Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach.
Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. Here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. We do that by building the elements of joy, the positive emotions and inner states that become the building blocks for joyful life. So the element for this episode is equanimity. And we're going to work on building up, uh, your baseline of equanimity and also how to use it as a tool when you feel the complete opposite [00:01:00] of equanimity.
Henry: Uh, yes, the complete opposite of equanimity. That's what most of us are familiar with.
Henry: And that goes by a lot of different names: fear, anxiety, irritability, moodiness, upset, agitation, feeling stressed out. In the mental health world, there's this concept called "emotional reactivity" which is essentially the opposite of equanimity, and that's a really important concept because it's considered one of the best ways of predicting whether someone's going to have a future episode of anxiety or And basically it means that your mood is unstable. It's easily thrown off. That's not good for at least a couple of reasons.
One, of course, it feels bad to be emotionally reactive. And then secondly, it [00:02:00] just leaves you a lot more vulnerable to things that are completely outside of your control. Now the answer is not to try to get more control over things, it is to try to gain a greater degree of emotional steadiness. So in a sense, equanimity is emotional steadiness, but it's not the kind where you don't have any feelings where you're just cooler, unemotional. It is normal and healthy to have ups and downs, feel things even really deeply. But it's still possible to have this inner steadiness where your mood might shift, but it does it more gradually, or it just doesn't go to such extremes. And then you're able to bring it back pretty quickly to a point of stillness again to [00:03:00] this nice, calm center.
Aimee: Yeah. The idea of feeling things deeply and maintaining this steadiness seems so paradoxical at first, I think. But when you sit with it for a moment, it becomes more obvious. To sustainably feel things so deeply to really be in this world and participating, We need that emotional steadiness or we'll just be exhausted and overwhelmed. Which are the words that ring more true a lot of the time for us, I think.
I like thinking of steadiness, uh, as synonymous or a key quality of equanimity as well, because it reminds me of a process, rather than like a state or a trait. And maybe I connect with this word more because I'm just thinking here. My four-year-old is obsessed with hopping from pavers or like rocks to rocks. I'm sure other parents know what I'm talking about. Um, but [00:04:00] when she's on top of a rock bouncing and getting ready to hop to the next, she'll say, "steady. Steady."
Aimee: I know. And I can see like all of her engaged in this steadiness. Working with the wind or on a more shaky rock. I, I really like that sort of active, authentic,
fully engaged image of equanimity, taking some wisdom from the kids here. Uh, and I think I particularly like that because it also contradicts this monastic sort of guru stereotype that I think equanimity can get interpreted as. like there's one expression of it that we all have to mirror.
And I completely fell into that when I first encountered equanimity, I was at a lecture, tell the story quickly, and this guru-- self-proclaimed guru-- was explaining exactly what equanimity looked like. And one of the most pressing things this [00:05:00] person said was that as you move into equanimity, you'll become more quiet like vocally.
Your voice will become softer. And this person was very evolved, full of equanimity because even with the microphone, I could hardly hear them speaking . So I was like, absolutely, I can drop down a few decibels and get enlightened. I'm all for a quick trip. Um, and for like two weeks I spoke so softly. and so many of my friends were like, are you sick?
What's wrong with you? Why are you laughing? Like, not like yourself? Cuz I laugh loud. And after two weeks of this nonsense I was like, this soft voice stuff is bs at least for me at that point in my life. And today, you know, I've come so far in my steadiness, but I haven't gotten any quieter when I laugh, which I like.
I also really like this concept of [00:06:00] upayka, which is a Pali word that is sometimes translated into equanimity, but it really has this understanding of being able to see all around. To see the bigger picture without bias. It's this very calm, sort of loving stance of taking it all in. That's how I kind of see my daughter.
It's maybe why it popped into my mind when she's bouncing on those rocks. She doesn't like
fight the shaky ones or the slippery ones or change who she is to balance better. She takes in this full landscape and the variables and works to maintain sort of her unique steadiness amidst whatever the elements bring.
