Finding equanimity even in the face of cancer’s struggles

This is one of my all time favorite quotes, and I don’t even know who said it. I saw it first on a refrigerator magnet many years ago, long before cancer and before I was even interested in yoga philosophy. It touched me then, and it resonates with me even more deeply now. “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart”.

I mean, it’s easy to be peaceful and calm when everything is going great, when life is just flowing along perfectly, and it feels like the universe is conspiring in your favor, right? It’s when things get tricky or difficult and we face serious obstacles that we test our inner peace and equanimity. Equanimity is defined as mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. It is related to resilience, and in my opinion, is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate in ourselves if we want to be truly happy. Because let’s face it, life isn’t always easy, and things aren’t always simple and perfect, no matter how hard we work, how honest and good-hearted we are, nor how hard we try to always do the right things. Life is messy, and complicated, and challenges are just a part of it (perhaps the most important part in helping us learn, grow, and develop as humans, but that is a topic for another post).

So if we can learn to develop equanimity, resilience, and inner peace, we can traverse those difficult times and challenges without so much suffering. Because of course we suffer when we get so angry, when we lash out at others, when we blame others, when we wallow in self-pity, when we get stuck in vicious cycles of negativity, sadness, despair, and maladaptive coping strategies. This is not to say that anger and frustration and sadness aren’t normal emotions and appropriate responses to many of life’s challenges. They totally are. But developing equanimity and resilience means that we can notice those emotions when they come, recognize them for what they are, and then stop them from hijacking our bodies and minds, and instead choose another response that makes us feel better. We can learn tricks and tools, like mindfulness practices, breathing practices, listening to some beautiful music, getting out in nature, or creating some art or poetry, to help us.

As you know if you are a cancer survivor or have watched a loved one battle cancer, having cancer can be one of the most trying and frightening experiences of our lives. Our lives are literally threatened, we undergo complicated surgeries that can leave long-lasting pain and scarring, we receive treatments that make us feel like we are actually dying, we worry about our loved ones and how we’ll be able to continue to function in our normal lives, and on and on. You know the challenges. So for us, it is more important than ever to learn to be equanimous, to be resilient, to be able to remain calm in our hearts despite everything going on around us. And doing so helps us to be able to see and feel the joy, the beauty, the richness, and the love that are still there in every moment of our lives, rather than allowing all of that goodness to be covered over by our difficulties. Don’t miss out on that goodness. It is there. Just look around.

Yoga asana practice and yoga philosophy have been so important in helping me develop these qualitites. From teaching me better awareness of my body and mind, to training the nervous system to not fly off the handle under physical strain, and empowering me to instead choose to breathe calmly and activate the relaxation response, this practice trains us to be masters in equanimity and resilience. And in so doing, yoga has taught me to be truly at peace, even in the midst of noise, trouble, or hard work. I am forever grateful to yoga for that.

Join me in practice if you want to learn more.


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