Yes, yes, I know that nearly every generation has probably thought at one point or another that they are oh-so-special snowflakes who must be living through uniquely difficult times.
So, look, I'm fully self-aware that this may come across as a touch cliché, but I'll say it anyway…
…look around you and try not to tell me that we need now, as a human race, possibly just as much or more than ever, to band together, to form a tribe, to surround ourselves with a community of supportive and loving individuals, and to be part of a pack that protects each other and provides for each other.
The world needs heroes.
Not independent, lone wolf, Rambo-esque heroes who can scorch earth like Terminator, mind you.
Instead, we need heroes who know how to surrender, to sacrifice, and to serve.
We need humble heroes who can admit when they're wrong, and who can cover scapegoating, slandering, and scorning with love.
We need heroes who tend to the garden of their spirit and their soul in such a way that they pour forth the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We need heroes who, like the great hero Jesus Christ, have the meekness and humility of a gentle lamb and the courage and ferocity of a mighty lion.
After all, aging men and women who fear death will do great evil. You and I are in a daily battle against such lofty hubris. It is time to accept that challenge, strap on our battle armor, and carry our torch into the hero's journey. This is the time to step outside our comfort zone and become the hero that the world needs, but becoming a true hero might be a bit different than the stereotypical hero imagery of a Braveheart, a Rocky Balboa, or a Neo. A true hero isn't necessarily a loud or brave or violent soldier who incites a massive rebellion and intense conflict with the enemy. Instead, to become the hero that the world needs right now, we must sacrifice. We must surrender. We must serve. We must gird up our spirits as we display the epic bravery and courage necessary to develop enough cognitive immunity to venture outside our safe, ordinary world.
Let's learn how.
The Hero's Journey
You've probably heard of it.
Even if you haven't heard of it, you've probably witnessed it manifested all around you in nearly every smash Hollywood hit movie from Star Wars to Rocky to Frozen; numerous literary works of popular fiction from The Hobbit to Chronicles of Narnia to the Sorcerer's Stone; and even in Cinderella stories in sports such as the underdog NCAA basketball team who claims the crown or the come-from-behind Ironman triathlete who battles injury to take the victory.
In his seminal 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, author Joseph Campbell coined the term “monomyth” to describe what is now more widely known as “The Hero's Journey.” Campbell notes, after studying a vast array of mythological stories across different cultures and time periods, the fascinating fact that each of these inspirational tales all follows the same basic story pattern and shares eerily similar overarching structures, types of characters, and universal themes.
In other words, human beings spanning the planet across eons of time have been using the same basic story elements to communicate with each other for what appears to be the entirety of our human existence.
The basic 12 steps of this so-called Hero's Journey are:
1. The Ordinary World
2. The Call of Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting the Mentor
5. Crossing the First Threshold
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
8. The Ordeal
9. The Reward
10. The Road Back
12. Return with the Elixir
Surely, for better or worse, you're familiar with at least a few popular Hollywood hits, right? For the sake of a helpful visual example, here is how the Hero's Journey plays out in 6 popular movies (infographic originally from my book Fit Soul).
Hopefully, that explanation and graphic helps you wrap your head around the general idea of what the Hero's Journey actually is. This entire path is best summarized by Joseph Campbell himself when he explains it in one single, succinct sentence:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
I first became familiar with the Hero's Journey while I was writing my first fiction book “The Forest.” To develop the plot sequence for that book, I relied heavily on an excellent book called The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, which teaches authors how to weave the Hero's Journey into their books, stories, and screenplays. So I've become quite familiar with the Hero's Journey over the past several years and, as mentioned above, have seen it played out in books and movies, but also in my own life and the lives of those around me…
…in the fitness world, the overweight, sedentary office worker who dares to step outside the ordinary world of the cubicle and sign up for an Ironman triathlon…
…in the educational world, the parents and children that make a decision to venture outside traditional education and begin the journey of homeschooling or unschooling…
…in the business world, the CEO who pivots and reinvents their business's product offering and mission statement to transform into an entirely different entity (like I recently did)…
Ultimately, these are all illustrative examples of people living out what seems to be programmed into our very DNA—the feeling that, as a Disney princess might say, “There must be more to life than this,” or “I'm meant for something greater,” and the subsequent decision to venture forth into the unknown to cross a threshold, go to battle, find the elixir, and save ourselves or save others.
