Two men were sharing a hospital room. Both of them were very sick and confined to bed. One lay near the window and the other was away from the window. They struck up a friendship and talked for hours on end. The man near the window described the scene out of the window in great detail–the colors, the children playing, couples walking by, the city skyline. One day he even described a passing parade. The man away from the window loved the descriptions, and cherished every word he heard from his friend.
After several days of this conversation the man by the window passed peacefully in his sleep. The other man asked to be moved to the window bed, excited to see all the amazing sights that he had heard described. He slowly propped himself up on his elbow to look out the window. He was surprised to see that he faced a blank wall. He called the nurse in and told her what had happened. She said, “Well you should know that this man was blind. He couldn’t even see the wall. Perhaps he was just trying to lift your spirits.”
It seems that this is exactly what happened. The heartfelt descriptions lifted his spirits. What I love about this story is that it doesn’t reveal whether the man recovered from his physical condition or not. But his spirits were lifted. In other words, his spirit had little to do with whether he was sick or well. It was all about his level of optimism and hope. And think about the blind man who died. Imagine how grounded he must have been “in his spirit” to create such beautiful visuals for his friend. He was inspired, “in spirit”, by his inner vision of beauty.
In this series I want to consider what we usually mean when we say “spirit”. What does it mean to raise your spirits? What does it mean to thrive in spirit? I want to explore this, and in the process I want to encourage you to be well, not necessarily in perfect health although that would be nice too, but well, by which I mean strong and energized. This is much larger than your physical health. We all know people who are free of disease or any physical symptoms but have no passion for life, and there are people who are afflicted with major physical challenges and yet they seem to be thriving as people. Wellness and thriving are more about being whole and fully alive than they are about being symptom free. This is why wellness is not something you have to wait for, after your back heals, after your cancer is cured. You can claim it now, no matter what your physical situation.
So what is spirit? What does it mean to thrive in spirit as well as body and mind? Think of mind, body, spirit as the three tenors. (Read on for more about spirit)
There was a Seinfeld episode about the Three Tenors. Jerry and George are talking about the three tenors and can easily remember two of them, Pavarotti and Domingo, but can never remember the third tenor’s name. So he becomes known as “The other guy”. The third tenor gets his own back later when Jerry is slated to appear on a TV talk show with him. Jerry takes his pants off in the green room to stop them from being creased, and the third tenor mistakes them for a towel and wipes the spaghetti sauce off his face. That detail has nothing to do with the analogy. It was just a fun moment in the show. Anyway, Jose Carreras is the real third tenor. He may have been less well known than the other two, but he is significant in his own right. He survived an acute form of Leukemia, when given only a 10% chance of surviving, and does a lot of charity work to support Leukemia research. Carreras is a testimony to the human spirit, and to the body to survive against great odds.
But thanks to Seinfeld he became known as “the other guy”. A lot of the time, this is what we do with the notion of spirit. We can fairly easily relate to the ideas of body and mind, but spirit becomes “the other thing” that no one can name or describe well. Most of the time, we don’t even feel the need to define it. We just use it and hope the context makes the meaning clear.
The phrase “body, mind, spirit” rolls easily off the tongue, maybe too easily. I think when we use the phrase we usually mean something like “lock, stock and barrel”. In other words, thoroughly. The way we usually use body, mind and spirit indicates ALL of you- every part of you; every bit of your known and unknown power, your senses, emotions, thoughts, conscious and unconscious mind….. ALL of it.
Before diving deeper into the meaning of spirit, let me say that this common usage works well for me. It’s powerful. Propel yourself into life body, mind and spirit…lock, stock and two smoking barrels. The lock, stock and barrel are all essential parts of the old style rifle, the musket. The barrel held the musket ball, and the stock held the barrel. The lock was the trigger. Any one of the parts of a musket, independent of the others, is ineffective. You can’t fire a musket with just a barrel, if there is no lock and of course it’s pointless to pull the trigger if there’s no musket ball in the barrel.
Think of your body as the barrel, ready and willing to fire on all cylinders. But the body depends on the stock, the mind, to feed it good information and intuitive cues. The lock is the spirit, the inner awareness that triggers your choices, thoughts and actions. Well, if you think about it for too long, the analogy backfires a little but you get the point. The point is to fire on all cylinders, in all parts of who you are, and in all parts of your life. With the united power of the three tenors, body, mind and spirit, singing together in unison, you can achieve the type of mastery that the blind man in hospital displayed, a mastery that thrives no matter what the circumstances.
Thrive in body, mind and spirit. Dive into your life lock, stock and musket loaded barrel. Pull the trigger on the dormant powers that fill and surround you and BE ALL YOU CAN BE. Be willing to make a splash. Take a running leap and cannonball into your full potential. That’s the basic message of the series. In the next articles, I break the idea of spirit down further to go deeper into the experience. In the second piece I speak about whether spirit has any sort of personal agenda. In the third piece, I explore extraordinary knowledge, or intuition.