Note to a Friend: Putting the Heart First

A friend of mine is a dancer. We had a conversation where we shared our experiences of following our intuition. Later, I wrote her this note.

What I’ve been experiencing is the answer to a prayer about a book that writing on spiritual experience in sports. I discussed the book with our teacher’s chief disciple. He was enthusiastic, but he said, “You’ll have to build bridges for people who are new to these ideas.”

That puzzled me for a long time. My stories are from the perspective of a devotee. It seemed a big leap to take people to the idea that you can talk to God and feel His presence while you’re running.

As I continued to ask for guidance, I began to discover  the bridge. And, as it turned out, it is in the heart.

In fact, it was I who had to return to square one. My experiences had been wonderful, and I had a ton of relevant stories. But I found that I needed to go back and do some basic groundwork with the heart. I needed to learn to let the heart guide me.

The results were very gratifying.

At one point, I was feeling a bit fed up with running. I always seemed to be running a bit too fast and getting exhausted and losing my joy.

I went for a run and vowed not to do anything that my guidance didn’t tell me was right. I warmed up slowly for an hour, praying all the while. I picked up the pace and noticed on the heart monitor that when my heart passed 140 bpm, there was a distinct feeling of harmony. To make a long story short, I decided that if I ignored that feeling I might miss a wonderful experience. So I slowed until my heart was in the low 140s, and the feeling returned. I ran in a wonderful state of love and harmony for 3-4 miles, feeling interiorized and still.

Last Sunday, I drove to San Francisco and parked at Crissy Field and ran across the bridge into the Marin Headlands. I warmed up slowly and gradually increased my pace to easy, aerobic running. I gently focused my attention in the heart and at the point between the eyebrows while I shared the wonderful sunny day with my spiritual teacher and God.

On the way back across the bridge, I had been running for an hour and twenty minutes and felt guided to pick up the pace. To make a long story short, I ended up running about 3 miles effortlessly, aerobically, painlessly, at a very high speed, for me. The top marathoners have the ability to run aerobically at up to 96% of their maximum heart rate. The “aerobic heart rate range” for normal people is considered to be just 60-85% of MHR, according to exercise physiologist.  In ordinary circumstances, I would be very strained to run at 90% of MHR or faster, but this was effortless. During this portion of the run, I was able to run like the great marathoners, at 96% without any feeling of strain.

I attributed it to several things: first and foremost, deliberately harmonizing my heart. The people at Heartmath Institute have found that harmonious, “coherent” feelings generate a heartbeat pattern that allows the heart to work much more efficiently. Harmonious feelings also generate a harmonious interaction between the heart and brain. The long warmup, with relaxed, repetitive chanting and prayers,  also contributed to a harmony of body, heart, and mind.

The heart is the “bridge.” Efficiency is something that all runners consider highly desirable, and that they long for, since it combines quality of experience with high performance. Harmonizing the heart is at least one formula for running in “the zone.”

It also opens doors for a discussion of spirituality. When you go deeply into the heart, you discover that it isn’t impersonal and mechanical, as the Heartmath system can lead us to believe, but very personal. In that state, you feel that the heart is receiving the gifts of intuition, love, and harmony from a deeply inward, vast source. Of course, in the presence of a saint such as our teacher, the power of the bliss and love we feel is simply so great that it seems absurd to think that the little, puny instrument of the physical heart is generating those waves of blessing.

I’m reminded of an experience I had when our teacher was signing books after a lecture he gave at the Palo Alto Ananda Sangha. I was taking pictures, and I paused to be still and watch him. I suddenly became aware of a tremendous wave of blessing that God was sending through him to the people who were waiting in line. It was so powerful that my face smiled of itself. I felt an overwhelming urge to join my own tiny prayers to its flow, in blessing those folks. Meanwhile, our teacher was talking with people, eating a croissant, and signing books.

In the back of my consciousness, I thought: “My gosh, many of these people are probably just intellectuals from Palo Alto who are here to learn about his book. Or they’re dabbling in spiritual ideas – and yet God is blessing them all this much?!”

I thought, “What a wonderful way to live, to be capable of blessing people that way.” I thought, “How is it possible?” I looked at his face and saw him pause as if he was looking for a way to answer my question. Then the muscles in his face tightened slightly, and I knew the answer: by disciplining the little self, by offering it to God so that He can use us as His instruments to bless others.

I’ve known our teacher for 37 years, and that’s the one thing I’ve noticed most consistently about him. Where most of us congratulate ourselves when we’re able to offer ourselves to God and feel him bless others once in a while, to a degree – he does it continually. When I look into his eyes, I see no outward grasping, or likes and dislikes. I see his awareness entirely interiorized, offered to his teacher and God. And I always see this.

I find it’s the key to my best experiences as a runner. If, at every phase of the run I can offer myself inwardly to be guided as God wants, with relaxed, unrelenting self-discipline, and to bless others, I invariably get the best possible joy out of the run.

 

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