Some live this craving for the experience of the Hero's Journey by witnessing it in others, such as by being perfectly content watching their favorite sports team engage in a season of competition, by engaging with epic movies and works of fiction, or by following a politician, celebrity, or other pop culture icon achieving their dreams.
Others—those who often taste a much greater degree of success, fulfillment, and purpose—take one giant leap forward, usually off the edge of a cliff with an unknown but potentially life-changing chasm beneath, and proceed to live out the Hero's Journey in their own life.
But if you're looking for the ultimate, most inspirational example of a Hero who accepted a call to danger, adventure, and eventual death, then consider the God-man who lived out each step of the Hero's journey and rescued all of humankind in the process: Jesus Christ.
From the beginning of time, Jesus existed in the “Ordinary World” of heaven, a supernatural realm in which he was no doubt comfortable, honored, worshiped daily by angels, principalities, and powers, and sitting at the right hand of the throne of God. He then, based on God's desire to save his precious humankind and to fulfill prophecies of old, heeded his calling and crossed a threshold into our comparatively far more dangerous and broken world, taking on the form of flawed and frail human flesh and being transformed into all the messiness that goes along with that: being a helpless baby dependent on a mother to swaddle him and change his diaper; no doubt fighting sniffles, colds, and flu as he aged; going through the pain and awkwardness of puberty; enduring muscle soreness, aches, pains, cuts, bruises, bee stings, thorns, sunburns; and experiencing every other difficulty of living life on a sinful and imperfect planet.
But that was only the beginning, he proceeded to collect a rag-tag squad of mentors and allies; encounter nasty, brutish enemies during his short thirty-three years of life on Earth; face an ordeal that culminated in the nastiest, most horrific and unjust murder the world has ever witnessed; and return with an elixir that offered eternal hope and salvation to all of humankind, forever. I tell you that entire story, in all its oft-disturbing and nitty-gritty details, here.
You and I face nothing so great as the evil that Jesus faced and conquered.
But we do face evil.
We do face censorship.
We do face the potential of riots, looting, pillaging, and civil unrest.
We do face a world that will need heroes, brave and courageous enough to stand up against evil, swim upstream, refuse to “own nothing and be happy” and be humble enough to love their enemies, bless those who curse them, do good to those who hate them, engage in virtuous rebellion and gracious insubordination, and refuse to use the same hateful and scapegoating tactics displayed by the opposition.
So how can you be that humble hero?
There are four ways you can begin.
Let's take a look…
You cannot leave your ordinary, safe world behind and step out to be a hero if you are attached to that safety and comfort or the ordinary world you've grown accustomed to, along with all its past times and pleasures.
So the first step to embracing the humility of the hero is to surrender all attachments.
Frodo left the shire. He wouldn't have been able to if he wasn't willing to kiss goodbye to his precious hobbit house decorated in twinkling ornaments, pretty flowers, and a perfectly round green door with a yellow brass knob placed right in the middle.
Neo left the matrix. He wouldn't have been able to if he wasn't willing to step away from his plush, comfy computer hacking existence and safe, groomed ordinary friends.
Simba left the Pride Lands. He wouldn't have been able to if he wasn't willing to release his attachment to his lion friends and eventual throne at Pride Rock.
Luke Skywalker left his precious home planet and farm at Tatooine. Harry Potter left the safety of the Dursley's home at 4 Privet Drive. Jesus left heaven.
