How to Achieve Spiritual Fitness
When the year turns over, we reach a birthday, or mark a moment of life transition, most people take it as a cue to reflect on what they could do better or differently. For many of us, thoughts immediately turn to physical fitness. But what about spiritual fitness? These 10 steps will start your journey.
posted January 13, 2010
Jonathan Ellerby, Ph.D., is the Spiritual Program Director for the internationally acclaimed Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson, Arizona and the author of Return to the Sacred and Your Spiritual Personality.
Tip 1: Make a Commitment: No Junk Moods
Make a commitment and a concentrated effort to reduce the people, places, and things that drain your energy or entrap you in negative moods. Less violence in what you watch, less gossip and complaining in what you hear, and less chaos in where you go will help you to stay balanced and connected to your essence.
Tip 2: Lift Someone’s Spirit Every Day
Life can be difficult, that is certain. Helping to make someone else’s day a little better or easier will always help to brighten your day and feed your soul. Lifting people’s spirits can be as simple as a generous show of gratitude, a compliment to a person who has helped you, holding a door open for a busy person, or offering encouragement to someone in need. Helping others in small ways will eventually pay back in a big way.
Tip 3: Know Your Spiritual Personality
As you seek practices, philosophies, and people to help you explore your spiritual side, don’t forget that we all have a spiritual personality. Just as we don’t all love the same types of sports, ice cream, music, or clothing styles, we won’t all like the same spiritual practices. To begin to understand your spiritual personality, write a list of the activities that bring you a sense of peace, connection, or joy. Look for themes in your answers and find a practice that is similar. Remember: the best spiritual practice is the one that works for you.
Tip 4: Pick a Daily Practice: Break the 24-Hour Cycle
If you want true and lasting spiritual fitness, you should pick a simple activity that helps you to return to a place of calm and reflection that you can do every day, at least once a day. A five minute breathing exercise, prayers in the morning, meditation, writing in a gratitude journal, or a ten-minute visualization are all examples of simple and effective ways to reconnect you to what matters most. It’s important to do your practice daily so that you can interrupt the cycles of stress, distraction, and business that we all fall into each day.
Tip 5: Pick a Weekly Practice: Break the 7-Day Cycle
A deep sense of spiritual wellbeing and inner strength comes from exercising your soul. A daily practice is essential for maintenance, but a more involved weekly practice will bring you depth. Your weekly practice typically could involve a group to help shape your context, keep your focus, and provide feedback.
Church, synagogue, meditation groups, singing in a choir, yoga, tai chi, a contemplative walk in nature, are good possible examples of a weekly practice.
Tip 6: Be a Sensible Seeker: Ask the Right Questions
Remember that when you seek spiritual teachers, texts, and community, it’s important to be a conscious consumer. It’s important to look for credentials, to be sure it feels like a fit, and to look deeper than what the marketing and advertising is telling you. Here are five critical questions to keep in mind – if you experience any of these things, it’s likely time to step back, or step away completely.
Do you feel that your or other people’s sense of integrity is being violated?
Do you feel the financial cost exceeds the value offered?
Do you feel more dependent than empowered?
Do you see behaviour that you’d otherwise consider abuse if it happened elsewhere (sexual, emotional, physical, etc.)?
Do you feel the teacher or program has become more important than the goal of growth, personal awakening or your own direct connection to a Higher Power?
Tip 7: Find a Teacher
On one hand, finding a good self-help or spiritual teacher is getting harder all the time. As it gets easier for people to self-appoint and self-promote, it becomes hrder to figure out whom to listen to, or what teacher to get involved with on a personal or spiritual level
On the other hand, not having a teacher or a trusted guide of some kind can lead to disaster or misdirection. Try to incorporate a teacher, mentor, or guide in your life, at least on an occasional basis, and use these four questions to help you research your choice:
Do they have a mentor or mentors in a recognized tradition or community that trained and prepared them for their work? Will they openly share their history of training and study with specific details?
Are they a part of or endorsed by a community that you consider credible and recognizes their work and stands behind their reputation? This should not be their own organization (it could be a larger group such as a hospital, a university, a resort, a religious community, a training association, or a professional association).
Do they demonstrate the 4H’s of a good spiritual teacher– Honesty, Humility, Heart-centeredness, Humor?
Tip 8: Find Your Fellows
It’s a simple but powerful lesson: keep the company of like-minded and similarly intentioned people, and your goal will be easier to achieve. This doesn’t mean we should judge or reject those who are not like us, it simply means that spiritual growth is assisted by community, support, and the momentum of others headed in the same direction.
Tip 9: Know When to Move On
Whether you are struggling with a teacher, a practice, or a community, one of the biggest challenges is to stay committed and present even when you feel like checking out. Sometimes our greatest breakthroughs come after we have found the courage to learn a little more and trust the process. In other cases, the greatest lesson is to honor your limits, your needs, and your truth. Staying too long in something that doesn’t serve you can be harmful, even dangerous. If you aren’t able to tell the difference between the good reasons for staying and the good reasons for going, find a few friends or trusted guides to explore your feelings with. If you are honest and your counsel is reasonable, you’ll quickly find your answer.
Tip 10: Live B.I.G. (with Blessing, Intention and Gratitude)
At the heart of all spiritual growth and meaningful practice is the role of your attitude and intent. The attitude you bring to your life, yourself, and your spiritual path will be reflected in what it returns to you. Amongst the many important attitudes are what I think of as “the big three.”
Anchor your life, your choices, your attitude, and your practice in the big three and you will find that all the inner strength and love you seek. You can remember these three by their acronym: BIG. Just remember to live BIG:
Blessing – bring a mindset of blessing to each struggle and situation you encounter. This means both to look for the blessing in each situation and to bless what you struggle with – if it doesn’t change the situation, it will change you.
Intention – attention follows focus and if you are clear in what you intend to be or create you will be more likely to find it, or attract it. Intention also gives you a reference point for your decisions, rather that react, consider your intention, then make your choice.
Gratitude – take time as often as you can to feel gratitude for whatever goodness there is in your life. Sometimes it may be for simple things and other times profound, but feeling thankful will help you to look for the best in situations and bring out a sense of peace and contentment in you.