It’s vitality, not health and fitness

By Matt Perryman

Plato wrote in the Republic that the soul has three divisions, stacked like layers in a tasty cake. The highest part is intellect which thinks. The lowest concerns the hungers of the body.

In the middle, there’s a strange piece that doesn’t fit into modern psychology. Plato’s word is thumos, which gets translated as “spirit” and completely misses the point.

“Spirit” means some ghostly thing without a physical form. Plato meant almost exactly the opposite of that. The spirited part of the soul is energetic, tied closely with emotions, physical exertion, and also with the breath.

The words “spirit” and “inspiration” have the same root. Inspiration can mean drawing in breath or having a creative insight.

The spirited part of the soul sits between higher reason and lower appetites. It’s the vital essence that animates the person to action, standing between rational mind and beastly desire.

A long time back I stopped thinking about the topics of health and fitness by those words.

I still use them when I write and speak. That’s the lingo, and I don’t want to be seen as too out there (yet). But I can’t make much sense of what “health” means, besides some vague and sloppy ideas. As far as I can see, modern medicine and biological science have no good answer to this question. There’s some handwaving about normal functioning and absence of illness and such things, but it’s all a mess. Life does not fit into the mechanical models we like to nail and staple on to reality.

The term fitness is even worse. “Fit” conjures up images of sweaty, athletic, youthful men and women with low body fat out on a run, or lying on the ground after an episode of Crossfit, staring with determination. I get that there’s this ideal image of a “perfect body” and having a nice blend of strength, muscle, mobility and flexibility, plus general work capacity and competence in movement.

Which is weird because the word fitness means “suited for a task”. If you’re saying Jimmy Bob is fit, what is he fit for?

The word vitality creates a much clearer image. You’re talking about health in the true sense. Doing well, living well, free of pain, illness, or defects. Your body feels alive, feels energized, harmonized, balanced, and free of pain and distress. You’re athletic in the physical way while excelling in your mind.

That all comes back to the vital spirited part of the self.

When I talk about the mental component of lifting weights, I do not only mean sucking it up under a barbell.

That’s the gateway. It’s about far more than that.

You don’t even have to lift weights. I talk about lifting because that’s what I know and what I’ve done in my own life for 25 years. But there are other ways.

What it’s all about is a sense of purpose, self-direction, mastery, and energy.

How your body sets conditions for your mind, and how your mind feeds back in to your physical health and performance. It’s all connected, one complex dynamic system that appears as different parts. A human being is a cyclone of energy and matter and thought dancing through time.

When you think of it like that, words like “fitness” just don’t cut it any more.

You’re talking about vital spirit. So that’s what I’m talking about.

If you’re interested in going deeper on this in your own life — personal and professional — click here to register your interest.

Matt Perryman

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