I opened my eyes this morning and spent a long while not moving, instead laying there, staring outside at the forest, the increasing light, the surprising amount of spider webs which reflected the sun. A squirrel ran across the roof of a neighbors house, not a single breeze stirred the branches.
I drank a lot of water last night. Before I went to bed I had a glass, then another. I realized I was very thirsty. For whatever reason I’ve always felt better when I drink a lot of water, but I often forget to so. Dehydration affects me in ways which doesn’t always tell me it is thirst. So, today, in response to my thoughts of yesterday, I will pray, and I will also drink a fair amount of water.
That is the physical side of spirituality which the Christian greats have not addressed too specifically. Yes, there is a lot of emphasis on fasting, which sharpens the mind, regulates the body, cleanses, and keeps one from eating overmuch. There is also as strong emphasis in the early monks for physical work, long walks to the river to get water, long walks back carrying sixty pound jugs. Exercise not termed such, for it was for necessities.
Now, physical labor is not often a part of our lives, at least for most of us. And certainly in America we have very little emphasis on a good diet, a diet which encourages health and strong minds. Joseph asked Poemen, “How should we fast?” Poemen said, “I suggest that everyone should eat a little less than he wants, every day.” Joseph said to him,”When you were a young man, didn’t you fast for two days on end?” He said to him, “That’s right, I used to fast three days on end, even for a week. But the great hermits have tested all these things, and they found that it is good to eat something every day, but on some days a little less. They have shown us that this is the king’s highway, for it is easy and light.”
Other religions, especially eastern, religions have a more focused emphasis on the physical aspect of spirituality. They are not as laced with latent dualism, and understand the reality that humans are of body and spirit, one, not two.
The fact is that our bodies are intimately connected with our souls. Trauma in one does affect the other. In order to keep myself attuned fully to the nuances of the Spirit in my midst, I must always be sure to do all I can to make sure my physical side is not intruding its own demands. When dehydrations makes me tired, depressed, unfocused, I can see this as a discernment issue, but I am wrong. When I do not exercise, letting my body succumb to the wasted aspects of too much sitting around, it is not a spiritual battle when I am not alert or cannot think as well.
For me, exercise, nutrition, regular care and focus on my physical aspects are as vital as prayer and study. One facilitates the other.
I end with a good quote by Evagrius which stood out to me this morning:
A wandering mind is strengthened by reading, and prayer. Passion is dampened by hunger and work and solitude. Anger is repressed by psalmody and long-suffering and mercy. But all these should be at the proper times and in due measure. If they are used at wrong times and to excess, they are useful for a short time. But what is only useful for a short time, is harmful in the long run.
Leave a Reply