Friday, July 15, 2016
Spiritual Exercise and the Next Project
I need to have a project—and usually more than one. To exist is to presume and to project. Presume means to “take before.” It is taking in what’s behind all that comes before. Project means to “thrust forward.” It is intending what is yet to come. To thrust forward is to thirst backwards.
I already have projects. A project that is most important to me is the cultivation of family and friends. That project means staying in touch, participating in events and remembering with them. Our recent voyage to Cleveland to meet with siblings and their children was a exercise of this project. I was able to spend time with my 82 year old big sister recalling moments of special contact and laughing at our increasing frailties.
The project that constitutes my life’s vocation is political action towards social justice. So even as I age I do what I can do to make a contribution to projects in community organizing and projects in electing and challenging political leaders and representatives. Presently I am working on projects in DC and Haiti.
I have other projects like photography and computer which border on pastimes. Passing time is necessary in our work-a-day world. Pastimes are a break in the seriousness of life. So in the evening I have a drink and watch a sports or news event. I play poker once in a while. Watch a movie. Read mysteries. All work and no play makes for an overly serious boy where everything is crucial; and that takes away from the true moments of high importance.
A project, however, is not a pastime. To make that distinction clear I consider travel as pastime and travel as project. We take a train or tour bus and watch the world go by or be explained by a guide. We stay in luxury hotels. We relish the scenery, the food, the fun. We take pictures so we can show on return what a good time we had. That’s travel as a pastime. Fond memories, but not much learned.
I am fortunate to have a companion who enjoys travel as a project more than a pastime. We stay in B&Bs and use public transportation so we can better engage with local people. We look for meanings in the places and are always asking questions and looking for connections. We search out the history and politics. My photography zeroes in on patterns and composition to foster insight into the culture of the place. I write up what I have learned about my extended world and myself.
Again, I am not demeaning passing time and space for entertainment and to forget the pains of our existence. And I realize that the same activity, e.g. travel, can be both pastime and project. Pastime is to project, as entertainment is to art; as is play to exercise; as is pleasure to enjoyment; as is daydreaming to thinking. Both are important to being human. Pastime is important to human life. Project is important to human action.
The project that keeps me most alive is writing. To be I need to think. And thinking for me is both reading and writing. By reading I consume what comes before; and by writing I thrust out my thinking. And I have decided that my new thinking, reading, writing project is “On Spiritual Exercise”.
I do physical exercise regularly, usually running/jogging 3 to 5 miles 4 or 5 days a week. Sometimes (and I intend to do this more often) I go to the gym to do both leg and upper body exercises. Why? Lots of reasons: manage my weight, live longer, train for other activities, balance, endurance—but most of all because I feel better in body and mind.
Descartes conjectured the pineal gland as the connection between body and soul. For me it is running. When I run, I let my mind go and thoughts go in and out but I am totally in touch with the consciousness through which those thoughts come and go. And after I run I sit down with my notebook and jot down many of the thoughts that have passed through. The physical exercise of running becomes a spiritual exercise.
“Spiritual” has to do with my interior life, my consciousness, what I am feeling and thinking, my insides, my “withinness.” Physical exercise tones the body; spiritual exercise tunes the soul. Emphatically I do not separate spiritual from physical, the soul from the body. My body is the outside of my soul. My soul is the inside of my body.
And what I want to do in this writing project is attend to the exercises that will grow my soul in addition to the exercises that grow my body. Just as everyone has to plan his or her own regimen for physical exercises attending to heart rate, bone density, muscle strength, balance, and endurance depending on his or her own phenotype and situation, so must all of us plan our own regimen of spiritual exercises.
Next: what is soul?