The fourth Brahma Vihara practice, uppekha is about balance. Sharon Salzberg describes it as "a spacious stillness of the mind, a radiant calm...." (p. 139)
Salzberg begins her chapter on uppekha saying
She goes on to describe balancing the mind between some of these "unremitting contrasts." In one site now defunct I found ten kinds of equanimity listed under uppekha, many of them which I couldn't relate to or understand.
Two of these situations requiring balance interest me particularly. The first is physical pain; theoetically uppekha enables one to feel the sensations without suffering. Though I'm extremely interested in this, I don't understand it yet.
The second application which means a lot to me is that it seems essential to me to balance the mind when you're working on the other brahma-vihara practices. Sending loving-kindness energy; holding all suffering beings in a compassionate heart; celebrating the good fortune of others when I do those, I easily get caught in an attachment to results. I want others to be healed and happy, free of suffering. When they are not, I easily get caught in disappointment, grief, feeling inadequate ...sometimes shutting down in frustration, sometimes swept by outrage: that the world is not fair; that with the best intentions and the best methods, I cannot make it so.
Uppekha teaches me that results are not in my control. That in fact the attachment to results creates its own undesirable results.
All beings are the owners of their karma.
A flash from the past
When I read the uppekha meditation, I was immediately reminded of a piece written by Fritz Perls that was popular in the 60s under the name of "The Gestalt Prayer":
This piece has helped a lot of people define boundaries more appropriately but is flawed, I believe, by failing to understand the principle of karma. I am not responsible for your reactions to me, but at the same time I am responsible for my actions. This is always a paradox, and a struggle in every relationship but to me the Gestalt Prayer seems to deny half of the reality. This attitude in turn cripples brahma vihara practices.
The uppekha meditation, like the Gestalt Prayer, talks about how your happiness does not depend on me. It differs from the gestalt prayer in its understanding of karma.
The Buddhist understanding of karma focuses on the intention behind an action; different intentions result in different karma from identical actions. Thus our character shapes our experience.
I can send you metta (for example), but how you use it depends on who you are. Likewise sending you metta is an action founded in an intention that builds my character my karma.
Uppekha is caring
Ann Barker, teacher of the Green Mountain Sangha and TheravadaNet, says
Sharon Salzberg too emphasizes this; equanimity is not the same thing as indifference, which "rests on quiet, sullen withdrawal, which is a type of aversion, and there is no aversion in dispassion's calm sureness." (p. 151)