And when a horse stops work and goes into the barn there is a life and a vitality left, there is a breathing and a warmth, and the feet shift on the straw, and the jaws champ on the hay, and the ears and the eyes are alive.
~ John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
I was attempting to craft this post on vitality when I read the passage above. Steinbeck’s description of a horse after a day’s work paints the picture I try to explain below. Vitality is being alive even after a hard’s day work, or a big week of training. In the context of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck alludes to that aliveness and vitality being there if we are immersed in work we love, work we’re bred to do. If we are toiling in efforts that lack meaning we will perhaps exhaust ourselves.
The definition of vitality is a state of physical exuberance and mental vigor, whereas wellness is defined as being healthy in body and mind. It would appear then that one can have wellness but not vitality, but if one has vitality then he/she has wellness. Vitality is taking wellness to the next level. It is reaching one’s full physical, mental, and perhaps spiritual potential and maintaining that state.
I don’t know about you, but I want to live a life of vitality. Living such a life for me may mean taking a step back to evaluate how I feel, how I measure that, and what factors contribute or detract from my reaching vitality. No longer can, or should, I measure myself by the normal athletic standards per se, such as how much can I lift in the gym, or how far and fast can I bike and run, what my muscle mass is or my body fat percentage. To really be conscious of whether I live in a state of vitality I need to step away from the ego driven measurements of strength, athleticism, and health. Rather, I need to build an internal awareness, to begin regularly asking myself, “How do I feel?”, “Do I feel alive physically and mentally?”, “Do I feel strong?”. As I reread those sentences it strikes me somewhat odd to have written them. Shouldn’t that be the first thing we ask ourselves? Often those questions, the conscious awareness, is lost in our culture of do more, have more, be more. The questions become about distance, time, speed, conquests, and we forget to ask if what we’re doing is creating more vitality in our lives or if we’re creating more stress and taxing ourselves to the edge of breakdown. Certainly we can argue that we are building health, we are building fitness, we are building strength, but I begin to question the value if exhaustion, neglect, stress (mental or physical), and injury are the side effects to those pursuits. That is not vitality.
There should be balance, and we should be getting reconnected with our internal gage. The one that lets us know how we feel and what we should be doing. Perhaps we rely on too many gadgets, science, measurements, and we have lost the ability to listen to what our bodies, our minds, our spirits are telling us, or asking of us. My goal is to pursue vitality as a priority. To continue to push my physical limits, to continue to push my mind, but to not lose focus on the ultimate goal being a life of vitality. Perhaps I’ll just start by asking myself those questions periodically, or when decisions need making.
How do I feel?
Do I feel alive physically and mentally?
Do I feel strong?
Will this decision add vitality to my life?