ITIES 7–9: Equanimity, Fixity, Non-Irritability*

Swami Yogatirthananda Saraswati, Switzerland


Fatigue and the impatience that may result from fatigue are great threats to equanimity. Awareness of mental and/or physical fatigue helps to restore equanimity either by overcoming the fatigue or by bearing calmly with the situation.

Dealing with one's own needs and desires and those of others sometimes requires a lot of juggling. If there is no balance, no compromise, then equanimity is threatened. The result may be anger, frustration, disappointment, etc.

Reaction to pressure in the form of 'mobbing' is a tremendous challenge to equanimity. Being a witness is a way out. But although there is an outward equanimity, calmness and control towards the other person, inner turmoil and hurt may persist for much longer. On the other hand, there is a reaction to support, trust and kindness. Feeling flattered is pride, is identification and not equanimity. Equanimity refers to a balanced attitude in the face of positive and negative situations. Discernment should determine any reaction to a situation. As soon as judgement creeps in, equanimity is at stake.

I was giving a language class and in the room next door a saxophone rehearsal for a concert that same evening was taking place. I had to juggle the discontent of the students, my own fatigue due to having to speak loudly, the nervousness of the young musicians before their concert and the organizers who were ill at ease. Being aware of the time factor (the situation would not last forever, but only for thirty minutes) and the fact that there was nothing that could be done to help me stay calm, I found the prayer that had helped already with absence of vanity was also very useful here:

To have the patience to endure what cannot be changed,
To have the courage to change what can be changed,
To have the wisdom to know the difference.

The provoking habit of a teenager is to leave the school bag in the middle of the hall, once or twice a day. There is about a metre of distance between the habitual bag-dropping spot and the room of the teenager. My reactions vary from anything between ignoring to verbal insult – none express equanimity. Kicking the bag into the room is no solution either as even the gentlest push with the foot betrays a lack of equanimity. Repetition is the test here that equanimity has to pass, being again and again faced with the same situation.

TV is a very good test of equanimity. With the constant onslaught of information one could easily be taken through the whole gamut of emotions within a very short period of time. From devastating news to suspense to comedy TV is a mirror of everyday life and the attitude in both situations should be that of the observer. But identification with TV can be as strong as it is with everyday life situations.

Lack of organization, bad time and mind management, feeling guilty as a result, all lead to loss of equanimity. Projections, worries for the future as well as clinging to memories and the past lead to loss of equanimity. Physical pain is a challenge to equanimity, and the instant solution of medication is an attempt to avoid the challenge.

Success and failure are but two sides of the same coin and equanimity does not make a difference. Equanimity requires the awareness and patience to give emotions the time they need to be expressed, quietened or dealt with. Equanimity is the golden middle path, avoiding ups and downs and all the shades and variations in between. It is the attitude of the impartial witness, concerned yet not moved, acting without reacting. It is the expression of all the six previous ITIES (serenity, regularity, absence of vanity, sincerity, simplicity, veracity) and if their lesson had been learnt well, then equanimity could be child's play. It shows the necessity of being constantly aware and of being constantly aware of all ITIES.

For me equanimity is a difficult ITY, but this month has helped me see the importance of integrating all ITIES simultaneously. Serenity is a wonderful ITY to promote equanimity, so are absence of vanity and simplicity. I found equanimity to be a very clear expression of the witness attitude and it provides deep satisfaction and peace not only for oneself but also for those who are in contact with us.


After equanimity, which turned out to be an essential survival ITY, fixity meant giving equanimity a direction, and this direction is sankalpa.

I saw 'Child of the Himalaya' at the cinema. It is a wonderful example of fixity, where fixity is essential for survival. For if the village and the leader of the village are not 100% determined to get food for the winter, the village will not survive. I admired the intensity, and thought that fixity should be lived with that attitude of life and death, the goal set must be reached with that kind of intensity.

Is physical illness a distraction or a possibility to step out of everyday life and fix the mind on the goal? I realize that there are many ways the goal can be kept alive – action and working towards the goal is only one way.

A walk in the beautiful autumn forest is an almost magical way of keeping the mind steady; surrounded by so much beauty, no mind would possibly want to wander away from it. Everyday interactions are not a hindrance to keeping the mind fixed; it is a matter of will and practice, of training the witness. There are days of total non-fixity, indulging in daydreaming, turning one thought over and over again, giving it various forms and expressions. There is almost a battle between this thought, with its underlying fear/desire, and fixity, with its underlying goal and faith in the sankalpa. Even though fixity is lost, the battle revealed different facets of the desire for recognition and success and the fear of rejection and failure.

Fixity is also a test of sincerity and veracity. Absolute honesty about what one wants – the SWAN theory is a great help here – and acting in utter sincerity all the time towards that aim.

Sometimes I wish I were Sita with her mind always fixed on Rama. Unwavering one-pointedness, unwavering faith under all circumstances is fixity. I have seen how difficult it is, and how all depends on faith: faith in guru and God, faith in the sankalpa, faith in (maybe) a short-term goal which is not in conflict with the sankalpa, faith in oneself and one's ability to reach the goal – with the help of guru and God. Sita represents and lives all these aspects of faith.

