When I moved to Austin, Texas, from Boulder, Colorado, last year, it took me about three hours to discover and fall in love with Barton Springs Pool, an old-school, thousand-foot-long, three-acre public pool built in 1932 and fed by cool, underground springs.
Most summer mornings, after I finish my coffee, I arrive at The Springs while it’s still dark. I swim a lap or two, take a dive off the diving board, and then, while people crank out laps or talk in groups in the shallows, I make my way to the tree-lined west end. There, I wallow. I feel along the limestone bottom for the cracks, from which millions of gallons of clear, 68-degree spring water seeps. Feeling the cool water swirling around my knees, I place my hand on my heart and I try to see the trees, birds, ducks, glistening water, and people, the people who are swimming and all the people of the world–no, I try to see the entire universe–through the lens of my heart.
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It’s a spiritual practice. I spend a few minutes trying to see everything through the warm, generous, loving lens that the heart affords.
Today, I talk a lot about the heart, the importance of trying to access the heart, my near-constant struggle to do so, and how my life is better when I do.
I’m contrasting to the mind, the thinking brain, where our thoughts arise. The brain is an incredible tool. We derive our brilliant tool of reason and deduction from the thinking brain. We’ve built entire networks of communications. But we’ve also walled off each other. We wall off parts of ourselves.
Sometimes my heart practice comes easy. On those mornings, it’s as if this 57-year-old former adventure and political journalist turned yoga teacher, is a mystic, maybe the reincarnation of Rumi himself. Other times, nope. Not by a long shot.
I’m stubborn and attached to my thinking brain. Left to my devices, I live in my mind more than is good for me. My mind, my intelligence, is my crutch, a defense mechanism. I grew up in a highly dysfunctional family in denial around substance abuse issues. It could seem like competition and arguing mattered more than love. To survive, I developed much of my personality around trying to out-think other people. And, yes, I’m an American and a man. That’s what we are trained to do.
Breaking out of this conditioning and living in the heart requires a radical choice—and a whole lot of practice.
And, yes, I’m sure I look weird to the lap swimmers at Barton Springs. Se la vie.
Of course, when I was younger and traveling the world as an adventure writer, I didn’t talk like this. I appreciated it when poets and songwriters spoke of matters of the heart. It worked for me as a metaphor for love. But things change.
I grew up. I also read the latest science.
Scientists are catching up to what poets have always known. New research shows that the area around the heart contains millions of neurons similar to the brain. Its electrical current is fifty to sixty times stronger than the brain’s. Its electromagnetic current is five thousand times stronger than that of the brain. The presence of these neurons suggests that the heart is a center of intelligence. The electromagnetic current says it sends and receives signals far outside the body. The heart creates a field of energy, one more powerful than our thinking brains. I learned these statistics in books, but I recently fact-checked them with a neurologist friend. “Yes, science confirms that Rumi and the great poets were correct,” he said.
I could do these heart practices anywhere, but water, especially moving water, stirs my heart, my soul. When I’m wallowing in the outdoors under the salmon-colored morning sky, as white-winged doves flutter from Texas redbud to live oak to Eve’s necklace trees, it’s easier.
Consider flipping your script and try doing these heart practices, too. Ready? I know I am. Let’s do this.
Brad Wetzler is an author, journalist, podcaster, and yoga + mindfulness teacher, and writing mentor. Brad began his career as an editor and adventure-travel writer. He served as a senior editor at Outside magazine and was a contributing editor at Outside, National Geographic Adventure, and George magazines. Brad has written hundreds of articles and essays on wide-ranging topics. He writes books and articles and hosts a podcast about adventure healing, emotional wellness, and faith and spirituality. His memoir Into the Soul of the World will be published in 2023.
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