04/11/2011 10:45 am ET | Updated Jun 11, 2011

Feelings Fitness: An Aerobic Antidote to Fiscal Fighting

Never underestimate fear of change, particularly when what is required is a deep shift in attitude. Most of us are so conditioned to deploy both language and rationale to bolster our prejudices that we perpetuate a non-civil civil warring while making noises about a need for collaboration.

Consider for a moment the overheated debate over whether the government should shut down. It really doesn't matter that they reached an 11th-hour compromise because there will be the next showdown and the next, with no real ways to resolve ideological differences that are now so very deep.

For example, when I woke up Saturday morning to the sounds saying Republicans wanted America to deny aid to any country that permitted abortion, the weirdness of it all went through me. I thought, we have supported countries that permit genocide and the whack job Gaddafi for years when those regimes were convenient to our pockets. It sounded like a papal edict.

I wondered, as I have so many times over the last few years, If only -- only -- there were some mental aerobic exercise that would allow us to stretch to better know both our own points of view and to get into the feelings (or shoes) of another. What if, for example, there was some sort of "Feelings Fitness" exercise that could address the obesity of our dysfunction. I actually began chatting over this idea last year at a conference with HYDRO-Fit founder Craig Stuart. We imagined all manner of scenarios, to our great amusement.

Given the tone in Washington, DC, over the last few days, and with my tongue only slightly in my cheek, I began wondering, what if Congress was forced to negotiate in a pool, with bathing suits a must. Sweat and semi-nudity are wonderful equalizers, and after embarrassment is cured by individual and group sessions -- in the water or out -- it is simply harder to argue as fiercely both naked and wet. However it's not the arguing we need to stop, it's the attempt to "drown the other" out, and to close our hearts and minds to seeing the other person as human and deserving.

Imagine if you will... an aqua-mediator running House Speaker John Boehner and the rest of his caucus through drills to stretch their muscles of compassion, and force an aerobic flood of oxygen to generate open mindedness and open heartedness.

My Pilates teacher has taught me to focus on certain muscle groups while "inviting" opportunities for new muscles and movement to enter the open spaces provided by attention and intention. This approach enhances both our physical ability and our mental intention. Feelings, though often excluded even from the "mind-body connection," are the true driving force of our beings so why not use our discipline and play to include them even as we tame them as well?

Returning, if you will, to our aquatic Congress, one can imagine the added benefit of the sense of community that occurs "organically" when people meet in the water. Music of various cultures could be played during games of "follow the leader" in creating choreography that increases the sense of cooperation. Once lulled by the lapping about, a psychotherapeutic session could ensue in which each member of Congress would get to make a point by telling a story, with citizens there to explain their side of the human experience which needs to be counted. Oh yes, just as the people gather in the galleries above the halls of Congress, they would be present in the deck chairs poolside in this scenario. And then, in or out of the water, the atmosphere would be better set for the kind of connectedness and respect we need.

Back to reality, the point is that the biggest change required is the deep sense that we are not only equal in many ways but really connected, in that every being affects every other. Not only that, but the connection that goes like this: "Everything we do and everything we don't do affects who we are."

I understand that people don't want to work hard to see their resources "wasted" on people who might milk the welfare system. On the other hand, I see solution through connection in concrete ways. For example, take a conservative accountant, a liberal planner and children of all kinds to study ideas and solutions and they will come up with cost effective planning. A Feelings Fitness approach (swimming pool optional) can help us with our distraction so that we remember it's okay to be clumsy at the start of any new rhetorical exercise, and there is no shame in admitting mistakes and learning from them.

If we blame the poor or the elderly or the sick for our deficits and forget we have entered wars without clear information as to their effectiveness, we are lost in distraction. Exercise is usually considered a remedy that helps both energy and focus levels. So there you have it.

This is America, where a huge pool can be built in no time.

America right now has many angry people, and intense anger is often caused at least in part, by fear and helplessness. When we are scared of vulnerability we find or create and then charge an enemy. If we get some of our anger out in the water, we may admit how vulnerable we feel, what the fears are about. The compassion muscles may build not only for each other but for us. And then the unthinkable can happen within feelings fitness as it can happen in therapy or in real attention to the deepest feeling states within: We actually experience being bored with fighting and more excited by play and cooperation.

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