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  • Reverend James Squire

Muscle Memory For Mind, Body, And Spirit




I read a story. I haven’t been able to run for months because of an issue so this article quickly caught my interest. How much have I lost and what do I need to do to get back to running? It was an article that described in detail what I need to do when I return and what may make it easier to return. Runners have a base which means that there is memory in my cells that never forget.


I will forgo the biological explanation, but briefly there are genes in the muscle cells that get turned on and off in response to exercise in order to make certain proteins in the cell which facilitate muscle growth and strength. In theory long term changes in these genes could be what drives muscle memory. It is why you never forget how to ride a bike or swim.


Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard, made a case that we possess multiple intelligences, one of which is Kinesthetic Intelligence, where people have a certain gift for controlling their bodies or can handle objects skillfully. Most athletes have this ability.


Malcolm Gladwell made the point in his research that it takes 10,000 repetitions of anything to gain expertise in certain areas.


There is a technique in learning referred to as the pencil technique where you should write a lesson learned down when doing homework. When you go to take a test and you are holding a pencil to answer questions, you can have easier recall.


Many institutions of learning proclaim that they are in the business of helping students develop mind, body, and spirit. We know that memory improves mind and body, but what about a combination of mind, body, and spirit as one entity emphasizing spiritual or ethical education.


It is that combination that I used in ethics classes. Aristotle made the point that we become better people by repeating helpful behaviors. He would definitely support Gladwell’s notion. But how do you make better decisions particularly when you do not have time of your side?


What I emphasized with my ethics students is that the purpose of the course was to provide them with many tools for their decision-making tool box so that when they had to go there for the tool to make a good decision, they would have many tools from which to choose to make good ethical lives.


But that was not enough. I wanted their ability to make good decisions “second nature” for them where they didn’t even have to think about the right thing for them and others around them for there are many decisions that have to be done when we don’t have time on our side. Second nature would take them from being a good decision maker to being a great decision maker. When you think of our gifted athletes who play soccer, football, basketball, hockey, and perform gymnastics, etc., we know that what separates the good from the great is the great ones make a shot that is done without their thinking about it. Why would we think that it would be different from making an ethical decision.


In addition, I would suggest that Howard Gardner consider people having a spiritual intelligence. We are reminded in the biblical book of Provers that, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) Hope, like any virtue, is a choice that becomes a habit which forms a spiritual memory.


The two clearest examples of spiritual muscle memory in Christianity and Judaism are Eucharist for Christians and Passover for Jewish people.


“As a final and especially prepared Passover supper, Jesus took bread blessed and broke it and gave it to his apostles saying, ‘Take eat. This is my body which was given for you. Do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19) In Judaism at Passover time we recall, “Remember I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Remember this night! (Exodus 20:2)


Different people have different spiritual lives including practices such as prayer, meditation, worship, and doing something of service to others.


Muscle memory allows us to remember information for a test. It helps us to make shots without even thinking. It allows us to summon help and strength from our religious faith. We are at our best as human beings when all three; mind, body, and spirit are available to us as second nature giving us a broad spectrum of support. But like any muscle with mind body, and spirit collectively informing our actions, they have to be used to produce gratitude, a key to all forms of our muscle memory.

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