The Third Voice: Athlete’s Infallible Guide

Photo: Grateful thanks to David Marcu on Unsplash!

During the brief time I spent working as an admin at Stanford after my writing and editing business took a flop in the wake of 9/11 and the 2001 tech crash, the university replaced one of its primary financial reporting systems, which resulted in our having to spend way too many hours in large halls watching people drone on while flipping slides that essentially repeated what they were saying.

Let me state my prejudice: I have no love for Powerpoint, which like Facebook and Twitter I consider a dangerous ADD (Attention Dividing Device).

However, I was able to salvage a useful lesson from the experience: I learned that by closing my eyes and just listening to the speaker I could absorb a great deal more than if I also opened them and watched the endless parade of bullet points. Lesson learned: I was smarter when I was focused and calmly interiorized.

Being of an age when the past forms by far the greater portion of my life, I now have abundant opportunity to look back over my many decades of mistakes that ranged from the merely embarrassing to the devastatingly humiliating.

And while I can dismiss with a gay laugh the merely procedural or technical errors (hah-hah, I forgot to attach a doc to an email), it’s the faceplants that involved other people that continue to make me blush. And it strikes me that every single one of them without exception involved an error of the heart.

It’s scientific. Researchers have studied people with brain injuries that impaired their ability to feel, while leaving their reasoning powers intact. And they’ve found that lacking the heart’s feelings those unfortunate individuals had lost their ability to make sound decisions, and that they would waver endlessly over a simple choice such as whether to go to the grocery for a loaf of bread.

My mistakes as a runner — including my own endless dithering inability to know what to do next in my training — similarly involved an overly rational approach to seeking answers, and a fatal forgetting to bring the heart’s feelings into the process.

I had known many successful, happy runners who didn’t have the same problem — they never had to spend a lot of time rationalizing their training; they just knew what to do. I’m thinking of the Kenyans, those notorious hard-trainers who, if they didn’t feel during the warmup that their bodies were ready to run on the day, would simply pack it in and go home, without the slightest self-doubting, self-questioning, or hesitation.

Too often, faced with deciding whether to take the long way home, my attention would be fatally divided between listening to three separate voices in my head. The rational brain would be calculating sleep patterns, recent training, diet, the weather, a sore knee, and so on endlessly.

Meanwhile, raw emotional feeling would be urging me to blast off and damn the consequences; even as the still, small voice of the intuitive heart would be oh-so-quietly warning me, speaking in a gentle voice tinged with a feather-subtle disharmony, that I really shouldn’t spend all my hard-earned bank account of health and energy for the sake of a temporary thrill.

It was only when I began to “leave all for love,” as Emerson urged us, and give one-pointed, respectful attention to the third voice of quiet intuition, that I began to be a more consistent and happy runner and make fewer hideous interpersonal faceplants in my life.

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