A couple of years ago, I participated in a ‘mindfulness yoga’ for the first time. A form of yoga where simple movements are followed in a slow sequence, with plenty of breaks to feel what the effect of these movements is on you. This form of practice led me to the importance of character in a strange way.
This practice opened a new path for me. A new journey, of exploring my own softness. In a strange way, I felt at the time like this one hour in the week was the only moment in the week where I was ever truly alive. And in turn it pointed me to other practices as well, such as meditation and ecstatic dance. It was the reason I started writing the very blog you are reading right now, two years ago.
It was through this path that I also met Joris van der Geest, a fellow dancer at ecstatic dance and, as it turned out, a writer just debuting his first novel: De Oneindige Marshmallow Test (The Infinite Marshmallow Experiment). The main character in the book, Bastiaan Timmermans, is an investment banker in green energy, living a life of cutthroat competition with other bankers. From early on in the book, he discovers ecstatic dance. A place where he can allow himself to just breathe and turn a blind eye to his thinking mind.
As the book continues, the life of the main character proves hard to combine with the investment banker’s newfound passion for dancing and other tantric practices. Soon enough, his career slowly starts falling apart. He judges himself for not being sharp enough, as one of his close colleagues frames him and discredits his position in the investment world.
With every step Bastiaan takes, every move he makes, he seems to get further away from the life he says he wants to live. The idea that Bastiaan never seems to come across, is that of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics, or character ethics, describes the character of a person as the primary force for ethical choices. It values character over the training of ourselves to refrain from lying, or following some set of rules. By working on a balanced character with a strong foothold in any of these virtuous traits, we will make the right decision. We will do the ethical thing.
Thinking about rules or consequences will never be enough to prepare us for the next ethical dilemma that we will come across on our paths in life. The more we think about something, the less likely we are to be in contact with what we feel. What we feel to be the right thing to do. In any complex decision, especially when time is limited, our most trusted ally is and will always be our character.
We should never forget that we have the power, the freedom, of choice at our side. The freedom to choose to live in line with virtuous character traits, to develop them and know that we are a little bit better today than we were yesterday. Start being free today.