Although physical health is an important asset, the reasons we engage in exercise can still become unhealthy. Being mindful about your motivation for hitting the gym or engaging in any physical activity is helpful if you are looking for spiritual growth and self-knowledge. Be on the lookout for these unhealthy motivations to practice exercise:
· The need to be thin to feel good every day.
· Pressure to look good and lean to attract a new partner or to please an existing one.
· Feelings of insecurity about a specific body part.
· Fear of not being loved by others if you are out of shape.
· Guilt for not exercising every day or more often.
· To release stress caused by a changeable situation.
· To release anger.
· To show off, get attention, compete, or provoke envy in others.
· To fight or to intimidate others.
· Out of pure habit and without enjoyment.
· Pressure to be a role model in your family, work, town, or society.
These are just some examples. Keep in mind that behind all these reasons to work out, there is fear, and it is fear that makes them unhealthy.
To be healthy is to be loving.
If you are like me, someone who can’t stay away from physical activities, integrating fitness and spirituality is essential. How many of us have struggled to answer the question of how to take good care of our bodies, but not fall for preconceptions of physical attractiveness and health? The answer can be both very simple, but highly complex and paradoxical at the same time. However, the closer we live close to our spiritual hearts, the less we tend to engage in physical activities purely as beautifying or self-cherishing methods, even when these activities promote good-looking bodies, health, and higher self-esteems. At this point, we are wiser, joyful, and peaceful enough to work on our bodies, so we hang around longer to support others with our virtues.
To be healthy is to be loving!
Fear and insecurity can turn physical fitness into an addiction. While most of us consider the pursuit of physical fitness to be a great habit, for me, it was a painful cycle disguised a healthy practice. The more unsatisfied I was with myself, the more strenuous, restrictive, and consistent my exercise and diet became. Looking back, it’s clear to see that dissatisfaction, not lack of health, was what propelled me to dedicate more than twenty years of my life to fitness. I strongly believe that the reason fitness and fit people are so popular is because most of us are attracted to the idea of having a “healthy-physical distraction” for our inner conflicts. Although it is true that exercise and physical attractiveness can improve our overall health and lift our self-esteem, to use these methods to hide our pain can also result in increased, unnecessary suffering. I don’t know anything healthier than having the courage to dive deeper into our own hearts for answers.
To be healthy is to be loving!
The pursuit of a fit and healthy body can only be a wonderful thing when we’ve already recognized our spiritual hearts as perfectly fit to provide us with a life of happiness and peace. In other words, consider that a fit body can make us smile more often for all the compliments we get, improve our health, and give us a temporary “happy” feeling of accomplishment. However, without a content mind and a joyful heart, this feeling won’t last long.
Since our health and feel-good state depend on external conditions and constant hard work that can propel us into an endless cycle, my proposal is to reverse this; to work on our minds for a more stable feeling of happiness rooted in kindness that can then result in a healthy and fit body.
What do you think?
In one of my “fitness role model” training day, I was climbing a high set of steps outdoors in an intense workout session. Many people passed by me, including an overweight mother who was having a hard time carrying her baby down the steps in its stroller. I passed her at least three times as she struggled to get down, but it never occurred to me to help her. All my mind could say was that by passing her as fast as I could and as many times as possible, I would inspire her to engage in exercise so she could lose weight and be healthy. Later, a couple went by me and called me strong and courageous. Had I actually been strong and courageous, enough to be listening to my spiritual heart, I would have stopped to help the mother and her baby. Yes, I would still be exercising for enjoyment and physical health, but I would be motivated by love and compassion. It would have been an action not from “look how good I am,” but “here I am and look, someone needs help.”
Most of us engage in exercise and clean eating for the wrong reasons. I did it for many years. For some time, I went through a rough period in my marriage. It didn’t matter how physically fit and healthy both of us were, our relationship wasn’t a happy one.
