Notes on a Buddhist path

Do Not Hold

December 17, 2012 By | 7 Comments

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. ~ Blessed Mother Teresa

It’s hard to find words that can make sense of the murders in Newtown, Connecticut that happened a few days ago. That’s not to say that a lot hasn’t already been written about the killings of 20 children and 7 adults as their day began and ended at school. In the words filtering across the internet there is blame, anger, mercy, hatred, love, revenge, grief, gratitude, compassion, empathy and a myriad of other emotions, thoughts and perceptions.

As I’ve read about the events of last Friday, I’ve struggled with my own perceptions. When I first heard of the killings on Friday afternoon I was shocked, then saddened, then I felt myself pull away from the facts I was hearing. I offered silent metta, loving kindness, to all the victims and their families, including the killer. Even now as I read about the aftermath and what the families are experiencing, I find myself in a place of distant observation and a kind of numb state of being.

Lately I’ve been looking more closely at upekkha, equanimity. In Buddhism it’s a quality of serenity in the face of anything, whether it be winning the lottery or witnessing the carnage in Newtown. Equanimity, when it is practiced and refined, allows us to see and comprehend a bigger picture and thus radiate peace and good-will in the light of whatever life presents to us. Yet where is the line of wise discernment and dispassionate apathy?

Writing about non-feeling after such a tragedy seems in some ways on par with the killings themselves. I wish no one ill will through the aftermath of this tragic event and as I see the minutes of that day play out in my mind I witness the fear, the bravery, the pain of each person at the school and the inconsolable grief of parents, partners, friends and families. As much as I’d like to think I’m in an equanimous state, I’m not sure I am. I don’t sense peace seeping from inside of me; instead it feels more like watching a movie from a place of imprisoned compassion. Am I not allowing myself to feel the horror that has descended into the hearts of many across the planet for the dead, particularly the children? Or is this what equanimity feels like? Although I am not filled with rage or brimming with tears, I can’t help but feel compassion and remember that the man who carried all those guns into the school was also once a baby and a young child, a precious being deserving of love and infinite kindness. And he still is. Just as our children, our parents, tyrants and enemies, all humans and all beings that walk, swim and fly over the planet are worthy of compassionate grace.

The other day on the bus I noticed a sign on one of the bars near the exit. It read “Do Not Hold.” That is what equanimity is all about. Not trying to hold on to the drifting sands of our emotions or the tempest swells that our cravings illicit in us. It is where the hard work lies. In not holding on to suffering and also in not pushing it away. True peace can only find it’s way to us by observing everything that arises, whether it be grief or joy, pain or apathy, and then releasing it like a feather to the wind.

The deaths in Connecticut offer me a chance to deepen into my practice of equanimity, reaching for that sublime perfection in the light of all that life has in store for us. Holding each of the dead in my heart, I can open to a greater sense of peace and release them, offering them my blessings in this transition from life. Their suffering is over. Through the practice of equanimity, ours can be as well.

 If your mind becomes firm like a rock
and no longer shakes
In a world where everything is shaking
Your mind will be your greatest friend
and suffering will not come your way.

Early Buddhist Poem from the Therigatha

Image credit: Plume2 via Morguefile


  1. Love the poem at the end.

  2. Kind, courageous, and enlightening words. Thank you Tess.
    And thank you as well for the “empathy” link.

  3. The question of equanimity is a difficult one, and the following is in no way to make comparisons, but more to investigate our own awareness… I wonder how many Americans know about this:‘bug-splats’/

    Perhaps on reflection, we don’t really believe in equanimity in an English Enlightenment way of universality and equality. The lives of family and friends and countrymen are indeed more valuable than the lives of those who are not within our circle of connectedness. This is closer to traditional belief in the importance of family and tribe as constituting the fabric of society (as opposed to law, which we believe in today). It’s interesting in Buddhist metta meditation, it goes from the local outwards to the universal, and Buddha teaches “honour your father and mother”. And yet Buddhist monks must nurture universal compassion, even at the cost of attachment to parents, though with the latter’s consent. So equanimity must really come with a lot of awareness, perhaps that our deep attachments are like the blessings that leads us down the path of equality? It is because of our attachments and connectedness that we feel compassion for others’ suffering to begin with. So I wish we could “expand outwards” more also.

    I really like the following poem by Shinji Moon, an 18 year-old in New York. My thoughts are with the Americans who suffered in this terrible tragedy, and with all who suffer loss from senseless violence.

    We measure catastrophes by how close they hit
    to home.

    There was a shooting at an elementary school
    an hour away from my home. When I heard,
    all I got were chills
    and a slow wave of sympathy, but
    the grief of thinking of the fist-sized
    heart of my six year old brother
    drove me to the brink of

    And when the hurricane hit Manhattan,

    I ran down the streets, my body wringing itself
    into beads of sweat, the water hitting my cheeks like drops of
    ice — and

    no one who knew me from home
    called, to ask if I was alright.

    To them, it was just
    a little rain.

    I couldn’t tell how much I hurt you from
    two hundred miles away. I
    couldn’t tell how bad you wanted to wring my throat
    in the comfort of our separate cities.

    The Richter scale will tell you how difficult it is
    for you to regain your footing after an
    earthquake. My childhood epilepsy was just a cry
    for help.

    I am so sorry for not being close enough to feel your
    body’s vibrations against mine.

    I am so sorry
    for always finding shelter
    from each storm.

    — “This Is What Distance Does,” Shinji Moon

    • Thank you so very much for your beautiful words and the exquisite poem.

      The article by George Monbiot is truly sobering and clearly depicts the often myopic view the US, and western culture, has towards those in other countries and those who are not in our own backyard. As you say, “deep attachments are like the blessings that leads us down the path of equality”. I completely agree. It is in relinquishing that which is most dear and close to us that our circle of serene equanimity can extend outward and ultimately encompass all beings.

      Your words have touched me deeply. In gratitude, my hand to my heart.


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