Today the sale of my flat completed. It’s been a journey getting to this destination. Several stops and starts, some stuff that the agent called ‘sticky patches’, and some tricky decisions – mainly on whether, and how much by, to drop the original sales price.
I had a first attempt at selling it two years ago and failed. This was my second attempt to sell it. Between the first and second attempts, I came across the concept of ‘equanimity’. It’s in one of the Smiling Mind meditations that I’m using to control migraine.
A simple definition of “equanimity,” is the capacity to not get attached to a specific (desired) outcome. Instead, to let go of that attachment. So, in the case of selling my flat – if I had equanimity I would not be caught up in the stress, fear, doubt and tension that accompanies trying to sell a property in a difficult market. I would take the view that maybe it will sell/maybe it won’t sell and feel relaxed about the process and confident to cope with how things would turn out.
The thing is, developing the capacity for equanimity takes practice, perhaps years – or a lifetime – of practice, and I was nowhere near it the first time I put the flat on the market. I felt frustrated and disappointed by its failure to sell. I decided to rent it out. I rented a place in the location I had been intending to buy a place in. Taking those actions felt like making the best of an unwanted outcome. I’d definitely felt attached to the ‘sell my flat’ and ‘buy-somewhere-else’ outcome.
I began a slow path to trying to cultivate equanimity, beginning with some useful quick tips on where to start.
In the event, the renting out worked well. The tenant was superb. The place I rented for myself is fine. I’ve had two years to live in the neighbourhood to work out whether it is right for me and my situation, and where, specifically, I might want to buy somewhere, if I eventually sold the flat.
So maybe if on my first attempt to sell the flat, two years ago, I had been more capable of equanimity I wouldn’t have felt so downcast by the failure to achieve a sale.
A more complex definition of equanimity is ‘an even-minded mental state or dispositional tendency toward all experiences or objects, regardless of their origin or their affective valence (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral).’ This extends the idea of equanimity as being more than a lack of attachment to outcomes and more a way of life.
Mindfulness practitioners and Buddhist adherents make conscious effort to cultivate equanimity, Rev Grace Song describes it as ‘one of the most sublime emotions of Buddhist practice, is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill-will.”
Another practitioner notes that ‘Equanimity contains the complete willingness to behold the pleasant and the painful events of life equally. It points to a deep balance in which you are not pushed and pulled between the coercive energies of desire and aversion.’
The urge to try having a second go at selling it was precipitated by my landlady initially saying she wanted to terminate my tenancy agreement at the end of the 2-year term, and then changing her mind saying I could stay another six months.
Because it is important that I live in my current neighbourhood, I began to feel the precarity of renting – would the landlord change her mind again on my staying 6 more months, would the rent go up exponentially, would the reported, and necessary, gutter repairs get done, etc? I found myself a long way from equanimity on this. I felt stressed and anxious.
Buoyed by the research I found that says ‘equanimity captures potentially the most important psychological element in the improvement of well-being,’ I decided that my well-being would be improved if I sold my flat and bought a property in my current neighbourhood. But I knew this might not happen and I would have to take a route to equanimity on it. I recalibrated and as the process of selling the flat (second time round) took hold, so did my intention to deepen my practice of equanimity.
I am delighted that the sale finally went through, and I was attached to that outcome. However, I knew that there were many other possible outcomes and I could make the best of them.
To reassure myself, I wrote a list of them. Any one of them would have been ok: carrying on renting my flat out and staying in the place I am renting – this assumed my landlord changed her mind about terminating my tenancy, carrying on renting my flat out and finding another place in the locality to rent, winning lots on the Premium Bonds giving me the ability to both buy somewhere and carry on renting out my non-sellable flat (a long shot), giving up on renting a place myself and going back to live in my original flat, selling my flat to a ‘we buy any property’ company, putting it up for auction, organising a raffle to sell it through, getting the council to buy it via their buy-back scheme.
Although selling the flat was an outcome mattered to me, I took note of Leo Babauta’s point. He says if the outcome matters, ‘you should do the actions that are most likely going to get you that outcome … plan out the steps, then do the steps … but as you’re doing each of the steps themselves, you don’t have to be attached to the outcome.’ He offers four ways of taking the steps, towards an outcome, without focusing on it:
“Focus on the intention: what I hope to bring to the task rather than what I hope to get out of it.
Focus on the effort. Instead of worrying about how things will turn out, pay attention instead to how focused you are on it, how much effort you’re putting into it, how mindful you are as you do it.
Focus on the process. The outcome is a result of the process — if you’re not getting the outcome you want, focus on improving the process. How much care are you taking as you do it? How can you step up your game? Don’t worry about the outcome as much as you pay attention to how you’re doing things.
Focus on the moment: What is beautiful about this particular moment, as you do the action? What can you notice? Can you be curious as you do the act, instead of having a fixed mindset?”
So now the flat is sold, and I’ve made an offer to buy a property which meets my location specification (100 meters from my rented place). How will my equanimity show up in this next phase of the property roller-coaster – will it deepen and develop? Maybe it will/maybe it won’t.