4 June 2014

If exercise was good for Charles Darwin...

"...exercise is not purely physical, as if we might carve off the flesh, leaving the spirit behind. And this is a crucial philosophical message: of wholeness. The human condition involves a continual to-and-fro between the body and the mind. In fact, the nouns make these aspects of self seem more divided than they are. Thinking is embodied, and acting is mindful. We are not a ghost in a machine, to use philosopher Gilbert Ryle's phrase: we are bodies, and these bodies are conscious...

...For example, swimming can evoke the sublime, and gesture at the precariousness of human life. As the ancient Greek poets remind us, sprinting can prompt pride: not simply in fast legs or fit lungs, but in the commitment to striving before mortality claims us. Regular jogging can promote consistency of character, and keep us from losing the plot. Rock climbing can encourage humility and caution: attention to our flaws, and to the subtle details of rock or wall. This state-of-mind then allows "flow" to arise: we feel free, timeless, as we skilfully negotiate a challenging task. Ballet and karate can turn pain into a curious pleasure – we choose bruised ribs and aching toes over a life of anaesthetised comfort.

The point is not that we have to be Olympians, tracking personal bests with tailored dawn training schedules. We need not be the fastest, strongest or most agile. The point is that exercise can be a commitment to wholeness; to a life enriched and enhanced by physical and mental striving. Darwin was no professional athlete: but he knew about fitness and flourishing."

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