At the beginning of every calendar year, we get inundated with health and fitness images. Go into any grocery store and you will see hard fit bodies on every health magazine cover, touting this or that new fitness workout, miracle diet or health cure. Meanwhile television parades models or celebrities promoting some new wonder supplement, diet or piece of workout equipment guaranteed to transform you into one of them. This approach emphasizes the physical body, and forgets that each of our physical bodies carries a spiritual inner being.
When one’s desired self-image depends on these images, he or she loses touch with the inner self, the key to realizing one’s meaningful destiny. The only optimal and indeed holistic approach to good health combines the physical with mind/body/spirit.
Don’t get me wrong — I support health and fitness. Our culture produces so many sick people with all manner of ailments, whether imagined or real. But the physical body by itself is simply not the solution. It is that combination of and a balance between mind/body/spirit that creates a healthy person. This is the disconnect I see in present-day advertising antics, which leads people to unhealthy habits such as eating disorders or ridiculously expensive and disfiguring plastic surgery.
I understand wholeheartedly – we all want to look good and thus feel confident and strong. There’s nothing abnormal about that, along with eating a balanced, healthy diet to look and feel better. In my work, I see that the real problems lie in the excess of these physical pursuits: extreme exercising, extreme plastic surgeries, and extreme eating habits. For people with that over-emphasis on the physical, self-satisfaction remains elusive, always searching for external things to fill a void that can only ever be filled from within.
I’ve had clients and friends over the years that have gotten one form or another of plastic surgery, been extreme exercise enthusiasts, or had an eating disorder. Until they focused on the inner spirit, nothing seemed to make them happy. When I was younger I wasn’t immune, either. It’s hard to be in this business and stay holistic while having colleagues that do extreme things to get the so-called propagandized perfect body. Over the years I’ve even tried different supplements for a very short time or done extreme diets like the Atkins in the hopes of reaching some imagined perfection of how I saw myself physically. With all my trials, errors and blunders I learned that such thinking is just not reality, but what the Baha’i writings call “vain imaginings.”
No amount of changing the physical body will bring happiness. In reality, you need balance in all things. Holistic health and fitness mean that spiritual fitness is just as important as physical — if not more — because the spirit ultimately goes on while the body dies.
Feeding the spiritual self is extremely important. But how do we do that? How do we maintain balance of the mind/body/spirit in a material world without being adversely affected by it? What I do as a Baha’i to achieve this balance involves some practical steps:
- saying daily prayers along with certain written meditations,
- taking a moment to appreciate the little things in life,
- being present during conversations and really listening,
- seeing meaning in things that are there to help us grow spiritually,
- and doing some type of community service.
I try to understand that the little things may simply involve smiling at a stranger in the elevator and saying hello, to holding a door open for someone, to asking how someone is feeling and listening to their response, to putting yourself in another’s shoes to empathize or, just taking an extra minute to talk on the phone with a friend or family member, someone who just needs you to listen even when you don’t feel like it because you have an endless to-do list.
We are all connected, which means a spiritually-healthy you can create a positive rippling effect in your community which can influence your locality, state, country and even the world. Remember being healthy and fit is reflected outwards from within.
Finally some words of Abdu’l-Baha that contribute to my thinking on the mind/body/spirit connection:
Consider that the highest type of creation below man is the animal, which is superior to all degrees of life except man. Manifestly, the animal has been created for the life of this world. Its highest virtue is to express excellence in the material plane of existence. The animal is perfect when its body is healthy and its physical senses are whole. When it is characterized by the attributes of physical health, when its physical forces are in working order, when food and surrounding conditions minister to its needs, it has attained the ultimate perfection of its kingdom. But man does not depend upon these things for his virtues. No matter how perfect his health and physical powers, if that is all, he has not yet risen above the degree of a perfect animal. Beyond and above this, God has opened the doors of ideal virtues and attainments before the face of man. He has created in his being the mysteries of the divine Kingdom. He has bestowed upon him the power of intellect … – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 302-305.