Modern day self-help books are the rage today. Self-proclaimed gurus recycle and repackage ideas that have been around for millennia and sell them to eager consumers looking for an edge in life, relationships, and business.
I try to stay away from many of these books and prefer to turn to the wisdom of the ancients, which is the source material for much of the modern-day self-help industry anyway.
One only has to look at the cottage industry that has arisen in recent years around the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. It’s all the rage now because of this repackaging and its attendant marketing. Don’t get me wrong, it helps a lot of people become better versions of themselves, but it is nothing new and all its wisdom is available in the works of the ancient authors.
The quote that I use to guide my life comes from one of the ancients, but not from who you might think. You might expect it to come from the soaring rhetoric of Cicero or the logical precision of Aristotle. It doesn’t.
Instead, my inspiration comes from a Roman poet and satirist living in the late first century and the early second century – Juvenal.
The full quote is: “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.”
“A man should pray for a sound (or healthy) mind in a sound (or healthy) body.”
I take this admonition so seriously that I got “mens sana in corpore sano” tattooed on my rib as a reminder.
Juvenal’s quote describes the ideal of a balanced life we should all strive to achieve. If we insouciantly ignore the healthy mind part and only focus on building a fit and healthy body, we run the risk of becoming a bore who cannot hold a coherent conversation. In other words, we risk becoming the classic meathead from popular lore.
If we ignore the healthy body part and only focus on gaining knowledge, we could end up being the man who, while very smart, lacks the ability to protect his family and is likely awkward around other men. In other words, the classic awkward nerd.
Juvenal makes clear that balance – between physicality and intellectual and artistic curiosity – is the key to a happy and productive life.
In short, we should strive to be a prototypical “Renaissance Man,” the kind of man who is as comfortable in intellectual and artistic pursuits as he is in physical activities, and he is competent in them all.
Think of the Renaissance ideal body personified by Michaelangelo’s David. David does not have a pear shaped “Dad Bod” like the average American man, many of whom, sadly, ignore both the healthy mind and the healthy body admonitions from Juvenal. David is strong, fit, and physically competent. Although we don’t know what would be going through David’s head, it is clear he would also be pursuing a variety of intellectual and artistic endeavors.
Juvenal’s advice is similar to that often attributed to Plato on the same topic:
“He who is only an athlete is too crude, too vulgar, too much a savage. He who is a scholar only is too soft, too effeminate. The ideal citizen is the scholar athlete, the man of thought and the man of action.”
The Scholar Athlete is not a meathead who is unable to hold a coherent conversation, and he is not a soft and socially awkward nerd who is unable to act with physicality if the occasion calls for it.
He has balance.
He has a sound mind and a sound body.
He is competent.
He has intellectual curiosity and he is ready, willing, and able to act when the circumstances call for it.
He reads voraciously, writes down his thoughts, and his mind is always open to new concepts and ideas.
He participates in physical training – of some form – at least 5 times a week. At times, he pushes himself to his physical limit. He can protect his family physically if he must, though he doesn’t seek out confrontations.
He opts out of the cultural acceptance of the “Dad Bod” as normative.
Balance is key, and it is how I try to live my life. I am just as comfortable reading a book, walking through an art museum, or debating cultural issues, as I am squatting 300 pounds, running a mile, or pulling myself over an obstacle.
We have almost instant access today to all of the wisdom that has ever been written in the history of the world. Free resources teaching us new skills are available instantly on our phones. Modern-day exercise science shows us the most effective training methods.
This means we have a greater ability to live balanced lives than anyone who has ever lived. There are no excuses for us to fail to live with a sound and healthy mind and a sound and healthy body.
All we have to do is remain intensely curious and open-minded and take our physical training seriously. We don’t have to be the next Michelangelo, but we do need to make an effort at self-improvement and development – mind, spirit, and body – each and every day.
by: Chris D
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