You cannot be a hero and simultaneously be a rigid slave to the predictable existence derived from your schedule, your comforts, and your tendency to be in cruise control with a sheeple mentality following the humdrum, ho-hum yawner existence of most of the rest of the world. You cannot be a hero until you leave this ordinary world and kiss your attachments goodbye. Yep, you must be willing to lose everything. To be censored. To be banned. To be scapegoated. To be fired. To be stripped of safety because you have spoken your mind, written the truth, and been your true authentic self rather than who you think the world expects you to be.
The battle for freedom and truth can't be fought by someone who is so married to their schedule, so addicted to their exercise routine, so attached to their diet, so connected to their current peers and tribe, and so hitched to their home that they're unwilling to speak up and say things that put them at risk of losing the social respect, income, and freedom that allows them to enjoy those things in the first place. A hero cannot be living in the hypnotic trance of relatively meaningless and less-than-impactful habits, rituals, and routines that neither fully serve their purpose nor fully serve their fellow humans (Napoleon Hill writes of this hypnotic trance in his book Outwitting The Devil, which I recommend you read).
I don't want to sound haughty by saying this, but I'll use myself as an example…
…don't you think it would be an easier, more predictable, and far less problematic and controversial existence for me if I were to simply “stuck to fitness, bro,” focus on muscle building, running hills, and creatine smoothies, and shut up about the whole God thing and avoid writing books that talk about topics like sex, porn, polyamory, religion, temptation, prayer, and the Bible? But what do you think is more impactful and what do you think allows me to truly shift lives in the most lasting and meaningful way: teaching gym rats how to bench press or teaching parents how to build a legacy?
See, I don't care if I lose it all.
I don't care if I get banned from all my social media platforms.
I don't care if my family and I have to go live in a trailer park and eat rice and beans.
I wouldn't be able to even try to be a hero if I did care so much that I was attached to any of that.
How about you?
Are all your attachments in life weighing you down, keeping you chained and distracting you from stepping out of your ordinary world and heeding the call to adventure? Do you care too much about all our “stuff”? Are you willing to trade predictability and control for spontaneity and danger?
Drugs and supplements and microdoses.
Knowledge. Podcasts. Books.
The social media feed and direct messages check-in.
I'm not saying you must give any of these things up. But I am saying that you must be willing to, at the drop of a hat, because until you have that mentality, you'll have a mental block towards speaking up for what you know to be right because you are too attached to what you might lose by doing so. So you must be able to look at any such thing in your life and say, as Anthony De Mello says in his book Awareness and as I write more about here.
“I really do not need you to be happy. I’m only deluding myself in the belief that without you I will not be happy. But I really don’t need you for my happiness; I can be happy without you. You are not my happiness, you are not my joy.”
Or, especially if your attachments are focused upon achievement, power, fame, money, etc., which in highly driven people can inevitably create FOMO, stress, and distraction from more impactful activities, you can say, as author Arthur Brooks writes in his excellent book From Strength to Strength:
“This is not evil, but it will not bring me the happiness and peace I seek, and I simply don't have the time to make it my goal. I choose to detach myself from this desire.”
Simba chooses to forsake his new life and return back to the Pride Lands to battle Mufasa. The Fellowship of the Ring leave their friends behind and set upon the dangerous path to Mount Doom. Luke Skywalker joins the Rebels to destroy the Death Star. Neo takes the red pill. You get the idea. No impactful person stays inside a safe haven. Instead, they surrender all elements of safety. If danger sounds unpleasant to you, you may want to stop reading now.
Finally, in Buddhism, a practical guide exists for dealing with troublesome attachments, and it is based on four noble truths: 1) Life is suffering, due to chronic dissatisfaction; 2) The cause of this suffering is craving, desire, and attachment for worldly things; 3) Suffering can be defeated by eliminating this craving, desire, and attachment; 4) The way to eliminate craving, desire and attachment is by following the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.
But while I do agree that the suffering we all experience in life, and our subsequent addiction to attachments, begins with cravings and desires, I beg to differ with the solution presented in point #4 above. Instead, I firmly believe that the only way to permanently release attachments is to fill that eternal craving and desire in your soul with the only thing eternal that exists—namely, God. I tell you more about that here.
