Some people choose not to donate their services because they believe that it somehow devalues them by “giving them away.” In truth, there is nothing that demonstrates the value of your skills more than putting them to good use for a cause you believe in. – Scott Allen
Being in good shape can be dangerous. It can be very easy to slip into feelings of superiority: “I’m stronger than others. I take better care of myself. I look sexier than most people.”
I don’t think this is the worst thing in the world, but when I caught myself sneaking too many glances in the mirror and comparing myself to others at my gym, I started to feel that perhaps my priorities were out of line.
One day, when I was particularly annoyed with my pride, I remembered the story of the Siddhartha Guatama. Siddhartha was a prince who grew up sheltered from suffering but who one day witnessed sickness and death and realized that all his princely luxury, his youth, and his health would fall away. He began to question whether all that he had would truly spare him from suffering or make the world a better place. He gave it all away to seek spiritual enlightenment, eventually achieving nirvana as the historical Buddha.
I realized that, proud as I am of my strong, attractive body, it will one day succumb to death. At best, I would remain strong and vital until my twilight years, free of chronic disease, then die suddenly and peacefully. As a believer in the inherent integrity of the human body, I see this as a distinct possibility. At worst, I’ll succumb to the diseases of aging, watch my strength wither away, and suffer a long, slow decline. No matter what, I end up being totally useless and utterly repulsive: dead and rotting.
If any of my sense of self-worth was attached to something as impermanent as my health or appearance, my pride was clearly ill-founded. These things will disappear, so my self-worth and happiness will suffer.
The body, strength, youth, and vitality I worked so hard to attain will inevitably one day fall away from me. In full acceptance of that truth, I had to find a compelling reason to take care of my health regardless.
The Spiritual Path is Taken For Others
In Buddhism, enlightenment is not something to be pursued for the spiritual seeker himself. In fact, if your purpose in seeking enlightenment is personal in any way, you won’t reach it. Even if all you seek is to be free of your personal troubles, that is not the right reason.
Once Buddha attained nirvana, he went out to teach it to the world. The tradition of the Bodhisattva is one of service; seek enlightenment to ease the suffering of others.
The point of enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition is not to become a spiritual badass or be free of suffering. It is very distinctly to become a guide for others on the path to freedom for suffering.
Similarly, I believe that the point of any self-development should ultimately serve others, even one so mundane as physical health. The point of health is not to be a fitness badass. It isn’t even just to be free of disease; we want to build something, not just avoid misfortune.
The point of good health is specifically to be useful to others. Otherwise, our lives and influence ends when we do. Only by working to make the world a better place can we end up with anything other than a final balance of zero.
The Benefits of Your Health to Other People
Some ways being healthy helps you serve others:
- The obvious way, if you’re strong and vital, you can work harder and longer, and you can carry others or their burdens, literally and figuratively.
- When you’re healthy, you don’t get sick as often, so you can be counted on to be where you promised, when you promised, and to be fully present.
- When you’re comfortable with your body, you have the confidence and emotional strength to be more sociable, compassionate, and supportive of others.
- When you take care of your health, others don’t have to, so you are less of a burden. You can dedicate yourself to helping others because you’re not always nursing your own suffering.
- Your energy becomes infectious. You inspire others to approach life with more vitality.
- You are simply more pleasant to be around than if you were not healthy.
The Strength of the Tribe is the Strength of the Individual
The Warrior, more than any other member of the tribe, needs to be prepared to serve it, to fight its battles, and to defend it against external threats. That’s why heroes are so rare. So the Warrior must always aspire to fulfill his or her potential. Since the Warrior is a product of the tribe, any opportunity is provided by the tribe, with the expectation that, in exchange for empowering the Warrior, the Warrior will return the gift.
Your tribe is whatever you want: your family, your city, your country, your people, your planet, karma, complex bio-ecological interactions, god, the collective social unconscious, the universal one, all life, all existence.
We are equipped to better the world, if only we can get past our self-centeredness to do it. In this perspective, everything we are, everything we have, and everything we can be, is a gift. We are privileged to serve the betterment of the world with the gifts the world granted us.
One small way I am trying to make my health benefit others is by sharing what I’ve learned in the form of a short book on a compassionate, personally empowering approach to fitness. Please check it out if you’d like to learn how to be your best, healthiest self.
(Photo credit: Damien Gadal on Flickr)