One of my favorite movies of all time — and definitely my favorite quote from a movie — is from Chariots of Fire. The protagonist, Eric Liddell, is a religious missionary who is training to run in the Olympics, while also preparing to go to China to do missionary work. His sister, who is joining him in the missionary work, admonishes him and says, “You have to throw away this silly running thing and do this really important work, God’s work.” She essentially reprimands him for not following God’s will. He just looks at her and he says, “But when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
The other day I was listening to a wonderful podcast by Tim Ferriss, who was interviewing Hugh Jackman and asked him when he first knew that he was meant for the stage. And Jackman answered by repeating that same quote from Chariots of Fire. He said it was his favorite line because it describes how he feels when he is performing, which is essentially the feeling of serving something larger than himself when he is on stage. I was so elated to be reminded of this phrase on feeling God’s pleasure, which, to me, is where the human part in us meets the indescribable spirit in us and we can experience a moment of conversion.
I think we’ve all felt it in some way or another. It could be dancing, singing, writing, or cooking, walking up a mountain, or walking on the beach watching a beautiful sunset, playing a sport, or even gardening. My mother would experience it on the beach, feeding the seagulls. They would all come flooding into her presence while she fed them breadcrumbs. We are all striving to feel this spirit-filled connection, where we go beyond our mind and sense of time, and we feel our thoughts stop, and we get filled with such an incredible sense of going beyond the physical self into a state of transcendence. As I was reconnecting with that wonderful line during the podcast, I realized how much I had missed that feeling during this COVID period, missing so many things about my life. I’ve had to fight very hard not to cave in and keep myself lifted. Even in the midst of writing this new book on the power of prayer, and during guided meditations, webinars, and Zoom calls teaching so many people about the awareness I have learned over the years, I myself have had to deal with the unhappiness of my human part missing my connection with people, which is when I feel “his pleasure.”
I, too, thrive in performing, and although I moved from acting into speaking and writing, I would experience this tremendous fulfillment as I went around the country speaking, inspiring, sharing the message of the open heart and the joy that’s innate in all of us; and it never failed that I would experience the magic of our oneness every time I spoke. In every event I did, strangers and I would bond, heart to heart, and reignite the spirit that lives in us. Every time I stood up to speak in front of people, there was no separation between me and them. I poured my heart out. I went beyond the script into the experience of being in the moment, speaking spontaneously from my heart and wisdom into the hearts and wisdom of others. So often at the end of events people would come up to me and say, “What you said was meant for me. I felt my heart burst open. I really let go of something.” I always felt the magical conversion of my human self and the larger spirit in me. I always left every event feeling fulfilled and blissful, in awe at the expansion of the human heart. It was beyond anything I could even describe. When I spoke, I felt his pleasure!
Cut to today, the quarantine, where there are no more events but endless Zoom calls, no human interaction but those through the internet. For some people it may work perfectly, and I’m happy for them; but for me, it felt like I had been moved out of my paradise, contracted and deprived of the very things I loved the most. I meditated, I prayed, and I tried to find ways to recreate some of the feelings that I’ve had when I’m speaking and connecting in real life. I knew my work was cut out for me. I now had to recreate that feeling knowing that it’s in me. It never leaves me, and I know I just need to find ways to keep igniting that conversion. I often think of the thousands and thousands of actors, dancers, musicians, and singers who feel that aliveness when they perform, and I am filled with such compassion and heartache when I think of what they are doing, day by day, to create that feeling of aliveness. For me, the answer is to try to find it every day through dancing, moving, loving, listening to music, walking on the beach, connecting with my friends, engaging in my work, and most of all through the gift of expanding in gratitude and reverence for the miracle of my life despite our circumstances.
There is the calling to go deeper, the calling to have even deeper self-compassion to embrace the human part that is hurting and feels bereft — without judging it or making it seem wrong, but in the most loving and tender way saying to myself, “I understand. I hear you. I’m here for you” — and find the conversion in the stillness, in the gaze that glimpses into the soul of who I am and who others are. Maybe now I can find his pleasure in the deep quiet beyond my restless, impatient mind that asks, “When will this end?”. Maybe now I can find his pleasure in the simplest most ordinary things — feeling the breeze, watching the roses, cooking a meal, feeling the sun, hearing the voices of my family in the other room — and magnify the gratitude of every moment with the spirit that lives inside me, and inside all of us, regardless of the conditions. It takes more stillness to hear the subtle whisper of the voice of the spirit that says, “I am still here. I never left, I’m never going anywhere. And you can feel me and find me as you stop looking back to what was, and instead open up your heart to experience what is now.”
Suddenly everything settles and the waves meet the shore. Whether it’s a cloudy, sunny, rainy, or windy day, the waves will always meet the shore because that is the extraordinary, miraculous nature of all things. The only response, when we open our eyes and see who we truly are, is simply awe. When we are in awe, then we feel his pleasure with every breath and in every moment as we bear witness to our aliveness that connects us to all life everywhere.