Going Deep on Mt. Tam

I was running on Mt. Tamalpais, north of San Francisco, in the Coastal Range, and making an effort to greet the hikers I passed, giving them a hearty “Good morning.” But as I brake-jogged the steep path from the ridge down to the Coastal Trail, my focus slipped.

I turned south on the trail toward Pan Toll and stepped aside to let three hikers pass. They were Goths, dressed all in black, and they were being super cool. A teenage girl uttered a complacently superior “He-llo” as she passed. I was reminded of a Funny Times cartoon, where an avant-garde artist says to his ultra-hip girlfriend, “Let’s go to the latest feel-good movie and feel bad.”

But I realized that God was holding a mirror up to my energy, which had flagged on the downhill. I set off at threshold pace and immediately felt wonderful.

The trail was wooded and very “runnable,” and as I let out the stops, my energy soared. I slowed several times as hikers passed and greeted them with a warm and cheerful heart.

I’ve lost weight and look fit, and I caught myself feeling smug. “Look at me!” But I reminded myself that joy comes when I forget old George, pinch him in the butt, toss him aside and become bigger than he is, by opening my heart and including others.

After filling my bottles at Pan Toll, I began the trek back down to Muir Woods. Emerging from the forest, I saw five middle-aged hikers approaching, far below. And I decided that I would practice a spiritual discipline, set myself resolutely aside and “work on my aloha.” I brought my attention strongly inward and focused my attention, throwing away me-thoughts and replacing them with love, so that I could give happily and freely, as a channel for God’s joy.

As the group drew near, I felt God’s love warm my heart. Feeling deeply controlled and interiorized, I said the best “Good morning” of the day, and as one, they replied, “Good morning!” with a cheerfulness that startled me. I looked at them more closely. The woman in the lead appeared to be in her mid-40s. Her face had the rounded contours of a person of kindness and heart. I wasn’t able to see her eyes, but I caught an impression of them, straight and calm. She didn’t seem, as weekend hikers often do, the least bit defensive, cloaked in their city shell. I trotted on, feeling quite happy.

I’ve noticed when I run that people respond unfailingly to the vibrations of my heart. Throughout the run, except for the stretch where I let my energy slide, I had tried to project harmony, tried to give more than I took. And bicyclists, hikers, and runners had responded in kind, engaging me with friendly words. “Do I detect that you’re training for the Dipsea?” “Nah, my Dipsea days are a faded memory!”

When there’s harmony in my heart, I feel connected with the people I meet. It may take a lot of work to open and harmonize my heart, but it’s always worthwhile. As described in Chapter 5, researchers at HeartMath Institute have discovered that the rhythms of people’s hearts (EKG) and brains (ECG) may synchronize their electrical vibrations at a distance of five feet or more.

Often, I’ll have to work with physical methods first. Sometimes I’ll breathe in deeply and hold the breath at the level of the heart, a practice that some spiritual traditions recommend for increasing energy, awareness, and harmony in the heart. Sometimes I’ll arch my spine backward to raise my energy, or join my hands behind my back and stretch my chest to “open space” for the heart, while inhaling deeply.

I’ve noticed that “heart people” tend to “lead with their hearts,” an attitude and orientation to life that’s reflected in their posture: they break the air with their chests, like ships moving serenely through ocean waves. I’ve noticed that whenever I feel a particularly strong gathering of energy in my heart, I run or walk this way, and conversely, that stretching and opening my chest and running “chest first” helps me to cultivate heart-centered attitudes.

Inwardly, I might sing a song that opened my heart in the past. Sometimes those harmonious feelings come by remembering a time when my heart was open, or by thinking loving thoughts about someone and praying for them, or sending them silent encouragement. No single method appears to be “best.”

I find it deeply enjoyable to run in the heart. It seems to be a center of my being, an important focal point. Being in the heart feels important – it feels like a door to something wider than myself, something beautiful and wise that is the heart of me.

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