If you could give all human beings one virtue which would you choose?

Tolerance of our differences – without the desire to change others or want them change to be like us.On a personal level – with our families, friends, lovers, and significant others – this would save us a lot of frustration and heartache. Can you imagine never fighting about how to place the toilet paper roll? ;-)

And on an international level I think if we were more tolerant we’d avoid so much political strife and greatly improve the living conditions of others (1.44 billion people live in extreme poverty and subsist on an average of US $1.25 or less a day).

I think a greater virtue might be empathy (to appreciate the feelings of others) and compassion (sympathy for the suffering of others), but I think it begins with tolerance of our differences.

I feel I’m still in the early stages of my own journey in increasing my tolerance of differences. I’m thankful that I’ve been exposed to people and experiences different than me and my own. I think without this exposure I’d have a small world view and be stuck in a scarcity and fearful mindset. I’m thankful that I’m curious and excited when some sense of newness is introduced in my life. I think using curiosity as a key to tolerance is a pretty powerful thing.

What virtue do you think we humans need more of? What virtues do you have and would like to further nourish in yourself? At the end of the day these virtues do begin with ourselves.

When you’re down what do you do to feel better?

The way I feel better is by acknowledging that I feel bad and I don’t try to deny it, fight it or turn it into something different.

This technique has had such impact in my life. Likely my most powerful strategy for my mental and physical health.

I say physical because as I age I want to mitigate the physical consequences of stress. My body doesn’t bounce back like it used to if I feel muscles tightening in my back, shallow breathing or acid reflux. It’s never too late to address this part of our human experience!

Here is what I do:

When I feel down I take time to recognize that I’m feeling trapped by a difficult feeling or negative thought and then I acknowledge the feelings without trying to change them. Sometimes I whisper to myself “yes and this too” as a way of accepting the feelings instead of denying or fighting them. Then I investigate the feelings and where they live in my body. I often find they are more nuanced than I initially think them to be. I try to get precise with the language I use to describe the feeling. I do this examination gently and with loving kindness. I ask myself what do I need in this vulnerable moment? What am I missing? And then I answer it as best I can with nourishing statements. This process helps me centre myself and feel more at ease with myself and what is going on in the moment.

This technique is called the RAIN technique. I discovered it in the work of meditation teacher Tara Brach and it has done me a world of good.

Now this is mostly a mental exercise. I also believe in the power of changing your physical state in order to change your mental state. If I feel emotionally or intellectually stuck, I like to move around. At home that might be doing some jumping jacks, pushups or dancing like no one is watching (great because no is). Out in public it might be walking to another place in a room and looking out the window or going somewhere private to shake it all out. Sometimes I wiggle my toes in my shoes and then wiggle my hands in my lap.

 

And when all else fails there is this kitten video on YouTube. ;-)

PS For a bunch of reasons I wasn’t taught how to acknowledge my feelings and manage stress, conflict and challenges in a healthy way. When these things occurred I would deny any difficult/negative feelings and then they would resurface in weird and ugly ways. You can read a more in-depth exploration here.

Do you live more in the past, present, or future?

I think at this point in my life I’m focused on the present in ways I wasn’t able to before. I meditate and have a mindfulness practice. This has helped clear away much mental clutter. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about the past and the present much of the time. I seriously do. ALL THE TIME!

I have a nostalgic and romantic streak so I like to think back about the pleasant experiences of childhood – like family picnics and adventures in nature with friends. I like to tap into the excitement and infatuations of adolescence and my early 20s – like discovering interesting pieces of world knowledge and figuring out my sense of self and values. I also look back with a sense of regret though when I catch myself doing this I change things up. I bring loving kindness to the younger version of myself. This is a very healing practice and I’m so glad I discovered it.

As for the future, I do worry. I’m 45 years old. I’m about half way through my life – if accidents or illness doesn’t strike. I want my future to be filled with connection and purpose. I fear poverty and poor quality of life. I want to live with a sense of stability and security. I want to be well.

I also like to dream about the future. To ponder about what it will look like. These dreams can easily turn into post-apocalyptic nightmares so I need to step back and remember that I can only control my own actions and the more I focus on my Core Desired Feelings and acting accordingly the more resilient I will be regardless of what the future holds.

And this brings me back to the present moment (by way of the past).  I’m reminded of my favourite yoga pose – Warrior 2.  A yoga teacher I had some 15 years ago would describe the position as having us being planted firmly in the present with one arm stretching back to the past and the other stretching towards the future. This pose has become one of the keys to my sanity.

The more I action I take – mental, emotional and physical – to ground myself in the present moment the more I feel content with each breath and step I take towards to the future and the past are but gentle reminders of personal evolution and growth.