Cultivating bat-quanimity

Equanimity is a quality of our Buddha nature, along with love, compassion, and joy—something we all possess in our innermost being, though sometimes we have to work hard to locate it underneath the surface turbulence. The word equanimity in English comes from the Latin aequus: equal or even, plus animus: mind, spirit, character. It is defined as calmness of mind; composure, especially under tension or strain; or evenness of temper. Among the dictionary synonyms: composure, calm, peace, poise, serenity, tranquility, coolness, imperturbability. You get the picture.

I’ve discovered this week that an excellent test of equanimity is the sudden appearance of a bat in one’s home.

Over four consecutive evenings,  a bat suddenly appeared, flying and swooping around my living room, bedroom, or office, like—well, there’s a reason for the phrase “like a bat out of hell.” At first, their sudden appearances were quite disconcerting, and my impulse to shriek and run out of the room won the day. But after a couple of “where’s Waldo” adventures and a phone consultation with a bat removal expert, I now know not to flee and lose sight of the bat: when it gets tired, it looks for a clever hiding place, and if you don’t find it, you have to worry about where it may be lurking. I’ve also assembled a handy bat-stalking kit including a baseball cap and leather fireplace gloves, and gotten used to just stepping a bit out of range and waiting for them to tire and land. Having a routine definitely helps, but it’s still interesting to watch that first instinctive panic reaction followed by the sinking of my heart when I catch sight of…NOOOOOO, NOT ANOTHER BAT!

On the Dharma side of things, equanimity is sometimes explained along the lines of the English definition: as being unaffected by the four worldly concerns, i.e., that one’s happiness (or composure) does not depend on loss or gain, pleasure or pain, praise or blame, disgrace or fame.

It is also sometimes explained in the context of the four immeasurables, or four limitless attitudes: love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. In this context it may be described as wishing love, compassion, and joy limitlessly and impartially for all beings, no matter what their role may be in our lives, whether they appear as friends, enemies, strangers, or furry frenzied flying creatures in our living room with a scary wingspan and tiny sharp teeth.

It’s not necessarily easy to focus on wishing love and happiness to a bat in the midst of the mayhem, but I’ve found it helpful to remember they are sentient beings, just like the rest of us, subject to the sufferings of birth, illness, old age and death. These bat invaders are not looking to move in with me, they’re just lost, and clearly in more distress than I am. They’re desperate to get away from this sudden, claustrophobic, painfully bright enclosure with its threatening human presence and terrifying tupperware.

When they settle, they are very small, just a few inches long, with endearing little bat-ears and teeny tiny toes. When the tupperware descends, they are too exhausted and petrified to move, and some make a clicking noise that signifies fright. This makes it easier to call the four limitless attitudes to mind.

On the plus side, having bats has dramatically increased my appreciation for not having a bat in the house. But in either case:

  1. May all bats have happiness and the causes of happiness.
  2. May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
  3. May they never lose touch with true happiness that harbors no suffering.
  4. May they come to rest in vast, impartial equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.

photo bat2 6-21-14

P.S. In case anyone is worried, please rest assured that 1) statistically speaking, the likelihood of any individual bat carrying rabies appears to be very low, 2) the professionals are coming in soon to oversee the removal of the bats, who have likely resided in the attic of my mother’s house for years (another story altogether); 3) no bats will be harmed in this operation (it’s illegal); and 4) I finally identified and sealed off likely points of entry from the attic and–knock on wood–I haven’t seen a bat in the last four nights, though I’m still on high alert, which means staying up past my usual bedtime, keeping the bat-kit close to hand, and fixating on every little noise after sunset as a potential bat.

bat kit June 2014

attic door 6-24-14