If you don't exercise your soul, you're in danger of becoming a human doing rather than a human being. In his simple yet powerful new book, Dr. Siegel offers a wealth of mini-prescriptions for spiritual fitness that fit into the busiest of lives.
Have you exercised your soul today? If you're like most of us, you might not be blamed for thinking, Okay, after I take my child to school, plow through a 10-hour workday, pay the bills, throw together dinner, mow the lawn, do the bath-book-bedtime routine--then I'll take the soul out for a little stroll. But the truth is, that elusive entity called your soul does need regular attention.
It's, after all, the part of you that enables you to live and love with enthusiasm, vigor, and plain old joy.
And according to best-selling author Dr. Bernie Siegel, soul-exercise doesn't require formal meditation, regular church attendance, or a two-week retreat at a monastery.
"There are plenty of opportunities to improve the fitness of your soul in the course of a normal, ordinary day in your normal, ordinary life," says Dr. Siegel, author of the new book.
In his new book, Dr. Siegel describes himself as a coach whose goal is helping the reader make his or her soul "stronger, leaner, and more flexible." He offers a plethora of quick, simple, to-the-point tips and exercises that can be worked into the most hectic of lifestyles.
Here is just a small sampling:
- Admire your baby picture
Find one of your baby pictures and a recent picture of yourself. Take some time to look at both photos and notice your attitudes toward them. Most likely, your baby picture will elicit feelings of joy, and any feelings of shame will attach themselves to your adult photo. But what, besides time, is the difference between these two? Carry your baby photo around with you, or display it where you work, and use it as a reminder anytime someone in your life brings up feelings of shame.
- Adopt a pet and play with it each and every day
Pets make great playmates and will help bring out the child in you. Let your pet teach you how to loosen your inhibitions and restore your joy in living. Animals live in the moment and can help us do the same, letting go of our fears and worries about tomorrow. Our pets know that worrying does not solve anything, while a tummy rub or nap can do a great deal.
- Keep a dream journal
When you work with your dreams, you will find yourself becoming more aware in your waking life. For at least a week, keep a dream journal. Before you go to sleep at night, ask a question for your subconscious to respond to; you could write that question on a slip of paper and place it under your pillow. Keep your journal and a pencil at your bedside, and when you wake in the morning, or anytime you wake up, write down whatever dream or dreams you remember. The longer you pay attention to your dreams, the better you will be able to interpret them.
- Create a personal altar
Altars have been used throughout history to create a tangible point of focus for prayer, meditation, and beauty. Create one for your home or office, using objects that have significance to you. You might choose statues of symbolic or religious figures such as Wan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion, or other mythical figures and goddesses. Nothing that has meaning to you is inappropriate. Other options might be feathers, candles, bells, flowers, candy hearts, shells, cards, belongings and gifts from loved ones, or photographs. Spend time in front of the altar in prayer or meditation and allow answers and direction to come from the divine.
- Experience fear and embrace it
Think of something you have always feared doing and do it. This could be something you've always wanted to do but were afraid to fail at--such as a sport like skiing or an activity like singing in public--or it could be something that addresses a phobia. If you are afraid of heights, then sky dive, ride a rollercoaster, or fly in a small plane. Once you've decided what it is you will do, first take the time to visualize yourself doing the event successfully and fearlessly. Then put your plans in motion. Follow through and do it. Take a chance. Become a kid again, free of the inhibitions and fears imposed by adults.
- Capture the beauty of life through photography
Get a camera and go for a walk in nature. See the beauty and take some awe-inspiring pictures. Look down at the flowers, but also up at the sky, at the trees, at the ocean, and at the people and living things around you. They are like flowers, too. Each of us is unique and beautiful in our own way, just as you are. You will find the more you look and photograph, the more you see, and the more beautiful the world becomes.
- Break out of your routine
For a month, work a new set of muscles. Develop your abilities and make a point of doing things you normally would not do. Play Frisbee, go bowling, or play outside with your dog. Find activities that give you pure enjoyment and the sensation of truly living. Even the smallest changes can begin to develop your capacities. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand. Shave or comb your hair in a different way. Enter and leave your house through a different door. How many unthinking, tiny ruts have you gotten into? Altering these just a little can improve your skills and "balance"--which helps you become who you want to be in every area of life.
Simple as such suggestions may seem, when done regularly and mindfully they can shift the way you think about the world and your place in it. They can help you start feeling like a human being rather than a stressed-out "human doing." And in the same way that a daily walk transforms your body over time, these "divine workouts" will change your life--before you even realize it has happened.
"Before you know it you will begin to notice how your life has taken on more meaning and how much better you feel," writes Siegel, who like any good coach reminds us to practice our soul work every day. "The change may be small at first, but as we improve ourselves, we make an increasing difference in both our individual lives and the world.
The greater our desire and intention, and the more we practice, the greater the results. We can make a positive difference in the world by what we choose to do."
About the Author:
Dr. Bernie Siegel is a well-known proponent of alternative approaches to healing that heal not just the body, but the mind and soul as well. Bernie, as his friends and patients call him, studied medicine at Colgate University and Cornell University Medical College. His surgical training took place at Yale New Haven Hospital, West Haven Veteran's Hospital, and the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
In 1978 Bernie pioneered a new approach to group and individual cancer therapy that utilized patients' drawings, dreams, and feelings, and broke new ground in facilitating patient lifestyle changes and engaging the patient in the healing process. Bernie retired from general and pediatric surgical practice in 1989, but not from helping people. He continues to run support groups and retreats for people with life-threatening illnesses as well as lecture and teach.
Always a strong advocate for his patients, Bernie has since dedicated himself to humanizing the medical establishment's approach to patients and empowering patients to play a great role in the healing process. He is an active speaker, traveling around the world to address patient and caregiver groups. As the author of several books, including Love, Medicine & Miracles, Peace, Love & Healing, How to Live between Office Visits, and Prescriptions for Living, Bernie has been at the forefront of the medical ethics and spiritual issues of our day. He and his wife, (and occasional co-author) Bobbie, live in a suburb of New Haven, Connecticut. They have five children and eight grandchildren.
About the Book:
101 Exercises for the Soul: A Divine Workout Plan for Body, Mind, and Spirit (New World Library, September 2005, ISBN: 1-57731-511-1, $17.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.
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