Imagine a genius architect who found a way to put the idea of his designs into the colors, into the stones, and into the wood of his buildings so that his buildings could build themselves.
That’s what happens in the body of any living creature. We think that’s pretty incredible. And it gets even better.
A human being is the only one that can actually be conscious that this is happening inside of himself. He can step back and think about himself – who he is, and what he is becoming.
Plants can’t. Insects can’t. Not even my really smart dog can.
We’re 100% conscious. We know that we have an “end”, and we see it unfolding. This is why we’re the only ones that suffer when we realize that we’re deviating from it. Most importantly, we don’t have to stand on the sidelines as this biological unfolding take place.
We’re the only creatures in the universe that can participate in the building of ourselves. We can use our heart, mind, and will to shape the person that we’re becoming.
It’s the human act where we realize this potential most fully. Fitness happens to be one area where this is a tremendous opportunity to exercise it.
The human act
There are certain acts that we share with animals. Sneezing, stretching, running, and a variety of others fall into this category when they’re performed based on a purely psychological “urge”. They make up 99% of fitness acts. That’s all good.
Cats stretch. Dogs wrestle. And thousands of other animals do things that we could basically call “fitness”. It’s a natural drive of any living thing to protect and take care of itself.
There are acts, though, that only a human being can do because we have faculties that animals don’t have. Moral acts, rational acts, affections, or willing something beyond the action itself: these are what we call specifically human acts. They’re what we were designed for.
activprayer maximizes the human acts.
The difference in training
My friend Ryder is one of the best Schutzhund trainers in the world. He started out as a general dog trainer, and he gradually developed a love and special expertise for German Shepherds. He knows how a German Shepherd is supposed to look and act according to breed standards, and his job is to actualize the dog’s potential by directing its basic drives and instincts toward constructive forms of work and play so that they become the best police dogs possible. He tests for a standard skillset in obedience, tracking, and protection as part of his competition training, and he has a list of about 10 physical benchmarks that he looks for in all of his dogs.
Sound familiar? There are 10 physical skillsets that fitness professionals commonly look for as well: cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
So why doesn’t Erik just open a fitness studio and train people according to the same methodology? If he can produce world-class German Shepherds, it seems as if he could apply a similar style to human fitness. He could throw us in the back of a truck every day, tie us to a leash, and tell us exactly what we need to do in order to build each of the 10 skill levels. If we did well, we’d be rewarded with a nice meal at the end of each day.
Would you want to join one of these classes? We don’t think so.
In fact, no person can last long in any fitness system that doesn’t make use of the major elements of a human act: freedom, reason, will, heart, and a relational structure. If these aren’t specifically integrated, it will get old fast. You can’t run on a treadmill or stand in the back of a group fitness class and play Simon Says for long before you crave something more meaningful. You simply weren’t made for that.
A human being has a completely different nature than any other living thing. Although we share certain animal instincts with our canine friends, our potential isn’t actualized through them. We have to go far beyond that.
The guiding principle is this: in order to know what is “healthy” for any living thing – whether it be a dog, a cat, or a plant – we have to know it’s nature. We’ve spent far too much time in fitness measuring certain capabilities and setting goals without stepping back and looking at what it is that a human person is uniquely made to do and then honoring those things.
Elements of the Human Act
An authentically human action that has the potential to transform us and the people around us will be made up of:
Our definition of freedom is not the ability to choose what we want, but the ability to choose the good. If we have lost the ability to choose healthy foods or to act with integrity in certain situations, we’re not free. The human act rests on the idea that we’re choosing freely.
Unlike any plant or any animal, every human being has the awesome ability to participate in the creation of his own being. Through every freely chosen act, we choose what we are and what we’re becoming. This goes far beyond the mere biological level. An acorn will grow into a tree based on what is in the seed, and a puppy German Shepherd will grow into an adult German Shepherd according to its DNA. They are biologically determined. But a human being can choose what he is: he can be a monster or a saint. In front of the overwhelming possibilities – and responsibility – we realize that we can’t do it alone.
activprayer is dedicated to helping everyone recover that fundamental freedom if it has been lost in any way.
Though we share certain “drives” or instincts with animals, we also have the ability to completely override then in view of a better end. For example, I can order my life to becoming a good firefighter and save lives. If I make that choice, then certain demands are put on me in order to realize it. I might realize that I can’t drink a beer every time my friend offers to buy me one. I decide that I have to go to the gym on Monday nights instead of watching T.V. in order to pass the physical fitness test. Through my reason, I’m able to take charge of the forces acting on me and be the one who chooses which ones I reject and which ones I accept. I can order my life and what I do according to the ultimate good that I am seeking rather than respond to drives and instincts that leave me tossed about like a boat on a stormy sea.
I have the ability to will that my action serves a purpose greater than itself. This is at the very heart of activprayer. I can offer my action as a gift for another precisely because the human will can go beyond the immediate action and think about things other than the action itself. The action will always have a proximate end, but it can also have a secondary, third, and final end, which is far more important than the first one.
If I am running a marathon, for instance, my primary end could be to finish the race. My secondary end might be to build endurance. But my third end – my final end, and the thing that motivated me to train for it in the first place – is my niece, an avid runner who was recently hit by a car and can’t compete in the race herself. Through the will, an activprayer becomes something that lives beyond the limits of the action itself.
The next time you workout, ask yourself: is my purpose here to build bigger biceps, to be a better father, or to lift up another with my gift of inspired action? Our intentions make a difference.
By heart we mean all of the affective movements that go along with pursuing these good things. The heart moves.
When we talk about “the heart”, we’re not talking about the organ that pumps blood. We’re talking about the inner person. The heart acts, just like the body acts, and these interior acts are no less real than the other acts. When your heart moves toward an intention, your body follows. If it’s a powerful surge of the heart, it will be contagious.
The heart doesn’t always have to be involved. Some days, we simply don’t feel like doing an activprayer. It’s too much work. We’re not inspired. We don’t have a warm-fuzzy feeling. That’s okay. We don’t always “feel” that surge of the heart every time we look at someone we love, either, but it doesn’t mean that we love them any less or the actions that we’re doing to express that love mean any less.
When the heart is moved, though, it comes together in a powerful way. We can never forget the heart.
We’re profoundly relational. The fact that babies with no human contact die after only several months is well known by now. Yet how easy it is for us to walk into a gym with headphones on and never have a human encounter during the course of a workout! In fact, many people surveyed say that they have gone a year or more with a gym membership without talking to anyone. Even when we go into group fitness classes, we can sort of slip in, find our spot, and slip out at the end.
Part of the human act, though, is to be in relation. That doesn’t mean that we always have to interact with someone face-to-face: the mere act of dedicating an action to someone who isn’t present with us makes that act relational through the very intentionality of it.
The Call to Action
The human act can be implemented in as many ways as there are people. It will look different in every circumstance. That’s why we need a community of discovery to move fitness forward in a way that is more authentically human. activprayer is not a system – it’s is a challenge. It’s a challenge to become the who that we were created to be in order to do the what that we are called to do.
We don’t have all of the answers. We are calling on the awesome community that share these values to contribute to transforming the way that we do fitness and approach our active lives.
Please let us know how we can serve you in this effort.
[i] Aristotle called this entelechy, which means “having its own principle within it”