How do you know if you are experiencing equanimity, or just not bothering to care? People sometimes reject equanimity practice, concerned that the development of equanimity might flatten their feelings, or foster a cold and unconcerned approach to social issues. It is important to distinguish between equanimity and indifference in how we relate to the experiences of our lives.

At a retreat in Carson City, Nevada this weekend, we devoted a day to cultivating equanimity, and discussed this distinction between indifference and equanimity. Indifference is considered to be the “near enemy” of equanimity (upekkha). A near enemy is an unwholesome quality of mind that might commonly be mistaken for a wholesome quality. Indifference may masquerade as equanimity, but upon deeper examination we see that they are quite different.

Equanimity is a balanced state of mind that allows the meditator to see the nature of things as they are, free from the distorting influences of desire and aversion. With a balanced mind, you will be equally alert to pleasant and unpleasant experience, unseduced by praise or blame, and undistracted by gain or loss. Equanimity is one of the seven factors of enlightenment; it arises with mindfulness and supports wisdom. It is a wholesome state that is to be cultivated

Indifference, on the other hand, is an unwholesome state that is to be abandoned. It is rooted in ill will and delusion. Indifference is an aversive and often fear-based reaction to experience that prevents a wise examination of things as they are. Indifference is often distorted by an underlying state of fear or powerlessness. If we chronically compare our abilities with the perceived abilities of others, compare the world situation with our hopes and desires for it, fear the consequences of both our actions and inactions, and remain attached to views and opinions we will fuel despair and inhibit our ability to care.

When your mind becomes balanced, you won’t become indifferent to your family, community, or the environment. Equanimity doesn’t make life less fun. The balanced mind, cultivated through meditative practices and through a dynamic equanimity with the truths of life and death, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, and the way things are, becomes a source of strength. It can be appreciated and enjoyed. When we are equanimous, we are able to see things clearly, act wisely, and bring a stable and caring presence to all that we do.