Don’t ask me how, but my dentist and I somehow got into a conversation — between drillings — about the meaning of life.
He was brought up in Germany and attended Jesuit schools. I suggested, as I’ve done so often on Joyful Athlete, that people have always been looking for the same thing: increasing happiness, and freedom from suffering. The rest is just the details — working out which actions, thoughts, and feelings give us more of the former and less of the latter.
The meaning of life is simple, but of course that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The secret is that our happiness expands when we use the human tools we share with all people — our body, heart, will, mind, and soul — expansively. Which, in turn, means actions that increase health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy. The nature of those expansive actions is what all true religions teach: compassion, kindness, consideration, love, etc.
Speaking as a writer and editor for 48 years, these simple truths have been pure gold for me. I often feel that I could pick up just about any subject and write about it, based on that simple understanding or life’s meaning. And since I’m posting this on Joyful Athlete, I confess it’s been the framework for each of the hundreds of articles I’ve posted here.
I’ve published five books in the last six years, starting with Joyful Athlete. The other titles include two on education that are linked in the sidebar.
The remaining pair of books were the ones I published most recently. Both concern my “other” life as a spiritual seeker. The first is Conversations With Ananda: How We Serve. Seventy Pioneering Ananda Members Tell Their Stories. It’s 630 pages of talks with people about how they’ve made spiritual principles practical in their lives.
The second is Swami Kriyananda Stories: Encounters with a Direct Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. Swami Kriyananda has been my teacher for — well, it’s been a very long time, I suspect not just in this life. He was a liberated soul who, in life after life, Yogananda brought with him to help him complete his mission — which most recently was to help people make their religion scientific and practical.
It’s a pressing need of our time, thanks to certain pernicious misinterpretations of scientific advances that have led millions to believe that life is meaningless and that there is no goal.
I seem to have been born, in turn, and in part, to help people understand how to further their aspirations by tying their training to their spiritual lives.
I remember jogging into Ananda Village, in the Sierra foothills 20 miles outside of Nevada City, CA, at the end of a long run. In the preceding 30 years I had run thousands of miles in search of the art of spiritual training, and although I’d made good progress, I was feeling a tad downcast that I couldn’t believe I had plumbed the art of it to its farthest depths.
In the silence of my mind I prayed, “I’ve been looking for the keys to spiritual running for so many years, and now I’m wondering if it isn’t all just crap.”
Immediately I heard the voice of my teacher, Swami Kriyananda. It was a clear intuitively heard voice that said, “Take it seriously.”
I remember another encounter with Swamiji. It must have been in 2012. (He left his physical body in April 2013.) It was after a talk he gave at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California. He had just published a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, based on Yogananda”s interpretations. I was profoundly inspired by the book, and as I knelt before him after his talk, I told him so.
Even as I praised the book, I was feeling a bit sheepish. Many times over the years, he had suggested that I write about Ananda. And while it’s true that I had written scores of articles, I had yet to publish a book.
Swamiji looked at me penetratingly and said, “It was when I was with Master (Yogananda) as a young monk that he told me to write that book. And it was FIFTY YEARS AGO.”
I must have looked at him vacantly, because he repeated twice more, “It was FIFTY YEARS AGO! — FIFTY YEARS!”
Later, I reflected that it had been nearly fifty years since he had first suggested that I write about Ananda. Soon, I was hard at work on Joyful Athlete, followed by the other books I’ve mentioned. While writing them I realized that it was perfectly fitting and in the natural order of things that it had taken me five decades to get started.
It was particularly true of Joyful Athlete. It had taken that long to refine my understanding of how I could align my running with the eternal, nonsectarian principles that would give me the greatest progress and joy.
Ultimately, of course, I discovered that the method was simple — that each of us has an inner coach in our heart that is very wise and that is always ready to tell us how to find increasing happiness. That’s the science of it. The art is simply learning to listen to what the calm, intuitive feelings of the heart are saying, and to take its suggestions seriously and discipline ourselves to do what it says. And, again, while it sounds simple, it isn’t easy.
My purpose in sharing my story, I guess, is to say that I’m feeling happy and fulfilled by the accomplishments of the last six years and long before. At age 79, my heart is still full of inspiration and my life is filled with purpose and meaning. And in no small part I have my long, inglorious career as a runner to thank for it, in the course of which I learned so many wonderful lessons about opening the heart.