40 Days: Equanimity

“To bear all naked truths,

And to envisage all circumstances, all calm,

That is the top of sovereignty.”

-John Keats, “Hyperion”

When I started teaching in an inner Houston city school, I suddenly needed large amounts of a different kind of strength.  I needed to be able to hear a student call me puta and tell me to chinga mi madre and not allow my reaction to be influenced by the anger and whatever other emotions came rising up.  I watched a custodian wipe the blood of two 6th graders off my floor with a mop, I listened as a student explained how a knife held by someone else’s hand left the scab on his neck, and I decoded gang symbols that a student had carved on his own arm in the back of my classroom.

Perspective and equanimity. A linocut by Evelyne Bouchard.

From the beginning, I’ve always been into yoga for the equanimity.  Yoga redefined strength for me.  Before, I thought strength meant being able to lift heavy things, and the strongest person was the person who could lift the heaviest things. Yelling the loudest in a classroom solves nothing.  It was through practicing yoga and teaching broken children from broken homes in a broken system that I began to understand strength as the ability to stay still for a long period of time. To stay still in a challenging yoga pose despite how much your muscles are shaking, or to stay still in a classroom when a student tells you to go fuck yourself.

A conversation with a cardiologist over Christmas break gave me a new physiological framework for this kind of strength.  He confirmed that no, yoga isn’t a cardio exercise, so it doesn’t strengthen your heart by raising your heart rate.  However, practicing yoga can increase a person’s heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability measures how quickly your heart rate can change in reaction to your environment.  Heart rates go up in response to stressors in the environment, and then they go back down again when the body understands that all is well.  In other words, if a person has high heart rate variability, and her heart rate goes up when a student threatens to shit in the skull of another student, she can quickly react from a place of logic and calm instead of anger and stress.

“If you want inner peace find it in solitude, not speed, and if you would find yourself, look to the land from which you and to which you go.”

-Stewart L. Udall, The Quiet Crisis

Comfort food is surely the food of equanimity. I believe that comfort food is forged early in a person’s life, and the food that comforts a person is sort of like a unique fingerprint that our early experiences make on us.

List of My Comfort Foods:

  1.  Grapefruit with salt
  2. Chicken and dumplings
  3. Chocolate chip cookies
  4. Homemade bread
  5. Highly sweetened fresh mint tea
  6. Curried chicken salad sandwiches
  7. Country ham and grits and red-eye gravy
  8. Soft-boiled eggs and toast
  9. Eggs Benedict
  10. Pasta with butter and dill
  11. Tattie broth
  12. Oranges
  13. Citrus of any kind, really
  14. Biscuits and tomatoes and sausage gravy
  15. Pasta salad, especially with Israeli couscous
  16. Rosemary and goat cheese
  17. Dark chocolate

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