My buddy encouraged me years ago to join him for daily gym workouts. He’d faithfully meet me at the Y most weekdays at 6 a.m. We joked that like Hans and Frans on Saturday Night Live, we were there to “Pump it up!”
Some workouts were great. My muscles twanged like fine-tuned rubber bands, thanking me for stretching and helping them grow.
Other days were tough. My muscles screamed, “You’re killing me! Quit this insanity!”
Our workouts consisted of the pleasant tension between pain and joy. The hard work of exercise stretched, strained, and sometimes hurt like heck, yet the long-term effects of feeling healthy and strong made the daily effort worth it.
Like our physical bodies, our spiritual bodies also need daily exercise to flex and grow so they don’t become flabby. Our hearts are the spiritual parts of our being that contain our souls. They’re our lifeline to God and our core self.
When we take time each day to connect with our inner selves through quiet times of solitude such as meditating, taking morning or evening walks, journaling, creating art, or spending time in nature, we exercise our spirits so we can listen deeply and hear the quiet voice of wisdom and truth.
Exercising our spiritual muscles has the same pleasant tension as working out at the gym. Some days we sit in solitude and feel the connection between God and our souls. The thin veil between the Divine Heart and our human hearts swooshes open. We experience love, peace, and inner guidance.
Other times, we fidget during our times of solitude. The monkey mind won’t stop its incessant chatter. We strain and stress and feel disconnected. At those times, we’re tempted to stop showing up for our soul work because we can’t see the results.
However, like going to the gym each day, if we continue our daily spiritual exercises, we eventually experience the fruit of our inner work—our connection with our core selves and with God grows stronger.
We feel blessed when a loved one gives us a hug, a client thanks us for a project well done, or a robin chirps sweetly. We stop and give thanks more frequently. And as we brush our teeth before bed, the smile winking back at us in the mirror reflects the joy taken up residence in our hearts.
On those days when the dog poops on our new carpet, a loved one criticizes our efforts, or we slip and twist an ankle, our daily routine of spiritual exercises softens our response. Instead of staying stuck in the why-me mode, we calmly clean up our pet’s mess as we realize we can be messy too; we walk away from a fight with a loved one, gently standing in the truth of knowing who we really are; and we listen to the throb of our sore ankle inviting us to slow our pace, to take time to rest and recharge.
Exercising our spiritual muscles allows us to accept the pleasant tension between life’s joy and suffering.
Joy encourages our spirits to be kind—to smile and compliment the checkout clerk who looks like she’s having a bad day; to give a word of encouragement to a struggling friend; or to visit our lonely aunt in a nursing home. And when we see the results of joy—when the love we give is returned—we’re encouraged to love and live with greater joy.
Suffering teaches our hearts that pain is also a necessary part of our spirits’ workout. When a friend says “let’s have lunch” but never returns our text to schedule it; when a co-worker goes behind our back to tattle to the boss how we’ve messed up on a project; when we give our last ounce of love to someone who fails to notice it—on those days, suffering is there to stretch our hearts to grow in unconditional love and patience.
We rarely like suffering, and sometimes we get too busy to notice love. Yet, when we learn how to Pump It Up!, ours souls move to an ever-deepening level of spiritual fitness.
—brian j plachta