And she's joyful amidst that balancing act, which we can all be. And so let's lay it out here in the next five episodes, we're going to do just that. In this episode we'll talk about building our equanimity foundation up through, um, grounding strategies and the practice of [00:07:00] non-attachment. And then in the next four episodes we'll learn how to stay steady when an emotional storm hits.
So we'll learn some really accessible practices, some strategies to tap into the steadiness. Again, we all have it, and we can use this element of equanimity to move through life in a way that is more nourishing and less depleting.
Henry: You know, I would even say that equanimity our natural state. I think of it as our default mode, and I agree with you that it looks little bit different for everybody. We're just not all built alike, and some of us are simply more emotional or louder than others,
Henry: but still,
Henry: capacity for emotional steadiness is built into all of us It's what, uh, Pema Chodron calls our natural mind. [00:08:00] And then she refers to emotional unsteadiness as Wild mind.
Aimee: I love that.
Henry: I just like those terms because they're so easy to relate to.
And you know, we often refer to Pema Chodron in Joy Lab because she just seems so human and her language is so accessible.
Henry: She is a Buddhist nun, a writer and a teacher, but still she's, she's somebody we can all relate to cuz she seems to struggle with a lot of the same stuff that we all do.
So we're going to lean a little bit loosely on her teachings about equanimity. In the next few episodes, we'll dig into some of the lessons she shared on this recording called Bodhisattva Mind. She describes a process of staying steady during an emotional storm. She calls the process "remaining like a log."
Aimee: Love that.
Henry: She drew, herself, [00:09:00] she drew from the writings of Shantideva, who was a famous teacher way back in the eighth century. Shantideva, the story is, that he was known as being kind of lazy as a student and kind of a near do well, and nobody expected much of him. And then one day he got up in front of the whole monastery and he gave this incredibly brilliant teaching and, and then there was a book that he wrote called The Way of the Bodhisattva which is still famous and still used by a lot of current teachers, including Pema Chodron.
Aimee: in that Shantideva teaching, he sup, I think he levitated supposedly. Is that right? Do you know the story?
That part of it?
Aimee: So I don't know. We can do that later, but, um, we'll have a whole, maybe we'll have a whole month on levitation, but in, in this phase laid out by Pema Chodron,
uh, we're gonna do the opposite of that, which is to get more grounded. What a better [00:10:00] way to build up our foundation for equanimity than this, you know, feeling stable, grounded, connected.
Henry: Hmm. Well, I think it's time for a metaphor to just try to get some clear picture about this. So I'm gonna draw from nature and from my own life for this metaphor. So here goes! We have a cabin on a lake right by the boundary waters in northern Minnesota. And once in a while when it is calm in our bay and the water is just like glass, I really like to take out my paddle board. Paddleboard, if you don't know it, it looks like a surfboard and you stand up on it and you just paddle around. Now, I am not very good at it, but when the conditions are ideal like this, I can do it and I just really enjoy it. It is so peaceful and [00:11:00] serene, and that just speaks of equanimity. However, most days are not that calm. It seems like it's usually windy up there, and it does not take much wind to make me fall off the paddle board. So then I've got three choices. I could work to get more skilled with the paddle board. I'm trying to do that. Or I could take out some different boat that's more stable, you know, like a canoe or a kayak, or I could just be patient and wait for things to calm down.
And I've done all of those and they all work to a degree. But the breeze, think, it creates just enough stress to teach me how to roll with what life is giving me. So in a sense, I think of it as my equanimity training.[00:12:00]
Now, sometimes, however life gives us storms. You like real storms. Not just a nice steady breeze or choppy waters.
And then what? I'll tell you, I do not want to get caught out on the lake, up there during one of these really bad storms. So I am going to head for the shore, find safe harbor, find something sturdy to tie my boat to. In other words, I'm going to want to get grounded. And I really think that this is true for emotional storms as well. We need to find a safe haven. We need something to steady ourselves. And so we look for something physical, solid, really you know, like our own body or, or maybe a soothing physical activity, or maybe another person who gives us a sense of comfort or safety, just being in their presence.
