“Who are you becoming?” At lunch a few weeks ago, my daughter asked me this question. It drew me in, because I sensed that she was genuinely curious about who I am and where I am headed. (Don’t bother worrying about my reply. Why not take a moment and consider what your own would be?) Even though I have only just begun to crack Michelle Obama’s book, I am super intrigued by the title: “Becoming.” I love that it’s a gerund, indicating that it is still happening now.
We are not who we were yesterday, nor are we yet who we will be. We are all in the process of changing and growing. Were it not so, we would be dead, even if our hearts were still beating.
This aspect of wellness intrigues me: how do we grow more well, more whole, on the inside? We cannot simply focus on our physical health without concerning ourselves with something that cannot be seen: who we are in the depths of our being. To become the “picture of health” means working on the internal bits too. What puzzles me is why we spend such little time on cultivating health on the inside.
Maybe part of it has to do with our tendency to compartmentalize our lives: work/home, academics/extra-curriculars, and the like, and we extend such thinking to our bodies. But there is more to us than meets the eye. Our physical body is inextricably tied to our spirit (emotions), brain (mind/thinking), and soul (the essence of who we are).
To be truly healthy isn’t just about achieving some measure of strength or flexibility, physically. We must cultivate wellness, internally. The fruit of our labor (yes, interior work is just that: work) will include: a grounded outlook on life, balance between work and rest, being able to see things for how they are, navigating the best of days and the worst of days with inner peace, and the ability to be present.
I love the idea of working on something more permanent than my external frame. Botox is temporary. Soul work is lasting. Though I haven’t quite arrived yet (see my reference earlier about how we are not who we were and not quite yet who we will be), here are a few thoughts on how to cultivate an interior life, with concrete examples of how I am applying these to my own life.
Gratitude – An attitude of gratitude grounds us, on the most challenging of days. When we are thankful, we can’t be worried. When we are grateful, we are focused on the blessings, not the problems. I have a gratitude journal where I write down 5+ things I am thankful for each day. They’re not all lofty and grand, some are as simple as thankfulness for a walk in the park with my dog or a quick afternoon tennis match with my son. The result? A positive, hopeful heart.
Awareness– Too often our bodies can be in one place, but our minds 100 miles away. It’s time to bring our minds back home. Focusing on the here and now results in a sense of inner tranquility. When dining (or breakfast-ing) alone, I often read while I eat, but I am working on eating a meal without any distractions—no cellphone, laptop, TV, or book. The result? Learning to just “be” flexes the “being” muscle in our humanity and strengthens our ability to let others just “be” too.
Giving – How drab life would be if we only lived for ourselves! It’s like wearing floaties in the shallow end of the pool. It’s about self-preservation and little else. But we are not on this planet alone (see #2). It’s time to shed the floaties and dive into the deep end by tangibly serving those around us. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic sort of service—like rebuilding homes in a developing country after a natural disaster (though this is awesome and worthwhile)—it can look quite ordinary, like setting some extra places around the dinner table. We do this regularly in an effort to make a little more time for connecting with those around us—whether they’re hurting, lonely, or just plain hungry. The result? A focus on others cultivates generosity of spirit.
Character – We must take a hard look at what we say we value and how we spend our time...and money. Our daily schedule and bank transactions reveal what really matters to us. If you dare, ask your friends and family what they think matters most to you! Pick one apparently under-valued area and give it some time and attention this next week. It could be one of the areas mentioned above. The clincher? Don’t tell a soul about your intentions. Live out the difference. The result? Inner harmony and integrity.
Community - Find people that have purpose and passion beyond their own ambition. You will mutually fan the flames of integrity, giving, character, and more, as you connect with one another. For me, I find community among my Christian brothers and sisters who spread the message of God’s grace and love, among farmers and homesteaders who are reversing the damage we’ve done to this earth, among those who make a difference in the lives of children, teaching them not only information, but the truth that they are important. On my own, I might peter out. So I make it a habit to connect with my broader community, at least once a week. The result? Relational and social ties that strengthen the core.
No doubt, the picture of health we aspire to includes work that no one may see at a glance. Are you willing to commit to it? Nothing is etched in stone about our lives. On a cellular level, our bodies are constantly renewing themselves. Even the sun, we are seeing as it was eight and a half minutes ago. By the time we see its rays, they are somewhere else. Nothing is fixed. We are in flux, just as nature is.
The question is: where are we headed? What habits can we include to build our interior life? In sum, who are you becoming?
Hilda Labrada Gore is a certified health coach and fitness professional. She is the host and producer of the Wise Traditions podcast, on behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation. She is a podcasting consultant and the author of “Podcasting Made Simple.” She is also the DC Metro Regional Director for Body & Soul Fitness. She and her husband live in DC with their children and cat and dog. Hilda has energy to spare thanks to her ancestral health practices and her love for liverwurst.