I stopped exercising for a few months. I gained about ten pounds. My body felt incredibly good, no more soreness or joint pain, though my marriage was falling apart. It didn’t take long for a heavy cloud of shame to settle over my head. Not even hours of meditation could save me from the pressure to go back to the gym and clean up my act. It had been about three months at this point, and the feelings of shame and fear were unbearable. How many of us exercise because we feel pressured to be lean and thin to fit the rules of society, please others, or because we are ashamed of our bodies?
The limited physical reality most people live in is a painful one. We entertain ourselves with achievements, pleasures, and excitements, but also suffer dissatisfaction and disappointments, confusion, and lack of wisdom in the face of sickness and death. It’s hardly fun to dwell in the past, worry about the future, and constantly fight to maintain what we think we have or acquire what we believe we lack. This kind of worldly life is an endless marathon toward suffering, but it can be replaced with joy when you access the truth inside your own heart.
After investing so many years in physical and psychological health, I finally realized that true health comes from knowing the depths of our own hearts and the nature of life. With this knowledge, all my external searches for happiness and peace ended and a joyful celebration began. You don’t need to find the way back home when you realize that leaving home was only a dream.
Happiness and serenity have a lot to do with being in the present moment. However, many people do not achieve this state because they dwell in the past or become preoccupied with how to escape it by living for a “better” future. When we project or stake our happiness on the hypothetical achievement of a future circumstance, we sabotage our ability to be happy in the present and reinforce a self-destructive mindset that likely will persist into the magical “future” we are hoping for.
To release yourself from this trap, you must shift your life toward a spiritual reality that transforms pain into joy. When you understand that the essence of your nature is not the thinking mind but rather a spaceless and timeless quality inside of you, compassion will arise and you will be free of unnecessary pain. Once you establish yourself in that place of love and kindness, everything will become love or a lesson of love. While physical and mental health are valuable, realizing who you are at the heart level is much more critical for happiness and serenity.
Exercise, diet, and even therapy can become traps for a painful reality, and in some ways can make it worse. For example, if you consciously or unconsciously believe you are not good enough or not worthy as a whole human being, you might work to become fit in pursuit of this worth. This, however, creates the trap of sustaining habits out of fear, making exercise and diet into negative forces and compounding the root problem as we live for our bodies through abusive mechanisms. This can cause disharmony within the heart when we forget to recognize that love and kindness is what life is all about.
Where I come from in Brazil, an attractive body is worshipped as if it were a god. I was not only taught to strive for physical beauty, but also to be obedient, to serve and to smile. It took years of inner conflict for me to accept my imperfect body and find my way back to the intuitive faith in my heart. This heart had always known my true identity as a spiritual being, even though my rational mind could not accept that as truth. You might know well what I am talking about.
This was the main reason I pursued a fit and healthy body pretty much all my life. To this day, daily exercise is still something my mind craves. What I do, then, is integrate exercise for the body with food for the soul! Every experience can become spiritual when we have the intention to be loving and kind.
Yes, we can enjoy our fit bodies as long as we know that the true happiness only comes from our own hearts!
If you are like me and are inclined to engage in physical activity, integrating fitness and spirituality is essential. For many, many years I struggled to answer the question, “How do I take good care of my body but not fall for preconceptions of physical attractiveness and health?”
The answer was both very simple and highly complex and paradoxical. The closer you live to your spiritual heart, the less you tend to engage in purely physical activities and beautifying methods, even if they promote a healthy body and high self-esteem. This is because your spirit knows that sickness, old age and death are inevitable. The time we have on earth is too limited to concern ourselves with the impermanent aspect of our existence. Every second becomes a valuable chance to recognize our true nature and realize who we are in the spiritual reality.
When you know there is a lot more to you than a body and a thinking mind, but you don’t know how to access that deeper part, you end up struggling between the two. This journey in limbo can be interesting, especially because it can teach you to have compassion for your own body. The paradox is that even giving attention to thoughts about fitness and health can lead you to believe that you are a physical being whose psychological needs must be met to feel good or to be whole. At this level, you are not living a spiritual existence yet.