Aimee, [00:13:00] why don't you share something to get us started here. Something that's really accessible for all of us.
Aimee: Yeah. I think one of the easiest and most fast acting things we can do is to put down our devices. And as you do on your paddle board, Henry, go outside or sit next to a big window. If you can't go out outside, um, find some blue sky or some green plants, or some brown dirt, or sand and just do something on it.
Taking a walk, looking around, letting the sunshine on your face. Nap on the grass. Build a snow person. Go snowshoeing. Plant some quick growing herb or vegetable seeds. Play basketball or play on the playground. Hop from rock to rock. grounding in this way, activating your senses of touch, hearing, smell, sight with nature around you is really powerful.
There was a recent study[00:14:00] that actually assessed wellbeing with regard to people's access to green and blue spaces in their neighborhood. So the, this is the opposite of sort of a concrete paradise, right? The study was looking at natural outdoor environments, and I like this study because it was sort of a more sophisticated analysis of access to those natural spaces, but the results were consistent with other studies.
Basically, if folks could see the sky without a bunch of buildings in the way their wellbeing was better. if they could see some plants and access natural ground like a meadow or a park or a community garden, their wellbeing was better. And interestingly, the study also found that, the green spaces were associated with more community participation.
Sort of this mediating factor, that participation was the big driver for the boost in mental health, um, that was seen in these communities, right? So [00:15:00] we can explore these outdoor spaces, meet our neighbors, connect with some people so that when a storm hits engaging with those spaces, those activities, those people might pop up sort of more automatically.
Henry: So here's another thing we can access that I think is underappreciated, and that is food. A lot of times we think about stress eating and it's usually viewed as something bad or unfavorable because it's pretty easy to do it mindlessly and then overdo it, make yourself feel sick or just feel worse. But you know, it's really not hard to bring some mindfulness to eating, to just notice the taste, the texture, the density, the color of the food. Like to chew more slowly, more intentionally.
And even experience, really experience, the sensation of swallowing, which we usually [00:16:00] just do automatically. You know, anything that makes you more aware of the earthy physical aspect of the food, it, connects you with your own body. And it can just soothe or calm your nervous system. It is almost always available. We do it several times a day anyway, so it's really easy to access and I just think that, if you're looking for something quick and easy and a pinch, there is nothing wrong with, with this, with using food. However, I'd I'd add that it is a really good idea to do a little bit of, of practicing mindful eating before you get really stressed. So that you know something about how to do it when you really need it.
Aimee: I think that's such a helpful shift in perspective. I used to make bread when I felt anxious. I wanna [00:17:00] start doing that again. It was the sort of kneading, the rising, the smells, the whole process was something that filled me up. And it's harder to, stress eat mindlessly something that you just spent like four hours making.
Like I'll have a fat slice of my hard work and savor every bite. So there's like cooking in there too that it could add. I think the sort of that whole process. Um, maybe two more quick grounding ideas folks can consider are body awareness meditations and connecting with animals.
So we've got a great body awareness meditation in episode 34. I also, really like something uh, progressive muscle relaxation, which is in that sort of body awareness genre. It's just kind of, you know, simply laying. on the ground and engaging and releasing muscles sort of bit by bit, top to bottom, um, head to toe with some deep breathing.
I'll, I'll link to a practice in [00:18:00] the show notes as well. And so connecting with animals too is something I think that's often overlooked and can be really helpful. A pet that you might have, like there's a lot of great research on simply sitting next to or having a pet on your lap and petting an animal.
Setting up a bird feeder and watching the birds, planting a butterfly or bee garden and watching them when they ,arrive, helping out a at a rescue or riding a horse. Giving a pig a belly rub. I did this two weeks ago and it filled my soul. I did. It was, I mean, I have not given a pig a belly rub.
Henry: You know, I bet a lot of people could say that.
