I was running a loop course through the streets of Palo Alto, working hard to discipline my mind and bring it to a focus. Also, I was trying hard to open my heart. And the result of all my striving was a heart that was ice cold, empty of all warm feeling, and a mind that was rolling lethargically, like an wooden boat adrift in a light swell.
I thought, “To hell with it.” It simply wasn’t worth the trouble. My efforts were getting me nowhere. After 30 minutes, I’d moved not a step toward love or concentration. So I decided to simply relax, run, let my heart and mind graze on a loose tether, and see what would come.
I thought about something I learned in photography. I’ve done professional photography for 30+ years. When I started, I was very tense. I wanted to take photographs that captured spiritual truths. I was living in Mill Valley, just across the Golden Gate from San Francisco, and on weekends I would drive to the City and prowl for pictures. The whole time, I’d be praying intensely, trying hard to set myself aside and get myself out of the way, so that pictures could “emerge” spontaneously. And–very rarely–they did. I think that in three years I took a grand total of five pictures that expressed the kind of spiritual inspiration I was after.
Another method that I tried–many years later–was more successful. I was working for a publishing company that had several sports magazines, one of which was about competitive swimming. I went to an international swim meet, the Santa Clara Invitational, where swimmers had come from all over the world, including the former Eastern Block. I decided I would do something outrageous. I would take all my pictures without leaving the confines of an imaginary circle just 10 feet in diameter, at one end of the pool, several feet back from poolside. It was truly crazy. I had to get good pictures from that meet, or risk my boss’s ire.
I stood within my imaginary circle and did a strong spiritual visualization. I talked with God and affirmed powerfully that He was the camera, He was the film, He was the event, and He was the inspiration, the timing, the ability, and the outcome. I did this over and over until I had driven out of my mind the slightest desire to take pictures upon any ego-impulse or willful desire of my own.
In about three hours, I took about 215 pictures, all of five of which ended up being published in our magazine or purchased by outside media.
Later, I further simplified the method. I would still pray for inspiration before I began shooting, and I would do so unfailingly, every time. But then I would say, “I’m not going to take any pictures at all, unless I feel them in my heart.” Sometimes I would shoot a few pictures as a “warmup,” to help me get into the heart and focus my mind. But I would refuse to take any pictures at all unless my heart’s feelings were flowing. Always, when I practiced that discipline, I got good pictures.
I was recalling this during my run, and thinking, “From now on, I’m not going to do anything when I run that I don’t feel from my heart.” I vowed to do only what attracted my heart.
The people at the Heartmath Institute who’ve studied the effects of positive feelings, report that it’s important not to try to open the heart by using the mind or thinking, but rather to use “heart methods.” One of the methods they recommend is recalling some experience that has opened the heart before, and bringing those same feelings forward in the heart, in the present.
That method has helped my running: I can never genuinely open my heart and experience positive feelings by merely thinking, but I can do it by practicing “heart methods.” The methods I use include what I think of as “sweet techniques,” such as cultivating the Harmony Zone, running with rhythm, inwardly singing songs or chants that open my heart, or repeating a short prayer or phrase or blessing that generates true feeling.
During my run the other night, I backed off from too much thinking and willing, and practiced some “sweet techniques.” Primarily, I just ran in the Harmony Zone and focused my attention on the sweet inner feelings that it generated. In that sweet mood, I found that it was much easier to begin doing spiritual techniques, in a natural, sweet way. I repeated a simple prayerful phrase: “God, God, God.” And I held affectionate thoughts for Mary Ellen. At first, those methods seemed much less powerful and impressive than all the will power and hard thinking that I’d been doing earlier on. Yet they opened my heart much more quickly and effectively, and filled it with feelings that were real.
In our western culture, we tend to give all honor to reason and will power, and we relegate the heart to a distant second place. Yet the world of feeling is hugely important. There are so many “issues of feeling” that can get us in deep trouble, for which the logical mind simply can’t deliver the answers, because it doesn’t have the appropriate tools.
After a race in Sacramento, I was standing at the results board, checking my time and place. I finished fourth in my age group, and I was grinding my teeth, thinking, “There’s no way that guy can beat me again, if I do a couple months of speedwork.” I was grimly planning my future track workouts, when suddenly I heard a woman’s cheerful voice beside me. She was greeting a friend. “Hiiiii!” she gushed. “I haven’t seen you in so long!! It’s so wonderful to see you! How are you?! You look great! Which race did you run? How’d you do?”
“Oh, hi! Thanks! I ran the 50K, and I finished third in my age group.”
“Wow!! That’s WONDERFUL! I’m so happy for you! Let’s get together sometime–it’s been too long! It was so great to see you!”
I was laughing silently, thinking, “Women sure have a different perspective. They know something about running that men would be wise to learn, if they’d only pay attention.”
Progress comes by “going with our strengths.” There’s no one “best” tool–we need them all–heart, mind, will power. But our lives would be very dry without the heart, just as they’d be directionless and scattered without mental smarts, spiritual intuition, and firm will.