By Mary Boutieller
We are one human family and each person is a mirror showing us the way forward.
For several months now I’ve been thinking about tolerance and boundaries. What does it mean to be tolerant? What is acceptable and what is just not okay with me? In some areas of my life, I am very tolerant. I am accepting of many things—believing in “live and let live”—as long as no one is doing harm to another. Yet, in other areas of my life, I have become less tolerant. I am bothered much quicker by loud noises, obnoxious people, barking dogs, litterbugs, a lack of basic manners. It’s as if, suddenly, I’ve become the “older generation” thinking the world has gone to hell in a hand basket.
It is challenging for me to look at and to feel my own intolerances—body tightening, disapproving, head shaking, separating myself from “the other.” I lose my serenity. I feel old and cranky and not hip and quite humbug-ish. And, I sound like my mother!
One day, still troubled by these questions, I asked my yoga students how we (I) should handle these feelings of intolerance. I got a lot of amazing answers: “Look with compassion; put yourself in another’s shoes; have empathy; spread love…” All good answers, yet I needed more.
Then I looked up the definition of tolerance. From Merriam-Webster: “Sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. The act of allowing something.”
I thought about the idea of allowing something to be without the need to react. I think sometimes we can become so attuned to what bothers us that we become hypersensitive to things that really are okay, even if those actions aren’t ones we would choose. If I could allow others to do what they do (within reason) and not label it good or bad—just different, could I learn to relax a little more in my own skin?
Yogi Bhajan said, “Only if we do not misunderstand our way of life, ‘My way is the best way and this is the only way’ and that kind of prejudice, may you have and believe life is a love, life is a giving, life is an understanding, life is a tolerance, life is a growth together. Then life is a happiness.”
So lately I have been trying to be a little more aware of what’s actually going on in the face of my discomfort. Kids on their phones? O’well. Am I really going to take on a generation of tech-savvy kids and tell them to look around at their world instead of at their phones? Loud obnoxious music, bad manners, different views, nose picking in public? Can I find a bit more compassion and sympathy for their way of being in the world?
You see, we really don’t know what others have been through, what lessons they were taught as children or what survival/coping mechanisms they have learned along the way. There is always more below the surface. Like the tip of an iceberg, what we see is not all there is to know. Judging another’s exterior or actions tells me little about what is going on “on the inside.”
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke says, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
If I truly value diversity, then I also have to value those who live differently than me. If I believe that we are one human family and that each person is a mirror showing us the way, then I have to look at my own behaviors and actions and know that, chances are, someone else is shaking their head at me! If I can remember that we are all perfectly imperfect beings just trying to figure it out, then maybe I can soften around the edges and make room for more.
What’s beautiful about all of this is that we get to choose the way through. I can set boundaries for what is okay with me and what isn’t okay. I can say “yes” to the life I want to live and “no” to what doesn’t feed my soul. I can limit my exposure. I can breathe, smile, shake my head, and continue on this circuitous path. And I can choose to love both the questioner and the question itself.
There is a lovely book by Pema Chodron called: The Wisdom Of No Escape and The Path of Loving-Kindness. In her very first chapter, she says, “There’s a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable.”
She then goes on to say, “To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is…”
Yes, it’s uncomfortable to feel the full spectrum of emotions—to live them and not push them away. We don’t like to feel uneasy, and we really don’t like for others to see us as less than. But if I only embrace the parts of me I want the rest of the world to see, then I’m saying to myself that I don’t love those parts of me that are a little edgy at times. My passion shows its face both when I am teaching and when I am angry. My love shows itself both when I am caring for another and when I am selfishly holding back.
If we are open to it, we’ll find that we are much more than our current set of beliefs or preferences. We are lovable misfits searching for the light switch to show us the way out. I’m learning that in order to figure out what is true for me, I have to ride right through the rough patches—not around them. If I am sad, I have to be in that sadness so that I can give it a voice. Once I do that, it seems to lose its power over me. If I am feeling intolerant or inadequate, I can mull it around in my body and in my heart for a while and see if it a good fit for me. And I can always change my mind!
We have a brand new year ahead of us—another opportunity to say “yes” and “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry”; and another chance to explore new territory—both within and out there beyond our comfort zones.
In this coming year, I want to make mistakes. I want to learn something new. I want to say what I need to say with as much courage and compassion as I can muster. I want to know love and experience kindness and forgive myself and ask the hard questions. I want to take more deep breaths, drink more water, smile a lot, cry as needed, and live this darn life as it comes—moment by moment.
How about you? What is it that you would like to see in this new and as yet uncharted year? Sit with that for just a minute or two or more, and notice what comes up. Maybe write it down.
May this year be filled with grace and ease, adventure and awareness. May the questions sit well and unhurried and, when we are ready, may the answers come mostly unnoticed.
Mary Boutieller is a Registered Yoga Teacher through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching yoga since 2005. Her work experience includes 22 years as a firefighter/paramedic and 10 years as a Licensed Massage Therapist. Mary’s knowledge and experience give her a well-rounded understanding of anatomy, alignment, health and movement in the body. She is passionate about the benefits of yoga and the ability to heal at all levels through awareness, compassion, and a willingness to explore. She can be reached at: SimplyogaOm@gmail.com.