However, this is all part of the journey to the happy you. Listening to the heart to live more and more as a spiritual being can bring our existence to a conscious space where life becomes a loving and joyful adventure that renews itself with every moment.
A difficult past can trap us in negativity.
If you find yourself wandering away from the domain of the heart, you most likely are dwelling in the past. In my life, I have met all kinds of people—religious, spiritual, philosophical, psychological, young and old—who assured me that forgiveness was necessary for a happy life. I heard what they were saying, but it never resonated with the deeper truth in my heart. When we understand that we are all prone to make mistakes, the idea of forgiving someone is not as compelling as treating those who “wronged” us with compassion and kindness. Think of how many times in the past you were unkind to yourself and others, if we are really honest, we’ll admit that we were unable to act differently. To forgive implies someone outside ourselves has the power over our emotions or that we have the power over theirs. How about accessing true forgiveness that only the heart is able to offer? I don’t know anything more powerful than compassion. Those who are compassionate understand the cause of their own pain and how unnecessary suffering can be avoided. Such understanding drives a compassionate person to be kind and loving toward everyone, including people who have hurt them in the past. This attitude is beyond forgiveness.
Long, long ago, there was a young man called Lucas who believed so much in love that he became a musician only to sing and play songs of love. He played and sang his music every day in the middle of the town as loud as he could. The people in the town started to complain about his music.
One day the police came and arrested him. Lucas was sentenced many years in prison. There, they took his guitar away and he was ordered not to sing. After many months, he found a way to escape.
Scared, he crossed the oceans looking for the furthest place from the town. In a land thousands of miles away, he found a farm and asked for a job. The old farmer gave him a job. Lucas helped with the crop and took care of the animals in exchange for a small cottage to live by the river, food, and some money.
The place was comfortable and serene. He planned to spend the rest of his life there. He promised not to ever sing a word about love again but also not to ever forgive the people who put him in prison. Although it was impossible for anyone to ever find him there, every time a bird made a sound outside, he got scared and anxious. The fear the police would come to arrest him wouldn’t let him sleep. He would chase the bird away and rush inside.
One day, Lucas talked to the old man about his problem. He asked him how to ignore the bird’s noise and sleep better at night.
The old farmer looked him in the eye and said, “You are not afraid of birds young man. You are afraid of the song. It reminds you of an old melody.”
“But what melody?” he asked, confused.
“The melody of your past. The song of love you used to sing. It’s a song you must sing again.”
How does this farmer know about my past? What is he trying to say? Lucas asked himself with fear.
The farmer continued, “You can either live as a man who is afraid of birds, or you can sing the song of your heart and become as free as they are.”
Lucas reflected about everything the farmer said to him. The next day, he got up from bed, dressed, and went straight to the music store and bought a used guitar. That same afternoon, on the porch of his small cottage, he sang and played songs of love. At night, a bird made a noise outside, waking him up. Lucas walked calmly to the window to watch the bird and, with a smile on his face, he said: I also broken my second promise.
"The pain of resentment is not stronger than the power to love that belongs to your heart. You are here to be free from resentment, but you must allow your heart to sing the song of love it was meant to sing."
How do you know that you are listening to your heart and not your habitual self?
We can’t stop the flow of thoughts. They will always polarize our minds. However, the nature of our thoughts and the degree to which they command our attention can change radically depending on lifestyle and spiritual practice. Here is my list of eleven signs and steps to know if your heart is becoming master over your mind… you…
Live without judgment. When you look at yourself in the mirror or make a mistake, you are kind or even playful. This extends to how you see and treat others.
See others as fellow souls. When engaging with others, you feel joy. You appreciate their uniqueness. There is a feeling of deep connection you can’t explain. You recognize them as fellow souls. Your thoughts don’t wonder how each person will benefit you; your relationships are free of ego.
