A common phrase I hear repeatedly is, “I can’t wait until we get back to normal.” This can have multiple meanings. In the context I’m referring to has to do with the overall well-being of a person, particularly their body and soul.
The word “normal” in this case is subjective, which is why I substitute it for “balance.” What was normal in the past may not have been filled with the best, or healthiest, choices for the soul and body in retrospect.
The physical health of the body and the spiritual health of the soul are interlinked, for they are both finite. They both have “batteries,” so to speak, that can drain and require a recharge. Stress can exponentially affect both body and soul causing a need to recharge more often.
Thomas Aquinas writes about this very subject in his Summa Theologica. He says, “Just as man needs bodily rest for the body's refreshment…so too is it with his soul.”
In some capacity, we all have to work. Our jobs pay bills and so forth, but when we push our bodies beyond a certain measure, especially one that causes stress, it too affects the soul. Both the soul and body need rest in order to release the tension otherwise it can become weary.
The body rests through proper sleep and relaxation. On the other hand, the soul’s rests, as Aquinas put it, is pleasure. The soul needs play time in other words.
This may sound a bit simplistic, but it’s something many people don’t think about. As I stated earlier that there needs to be a steadiness in ones life. That balance consists of work, relaxation, and play. A person can spend much time working, either at their occupation or doing chores around the house. All which causes tension and stress which can throw things out of kilt, because the balance is off with relaxation and fun (play).
Even if you do balance work and relaxation, the balance is still off because the focus here is on the body alone. The tension has not been slacked on the soul side of the equation. While it is good to get plenty of sleep and rest, the soul is still wound up tighter than a drum, because the soul needs play.
It is this balance of work, relaxation, and fun that keeps the body and soul in a harmonious state. So let’s focus a little more on the soul and “play time.”
There are three criteria that Thomas Aquinas notes in order to truly benefit the soul that best eases the stress and tension while not leading down a wrong path.
The play time for the soul must not be at someone else’s expense. In other words, the soul’s pleasure should not harm someone else, cause scandal, or be vulgar.
Also, the soul’s play time should not involve losing the balance of one’s mind. Ambrose, another great theologian, says, “when we seek relaxation of mind, we destroy all that harmony which is the concord of good works.” Anything that causes us to completely separate ourselves from reality can damage the soul, such as getting drunk or high.
Lastly, Aquinas says we must not put so much emphasis in play time for the soul that we simply neglect our other duties and responsibilities. Again this throws off that balance between work, relaxation, and play.
This is only the beginning to what can be accomplished when a proactive effort is made for stabilizing the soul and body in work, rest, and play, leading to a happy, healthy life–both physically and spiritually.
Reference: Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 168, Article 2