It seems that the modern stereotype of a hero or heroine is an Adonis-like figure who bleeds pure testosterone in the style of a muscle-bound “The Rock”, rides upon a giant stallion swinging a massive battle sword like Braveheart or King Arthur, and kicks butt while taking names in the style of Tomb Raider's Lara Croft, superheroines like Wonderwoman or Sigourney Weaver bravely battling an alien in the underbelly of a spaceship.
Look, I get it.
That stereotype is what we've been conditioned to look up to—not only because of Hollywood's portrayal of heroes using impressive or sexy figures like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scarlett Johansson, or Russell Crowe, but also because from an ancestral or evolutionary standpoint, it would have been the human being with the cannonball shoulders, square jaw, confident smirk, bulging biceps and shiny battle armor who would have been most likely considered to play the role of protector, provider, and hero.
But that's just not always so. Peter Parker was scrawny. Frodo also was small, and certainly not the most popular hobbit. Luke Skywalker didn't have a very impressive spaceship. Harry Potter was a quintessential nerd and not one you'd expect to defeat an evil lord. In perhaps the most fitting example of what we expect and stereotype as a hero compared to the humble hero who actually manifests in story, lore, and history we can once again look at the story of Jesus Christ.
The Jews expected in their promised Messiah a cutting figure, conquering king, a brave and bold champion of the peoples who commanded attention and respect and would ultimately secure freedom from Roman rule, a mighty man and an incarnation of bold Israelite leaders such as King David.
What did the Jews get instead?
Turns out, Jesus was a suffering servant…
…born in a stable, surrounded by barn animals…
…a lowly carpenter by trade…
…a modest and humble man who socialized with those of low social status such as prostitutes and tax collectors, who washed the feet of his disciples, and who preached to turn the other cheek when offended and that the meek shall inherit the earth…
…a deity in human form willing to sacrifice himself in the greatest display of deep and selfless love ever recorded.
Yet, despite lacking the braggadocio of Gaston or biceps of Batman, and despite looking nothing like a superhero Messiah, Jesus turned out to be the greatest hero the world has ever known.
Something deep inside our psyche actually resonates and identifies with this kind of hero, don't you think? After all, Harry Potter lived in a tiny cupboard, underneath the stairs at his aunt and uncle's home. Peter Parker was a nerdy kid with glasses. Rocky Balboa was a poor Italian-American from the slums of Philadelphia. Luke Skywalker was a poor farmer who worked on a moisture farm, whatever that is. Frodo and Bilbo were freaking hairy-footed, short hobbits.
See, the reason that the “humble hero” seems to be such a repetitive theme in story, in lore, and in history is this: when the time arises that the world needs a hero, it is quite common that the powers that be are the cool people, the accepted people, the powerful people, the impressive people, the wealthy people, and the people who society generally accepts hook, line, and sinker because these people are cool, they're popular, they're influential and they're not troublemakers who are stirring the pot.
Therefore, the effective hero who arises in such a time must be a pattern interrupt—and not the person the world expected to show up with a giant sword strapped to their side or a person of a rich and noble lineage with massive societal influence. If a hero were “normal” or “accepted” or “orthodox” or “status quo”, they wouldn't be the outside-the-box thinker the world needs manifested in a hero who can actually inspire and incite change.
So a hero who wishes to step outside the safety and comfort or their predictable hypnotic rhythm and ordinary world must not only be willing to surrender all attachments, but must also be willing set aside any desire to be who they think the world wants them to be rather their true authentic self, set aside any desire to be accepted as the “cool kid”, accept the risk and danger of potentially being “banished from the village” and be willing both to sacrifice and to be sacrificed.
Yes, embracing humility and sacrificing one's ego is something you may be able to wrap your head around, but the willingness to be sacrificed is also a necessary component of being the fullest hero you can be…
…Gandalf fell with the Balrog in order to pass the moral test and help his friends…
…The Terminator destroyed himself in order to prevent Judgment Day…
…Obi-Wan let Darth Vader kill him in order to drive the Rebel forces to defeat the Dark Side…
…Leonidas, with his army of 300 Spartans, fought a battle that they knew they would lose…
Is that you?
