Mind, Body, Soul: A User's Guide
The body is a complex and tricky machine, one which is gifted to us at birth for us to make the best of our entire lives. If we’re lucky, we get many decades of adventure and practical use out of them before moving off this mortal coil. Nobody’s life moves in a straight line no matter how much effort is spent trying to do so. Pain is imminent, challenges inevitable. But the gift remains. We have a responsibility to make the best use of ourselves as we can for as long as we can. To do anything else is an insult to those who aren’t so fortunate.
It is often said youth is wasted on the young. I disagree in part. Youth, in my view, is not wasted on young people so much as it’s misunderstood. The definition of “young” in our society is a dubious one, changing as generations merge and jockey for position in the hierarchy of our culture. Marketing has sold us a bill of goods that looking good is feeling good, a concept which is fairly new in our cultural history. Make no mistake—we are as fit as we want to be and as vibrant as our bodies, minds and souls allow us. People hike in their 80s. Reasonably fit people don’t necessarily do things which give them true joy of movement. There are many in between and it’s up to us make sure we honor who we are and what we’ve been gifted. Each and every day, through simple things and complex times.
We need to pay attention to our mind first. Without a sound head we can’t do anything right anywhere else. Ever workout in a mental fog? You don’t get the benefits--anyone who’s been in this state understands this reality. Getting one’s “mind right” involves removing as much negativity as one can—no easy feat. Sacrifices need to be made, extraneous threads cut and priorities set. Negative energy is a real thing and it causes stress which in turn affects our minds. In our society, we are only beginning to accept and understand this fact.
So much is made of “pushing past our limits” but most of this comes down to our heads, not our bodies. Our physical selves will do much of what we are prepared to ask them to do provided we’re not injured. Even then, the body is capable of amazing things. But our minds is where this starts and it’s wise not underestimate this step. No matter what kind of day you have in front of you, allow yourself moments and times of positive thoughts and being in the presence of things which make you feel good. These don’t have to be grandiose moments but rather simple, anchoring thoughts which provide you the fuel to feel the positive place you have in this world. Cut out toxic people as much as you can. Don’t beat yourself up over things that happened in the past. Forgive those who have wronged you. Reach out to those who you think could use a boost. Be the first one to speak up or reach out. Don’t wait. We’re all fighting similar wars. Help those around you and you’ll give yourself a positive space from which to grow.
The soul is a nebulous concept in our society, much of it wrapped up in sometimes confusing religious connotations or spiritual nonsense which doesn’t resonate in our realities. The soul drills deeper than the mind and relies on us treating ourselves right as much as we can. Allowing yourself the room to find out what makes you feel good connects to the mind and provides the launching pad for good things to happen in your world. To do this, we need mechanisms to help us reach these places. Positive thinking is one part but getting in touch with our own humanity is crucial, too. Help others. Do something that scares you. Dare to try that activity, talk to that person, make that life move. Life truly is short. The soul needs nourishment and only you can offer it what it needs.
The physical body benefits from these things in droves. I enjoy hiking and being outdoors because it connects with all three areas better than anything I’ve ever done. The research around health benefits connected to being outdoors and physical activity is overwhelmingly connective to our well-being. Dr. Qing Li writes in Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness (2018) about a physical reaction and benefit to being “in the woods” or at a minimum, outside of wherever we work or go to school. Not a perceived benefit but an actual positive reaction.
This is important because as we develop continual dependence on technology and artificial distractions, we risk moving further away from primal parts of important factors which make us human. Our brains and bodies need to be outside, taking in fresh air and connecting to the environment which originally formed us. We have advanced to the point where our basic needs are essentially taken care of by human ingenuity and industry; we no longer need to forage or hunt for food (not really, anyway) and we now increasingly gain our social capital from sources existing in a virtual or digital realm. Technology is not our enemy and can solve great challenges for us going forward. But it isn’t all we are as human beings. Research is strong that reading books is a good thing and arguably better than reading on your phone or computer. Writing long form letters and journals is better for the mind than typing into a phone or computer. We live longer but not necessarily better, eating diets questionable in their origins and increasingly farther away from their sources.
We need to think hard about taking care of ourselves better because society won’t do it for us. We need to fuel our minds as well as our souls through physical activity but also with an eye on simple things like getting outside and treating those around us with positive regard and forgiving ourselves for our missteps. Go work out. Read a book. Call a friend. Forgive our parents. Sit in a room for minutes on end just thinking about whatever comes to mind. Do yoga. Get outside. Eat well. These are not complicated things but they go a long way to making us better humans, steps which can make the world better for all of us.