Atheist ponders spiritual fitness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarrod Grammel
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
On May 17, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., held the next in a series of Comprehensive Airman Fitness (CAF) Days, each focusing on a different pillar of CAF.

This time, the pillar and focus for the day was spiritual fitness. Air Combat Command states that spiritual fitness is about having a sense of purpose and meaning in life. For the majority of people this will involve God and their religious beliefs. However, I believe religion isn't the only, and perhaps shouldn't, be the only way to achieve spiritual fitness.

As an atheist, people sometimes ask and wonder where I get my sense of purpose. I don't believe that God created me and has a special purpose for me in life, but rather that I'm the result of 4 billion years of evolutionary success on a minor planet of an average star in a universe with at least 100 billion galaxies.

And that's perfectly fine with me. My purpose and meaning comes from a desire to improve the world, help people, achieve my goals and enjoy the simple things in life.

I've always thought that one of the most important things to do in life is leave the world a better place than when you were born. This relatively broad statement could mean many things: a teacher who molds future generations into productive citizens, a scientist who makes an important discovery, a doctor who saves lives or an author who changes the way people think about a subject.

If you're like me, the mention of the word spiritual brings to mind ideas of spirits, ghosts, the supernatural or some kind of God. Sam Harris, author, philosopher and neuroscientist, points out that despite the term's unfortunate ties to medieval superstitions, these associations have nothing to do with its etymology.

The word spirit actually comes from the Latin term spiritus, meaning breath, and it wasn't until the 13th century that the term became associated with these ideas.

Harris argues that the word spirit should not be reserved for only the religious. In a blog post on spirituality, he acknowledges that human consciousness can allow for remarkable experiences.

"The fact that one can lose one's sense of self in an ocean of tranquility does not mean that one's consciousness is immaterial or that it presided over the birth of the universe," Harris wrote in a blog. " ... a maturing science of the mind should help us to understand and access the heights of human well-being. To do this, however, we must first acknowledge that these heights exist."

Another aspect of spirituality for many religious people is praying. For the nonreligious, Harris believes certain practices of meditation are nonthesistic and can be brought up in any secular or scientific context without embarrassment. The practice of "mindfulness" has been shown to have psychological benefits such as mitigating anxiety, emotional regulation, self awareness and improving cognitive function.

Another aspect of spiritual fitness is a feeling of connectedness. I think it's important to interact with other people who have similar interests or worldviews. For the religious, church offers the opportunity to connect with like-minded people.

However, there are many other ways to connect with people. Sports, book clubs, running groups and even family gatherings can help connect you with people who share similar interests and worldviews.

I also believe a deep appreciation of art, music and even nature can be spiritual in a loose sense. I've often found myself leaning against a tree, reading a book on a clear day, and felt an overwhelming sense of calmness and clear mindedness. Or perhaps it can be felt after a long day of work when you listen to a favorite song.

However you chose to think about spiritual fitness, it doesn't have to be reserved only for the religious. Whether you believe your purpose in life comes in the form of God's divine plan or not, everybody should feel their life has meaning. And maybe we don't have a divine purpose, but rather that we must find our own.