The way I see it, a large part of our day must be spent on maintenance. We have to maintain the systems within which our beings function.
The most obvious system, of course, is the physical. We have a physical body that must be maintained. Exercise and be active in some way. In fact, if you can, play in a way that makes you happy (as I’ve emphasized before – finding time to play is so hard, and yet so important, for us adults). When we move and play our bodies get stronger, they are more able to excrete toxins (through movement, sweating, etc.), and they are more relaxed afterward. Everything gets going when we move! Think of the way a dog, when walking, soon needs to find a spot to use the bathroom. A resting dog can wait a long time! We, too, when we are moving, are prompting all aspects of our physical system to move. So, don’t neglect the body.
The other systems are a bit subtler, but nonetheless quite important. Our emotions need daily maintenance else we will become lonely, depressed, and apathetic. We are but a spark of a very great light – some theorists believe that we each are holographic representations of this greater whole, this divine living being made up of all life forms. With that in mind, it is natural to realize that we need to feel connected, we need to feel useful, we need to feel that we are living our purpose. None of us wants to be a dim spark! So our emotional maintenance is doing whatever one needs to do to stay connected, to love and be loved, to respect and be respected. It helps to do work in the world that aligns with your beliefs. Feeling connected may happen in various ways: writing an email, joining social networks like facebook and connecting with friends in that way, going to lunch with friends, hugging, dancing, playing – anything that lets you connect!
Certain species of animals demonstrate this need to connect, as well. Dolphins are so connected in their pods that if some are caught in a net and unable to escape, the lucky ones who did escape will swim back in to remain with the group. Similarly, mothers will swim into a net if their babies have been caught just to die with the babies rather than live without (Sandoz-Merrill). Baby bonobos often nurse and stay with their mothers for the first four years of life – if the mother is killed, zookeepers used to think that it was impossible to keep the baby alive because of the disconnection and lack of love (this changed with Claudine André, who formed the first bonobo sanctuary in the world). Canada geese mate for life, and stories abound where one is shot and its mate flies down, staying with the body or the injured partner as the group migrates away.
As E.M Forster said, “Only connect.”
Maintenance of our intellectual system is again, quite human centered. As this one being, we, collectively, are learning at a rapid pace. Each of us must work to keep up and stay knowledgeable. Our world has also become quite specialized, and when you have chosen – or discovered – your own specialty, you have a responsibility to try to understand that area deeply and transmit that knowledge to others. As with the physical, if we do not use our mental capacities, we begin to lose functionality. I have mentioned this before, too, sparked by Andrew Weil’s thoughts, that the time when we stop growing is the time that we begin declining. Mental growth need not be boring or tedious, it is just as much a part of play as anything else. Board games, card games, simple memory games you play with a child, sudoku, the crossword, and even, dare I say, video games, all of these and many more things that we consider fun are helping our minds develop and grow. We are meant to be curious, to learn, and to grow – it is stagnation that you should fear, not new growth.
In fact, if you remember the way you felt when you were young: you thought you could do anything. In school you may have wanted to play many sports, play in the orchestra, learn two new languages, get a new tattoo, paint and draw, write poetry – numerous things were exciting to you, and it was the newness of it that was most intriguing. At some point we become entrenched in our specialties and happy with the efficiency of habituation. We also, perhaps, began to pump up our egos by our skill at repeatedly doing the things we were good at. Enough of that! You either keep growing or you begin dying. Let go of the ego’s needs and begin something new! Learn a new language. Get a puppy. Get a new computer. Do anything that makes you grow!
Our fourth system is the spiritual. Perhaps there is another better word for it, but spiritual seems to suit. In fact, energy healing may be most closely related to this realm, though it is also related to the emotional, physical, and mental systems. The spiritual or energetic realm may be the most neglected of the four. How do you grow in this area? How do you connect?
You know that you are maintaining the spiritual body when you do things that bring you peace, inspiration, and help you feel connected to the greater whole. Perhaps it is a walk in the woods. Perhaps it is gardening. Taking a bath. Reading a book. Praying, meditating, singing, dancing (of course all of the systems overlap as they comprise this one being). The difference with the spiritual body from the other three is that you most feel it when you are being still, at peace, yet fully present and focused (fully alive). Sleep may help us connect to the spiritual and reboot physically, mentally, and emotionally, and dreams link us to the spiritual in a way that is rare in the waking state. We wake revitalized not only physically with having more energy, but also emotionally and mentally we feel fresher and more vibrant.
Don’t discount the spiritual body. The spiritual body is the closest to unity with that one body of life I was discussing earlier. And unity with that one body of life is what might be considered enlightenment. When you know that you are no different from the thief, the rapist, the murderer, the drug addict – when you know that they are but manifestations of the same force of life that is in you, then you have true compassion (Thich Nat Han gave me this thought, originally). At this point, you stop judging, you stop complaining, and you get to work healing and making whole, step by step, this body of life.
So the maintenance is no small task – and one that very few, if any, of us are able to do well day in and day out. But perhaps over time many of us are fairly stable. Like nutrition, you may not get quite enough protein on a Monday, but by the end of the week you have had more than enough. Perhaps over time we are strong enough in all these areas that we may do more than just maintain (which in itself is pleasurable and instinctive – just look at the way a cat grooms itself, plays, eats, and naps throughout the day). And if we do more than just maintain, what is it that we are doing? Well, then we are creating. When we have balanced our own life force, we are able to put it to work creating something of beauty, something of truth,* to present to this world. It takes all the systems to do this well, and doing this well feels timeless, dimensionless, and free. We are, perhaps, born to create. Just find the thing that you most love creating, keep yourself balanced, and get to it.
That is happiness.
Sandoz-Merrill, Bobbie. In the Presence of high beings: What dolphins want you to know. San Francisco: Council Oaks Books, 2005.
*John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” “Beauty is truth, truth beauty / that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”