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Care of Mind, Body, Spirit: Thoughts about an Integral Practice

Today’s post is by Carl McColman

At the beginning of 2016, a new L.A. Fitness Center opened up just three miles from my house. It was an auspicious event — for after a family transition that had occurred two years earlier, I had stopped going to my previous gym — which, not surprisingly, resulted in a slow but steady weight gain. L.A. Fitness coming to town seemed to be an obvious nudge from my angel: so shortly after the new year, I went by and signed up for a trial membership. It felt really good to be back in a rhythm of intentional activity, so as soon as the trial ended, I joined.

Right across the street from L.A. Fitness is the Atlanta Shambhala Center, an organization that I have had a casual relationship with for some time now. Although my primarily faith identity is Christian, I’ve been drawn to Buddhism (particularly Tibetan Buddhism) ever since I first encountered Shalem back in the 1980s. I knew that the Atlanta Shambhala Center had a morning public sitting each day from 7 to 8 PM, but had never made the effort to show up that early in the day. But I soon realized that if I were going to go work out first thing in the morning, perhaps it would make as much sense to work out second thing — after spending an hour sitting with my Buddhist friends.

So I started doing that as well.

Now, this might sound like a big commitment, but I was already sitting each morning at home, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to move my practice to a public setting. And since the Fitness Center is literally right across the street (and both of these places just three miles from home), I could leave my house at 6:50 AM, spend an hour in  meditation, zip across the street for a brisk 45-minute workout, and still be home by 9 AM. Even allowing time for a quick shower and a “power snack,” I’d be at my desk by 9:30.

So I started doing this — and it worked.

One lesson I’ve learned from hanging out at monasteries is that a good spiritual practice marks not only the morning, but also the evening. My church, which is just two miles down the road from L.A. Fitness celebrates daily mass at 5:30 each evening. Attending daily mass has been an on-again, off-again part of my spiritual walk, but as I settled into a mostly-daily routine of meditation and working out each morning, it just made sense to mark the end of my work day as well — by participating in the mass.

At first, I went to the daily mass as part of my Lenten observance — but when Easter rolled around, I just kept going.

I don’t make it to mass, or to L. A. Fitness, or to the Shambhala center every single day: but I do visit each of these “wellness centers” several times each week, and after several months of doing so, I’m happy with the habits of care that are forming in my life.

Now, I know that in many ways I am privileged: being self-employed, I have more control over my schedule than many people, and I am fortunate enough to live close enough to a vibrant church and a fitness center and a meditation center, that this kind of daily practice is feasible. But I’m writing about this not so much to talk about my practice, as to consider the importance of what Ken Wilber calls an “integral” practice — for all of us.

Those of us who do not live in a formal religious community, like a monastery or a convent, are free to design our own unique daily spiritual practice. While for many of  us this is a challenge because we lack the benefit of a supportive community, it is also a great privilege, in that we may develop a unique practice that reflects our own personality, gifts, and needs.

In the publishing world, the phrase “Mind/Body/Spirit” is used to describe books and authors whose work promotes wellness in a holistic sense. We almost intuitively recognize that caring for the mind and the spirit go hand in hand (Gerald May wrote a book called Care of Mind, Care of Spirit in the early 1980s, which was ahead of its time in recognizing the common ground between mental and spiritual wellness). Likewise, physical wellness both supports, and is supported by, spiritual and mental wellness.

But how does this impact our daily practice? Even though it’s important for me, I don’t think everyone has to join the gym, and log in hours at both a church and a sangha, in order to foster an integral practice. But even in  the privacy of our own homes, there’s much we can do:

  • Care of mind: Am I setting aside time every day for silence, for reflection and relaxation, and for relaxed contemplative presence? Do I stimulate my mind with educational or reading materials that invite me to think critically and reflectively?
  • Care of body: Am I engaging in appropriate levels of physical activity or exercise? Is my diet healthy and appropriate for my physical wellness? Am I getting enough sleep? (be sure to consult with your physician before starting a new exercise or diet program)
  • Care of spirit: Am I fostering the time needed to dispose myself to the presence of God (Spirit) in my life? Do I pray each day, in a manner consistent with my faith tradition?

These are big questions, so they may be appropriate to reflect on with the companionship of your spiritual director or soul friend. Since each of us is unique, we will each answer these questions in our own way. But even the process of reflecting on, and answering, these questions as we seek to create or revise our daily spiritual practice is itself a spiritual practice.

One response to “Care of Mind, Body, Spirit: Thoughts about an Integral Practice”

  1. Leah Rampy says:

    Thanks, Carl. As always, clear, timely and sage advice.

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