Are you willing to be sacrificed?
To be martyred?
To be weird?
To be cast out, vilified, scapegoated, mocked, and ridiculed?
To accept the fact that it is indeed one of the major regrets of the dying to wish that they had more often been their true authentic self rather than who the world wanted them to be and wish that they had displayed their true emotions and thoughts more readily, more easily, more confidently and more unabashedly?
Once again, we can look to the ultimate hero Jesus Christ for inspiration.
We are told in Philippians 2:7 that Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and was brought from a position of an honored and powerful deity into instead being made humble in the likeness of men. The next verse describes how he further humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even a horrific death on a cross.
The book of Luke describes how the foxes had holes and the birds of the air had nests, but Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. In John, Jesus points out that he does not receive glory from men. The prophet Isaiah describes how Jesus presented his humble back to those who struck him so that they could strike him again, presented his cheeks to those who plucked out his beard, and did not cover his face from intense humiliation and spitting.
He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth to say anything bad about those who enacted such cruelty upon him. He was like a lamb that was led to slaughter and like a sheep that was silent before its shearers. He offered up no loudmouthed verbal defense, and instead displayed pure humility and sacrifice. Those apostles, disciples, and martyrs that came after him were very much the same: they sacrificed their careers, their bodies, their families, their lives, and their life blood to spread a new message of hope, peace, love, salvation, and the forever life across the Mediterranean and beyond, and changed the world forever.
So yes, surrender.
Next, sacrifice. Sacrifice your ego. Sacrifice your hubris. The meek shall inherit the earth. The humble shall reign. So embrace humility. Set aside harsh judgement. Check yourself every day. Regularly remind yourself of your mortality. Pay attention towards the end of this essay, where you will learn how to speak to a deity every day, which is a very good way to keep yourself grounded.
Next, after surrendering and sacrificing, a hero must serve.
Service is not a complicated concept. It simply means that you live your life in a spirit of fully loving others (more than self!) with whatever unique skillset you've been blessed with.
Service doesn't need to begin with you venturing off to build a school or church in a third-world country, raising a million dollars for cancer, or starting a charity. All of these are noble pursuits, but should not initially be your highest calling of service.
Instead, service should be based upon small, daily rituals, routines, tasks, and touchpoints that — if everyone did the same — produce a selfless ripple effect that goes on to dramatically help humanity.
For example, it took me until I had been married fifteen years and my sons were ten years old before I truly grasped the importance of serving one's own family before going out and giving of one's self to the world. If your foundation of family is not strong and solid, then you will always have underlying, often subconscious, internal angst and stress that holds you back from free-flowing creativity and impact, a constant distraction of large and small strife and disputes on your home front, and the risk of being a person who helps the world but winds up with embittered children, a painful divorce and a sunken legacy.
Furthermore, also wasn't until the COVID pandemic, during which I was forced to travel less and stay home more, that I fully understood the meaning and impact of connection to my community, of hosting regularly scheduled dinner parties, of getting to know the names and needs of my neighbors and of how many service opportunities that existed all around me in my everyday life.
So to go hand-in-hand with surrendering attachments and sacrificing both self and ego, a hero must embrace not only living a life of service to others, but embracing and accepting even those small and seemingly trite acts of service that don't necessarily receive notable recognition, a certificate, an award, or a front-page story in the newspaper. Just imagine if every father and mother woke each morning devoted to training up their children in wisdom, discernment, and living an upright, moral life; if every home-dweller in every average neighborhood knew each other, defended each other, and fed each other; if every community member with the means to do so hosted a monthly dinner party; or if every church fed, clothed and housed all the needy people within a five-mile radius of that church. None of these activities will win one a Nobel Peace Prize, but all of them stack exponentially when more people in any given community do them and support them.
