We've all heard stories about former couch potatoes who became marathon runners, or the morbidly rotund who slowly developed themselves into chiseled Triathlon specimens. And, I don't know about you, but, as the first person in my family ever to go to college, I entered higher education not knowing a lot, and by the time I graduated from UNC and Yale, I had become intellectually transformed.
Blaise Pascal suggested in the seventeenth century that there are three levels of life:
We know we can cultivate ourselves physically. Just a little extra exercise every day can begin to work wonders. In my late fifties, I tried for the first time the weight lifting workout called bench press. I remember vividly my first session on the bench, lifting 85 pounds. I wondered if I could ever get as high as 150. A few years later, in my early sixties, I could bench 315 pounds—a result far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. During the same time, in simple pushups, I went from a maximum of 25 pushups in a set, all the way to 120. Again, I never could have even dreamed of that. But little things added up. Physically and intellectually, we can cultivate our capacities in remarkable ways.
Can we do the same thing spiritually? I've come to think so. But how is not quite as obvious. We don't have any comparable college of spiritual knowledge with a football and basketball team in our home state, or spiritual gyms and trainers all across town with proven methods and the testimonials of many, along with before and after photos. Or do we? Maybe it just requires more digging to find ways to cultivate and develop your spirit. And perhaps, getting started, just like with early reading and exercise, depends a lot on us, and our habits.
Do you read for spiritual cultivation? Do you meditate or pray? What else might be relevant to the cultivation and development of this level of your life? Do you have the equivalent of a study partner or workout partner for spiritual matters? I discovered in the weight room that a mentor, someone farther down the path, can be of immense assistance. And don't think that just going to church or synagogue or mosque or temple will do it. As an old saying has it, hanging out in a garage won't make you a car.
Can you become a spiritual marathoner? Or the equivalent of a Triathlete? As Socrates might say, and as Pascal would agree, these are questions well worth asking. Just imagine if you could make the same leap of growth deep in your spirit that you can realize in body or mind. Do you find it hard to imagine this? Yes, so do we all. But as we begin to explore this rarely explored realm and get to work, we might just find that self cultivation can here as well generate literally unimaginable results.