I was frustrated. A friend who’s a nutritionist had told me about two separate dietary systems, each of which appeared to be valid, yet they appeared to be in conflict. I wanted to enjoy the benefits of both, but I couldn’t imagine how to combine them. I went for a run and silently shared my frustration with God. Shy of revealing how upset I was, I chose my words carefully, framing my prayers in polite language: “Please help me figure out…” etc. And as I prayed, I felt not the slightest hint of an answer.

I sensed that God wanted me to express my true feelings. But the thought of opening my heart and baring my raw emotions was scary. It took a long while to dig into my heart and speak as frankly as I felt. But finally I said, “$^&&5 it, God, I’m really “#$($ about what’s happening. You introduced me to a really good nutrition counselor, and I’m grateful for that. But he’s given me two valid kinds of advice, and I don’t know how the “#*$& I can make them work together!”

I received no immediate reply, but I sensed that God was listening, and that He wanted to help, but that He was waiting for me to simmer down before He would answer.

I fumed inwardly for several miles, and when I began to feel calm, the answer came, simply and matter-of-factly: “Take this from the first system, and take that from the other.”

There was no divine reproach that I had couched my prayers in purple prose. I concluded from this that God isn’t terribly interested in our polite, formal prayers, but He truly listens when we really get it off our chest with Him. It doesn’t have to be with anger or cusswords, but He does like it when we share our sincere feelings, from our hearts.

During a 10-mile run, I asked for God’s help with some upsetting personal issues. I was praying loudly, letting off steam. I wanted to persuade God of my sincerity by giving Him the full blast of my feelings, so that I could open my heart to Him.

Earlier, I described how I prayed in a formal way and received no answer, and how I opened up and really let God know how I felt. After baring my heart for several miles, I simmered down and the answer came, simply and plainly, free of any sense that God was unhappy because I had expressed my feelings in colorful language.

I was remembering that run, trying to summon the same spirit of wide-open frankness. And I’d gotten no farther than “Godda…” when bam-splat! – “Him the Almighty power hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky” – I sprawled in a full-length faceplant on the rocky ground, feeling that it wasn’t a very dignified thing for an old gentleman to be doing.

I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and jogged on, asking God what I had done wrong. After all, I had only wanted to share my feelings with Him. But I realized that on that long-ago run, I had shared my difficult feelings in a spirit of respectful sincerity, with a humble plea for help – whereas this time I was merely spraying about my feelings in frustration. The faceplant reminded me that God is my friend, and that He deserves to be treated accordingly.

I circled the lovely community garden while I continued to mull over my problems, and as I exited the garden my frustrations took hold once again, and with deep emotion I said, “Godda…” SPLAT!!

Picking myself up and tottering on, now with two bloody knees and elbows instead of one, I said, “I feel like crying, Lord. I won’t, of course, but I reckon I’ll have to be more careful how I talk with You!”

I said, “I certainly got Your attention, and I’m touched that You would care enough to make me take a nosedive.” I was laughing inwardly. I said, “That’s so sweet! And I want You to know that You can trip me anytime!”

It was absurd to think that God would need my permission to slip a pebble in my path. But my mood had changed, and I felt that I had come back around to a kind of cheerful “spiritual running” that’s real. I had been running in a spirit of forward-rushing impatience and frustration, running with my head, and now I was able to relax and let my heart find its own natural way. It was a radically different mood. I felt that I was once again riding in the natural chamber of the heart, where God can come and we can meet as friends.

I circled the lake and entered the gate to the Stanford hills. Climbing a dirt trail, I thought how wonderful it was to be feeling at peace in my heart again.

I was thinking about the many books on self-improvement and spirituality that avoid mentioning God. They try to turn the spiritual path into an inner technology, as if it were all about investing X amount of mechanical practice to get Y results. They go on and on about breathing, affirmations, attitude, postural alignment, energy, self-analysis, meditation, chakras, etc. And I was reflecting on how different the spiritual path actually is, once you become aware that techniques can only take you so far, and that every true spiritual experience comes as God’s response to the love and longing of the heart.

He is, in fact, in charge. And what will you do, if He gives you tendinitis, the flu, a sprained ankle, or months of difficult and confusing runs, instead of the “ever-increasing inner peace and focus” that so many new-age books promise? Spiritual techniques can be profoundly helpful, of course, but as Paramhansa Yogananda put it, techniques can only take you as far as God’s front vestibule, but devotion takes you into the Divine Presence Itself.

At any rate, I’m watching my mouth when I run. In future, I may swear with God, but I doubt I’ll risk swearing at Him.

(Adapted from Rambhakta’s book, Fitness Intuition, www.fitnessintuition.com.)

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