When I was 16, I decided to get in shape. I began jogging every morning, building up slowly to a 40-minute workout. Since then, I have learned about stretching, nutrition, and weight training. At various times, I've added swimming, martial arts, walking, and bicycling to my routine. But what has remained consistent in the past 20-plus years is that I have woven regular exercise and good nutritional practices into the fabric of my life.

On the other hand, when I needed some kind of spiritual belief system, I tore through various religions as if I were sampling dishes at a smorgasbord. Having rejected the rationalistic Reform Judaism of my childhood on the grounds that I found it spiritually sterile, I was set adrift. With no direction of my own, I set out in all directions. I accepted invitations from friends to attend their churches and began reading about various religions. In the process, I sampled everything from Buddhism to Catholicism. I'd study, meditate, or pray for an afternoon, for weeks, or even months, then discard the religion du jour when the luster wore off and the work set in. If faith came in an easy-to-swallow pill, I'd have taken it.

I made time for prayer even when I didn't know who or what I was praying to.

That might have been the end of my spiritual quest, except that about 10 years ago, I looked around and saw that my life was in shambles. I was 27 years old, out of a job, picking up the pieces from a failed relationship, and losing custody of my daughter. I realized I had to take the same practical approach to becoming spiritually fit as I had to becoming physically fit. I couldn't wait for God to tap me on the shoulder in order to believe. I had to decide to have faith every day. I looked at the beliefs I already held and found that without question, I accepted scientists' claim that there are 300 trillion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Why was believing in a loving God any more of a stretch?

Defining God simply as Good, I began to consciously replace every negative, doubting thought with a positive one. I made time for prayer and meditation even when I didn't know who or what I was praying to.

It was an act of self-discipline, but that was nothing new. I know what it means to get out and jog even if the temperature is plunging outside. I know that it's the little choices I make every day that help me stay physically fit: ordering a baked potato rather than french fries at a restaurant, parking at the far end of the lot and walking the extra steps to get to the store, or choosing a bike ride with friends over a movie.

I found that this same kind of attention to everyday choices produces spiritual fitness too. Every minute of every day you can apply the principles of positive thinking, of choosing love over fear, and of attending to your soul rather than ignoring it. The result is a closer relationship to a Higher Power and a life that is more fulfilling and productive.

Here are some simple steps you can take to start:

  • Any good fitness regime demands that you watch what you eat. To become spiritually fit, be sure to get your Recommended Daily Allowance of inspiration. Near your bed, keep books of poetry, scripture, or stories of people who have battled great odds to achieve great good. Read a few pages before you go to sleep and before you get out of bed in the morning.

  • When you work out, you have to stretch to prepare your body for the exercises ahead. To achieve spiritual fitness, practice meditation to prepare for the soul work ahead. Breathe in and out while paying close attention to the air as it enters and leaves your body. If you find your thoughts wandering, just bring your attention back to your breath. You can start by taking three meditative breaths before you eat a meal, at stoplights, and before you turn the key to enter your house. Later, you can build to longer periods of seated meditation. This is more than just a breathing exercise. By clearing your mind of negative thoughts, plans, and demands, you open a conduit through which an infinite stream of good and godliness can flow.
  • While meditating is a way to listen deeply, prayer is a way to communicate. The simplest prayer is easy to memorize. Just say: Thank you. Try to say it silently or out loud 100 times a day--any time you see something beautiful, experience joy, or avoid danger. It doesn't really matter to whom you direct this simple prayer, be it another person, God, or the universe at large.
  • From Moses' trek through the desert to Gandhi's walks for peace, putting one foot in front of the other seems to have a spiritual dimension. There are many ways to incorporate purposeful walking into your life. You can participate in walkathons or marches for causes you believe in. You can also practice prayer walking. To start, silently repeat a prayer, Psalm, or other inspirational passage while you walk along a quiet route. Direct all your attention to the act of walking and praying. You can even do this on the treadmill at the gym.
  • Remember, just as you wouldn't start a physical fitness program by attempting to run a marathon, don't start a spiritual fitness program expecting a rocket ride to nirvana. Start small and build from there. A five-minute meditation will slowly become 20 minutes or even an hour.

    Taking small steps like these may not seem as dramatic as, say, shaving your head and renouncing all your worldly goods. But that's the point. Just as fad diets never produce the long-term results that small daily changes in diet and exercise will, so spiritual fitness is not achieved by leaping into an esoteric practice that promises instant [to avoid using this metaphor again]nirvana. Instead, it's a matter of approaching lofty matters with a down-to-earth discipline.

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