Why get strong and push yourself to get better at as many types of physical activities as possible? What’s the purpose? There are a lot of good answers; Look better naked, use it or lose it, prevent chronic disease, self-care, honor your body; all of these are common and good answers. All these reasons are also selfish in the best possible way.
There’s another “why” that adds a different dimension to fitness - being fit makes you available to be of service. Being fit for service moves fitness from the best kind of selfish to a purposeful, “others-centered”, spiritual endeavor.
Fitness of all kinds, especially high intensity training, will test your determination and fortitude. Fredrich Nietzsche famously said “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” A “why” that aligns with your core values make it easier to grind through the hard times that come with anything worth doing. Service to others is one of my core values and gives my life purpose.
One of my favorite ideas linking purpose, spirituality and fitness, comes from the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Page 77 says “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.” It is often the case, in the context of one’s recovery from addiction, that priority is given to emotional, mental and spiritual fitness. My experience is that physical fitness takes a back seat and is often ignored or neglected as a tool for service.
Can you be fit for service without being physically able to serve? Of course, you can. There are many people who serve in incredible ways that cannot fight fires, lift their elderly parent out of a car, or pitch a sandbag. There are those too who are neglecting their able bodies in a manner that limits their ability to serve. I know this because I was one of those people.
For the first few years of my recovery from addiction, I was on a low exercise nutrition plan that was high in cookies, nicotine, caffeine, pizza and chilling the fuck out. I was allowing myself to indulge in anything and everything besides drugs and alcohol and that was ok - First things first. Then I woke up. I slowly came to realize that I must take responsibility for my physical health.
I began my recovery journey in 2009. I’ve been doing CrossFit since 2015. I am now 41 years old and I am in the best shape of my life. I am willing and able to try just about anything. I love CrossFit, fly fishing, snowboarding, backpacking, yoga, and the gentle art of Brazilian Jiujitsu.
I also love being available to serve others with my mind, spirit and body. In his Meditations, 6.30, the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius said “...keep yourself simple, good, pure, saintly, plain, a friend of justice, god-fearing, gracious, affectionate and strong for your proper work…Revere the gods and look after each other. Life is short – the fruit of this life is good character and acts for the common good.”
The next time I do not feel like working out or feel that it is a loathsome chore, maybe I can re-frame my “why”. I can decide to stay strong in case I am called to duty in service of my fellows, not just so I can look better naked.
Lad A. Rack
Lad is a SobrietyWod coach from Texas committed to helping those with addiction and the long road of recovery through a spiritual fitness lens. He loves his girls, Greta and Liza (2 dogs) and his wife Meribeth.