags while walking for more than ten minutes. Imagine my internal dialogue lugging all that weight in the hot sun while I contemplate my previous existence as a tech worker.
I wanted to do this for physical exercise, but it turns out that it is exercising my spirit even more. I gradually learned not to rush, to calmly take things as they come: rain, shine, rude people, broken lifts, spilling food. I am now 300% nicer to people when they deliver food to me.
But even though this post is about developing equanimity for myself, the most profound lesson is the goodness of people I have encountered thus far. Most people are really kind. I have met countless people who tried to help me while I seem lost in their offices. Vendors who tell me to be careful, to not be so caught up in pursuing money that I neglect my own safety. Concierges and receptionists who greet me with such friendliness even though I am a lowly food delivery worker. People who stop whatever they were doing to ask me if I need help even though they didn’t have to.
Suddenly, I became aware of how easy it is to be cynical while being cooped up in the isolation and safety of my own hermitdom, when every time I’m out to deliver food I experience such diversity of goodness. It isn’t a rare occurrence, it is actually the norm. I feel so much more inclined to be kind to the next upset person I interact with because things simply suck sometimes due to nothing of our own fault, and I am made to understand again and again how much it means when I receive grace unexpectedly, so it makes me want to pay it forward.
I can afford the space to chill and wait when things don’t go smoothly because I don’t have pressing needs that is banking on the income of this job, but I know I am the exception. That’s why it feels even more of a societal responsibility to hold and give that space for people because they don’t have the luxury of choices I possess.