Besides sankalpa and faith, I am adding a third item, which is an important element to fixity, namely, patience. I needed patience on a day when almost everything went wrong or in a roundabout way. There was a lot of postponing, delaying, making new arrangements that could not have been imagined beforehand. Fixity implies also enormous flexibility and adaptability in order to juggle circumstances to suit the goal.

Clarity, courage, patience and faith are the main ingredients of fixity. Serenity is an attitude, a discipline; equanimity is the outward expression of it; regularity is the discipline of uniting a set structure with adaptability; fixity is the outward expression of this discipline towards one goal. At one moment in the practice of fixity, there is the need to let go, and to resume in all humility the principle of 'Thy will be done'.

One question keeps coming up: Why are some thoughts and desires so persistent, why is the mind fixed on them, why are there obsessions while on the other hand a consciously set goal is so difficult to keep? Is it the strength of some samskaras, is it the strength of desire, is it the weakness of the will at the moment of setting the goal? Maybe the only aim that can be attained with fixity is the aim to serve; maybe all other resolves and goals must be linked to the aim of service.

I am trying to balance action and non-action. It is getting hard to manage inner turmoil with the everyday activity. Arjuna is fixity in action, Sita is fixity in inaction; both know when to let go and surrender without losing the aim.

I had a yoga class with two drug addicts. One came completely stressed and out of breath and the other one twenty minutes late. At the end of yoga nidra, both said: “Why can't we be like that all the time?” While talking of the need for stress and tension, of the need to inhale and exhale, and of the need to manage both relaxation and tension, I was reminded again of fixity. What is needed is the knowledge of when to act and when to let go. Talking to the two young people, I saw how difficult it is. They are avoiding the challenge of changing from tension to relaxation by opting for one state only – through the help of drugs.

Incredible fatigue of fixity, I feel exhausted by this ITY. Is it possible with a conscious effort in fixity to solve mental patterns? Can fixity be a tool to deal with one's SWAN (strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs)?

I can see that patience and letting go are part of fixity, but they are not the same as resignation. Resignation has no faith and is therefore the total opposite of letting go. In order to have fixity, faith must be kept alive.

I am aware how fixity is the external expression of regularity, balancing a structure, a set frame with adaptability to unforeseen events and situations. It is more difficult as other people are concerned, while regularity was much more a personal discipline. Fixity in action with a well tuned mind and time management turns everyday life into a pleasant flowing stream, for oneself and the others involved.

In a way I am relieved that fixity is over. It was a difficult time, it showed me how unfixed my mind was, how much discipline I needed to stick to a set period and how much faith in myself, in guru, God, in life or destiny. The traps of distraction and prevarication are ever present and require a most vigilant mind and honesty.

There were five distinct periods: (i) an initial time of effort which was tiring, (ii) days which seemed to flow along with the sankalpa, fulfilling and enacting smoothly and effortlessly the goals set, (iii) a time of resignation, of giving up, (iv) a time of falling prey to distraction, and (v) a period when the initial motivation and one-pointedness had to be kept alive in order to live fixity.

Also the difference between the first six ITIES (serenity, regularity, absence of vanity, sincerity, simplicity, veracity) and the second set of ITIES (equanimity, fixity, non-irritability, adaptability, humility, tenacity) is becoming very clear. There is even less chance of cheating, as the outside world and life throws the result back at me – mercilessly. The interaction with the outside world is no doubt an added challenge.

I feel that whatever sankalpa or set goal relates to the act of giving makes fixity much easier to practise. The greater context of giving is necessary in order to maintain fixity. Acting without expectation, giving without expectation, without wanting any results, has been the key to fixity.


I am apprehensive about being irritable. A journey to India might offer a lot of occasions to be irritable – but the day and the night went very smoothly and I could not detect any sign of irritability. The cause for irritability lies within and not with crowded trains and taxi drivers haggling over five rupees, nor with the erratic pattern of fatigue and sudden bursts of energy, result of long hours of travelling.

Non-irritability corresponds to absence of vanity, I am irritated the moment there is identification. There are three steps to irritability: identification, projection and reaction. I identify by saying this is mine, then I project that something might happen to me or what I think is mine and then I react. Knowing my SWAN (strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs) could certainly help here, as it could either prevent any of the three steps (identification-projection-reaction) or cut the process short. But more important seems faith, faith that all is for the best. Maybe the lesson of all ITIES is this surrender to 'Thy will be done', maybe that is the aim, and each ITY is another road leading to the goal of surrender.

I am irritated about the question of right and wrong. Is there an absolute of right or wrong, why identify with opinions about right and wrong? I am thinking of the Zen saying: “Do not look for truth, give up all opinions,” or of Hamlet who puts it this way: “... there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I am looking for the link between absence of vanity and non-irritability – the former had to do with identification with one's thoughts, words and actions, the latter with accepting any situation without judgement.

I am thinking of the SWAN theory and the necessary reviewing of the whole day.

