There is a gap between the type of values that (consciously or not) we live by in the west and the qualities that are considered desirable and beneficial in yoga. When rationally observing western culture, we can tell it emphasizes characteristics such as competitiveness, achievement, individualism, consumerism, and the pursuit of material gains even at the cost of exploitation, etc. One can also look at the positive aspects: progress, well-being, individual freedom, prosperity, providing opportunities for development, and so on. That’s a very different approach than the equanimity in yoga described in the Bhagavad Gita.
Anyway we may look at it, one factor unites all of these characteristics: the appreciation we feel towards success. We are addicted to success and admire successful people. Everyone wants to succeed. No one wants to be a failure. Success can mean money, academic accomplishments, or cultural achievements; if I’m “somebody” my name will be remembered.
But what is success really, and how can it be measured? Success is failure’s partner. We can determine success only in relation to failure. If there is no failure there is no success. So success and failure are intertwined.
Is it always possible to succeed? What happens when we fail?
The Bhagavad – Gita states that a Yogi is a person for whom success and failure are equal.
The western approach is to acquire knowledge in order to succeed and rule the world; to ensure that we are strong and successful. We are bound outward. But the yogi knows he cannot control the world. The world is wide and unpredictable, impossible to control.
Instead of controlling the world, the yogi learns to control himself. The ideal is not a success, but rather on our path we seek equanimity in yoga and in life. What is equanimity?
Equanimity means that regardless of the circumstances, I can stay relaxed and satisfied. Success will not cause my head to spin and the failure will not make me depressed. The yogi knows that life circumstances are changing constantly. Success cannot persist; at some point, it will be replaced with failure, but my own internal state can remain constant.
You could say that equanimity is the “homeostasis of consciousness”. Homeostasis is a biological system’s ability to maintain constant internal balance when the environment changes. Our body temperature is almost constant, regardless of the outdoor temperature. In both hot and cold conditions we maintain the same body temperature. Equanimity is the ability to stay calm in the face of praise or humiliation, success or failure, achievement or defeat, profit or loss, victory or defeat, and so on.
In the west we seem to think that we can rule the world via technological progress, however, we do not believe it is possible to control the states of our consciousness. Our moods fluctuate in and out of control and our thoughts wander freely…
Is it really possible to control our internal state? How can we get to equanimity?
It’s not easy – and that is exactly the yogic approach: it is necessary to acquire these skills. This is a process that slowly builds over time and practice.