Physical effectiveness - in practice
A few weeks ago, ten friends sat around my kitchen table. (Elbows touching; not a big kitchen table.) This was evening 1 of the Personal Effectiveness Project (PEP), a pilot taking place in Oxford.* After a 45 minute interactive presentation on sleep, diet, exercise and other aspects of building a physically sustainable life, I asked the question that formed the heart of the evening: “What are you going to commit to do differently?” All the commitments took the form, “for the next 21 days I will …” Once everyone was happy with their commitments, they each shared it with the group. Participants then committed to journal about their progress, including reflecting on the impact any changes had on their spiritual lives.
Here is a selection of the commitments they made, taken from the blog http://personaleffectivenessproject.wordpress.com.
Tom, 30 year-old tax lawyer.
Starting point: 4-5 cups of tea/coffee per day plus chocolate.
Commitment: “I will drink at most one caffeinated drink per day and cut out chocolate.”
Anna 27 year-old Australian, doctoral student of law, Oxford University
Starting point: “[A] habit of working very late then falling into bed, sometimes with my computer, was a glaring way in which [I was] being distracted from living a life focused on God rather than on myself.”
Commitment: “... turn off my computer before 11 pm, and have at least an hour between then and bed, to unwind, spend time with God, and *not* be online or working.”
One final commitment comes from Martin, a 32 year-old youth and family support worker, married with one child:
“I will engage in at least one hour [per day] of intentional and purposeful recreation [including reading].”
OK so there’s a God reference in what you’ve just read. But what does less caffeine, more rest and more sleep have to do with spiritual growth? Let’s check in on the progress Tom, Anna and Martin made in the early days of their commitments:
Tom: Felt more consistently happy. “having a more consistent mood allows me to focus on who God is and the “big-picture” rather than becoming introverted and me-focussed.”
Anna: “Increasingly I’m spending that last hour reading Christian writers or the Bible and in prayer, and it is easier to sleep when my focus has been lifted to God, and the day has both started and ended with time with Him.”
Martin: “After a few days I began to feel the benefits in my body ... My mind also felt sharper ... new and creative ideas were coming easily ... On one occasion I read for 15 minutes at lunch time, and the article acted as a catalyst for me to phone someone who I felt God had brought into my life for a reason and it was only while I was speaking to him, that it occurred to me to invite him on an Alpha course (an opportunity to explore Christianity and the meaning of life), even though I’d been praying that very morning about who I could invite.
These are good practical connections between the physical and the spiritual. The next post will relate this to some of the theory that’s out there on physical and spiritual effectiveness.
Meanwhile, thanks to the participants. They are at the start of a journey and are impressing me with their commitment! I’ll let Anna and Martin sign off, helpfully highlighting how this is not a sanitised project, with the difficulty of life airbrushed out.
Anna admitted finding ingenious ways of cheating on her commitment (don’t we all!), such as by checking email on her phone. In this context she wrote an excellent meditation on Ps 130:5-7.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
Martin: “I reckon I’ve found some actions, which I’ll call ‘creature habits’ (not quite as catchy as creature comforts, I know:) that will help little old me, to be more effective for the great I AM, in whose image I believe I’m made, spirit, mind and body.”
* The introductory post to this mini-series explains more about the Personal Effectiveness Project.