Cultivating virtue

Virtue does not magically appear in a person. Virtue is excellence intentionally cultivated through developing a particular habit or set of habits, e.g., integrity, truth telling, or courage.

Former Navy Seal and bestselling author Eric Greitens in Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life (Buena Vista, VA: Mariner Books, 2016) identifies five variables that go into training of any kind: frequency, intensity, duration, recovery, and reflection. Athletes, musicians, and others who have developed an excellence will appreciate the importance of each of the five variables:

Frequency is important because we learn through repetition. Our bodies and minds and spirits need to adapt between each practice.

Intensity is important because we grow only when we push ourselves beyond the boundaries of our past experiences.

Duration is important because we need to train as long as necessary for our bodies, minds, and spirits to adapt to our work.

Recovery is important because our bodies, minds, and spirits need time to adapt to what we have learned. When we sleep after exercise, we can grow stronger. When we sleep after studying, we can grow smarter. Even monks take breaks from prayer so that their spirits can grow.

Finally, reflection is important because we have to consider our performance against the standards we have set, adjust ourselves, and integrate what we've learned into our lives. Our times of practice will become isolated islands unless we reflect. Reflection is the bridge between what we practice and the way we live our lives.

Spiritual excellence – a depth of personal spirituality that leads to a growing self-awareness and awareness of the transcendent – entails training built around these five variables. The same is true of moral excellence.

Are you in training to become spiritually and morally excellent? If you were to sketch out, adopt, and then regularly practice a spiritual or moral discipline designed to lead to excellence, what would each of the five elements of that training program involve?

Each person has the potential to become a great soul, a person of estimable excellence. The only reason that we remain immature spiritually and morally because we do not train.


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