Great title, isn’t it? Not mine. It belongs to Thomas Moore, a fine philosopher, thinker, researcher, writer who would be terribly surprised to find himself referenced in a health and fitness column. “The Care of the Soul” is one of his many books, which range far and wide, but tend to hover around what it is to be human, and how we have worked throughout human history to understand, describe, celebrate, and enjoy, or miss completely, the human experience.
He’d be surprised to be here, because he says he’s not personally interested in what he calls the “health myth.”
And by that he doesn’t mean that he thinks pursuing good health is silly or crazy. He uses the word “mythology” in its traditional sense. He spends a great deal of time thinking about and encouraging others to think about personal mythologies – the stories about ourselves that we tell ourselves and believe in. And the health myth is just not part of his personal mythology.
My family spent the day with Moore in a workshop yesterday, just listening and talking. Why? Well, we all have an inkling that we could live in a better way than we do, and so spending the day thinking about that seemed like a good idea.
We don’t want to get too goopey about it, or moralistic about it, or cranky about it. We don’t want to react against the way we live now, or blame anybody for it. We just want — well, we want to slow down.
Yup. We want to slow down. We want to have the time to look out at the woods and watch the birds come in every year, and keep the dogs groomed. We want to cook dinners and eat them together. We want to have conversations. Maybe grow things.
But we’ve talked ourselves into the necessity of living overbooked lives instead. So once in a while, we think about fixing things. How could we live differently? More quietly.
A littler life?
Why mention it here? Because a lot of us become obese or unfit when we don’t have or take the time to live in a healthy way. When your To Do list has 145 things on it, swimming or jogging or workout videos tend to be prioritized out of reach. Packaged food is faster than fresh food. Fast food is faster than packaged.
We say yes to the 14th fundraiser dinner, no to Pilates class.
Yes to the additional project someone else will take credit for, no to cooking dinner with the kids.
We don’t think about our own stories, our own joy. We don’t plant seeds of magic. We run like hell from this to that, trying to keep up with our voicemail and email and pagers.
We didn’t get answers out of yesterday’s day with Moore. But we picked up some ideas:
*Passing notes in class with your grownup kids is fun. So is poking one another with pens.
*We live in the age of psychology, which focuses pretty heavily on the self. Try living without the self for a while. Getting out into actual nature helps with this. (A walk? A bike ride?) Watch the world doing its thing without regard for whether you are in it or not. The coming and going of seasons isn’t just a romantic notion. It’s real. It happens. Tempus is fugiting dearies. Did you put enjoying yourself on your To Do list? Is it part of your mission statement? Is it filed under personal goals, or spiritual fulfillment? Have action items been assigned? Have you “Gantted” your life yet? Is it on track? Am I yelling? At myself? Oh. Yeah, well, never mind.
*Change, radical change, gives us the opportunity to learn. Keep changing, keep learning. Learning is a good thing for its own sake. We might go out in search of a specific answer. But it’s okay to not find it. Along the way we learn and learn. Or better, maybe we gain a whole bushel full of new questions. That could be called the good life. Be comfortable with mystery.
*Living with animals helps in lots of ways to pull us out of our own heads. I’m not sure my cats help me live more soulfully, to be completely honest, but they do have a particular glance that destroys any ego before it has a chance to cake up on me. You’ve heard of power yoga? Living with them is power Buddhism. In their company, humans become ego-less in a matter of moments.
*Pay attention to hunches, to curiosities sparked by unexpected events and people. Study carefully the advice of your friends and family. They don’t want you to take risks, because they want to protect you. That’s nice, but maybe they don’t understand what you really need to do right now.
*You have lots of stories about your life. You tell them to people every day. Your personal mythology is the collection of stories about yourself that you believe in. These can be good or bad stories, true or untrue. We can always work on ourselves, and one way to do that is to examine our personal mythologies (everybody has one). Are your stories true or false? Accurate or not? Are they your stories, or someone else’s? Does this mythology serve you to live the life you think you should be living? What can be done to change your mythology? One way to explore these things is with a good listener. Another way, of course, is by writing it all down and being your own good listener.
Okay, well. I will if you will,