A Meaningful Life, part 2: Your Physical Self

I’ve written before about the need for balance in life, the ideal of the Renaissance man or woman. As a teen, one of my idols was Kris Kristofferson, because he had been a college football player, award-winning songwriter, Army helicopter pilot, Rhodes scholar, actor, and singer. I was not going to match his achievements but I was to determined to never let go of the concept.

If we view a well-rounded person as having balance between the spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical, then it seems to me the last of these is most often the casualty of 21st-century life. Volumes have been written about obesity in the United States and its consequences. Most often, the focus is on the cost in health care and, to a lesser extent, the quality of life.

To pursue fitness is a chase we always win. In any attempt to improve our fitness, we are treating the body as the temple it is.

I have lain exhausted on a track after running 400-meter repeats. I have fallen off a rowing machine when done with a 5000-meter time trial. I have kicked and been kicked by a 265-pound mass of muscle in a sparring match. I ran into the proverbial wall in my first three marathons. And I threw up from exertion five days in a row at football practice in high school.

These have been some of the most meaningful moments in my life. My friend Jamie wrote, “When we push ourselves in the physical realm beyond what we think we can handle, this mentality spills over into other aspects of our lives. In teaching ourselves that we can handle that physical hill, we learn that we can also tackle the hills in the other aspects of our lives. We learn who we are, and what we can do. We learn that we are more than what our insecurities whisper to us. We are stronger than our doubts would have us believe.”

To view exercise as simply an unpleasant requirement to maintain health is to miss the point. We are maintaining the foundation of all that we are. Though we sometimes want to compartmentalize our lives, we are far to0 complex for one area of our existence not to affect other areas.

If you are overweight: Let me say that I never view you with anything less than heartfelt concern. My strong desire is this: To come alongside you, have you place your hand over your heart, and let you remind yourself that it is that steady heartbeat keeping you alive. I want to re-introduce you to the body which would skip along the playground during recess, which awakened during adolescence, and which must occasionally feel stirrings to rise up to a physical challenge.

If you have previously been fit but have lost yourself in the business of life: Whatever you have going, exercise should be viewed with the same importance as your job and your loved ones. If the day were to come where you find your life threatened by illness, you would quickly see it this way. Why wait until that day?

If you are currently exercising and taking care of yourself: Be proud. You are stoking the fire of the engine which powers the rest of your life. You have overcome the inertia which drives us all to conserve energy, and found that energy feeds on energy.

When I get together with my friends for a run, or go to my friend Lauren’s Pure Barre class, everyone looks much the same. Some are medical doctors, some are PhD’s, some are stay-at-home moms, some are young, some not so much, but all generally wear similar clothes and are at similar levels of fitness. This should tell us something: When our time on earth is coming to an end, we won’t take our material possessions with us. Instead, it’s the hills we climbed, both the figurative and literal hills, on which we’ll look back with fondness. And how do we prepare ourselves to climb hills? By doing it.

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