A Face Full of Heart

I gave up mentally sweating and straining and discovered that I was running affirmatively. Instead of fretting-: focus the mind! straighten the spine! breath deep in the heart! keep your attention in the forehead, where concentration is localized in the brain! be expansive! do it for others! practice kindness!–I did the simple, lovely things that I enjoy.

I thought, “When a runner runs with a lot of heart in his face, then he’s running right.” I sang silently and affirmed: “I run with the gladness of all hearts. I share God’s love with all.” This, at least, was cheerful. I can’t say it put me in the Zone; and I can’t say I cared. It was positive, affirmative, and fresh. It captured my enthusiasm, and it moved me in the right direction. My spiritual teacher said: “All you can do is the best you know how.” I couldn’t have done better. And the results lasted.

I had gone to service and sat and prayed quietly, and I had found my genuine heart–to the point where I was praying for others, “Pour your love into that soul! Flood them with your light! Give them love for You that’s deep and true. Let them know that You are the source of healing, love, and guidance.” This, also, was fresh and true–and it was me.

The service was about Judas. The minister described how Mary Magdalene anointed Christ’s feet with expensive oils and dried them with her hair. Judas protested, “Should not this oil have been sold, and the proceeds given to the poor?” And Jesus said, “The poor you have always with you. Me you do not have with you always.”

The minister talked about Mary Magdalene’s devotion–how her love for Christ impelled her to enter a room where by tradition only men would be present, and how she expressed her love so unabashedly, heedless of custom or opinion.

I felt there was a message in the story: when I run and when I pray, to be myself.

Back home, I lay on the bed and watched a video of John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach whose UCLA teams won 10 national championships in 12 years in the 1960s and ’70s. Wooden is, and I say this with a sincere wish to suppress exaggeration, a saintly man. At age 90, his blue eyes are full of clarity and kindness.

He never motivated his players through fear, but only with encouragement. He’s famous for his “Pyramid of Success,” a collection of human qualities that make up a successful player and person. One of the qualities is confidence. Wooden explains that confidence is really about being yourself. When we’re truly ourselves, we’re able to fill our role competently. And we’re able to move forward and take positive steps toward improving.

Is it realistic to expect to be able to run, every time, at the highest level of performance and delight? My experience tells me, no. Everything I’ve experienced as a runner in these 35 years tells me it’s sufficient to be moving in the right direction.

Running is a lot like the spiritual path. It takes endless practice, year after year, to arrive at a comfortable acceptance of ourselves. Spiritual experience comes by dynamic self-offering – not waiting for God to come and “make everything right,” or by cranking Him down from His heavenly throne with a little tool bag of techniques – or by kicking ourselves for the slightest error. These things leave no time or energy for loving God. No, progress comes, in life and running, by patiently working with ourselves just as we are.

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