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The noble vessel

Paul Andersen

“Now that’s what I call a body!” my wife exclaimed. She was studying the build on U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who was Time Magazine’s recent cover boy (buoy?).Phelps posed in a Speedo, revealing the sleek, trim physique that allows him to glide through the water like Flipper. My wife is not the only woman who will remark about Phelps’ buff bod, and I am not the only husband who will wonder if a woman ever said that about me.My wife’s outburst reflected the esoteric, not the erotic. Her exclamation, she assured me, was directed purely toward the esthetics of the male body. Still, things might be different if I were to exult over a revealing photograph of Anna Kournikova in a cute little tennis skirt.Body worship is risky business, but there is no denying that an athletic human being, man or woman, is a beautiful thing. This is especially true in the Age of Obesity, when physical athleticism seems far beyond the means of the average American.So, what ever happened to the ideal of unadulterated physical beauty? Why is it that top athletes warrant admiration while the rest of us wallow in the ego drain of our sagging reflection in the mirror?Travel around America and you will witness the disastrous effects of our supersizing culture. Sometime in their lives, the majority of Americans gave up on their physicality and succumbed to the daunting influences of gravity.Labor-saving gadgets, power toys, television, cigarettes and fatty foods have waged a cumulative assault on the human body, robbing it of its potential for health, fitness and beauty.Giving in to ease, comfort and indulgence, the majority of Americans have surrendered the only body they have. The price they pay is revealed in rising health care costs, soaring health insurance premiums, and a needless fall from grace.There is no rule that says youth ends at 30, 40 or 50, no physiological reason for healthy activity to cease because of age, geographic location, career demands or political affiliation. Sensible living means optimal performance in all areas of our lives.The “Aspen Idea,” coined in the 1950s, describes a triad – the body, mind and spirit – upon which the whole person stands in balance. Achieving the “Aspen Idea” is a tall order.Even the founding philosophers of the “Aspen Idea” were out of balance. Walter Paepcke was no outdoorsman, nor did he ski. Mortimer Adler was anti-athletic and failed to fulfill his PE requirements in college. Robert Maynard Hutchins quipped that he got his exercise being pallbearer for his athletic friends.In many Aspen circles, the mind is foremost while the body languishes in disregard, like bothersome baggage with a few extra handles. In other Aspen circles, the body reigns supreme while the mind is relegated to the droll necessities of life.Many come to Aspen to revel in the mountains, never setting foot inside the Music Tent or an Aspen Institute seminar room. Others are engaged purely in cerebral and artistic pursuits, dismissing the mountains as a pleasant backdrop.As a practitioner of the “Aspen Idea” for many years, I have discovered that my spirit is only fully engaged when my body and mind are peaked. Only then does a synergy arise that enlivens my whole person, producing what I call a euphoria of being.The next time your spouse exults over a picture of a nearly naked Olympic swimmer, think about your own physique. Maybe it’s time to start paying attention to your body, the noble vessel that holds your mind and spirit.Paul Andersen will swim many laps before modeling his new Speedo. His column appears on Mondays.


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