Aimee: It is worth it to go out of your way to find a pig and give it a belly rub. Um, it's like this slow, wonderful grunt that of just like bliss. And, I mean, you can't get much more grounded than a pig I feel like. And I know y'all are gonna laugh at me, I don't care, but I also love to have my chickens sit on my lap. [00:19:00] It's just like a regular barnyard, uh, equanimity practice here.
Um, but it can be super calming for your nervous system. There was actually a therapy chicken Henry and I used to, um, be part of an organization that had a therapy chicken named Woodstock. I am not crazy for thinking this. but you know, a chicken napping on your lab can just be more powerful than a Xanax, in my opinion.
And I, I will run that study. Pig belly rubs, chicken, chicken on your lap, against the comparator of Xanax.
Henry: Wow. Well, it's great to have, um, chickens, pigs, wild animals around, but it's also great to just pick two or three grounding strategies to have for in your toolkit that you can pull out whenever you need them.
Aimee: Accessible. Realistic, yeah.
Henry: Yeah. And yep. And, and think about them ahead of time
Henry: so that you got a couple of go-to things. [00:20:00] Um, so you don't even have to think about it when you're in the midst of it. So I wanna shift and talk about something a lot more subtle, um, but it's something else we can do to prepare for these emotional storms. I want to introduce it by describing this old cartoon from the New Yorker. A lot of people have probably seen or, or heard this described.
So the cartoon has three little fish swimming just below the surface of the water, and there's this, this large fish hook that's floating just above them. one of the fish says to the others, the secret is non-attachment So this is not close to being as simple to do as grounding. Cuz it brings us in us into the territory of the mind rather than the body and the mind is just trickier.[00:21:00] But the advice I think is really solid and we would save ourselves a ton of pain by not taking the emotional hook in the first place. Or if we have taken it to notice immediately and do it what we can to try to unhook it from ourselves.
So this requires a certain degree of inner stillness or equanimity. It doesn't actually require you to do anything, however. It's really more about doing nothing or just not reacting when you have the urge to react. So I wanna mention just briefly the ways that we typically get hooked. Because if we know what our vulnerabilities are, we have a better sense of what to watch out for. So there are three classic patterns that are known as forms of attachment. They're [00:22:00] called grasping, aversion, and mindlessness.
Grasping is when we want more of something that we find pleasant or familiar. Aversion is when we want to push away something that we find unpleasant or unfamiliar. And mindlessness is just kind of shutting down or becoming confused by something we just find overwhelming. It's too much.
So non-attachment would just be to stay present. Noticing that we are about to go down one of these rabbit holes and then. Trying to just not react to it. This is very hard to do and it does require practice. So we think it's helpful to try to break this process down into smaller steps, and that's what we're gonna try to do over these next few episodes.
Aimee: Yeah, those attachments, [00:23:00] uh, those of you in the Joy Lab program certainly know them. We spend quite a bit of time practicing, um, with them. Uh, but we will get into them more in these podcast episodes, as you said, Henry. So, I'll quickly lay out a bit more of what's coming up in the next several episodes so we can get a nice forecast of the storm.
So next episode, we'll talk about how to use equanimity and these practices of grounding and non-attachment when we have that initial surge of emotion and all the thoughts rush in, of that beginning of a storm. After that, we'll talk about our storylines that start popping up. The ones that keep us stuck in the storm.
We'll then look at how this mainly internal process can then take a turn outward, which is where we can really cause some messes. And then in the last episode of this series, we'll talk about what we can do after the storm. Like this might be FEMA level feeling you [00:24:00] like, feel like you screwed up so bad, or have gotten swept away and made such a mess.
We'll talk about how equanimity can help in that cleanup and moving forward. And now I wanna leave us with some wisdom from the late 17th century mother Goose rhymes. I love this rhyme because I think it's both unrealistic and completely wise, just depends on my day. And usually when I feel like that it's wise and I have something to learn from it.
So here it is:
"For every ailment under the sun, there is a remedy or there is none. If there be one, try to find it. If there be none, never mind it."
Thanks for joining us!: Thank you for listening to the Joy Lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit JoyLab.coach to learn more about the full Joy Lab program. Be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your [00:25:00] favorite podcasts.