Passionate Equanimity


Passionate Equanimity – this term, found in my creed, I owe to Ken Wilber, or rather his wife Treya.  In his book, Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber, he details his relationship and journey with his wife, Treya, who discovers she has cancer 10 days after they are married.  Five years later, she dies of the cancer.  The book reflects on this time with his and her thoughts.

Treya writes in her journal:  “What if you had passion without all that stuff, passion without attachment, passion clean and pure? What would that be like, what would that mean? I thought of those moments in meditation when I’ve felt my heart open, a painfully wonderful sensation, a passionate feeling but without clinging to any content or person or thing. And the two words suddenly coupled in my mind and made a whole. Passionate equanimity, passionate equanimity – to be fully passionate about all aspects of life, about one’s relationship with spirit, to care to the depths of one’s being but with no trace of clinging or holding, that’s what the phrase has come to mean to me. It feels full, rounded, complete, and challenging.”

Treya Killam Wilber starts with passion and ends with equanimity.  I think many of us do that; we start with passion in our blood, ready to take on the world, to change it, to succeed, to be a champion.  Without a doubt, when I was younger I was 99% passion and very little equanimity.  Then, as I aged and matured, I started to get some perspective, yeah, some of that equanimity.  It took me years and years, and I’m still working on it…on gaining more equanimity.  I think we’re all like that:  we start with passion first, then maybe we gain the perspective.  In the Air Force, we would say “that guy is all thrust, and no vector.”  I think most of us have a lot less vector than we think…especially when we are young.

Bungee Jumping…all thrust, no vector?

Before I get too far, I think it is best to describe equanimity further.  It is the ability to distance yourself from a situation.  It is to be “dispassionate,” unemotional, and rational about a particular situation.  I think I will use an analogy here.  Think of a bad situation in your life as like a drop of deadly cyanide.  A drop of cyanide is enough to kill a person quickly and cleanly.  However, if I took that drop and placed it in the ocean, it would disperse quite quickly.  Would it kill any fish, or swimmers? Very unlikely…even more so as time goes by and the drop becomes mixed in with the sea.  So, if the situation is that drop of cyanide, then the ocean is equanimity.  Equanimity helps us dilute that poison in our life and gain some tranquility about a situation.  In a sense, it is the opposite of passion!  That’s what makes “passionate equanimity” such an intriguing concept.

Unlike Treya Killam Wilber and myself, who started with passion then found equanimity, Stoicism starts with equanimity (well, the Stoics might call it tranquility).  With our logic and our values, and with acceptance that so much is out of our control, we can gain perspective, which in turn gives us equanimity.  Further, the Stoic accepts that tragedy will befall us, because it is our fate.  If we can dispassionately accept the impermanence of the world around us, then we can have some perspective.  Once I have a large measure of equanimity, I have a better understanding of my situation juxtaposed with my own values, then I can better cultivate a passion for what I set out to do.

I think it works better to start with equanimity, and only then be passionate about our calling.  I think that this works better because when we rationally observe our lot in life or our current situation, we can make a better choice about what to be passionate about.  I am a living example of this:  I was passionate about my job as an AF pilot and officer, but I think I would have been happier if I had examined what my job was really about:  killing for a government, rather than defending “freedom.”  In a sense, I think I lacked the big picture of what my values should be because I did not reflect enough before I acted.  I committed to something without fully understanding it, and thus I was dissatisfied with what I was doing.  Possibly, I just didn’t have enough information.  In any case, gaining equanimity helped me vector my passions in a different direction.

USAF F-4: Loads of Passion with little Equanimity

I suppose it is inevitable that we lack equanimity in our youth, and in fact, some never get it.  As you read, I hope this helps you gain some equanimity.  Again, I throw a little seed your way….I hope it helps you.

6 thoughts on “Passionate Equanimity

  1. Don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. Lack of information and blindingly pursuing (so to speak) your desires and creates a degree of naivety. One CAN become aware and happier and more passionate given they have the right state of mind for that sort of tuning and/or perception of the world. It’s kind of an awakening to be able to reach a state of mind of rationality and detachment from something you love and think of it in a logical way. To read between the lines. The world is not black and white, in three middle there is a vast ocean of gray. Good read.

  2. i agree but happiness cant exist forever dont you think? to me happiness has always been the momentary achievement of failure, hard work and repetitive struggle. reaching that balance or equilibrium of consciousness cant exist with all the unhappiness we will experience through life i think. im not sure if i know what happiness is or if ill ever truly have it but i have always taken that word as a wall. generally when some one is happy they stop evolving and growing from my observations. organizing your life is essential in structure and growth, the article by Altucher was good but i think this speaks to me slightly more. innovation and failure are the building blocks for the foundation for success for personal growth and happiness. feeling complete in a sense.

  3. Interesting guy on the TED video. I liked his statement about being free to create/innovate when he wasn’t worried about defending his championship. Being able to create was something WITHIN his control, while winning a championship is affected by factors outside of his control. Now, onto your definition of happiness. Based on how you describe it, I suspect it is the kind of ephemeral happiness that does not last forever, so indeed you are correct in your evaluation of this type of happiness. While I was using the same word as you (happiness), this is not the happiness I speak of at all. I speak of contentment, tranquility and acceptance of what is. The Buddhist term I believe is called “suchness.” Let’s explore this a bit. Life is filled with tragedy. You will lose friends, body functions, relatives. You will feel pain, you will fail. You may be robbed, beaten, enslaved, raped, cheated on, etc. This is just plain fact. You can ignore it, but ignoring it does not make this truth go away. In the end, you will be food for the worms, but that does not mean you should not exert effort in your life. You may also achieve, be in love, feel joy, etc. These positive outcomes will make you feel good for a time, but these things are transitory. To accept this impermanence is the key to a tranquil mind. You might enjoy this post:

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