This may seem unimpactful but again, just think about it…
…before the greatest and most glorious hero Jesus Christ unleashed his massive power upon the world and defeated evil once and for all, he lived in relative obscurity, performing manual labor while working as a carpenter, caring for his family, simply being faithful in all things and doing the very best job he could each day with whatever God had placed upon his plate. Matthew 20:28 tells us that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. John 13:5 describes how he poured water into a basin, and proceeded to wash his disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. Despite being a deity with miraculous powers, Jesus had the heart of a servant.
Have you ever heard the phrase “leaders eat last”? It could just as easily be phrased “heroes eat last.” So give, give and give more. Serve, serve and serve more. Wash feet. Expect nothing in return.
How do you begin such a life of service?
First, if you have children, serve them by training them to be free-thinking, creative, resilient, and Christlike individuals who will survive in uncertain times because they can think on their feet and rely upon the grace of God to make ethical decisions.
Second, serve your spouse, your mother, and your father. Care for them, honor them, and protect them. As should also be the case with your children, if you have children, don't neglect these important, proximal people so that you can make a bigger impact elsewhere. Again, think with the mindset that if everyone did as you are doing, the impact would be exponential. You don't need to bite off too much to chew.
Third, throw a neighborhood block party or coordinate with a few of your neighbors to do so. Know your neighbors' names and needs.
Fourth, host regularly scheduled dinner parties at your house, during which you feed and entertain others.
Fifth, complete acts of service in your local community, and consider making it a shared experience with others.
Sixth, write and plan an act of service each morning in some kind of a journal (more details below).
Seventh, go join a church body, attend a worship service, join a ministry and find people there who need help. It is the responsibility of the church, and not the government, to be feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and administering both spiritual and physical relief to those in need, and a so a church is where you will often find ample opportunities to serve.
For even more inspiration from those who both sacrificed and served, think not only of Jesus, but of people like Mother Teresa, or any of these selfless heroic examples from our contemporary era, or these, or even these examples from the Marvel Universe.
Finally, one bonus effect of a life of heroic service is that you will develop more lasting and meaningful friendships and relationships. Heroes aren’t loners nor are they lonely, because if they were, they'd have or know nobody to help. Heroes who are humble will also readily admit that they need help along their journey from mentors and allies, and they only get that help by helping people.
Make sense? Alright, stick with me here: we're almost done.
Finally, in addition to surrendering, sacrificing, and serving, if you want to be a hero, you must have spirit.
No, no, no…I'm not talking about “rah, rah, we got spirit yes we do, we got spirit how 'bout you?” spirit (although there is something to be said for authentic, infectious enthusiasm), but rather I am referring to your spiritual fitness and tenacity of soul.
Over the past several years—as I have repeatedly witnessed in both myself and others the ultimate lack of fulfillment in a focus upon carnal, fleshly pursuits, and as I’ve simultaneously observed great thinkers and philosophers while continually seeking for and asking for God’s wisdom—I've become increasingly convinced that caring for one's spirit is as important, no, actually far more important, than caring for one's body and brain, especially if one wants to make maximum impact with their life on this planet.
After all, after your muscles have atrophied, your skin has sagged, your brain has degraded and accumulated with plaque, your blood vessels have become clogged, and your nerves have become weakened—long after your relentless pursuit of fitness or health or longevity has become a vain effort—your spirit can be just as strong and as bright and as full of heroic energy as ever. Perhaps nowhere is this “soul importance” more eloquently stated than in Matthew 16:26: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
Yet sadly, it seems that the spirit is the most oft-neglected component of our human vessels, and that's often due to an ignorance of the spiritual disciplines, or the failure to systematize and prioritize these disciplines into our daily routine.
But look once again to Jesus, the ultimate hero. We are told in the Bible that he often rose early to go up into mountains to pray, we know that he spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness before unleashing a sequence of impressive miracles, and we know that in Ephesians 6:10-18, written by the Apostle Paul and inspired by Paul's revelations from Jesus, we are advised to put on our battle armor:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
So how can you tend to your own spiritual fitness?
