How to Train Yourself in Life-Changing Virtues
Have you ever wished that you had more patience? Or courage? Or wisdom? Or focus? Sometimes, virtues like these can feel like an expensive sports car. We dream about having them, but silently know that we never will. After all, we were born with a temper… or a proneness to put things off… or an inability to focus. Virtues are something you either have or you don’t… right?
Wrong. We have the power to cultivate virtues in our lives if we’ll approach the task with the right mindset and practices. And fortunately for us, Tibetan Buddhism has passed down just such a series of practices.
So, how can we take advantage of Tibetan Buddhism’s age-old wisdom to grow in things like patience, connectedness, and focus? We must learn the art of training virtues using the exemplar method.
What is the Exemplar Method?
The exemplar method is a meditation technique that’s geared toward helping you build virtue by focusing on someone who has exemplified it. For example, if you wanted to strengthen the virtue of patience, you may think of Gandhi or Jesus. Then, through a series of visualizations, you imagine receiving the virtue that was in them.
This is a powerful tool for cultivating virtue and becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be. So, how does it work?
Step One: Choose a Virtue (or one of the 24 character strengths) & Exemplar
Before you can begin this process, you must choose a virtue and an exemplar of that virtue. So, you’ll need to reflect on the virtues that you most need to cultivate. You may want to consider one of the six universal virtues discovered by Dr. Katherine Dahlsgaard and her team of psychologist researchers.
They combed through philosophers, religious leaders, and a wide array of ancient texts in search of universally acclaimed virtues. When they were through, they had found six virtues that nearly every philosophical and religious tradition endorsed:
- Spirituality or Transcendence
These six virtues would be a great place to start if you’re hoping to become a more happy, successful person. On the other hand, you may have an area of growth in mind already.
Once you have the virtue you want to cultivate in mind, you’ll need to think of someone who exemplifies that virtue. You could choose a figure through history or someone that you’ve met. But the individual needs to embody that virtue in every way possible.
Once you’ve got your virtue and exemplar in mind, it’s time to move on to step two.
Step Two: Become Familiar with the Exemplar
In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, this step is called goms ba, a phrase that literally means ‘becoming familiar.’ During this step, you’ll get in a quiet place and begin your meditative visualization exercise. You’ll imagine a scene that involves your exemplar living out your desired virtue. See how the exemplar deals with obstacles yet remains committed to the virtue in question. As you watch the scene play out, try to get a deep sense of what it would be like for someone to be utterly controlled by that virtue, living it out consistently and completely.
In other words, become as familiar as possible with the virtue and with the one embodying that virtue.
Step Three: Visualize in Front
This step in the process is called mgon du or ‘visualization in front.’ After you’ve visualized your exemplar living out your chosen virtue, you’ll want to imagine that he has entered the room with you. Visualize him walking through the door where you are. As he stands before you, gaze deep into the core of his being. See how his virtue and strength lies at the very center of his being. You may want to think of it as a kind of light that emanates from his inner self, offering understanding and empowerment to anyone who might receive it.
Step Four: Internalize the Virtue
Step four, ngan or internalization, is the part of this meditative journey where you’ll receive the virtue into yourself. While looking with your mind’s eye at your exemplar, imagine the light emanating from him growing until he is nothing but a ball of light. Then, watch as it rises into the air, hovers over you, and descends through your head and into the core of your being. Notice how the light that once shone from your exemplar now shines from within you, even from the deepest parts of your heart. Reflect on how this virtue now lies within you, creating a strength out of something that had been a weakness.
Step Five: Take the View
During this final step, one called it aba or ‘taking the view’, you’ll end your visualization and look at yourself with natural eyes. But as you look, you’ll no longer see yourself as characterized by the flaw or weakness you’re trying to overcome. Instead, you’ll understand that you have a virtue that offers strength – the same virtue that once inhabited your exemplar now lives within you.
This visualization exercise has the power to utterly transform your life. It can establish new virtues and strengthen frail ones. And you can do it all on your own. However, having a coach to guide you along can exponentially increase its effectiveness…
How Can a Coach Help You Train for Virtues More Effectively?
If you’re new to meditation and visualization exercises, becoming proficient at them can take some time. There are a host of things you’ll need to remember. And if you have to constantly break your concentration to remember what the ‘next step’ is, you’ll inevitably miss out on some of its effectiveness. That’s why having a coach who can walk you through these exercises will help you get far more out of them.
Hire a coach who can help you implement this ancient Tibetan Buddhist technique and you’ll be well on your way toward a more virtuous, successful, and content life.