Live in the moment. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, there is a magic quality to it. Your thoughts focus on the now. Memories come when called to assist with what is happening in the present. This is especially helpful when engaging with others. You feel a much stronger desire to be present when with others.
Live serenely. In the heart’s reality there is no time, space, or fear. Anxiety is linked to fearful thoughts about the past or the future. Without these limiting conceptions about who you are, you feel free and calm.
Live simply. Your life is simple and your mind is clear. Because you know much about the nature of existence, you also know that there is no reason to complicate anything.
Enjoy silence. Because your heart is in touch with different levels of reality, it demands silence from your mind. Those who listen to the heart treasure quietude.
Revive in joy. Passion and excitement are replaced by joy. Passion is often linked to desires and pursuits of temporary achievements, while joy is rooted in renewal, love, and acceptance of what is.
Appreciate nature. Feeling at home in nature is a sign that your heart is control, at least in that moment. Nature’s spirit is the same as the essence of who you are.
Experience Oneness. You feel the deep connection between you and everything in the universe, including all suffering.
Stay playful. You become almost child-like at times, but your presence and words are as deep as old age.
Practice compassion. You are someone who rejoices in helping others because you recognize that life is essentially suffering, but you are joyful and peaceful because you know who you are!
The Great Way is not difficult for
those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of things is not understood,
the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The Way is perfect like vast space
where nothing is lacking and nothing in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene in the oneness of things and such
erroneous views will disappear by themselves.
When you try to stop activity by passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other
you will never know Oneness...
- The Third Patriarch of Zen
I am sharing this with you because it is pure joy when I read it! :)
... Do you want to buy it?
Her way of trying to sell the items intrigued me. With her narration on the power of each piece, she would mention that she was a psychic and that she knew what I needed to improve my life. First, she tried to sell me a crystal necklace with a bear claw, telling me that Native Americans relate bears with strength and wisdom. She explained that bears keep fighting even when seriously injured, and that it is believed that they can heal their own wounds. Then, she added a deeper insight: “I think you could use one of these.” I would have loved to chat with her about spirituality, but I stayed silent. She was looking for a different kind of chat with me.
I moved toward a clear quartz necklace. The lady moved even closer, telling me how the crystal could enhance my spiritual growth and increase inspiration and creativity. “Would you like one?” She persisted.
I was not interested in buying crystals. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe they carried positive energies, which I did (and do!). Very simply, the only “sacred” recipient I was (and am!) interested in was the human heart. So I asked her: “What here offers the power of infinite love?”
My question floated in space and silence for a moment.
The lady started turning her wheelchair in many directions in search of something that she could sell me, now that she knew exactly what I wanted. I was stunned that she even had something to look for. My question referred to a fictional item.
It took her but a few minutes to find (allegedly) what had taken me a lifetime to begin to understand. She asked me to follow her. I stood by her side as she silently pointed to the biggest, light purple crystal in the room, displayed grandly on a tabletop. She whispered, “My dear, this has the power of infinite love, I assure you!” With a smile, she delivered her words with conviction.
My next question was, “Do you really believe we can have wisdom, strength, inspiration, creativity, or even infinite love from anything that is outside of us?”
The lady rolled her wheelchair to the back of the store agitatedly, mumbling that she had had enough with me. She screamed for her husband to come and assist me, because she was done.
I left the place reflecting on what had just happened.
The fact that the lady’s body was confined to a wheelchair didn’t make me feel sorry for her. It was her handicapped mind that made me feel compassion.
After that encounter, I didn’t stop anywhere else. I walked into the woods and sat down next to a flowing river. Its presence carried the force of nature. Though rocks and leaves tried to divert my attention, the river flowed on, faithful to its own path.
As I sat quietly, listening to the sound of the water, I wondered when we too will let ourselves just be and defy the illusion of our minds to allow the power of infinite love to freely flow in our hearts.
The cool breeze from the river carried me back home!