Training the Body, Training the Soul

A guest post from Mr. Butler:

A Greek word "Arete" used in 2 Peter 1:5 "Add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge..."gets translated as "virtue" or "moral excellence".  This word choice in English is rather watered-down.  In Greek society the word "Arete" spoke to the kind of mental/physical connection that went into the Greek training lifestyle.  The training they committed themselves to intertwined physical training (boxing, foot racing, wrestling, etc) with spirituality and mental training.  Training the body WAS training the soul.  Arete encompassed the idea of excellence in intellect and action with distinctly moral overtones.

What do you do when what you do is not what you want to do?  Chasing a dream that fulfills you, and ultimately landing it are sometimes mutually exclusive.  Try as you might it may never happen.  Some people follow heart, and get that dream only to find they've lost something in the process. Some are scared and never take a leap and beat themselves up for the rest of their lives.  Still others know what could fulfill, but make a conscious effort to subvert those feelings and that gratification for other reasons or they strive to achieve them on their own terms without the loss seen by our first example.

For me, going to the gym started out and continued for 10 years to be an endeavor solely striving for aesthetic gains.  Looking good is the major driver for most people's goals at any gym I've attended, but over the past couple of years though, my mentality has shifted from that mindset to one in which I'm trying to be the best form of myself I can be.  The nobility that is embodied in "arête" pushes the goals I set for myself now.  Looking good becomes the byproduct of being able to lift heavier weights and being more flexible and athletically conditioned.  Along with that physical training comes a goal to read more thoroughly and indoctrinate myself with a life where reading and study in many veins is the norm now.  I've made goals to read 20-30 books a year (about one every two weeks) which includes bible reading. Inevitably it isn't about the individual items I do, but rather about the mentality behind the undertaking.

This kind of training doesn't appeal to everyone and there are various reasoning's for it all.  Many times it comes down to the way we prioritize our lives and how consciously we say "yes" and "no" to the various minutiae that seep in if left unchecked.  For instance the simple act of turning off notifications on your phone or email can cause anxiety, but once done becomes a freeing realization that you were once slave to a ping. In the same way physical training doesn't have to be lifting heavy weights or wrestling; it can be a walk, a fast, a diet that is conscious.  The strenuousness of the exercise is not the main intent, but rather the mental overcoming of the body that can and will lead to spiritual growth.

So go back to the original question about how we chase dreams and what we do about those.  Following your heart and never taking the leap both have components of incomplete "Arete" to them.  For every example of someone who followed their dreams and succeeded there is someone who made trade-offs about what they have chosen to do: be it foregoing money or time with family or time for themselves.  For the person too scared to make a leap, it's the body dictating the mind and the dissonance that creates anxiety.  But in that last person who makes the conscious decision to abstain from gratification and not live with guilt, or obtain it without sacrificing other precious things that  we see the fulfillment of "Arete".

Polykleitos, the greek sculptor, said it like this, "Perfection comes about little by little through many numbers."

Consciously abstaining, or obtaining something in a slower time frame is so foreign in our society as to look strange. But in this abstaining or the slow-life, we find value.  When we make conscious decisions it's not easy, but we strengthen ourselves when we do and that strength radiates out in a way nothing else can accomplish.  Being able to tell yourself, "I will lift this weight" or "I won't eat that" or "I won't sacrifice time with my kids" allows us to do the same in other areas.  "I won't cheat" and "I won't lie" is easier when we've made the connection between our physical self and our emotional and spiritual self.  Doing so requires effort but this effort produces good.

Philippians 3:12-14 says it like this, "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."



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