08/18/2012 08:36 am ET Updated Oct 18, 2012

Crucible for the Soul: A Little Fire Can Go a Long Way

Though the acronym GPS has become widely synonymous with finding a destination, "GPS for the Soul" is more about finding one's self, or inner direction, despite outward chaos. For me, finding my center means living a life of balance. Nurturing both the yin and yang in my life -- on every level -- is what guides me to inner peace and outer strength.

While I believe part of finding one's inner way involves quiet reflection and meditation, it is the active discipline of honing our strengths (what Stephen R. Covey called "sharpening the saw") that balances us and makes us whole. And since much of the advice offered in this section focuses on the yin aspect of balance, I want to focus on the yang part of the equation: engaging the power and passion within, because I believe true inner poise can only be found by diligently cultivating both strength and surrender through regular, rigorous challenges for body, mind and spirit.

1. Cleanse Your Body

So how can we simultaneously challenge our bodies to make them better while also relieving stress? Though many physical feats can be good for the body, one life-changing endeavor I recently undertook was a detoxifying cleanse. For 14 days I eliminated toxins in my body by refraining from all animal products and intoxicants -- including caffeinated beverages, alcohol, over-the-counter medications, antibiotics, and chemical cleaning agents -- and experienced a raw, all-natural, plant-based diet. The regimen was vigorous, and at times even painful, but the outcome goes beyond words. I realized that by fueling my body with only the best of the best -- pure, organic, uncooked foods free of chemicals and processing -- my body began to cleanse and heal itself. In fact, many of my fellow detoxers noticed chronic pain and other annoying physical conditions vanished completely, and we all shared in the profound mental and emotional side effects resulting from the new diet. Without the rollercoaster highs and lows of caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar, calm became the status quo. Personally, I found I could tackle stressful situations in a non-reactive manner (very atypical of my type-A personality). This gargantuan physical challenge resulted in benefits that extended far beyond the body and revealed truths only wholesome simplicity brings.

How-To: Find ways to challenge your body and bring it to optimal performance. As a result, your health and wellbeing will increase and your stress will decrease, leading to greater physical and mental balance and more peace.

2. Stretch Your Mind

Find ways to challenge and engage your intellect. Studies indicate that CEOs read, on average, one non-fiction book per week. (To find out what they are reading, check out this article from The New York Times.) There's a reason why leaders are readers; they constantly improve themselves by expanding their scope of knowledge and continuously learning. I love to read, but as a business owner with a busy schedule, I often need to creatively multi-task my reading sessions. I listen to audiobooks while driving in my car or read books and periodicals on the stationary bike at the gym. (In fact, I have been known to go to the gym "to read" -- on the elliptical machine, of course!)

Reading is an excellent exercise for the brain, but one of the best ways I have ever challenged my mind is by participating in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). Since childhood, it was my dream to write a book, and for years I chiseled away at it one small chapter at a time. My challenge during NaNoWriMo was to write a full novel of at least 50,000 words in a month. With the support of fellow writers, in 30 days I met my word quota and achieved my lifelong dream.

How-To: Take the plunge. Whatever your goal is, try both the tortoise and the hare approach.

As a young pianist struggling to learn classical fugues, my music instructor would often ask, "How do you eat an elephant?" I would respond with the answer she taught me: "One bite at a time." Chisel away day by day -- but don't be afraid to bite off more than you can chew. You might be surprised by the aptitude of your appetite when you feed your mind.

3. Nourish Your Soul

The same way I challenge my body and mind, at times, I find it beneficial to detoxify and stretch my soul. I often extend the sacrificial practices of Lent beyond the Easter holiday by giving up things that clutter my mind or cloud my judgment to create more space and clarity for peaceful reflection and meditation. What most people don't realize is the purpose of Lent is really twofold; it goes beyond simply "giving something up." This self-denial and sacrifice is meant to facilitate reflection and self-examination.

According to experts, Americans are exposed to as many as 5,000 advertising messages a day. That's a lot of mental clutter! Call me ascetic, but I gave up watching television and listening to the radio long ago, because I was tired of my mind being dulled and pacified with background noise. As uncomfortable as it may be, silence forces our thoughts inward, and I wanted the challenge of being alone and at peace with my thoughts. Over time I learned to cultivate a quiet and thoughtful mind, but I had to eliminate much of the noise, literally, in my daily life to do so.

How-To: When the goal is to nourish the soul, don't just restrict yourself. The same way you might exchange sweets for veggies in a healthy diet, fill up with life-enriching soul food.

Reaching Your Destination

I realize my approach may be a little intense for some (hey, no one ever said finding inner peace would be easy), so don't forget passive energy has its place too. Fuel your yin through yoga, meditation and quiet time, but remember peaceful surrender is a restorative energy designed to prepare us for the challenges ahead, so don't neglect the fire of the soul. For me, it is largely through this mind-body-spirit crucible that I'm able to strip away the external distractions and roadblocks detouring me from my destination and experience a journey of both purpose and peace. I sincerely hope my guideposts help you find your inner path, too.

For more by Christie Carmelle Lopez, click here.

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