  1. SWAN is a training in awareness.
  2. SWAN is a training in non-identification and impermanence as one sees that (a) one characteristic, i.e. courage may be a strength one day, a need or ambition another day and that (b) a person is not nor has a SWAN; a person may have just one SWAN on one day but a different one the next. The SWAN of a person may change from moment to moment.
  3. SWAN is a tool of self-discovery; the self-image changes, self-acceptance grows. SWAN sets in motion the process of transformation.
  4. SWAN is common to all, which helps us to understand and accept others.

Irritability arises when either W(eakness), A(mbition) or N(eed) are touched and concerned. Here are some examples:

  • I am irritable because W is ignorance, not understanding the situation, nor the possible consequences of my action nor my inner confusion; the A is understanding, right action, spontaneous compassion; the N is for guidance and help.
  • I am irritable because W is impatience; the A is for perfection, efficiency.
  • I am irritable because W is pride, arrogance; the A is for respect, cooperation, for 'love and peace'; the N is for courage, communication and awareness.

The more there is identification with the W, A or N that has been touched, the more there will be irritability. Therefore, non-irritability implies awareness of one's SWAN, non-identification with one's SWAN and acceptance of one's SWAN.

No matter if the irritation lasts a few seconds or a couple of hours or more – there is always tension, physical tension, muscular tension, and there is division and separation between the 'I' and 'the other'. Absence of vanity was being the empty flute on which guru and God may play the tune they choose to play. Non-irritability is going with that same emptiness towards another person. And humour is definitely an essential ingredient of non-irritability. The moment one can switch to humour, all irritation is gone.

I feel that there is the gross external level of irritability. But beyond is another layer. Every time I criticize mentally, disapprove or judge it is a sort of irritability; it just doesn't get expressed. Maybe all negativity is irritability; maybe every time there is a 'too' it is a sign of irritability. When something is too long, too hot, too cold, etc. it means that there is irritation, and that somewhere there was an idea, an expectation of how it should be, and that expectation has not been fulfilled. Judgement and non-acceptance lead to irritability.

When irritability becomes irritation, does it go into the body and become sickness? When I am sick I am not more irritable, instead I am indifferent to my situation. Irritability is a judgmental reaction, non-irritability is acceptance and a feeling of oneness, and indifference is withdrawal and a refusal to participate.

I am watching irritability of different degrees expressed in different ways – a quick glance at the watch, a fleeting frown, a sudden movement and of course all kinds of verbal expressions.

When one person completely 'overreacted' about a trifle, making a mountain out of a molehill, another person and myself made ample comments and jokes about this disproportionate outburst. Yet as far as irritability is concerned, what is the difference between expressed anger and hidden criticism? Is it not all just a matter of degree? Criticism comes always faster and easier than understanding, but is no less a sign of irritability. Maybe equanimity is accepting because and in spite of one's opinions and feelings. Non-irritability in a given situation is the absence of all opinions that might evoke separation, division, a sense of difference.

But why does the mind look for difference? This need to create difference is very irritating. This need acts like a protection. The sense of unity is almost like a threat to the ego, which is lost in these moments without difference, these moments of 'oneness'. Are a critical mind and irritability expressions of fear, the fear of losing one's identity? Is non-irritability the same as openness, fearlessness, faith and trust?

Non-irritability is cutting out all possibilities of difference and separation. Serenity is the First Aid way out of any ITY gone wrong. Kirtan is an expression of non-irritability as it creates a sense of union. For the first time, I have looked at the second part of the ITIES. Words like immortality, infinity, eternity mean nothing to me, so I intend to ignore them. I kept to the 18 ITIES that are more tangible material to work with. Once I felt that all ITIES have the same aim, a sense of unity, I decided to check the other half of the song.

As a 'coincidence' Swamiji was saying in satsang: “Talking only about the aim is philosophy, talking only about the method to get to the aim is a system, talking about the aim and the method is sadhana, the transformative process. Yoga is sadhana.” The first half of the ITY song talks about the method, the second half about the aim. I have only looked at the method so far, ignoring totally the aim.

Non-irritability is walking the razor's edge between watching, accepting and judging. I am aware of the speed with which the mind works and with which I fool myself. I have fewer outbursts of irritability but more awareness of the critical, judgmental mind. Absence of vanity and non-irritability are the two ITIES for which there is no positive word; is there nothing to describe the state of egolessness in a positive way? Absence of identification, the knowledge of one's SWAN and absence of expectation are keys to non-irritability. Contentment, the knowledge that what I get is what I need, the will to do what must be done and humour are all helping to live non-irritability.

Singing the many names of God creates that sense of unity inherent in non-irritability.

* The 18 ITIES of Swami Sivananda are Serenity, Regularity, Absence of Vanity, Sincerity, Simplicity, Veracity, Equanimity, Fixity, Non-irritability, Adaptability, Humility, Tenacity, Integrity, Nobility, Magnanimity, Charity, Generosity and Purity. Articles on ITIES 1–3 and 4–6 appeared in the September and November 2001 issues.