I've certainly written about my own spiritual fitness practice in great detail, most notably in my books Endure: Tools, Tactics, & Habits for Spiritual Stamina and Fit Soul: Tools, Tactics, & Habits for Optimizing Spiritual Fitness. While these books contain more information and more details compared to what I'm about to share with you, if you at least follow some semblance of the routine below, each morning and evening, and combine it with reading Scripture and praying each day, you'll have set down the road of forming at least a decent foundation of spiritual fitness. For the exercises below, you can either use a blank journal or the Spiritual Disciplines Journal.
- Download the free Insight Timer app. Set the timer for a 7-minute meditation (I use Angel Choir as background music of choice) and then also set a timer to chime at the beginning of the meditation, then the first 2-minute mark, the second 2-minute mark, and the third 2-minute mark.
- Begin to breathe with a 6 count in and a 6 count out, long, slow, and deep breath, and preferably through the nose.
- Read the verse at the top of your page in the Spiritual Disciplines Journal, then start the timer. For the first 2 minutes, meditate upon that verse. What does it mean to you? Ask God for clarity. Tell Him “I am here.” Open your eyes and read the verse again if you’d like. These first 2 minutes are for you to connect to that truth, connect to yourself, and connect to God.
- When the bell chimes at the 2-minute mark, begin to dwell upon what you are grateful for that day. Visualize someone or something you are grateful for and bring it to life in your mind’s eye. See it. Feel it. Sense it. Breathe the gratefulness into your heart’s center (a technique called “quick coherence”). When you’re ready, write down what it is you are grateful for in your journal, and if you finish before the bell chimes, close your eyes and return back to dwelling on the gratefulness.
- When the bell chimes at the 4-minute mark, begin to think about who you can pray for, help, or serve on that day. Ask God to bring someone to mind if you can’t think of anyone. Write the name of that person in your journal, then close your eyes and begin to plan how you can go out of your way to serve them, help them, or even simply pray for them. In that very moment, begin to send that person positive emotions and pray for them, though you’ll continue to do so throughout the rest of the day as well.
- When the bell chimes at the 6-minute mark, raise your hand to your chest and begin to tap over your heart, ten, fifteen, or twenty times. This is a process of setting an “anchor” for the feeling of peace you are experiencing as you approach the end of your 7-minute meditation. Anytime you are stressed later in the day, you can return to that same feeling of peace instantly, without a 7-minute meditation, by simply tapping in that same location. As you are tapping, listen to God, continue to pray, continue to breathe long, deep, and slow, and enjoy the feeling of peace, love, and joy.
- At the very end of my own meditation, right at the 7-minute mark after I’ve finished my tapping, I like to finish with The Lord’s Prayer.
- You will not really need the Insight Timer app for evening journaling and meditation, but you can use it if you would like.
- I simply close my eyes, and begin a 4:8 breathwork pattern, which is slightly more calming than the 6 in/6 out breath from the morning, and involves a 4 count in and an 8 count out, preferably through the nose.
- As you breathe, for anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes, begin to visualize your day. During this time, I recommend you replay your entire day in your mind like a movie, watching yourself in the third person and identifying what you have done well, what you could have done better, and where you felt most self-actualized and connected to your purpose statement. Watching the character of yourself in your mind, in the third person, ask yourself what you aren’t rooting for the character to do, or wishing they’d done differently, or where they failed and learned. Ask yourself what you are proud of that character doing and how you really see them acting their best. Finally, ask yourself where that person seemed most “in the flow” and do exactly what seems to be the very reason they are in the movie in the first place. As you play the movie in your mind, stop when necessary and write down in the journal what you have done well, what you could have done better, and when or where you lived your life’s purpose.
- I like to finish with a prayer of gratefulness and a request to God for a refreshing night of sleep and an impactful day on the morrow, then I smile, open my eyes, finish and tuck away my journal for the following morning!
