Care for Your Heart by Embracing Rhythm
Coach Art Gangel
If you’re like most people in the Western world, you probably don’t take much time to think about your spirit, or heart. Your heart is the central part of you; it is the part of you that was designed to help you navigate through life. It is the “real you”; the you that is not affected by life’s circumstances, pains, or setbacks. But we don’t place a very high value on our hearts here in the West. We see life through the lens of the Industrial Revolution, which reduced humans to machines, and the Enlightenment, which placed such a high value on empirical knowledge that tension, mystery, and story have been devalued and marginalized. But in the midst of these cultural forces, the human heart still cries out. It thirsts for adventure; for real, deep life. This cry is highlighted because most of our nine-to-five, consumeristic lives pale in comparison to the full life promised in the gospel. At the end of each day, each week, or our lives, we’re left asking, “Is this all there is to life?” If you’re asking that question of your life, good for you. You’re on the right track. So what’s the answer?
Of course, the answer is that this is not all there is. There is more to life than just a paycheck, our bills, dead-end jobs, and shopping, drinking, or eating until we’re numb to life. But we’re so far out of balance in the Western world that a strong pendulum shift in the direction of our hearts is needed to correct the imbalance. In Western culture, we tend to see things in compartments instead of seeing everything as part of a unified, connected, balanced whole. For instance, the majority of us take a lot of time and energy to care for what goes into our bodies and how we treat them. We actually have a pretty good idea of what our bodies need. Of course, we may not act on those ideas, but we are inundated with so much information about how to care for our bodies that we at least have the information on hand. This reflects the extremely high value our culture places on the body. However, try asking people to simply define what their heart or spirit is, let alone how to care for it. Since we can’t see our hearts, we have a much harder time grasping what they are, and most of us haven’t the slightest idea what they need or how to care for them.
An important principle I’ve discovered in my life is that life is intended to be lived in concert with daily and weekly rhythms. It’s so tempting in our culture to want to do something and produce at all times, living like we are machines. But we aren’t machines, and we’re not capable of producing indefinitely. We need to set aside times and spaces to disengage from the “doing” parts of life, and embrace the “being” parts. After all, as it’s been said, we’re not called “human doings”, but “human beings”. If we refuse to accept this reality, life will “turn up the volume”, bringing pain or injury to us in order to slow us down or stop us for a period. But one way or another, we will have to stop at some point.
Another guiding principle I try to embrace is that life is really a set of practices, regardless of whether we choose to embrace these practices intentionally, or whether we allow our practices to be formed for us. You may have heard practices referred to as habits or rituals. These terms all refer to the same concept. Here are some of the practices that I have embraced that help me live life more rhythmically:
- Each morning, I take about 40 minutes to an hour of solitude time, in which I do devotional reading, prayer, meditation, and sometimes journaling. This ritual allows me to clear my mind from any clutter that I am carrying with me, process any worries or concerns I have on my mind, and invite God into my day. If you’re not a praying type, you can center yourself through meditation and journal to clear your mind, aligning your conscious attention with your heart. By doing devotional reading each day, I also fill my subconscious mind with inspiring and thought-provoking ideas that it can work on throughout the day. It’s amazing how the ideas I read about intersect with my daily life and the struggles I’m going through.
- Ironically, one of the most important habits in my spiritual life is actually my physical workouts. I say it’s ironic because most people think of working out as a practice to serve their body’s needs. And that’s true, my workout regimen does develop my body. But I’ve found if I don’t complete my workouts, I don’t feel as centered on my heart. I have unspent energy that has to go somewhere, and it often gets expressed as negative emotions. By working off this excess energy, I’m able to be more fully present in each moment, which is important for me. I like to hit the gym in the morning, before my solitude time. I work out four or five mornings a week.
- Another physical practice that pays spiritual dividends is embracing rhythms ofconsistent sleep. I try to go to bed and get up around the same time each day. I also consistently get seven hours of sleep per night. We often think if we’re tired during the day that we must not be getting enough sleep. However, it’s actually much more important to keep a consistent bedtime and waking time. Large shifts in these times throw the body off its natural rhythm and keep it guessing, which results in feeling tired or drowsy throughout the day.
- In addition to a consistent sleep cycle, I also take regular breaks during my workday. I strive for a morning break and an afternoon break, but I confess that doesn’t always happen. About mid-way through my morning and afternoon, I get up, go outside, breathe deeply, and center myself for a few minutes. I may listen to the wildlife around me, or pay special attention to nature. It’s just a nice way to reset my energy and attention, and to disengage from producing for a while. It also aligns with the body’s natural Circadian rhythms, which is why we feel drowsy in the middle of the afternoon.
- On a weekly basis, it’s important to have a day of rest, where no work gets done. The bible calls this concept “Sabbath”, and it’s crucial to a healthy spiritual life. This one is probably the most challenging practice for me, and for most of us. If you’re like me, you use the weekends, including Sunday, to get the stuff done around your house that you don’t have time to do during the week. It’s tempting to make a list of things to do that’s as long as your arm and strive to check them off by the end of the weekend. The trouble with this approach is that it often leaves us spent for the workweek. We need a break from the weekend, so we go back to work. But that doesn’t leave us very productive on Mondays. Taking a day off, where nothing needs to be done, reminds us that most of the gifts in our lives aren’t due to our striving, but are given freely.
- Another weekly practice I embrace is a time of public worship. For me, it’s essential to step back and recognize that I am not in control of my life and that I am not God. I attend a church each week where I publicly declare my thanks and praise for a Creator that is infinitely merciful, just, and wise. I am able to give to others in need through prayer, conversation, and monetary donations. I also receive instruction and get to know God better in these times. But the primary goal in weekly worship is just that – to worship my God.
I don’t pretend to know how to care for my heart perfectly. Life is a process of continual growth and learning, and I plan to learn every day until I die. And since our hearts are so mysterious, I expect to be learning about my heart every day. No matter how deep we go in this life, we’re always just scratching the surface. It’s nice to remind myself that once in a while when I start feeling I’ve got it all figured out. But by embracing the rhythms built into the universe and opening ourselves up to the beauty, joy, and mystery that surrounds us, we’ll set ourselves up to go as deep as we can, and to surprise ourselves with what we find there.
(The author is an IAC-certified life coach, specializing in helping people discover and live into their true selves. He also works with people who are in the process of becoming life coaches.)