Here's a video walkthrough of the routine above in case you find it helpful and again, for more details on the reasoning behind this routine, read my books Endure and Fit Soul, and for a more complete introduction to the spiritual disciplines in general, also read this article I wrote about the spiritual disciplines.
Finally, should you want a bit more time in your spiritual gym, then you may want to consider implementing another tactic that I complete within the first hour of waking each day. See, the meditation and journaling practice I described above is exactly what I do with my entire family once my wife and kids are awake, then at night before bed, but typically after I've drunk a large glass of water and gotten some blood flowing via about fifteen minutes of stretching and calisthenics (and always within the first hour of waking) I will also slip into my basement “Zen Den” meditation room, put on a spiritually uplifting music playlist such as “Soaking Worship” on Spotify, light a candle, burn incense, then invite God into my special space and sit in silence for one to two minutes. Next, I read a page from a devotional (currently, it is My Utmost For His Highest) and review the entire chapter of Scripture from which the day's devotional reading is derived. That process takes about 10 minutes. Then I start praying with both gratitude and petition for all the people on my prayer list, sometimes crying and weeping, sometimes laughing, sometimes speaking and praying aloud, and sometimes speaking and praying silently. This takes about another 10 minutes. Finally, I ask God to do something like “bless my day” or “anoint me with the Holy Spirit” or “give me wisdom and discernment” and I then wander upstairs to the living room to lead the family through the Spiritual Disciplines Journal described above.
Do you see how my spiritual training is mindful and intentional?
Do you see how it is scheduled and calendared, the same as I might do a workout at the gym?
Do you see how it is prioritized before any other big activities of the day?
If you want to be equipped and empowered to be the hero that this world needs, I would encourage you to do the same. These spiritual training habits stack, especially when combined with practices such as attending a worship service, praying before all meals, listening to spiritually uplifting audiobooks or podcasts, and speaking with and listening to God as an ingrained habit throughout any given day.
Perhaps you are feeling the urge, the calling, the pull, and the nudge to get a little uncomfortable: to step out of your ordinary world and begin to speak up for what you know to be right, to begin to act against what you know to be wrong, and to be your true authentic self rather than who the world wants you to be. Perhaps you feel that there must be more to life than this, that you were destined to be doing something greater than you are doing right now, or, at least, engaged in something more impactful that is currently missing from your life. You probably wouldn't even still be reading if this didn't approximately describe you.
Perhaps you are feeling, hearing, sensing, smelling, and tasting a call to adventure.
So will you stay holed up in your tiny little hole or Matrix-esque tube, this Plato's cave? Or will you poke your head outside to see “what’s up”; to explore, to adventure, and to be a little uncomfortable? Will you dare to be fierce, to be brave, to be bold, and to be edgy? To speak up for yourself and for others? Perhaps you don't even want to be a hero — because you know, especially if you've been paying attention to what I've been writing, that it will be a difficult row to hoe — but nonetheless, you feel called to be a hero.
Despite it being difficult, it can be rewarding to be a hero. After all, when you get out of that discomfort (or rather, discomfort masquerading as comfort, but inside generating paradoxically uncomfortable internal angst) and embrace the uncomfortable, the unpredictable, and the scary, that’s where you find happy. That’s right, scary is where you find happy. You just gotta believe that, and most people don’t, because the thought is, well, uncomfortable.
But you have more power and influence than you think. Heck, if you have a $500 laptop, a $30 a month Internet service plan, and a YouTube account, then you have a greater potential audience than a 1990s television station with a newsroom, cameras, a staff, transmitting equipment, and an FCC license, which would have totaled millions of dollars.
So do it.
Surrender your attachments.
Sacrifice your ego.
Train your spirit.
Be different. Be a hero. Change the world.
If you are in, what's your next step?
How are you going to surrender?
To train your spirit?
What is the next action step you will take that will rip you out of your hypnotic trance?
Comment below with your thoughts, questions and feedback. I read them all.