By Toshala Elliott Meditation changes perspectives. That, at least, is one of the results I have derived from more than a couple of decades of close personal observation of my own meditation experiences. Not necessarily from the meditations themselves but from the gradual evolution of conscious understanding that has subtly changed the way one views things inwardly. (I hear you say…‘What?’) For instance, take infinity as an example – at school I was taught in mathematics that infinity is a stupendously large number that cannot possibly be imagined, but which may be used in mathematical calculations as a variable (∞) that may be multiplied, divided or subtracted. In essence: ∞ – ∞ = 0 There it is, in a nutshell: What Maths Taught Me. At the time this seemed rational and sensible, and enabled the minds of us teenaged students to comprehend infinity, pop it in a finite box, and use it at will. Even in casual conversation, if you wished.
Despite this education, for a long time the feeling has been growing in me that a philosophy that believes that infinity can be bounded by a hypothesis and used in mathematical equations is a limited one. One of the things that meditation enables one to understand is that the mind cannot fathom vastness, much less infinity. The universe itself is unable to be appraised by a mentality that requires boundaries and criteria to understand something. It can, however, be envisaged – and even felt – by the heart. The heart is the body’s seat of ancient peace and wisdom, this is where the soul resides, and where all the unknowable becomes clear… if you listen. And this is where the liberating understanding that infinity is a concept rather than a number, and is constantly transcending itself, springs from. In order to discuss infinity, the mind (and hence education) ascribes to it a substance, thereby pre-assuming finite parameters to infinity itself. However, this is a contradiction to infinity, which has neither substance nor finite boundaries and which cannot therefore be ascribed the conventions of traditional arithmetic.
Sri Chinmoy summed it up nicely by saying, “When infinity is taken away from infinity, infinity remains,” which – it turns out – is an ancient philosophical concept from the Upanishads. Thus: ∞ – ∞ = ∞ Simply put: the philosophy of the heart that imposes no finite boundaries on infinity has an advanced understanding that infinity actually, really is……….infinite!
We all have our favorite haunts to meet friends or dine out – mine are scattered about in numerous places, magnets that draw me back time and again. My current number one is The Hungry Elephant vegan/vegetarian cafe in Matakana, a leisurely one hour’s drive up north of Auckland in Rodney – it offers that full spectrum immersion in all of the essentials: great food; the company of friends; uniquely peaceful atmosphere; beaming staff. The latter are like family and their heartfelt greeting and warmth are always going to be the foundation for a great meal.
I usually order the burger option plus garden salad, most predictable customer ever, maybe an almond tecchino chaser. I quickly succumb when dessert is mentioned, a landslide of indulgence, opt for the raw blackberry cheesecake and sample the vegan ice-cream. OK, a small chai tea also.
Come summertime and there is a beautiful outdoors seating space, persimmon trees laden with their beautiful orange orbs of fruit, even a waterfall down in the nearby stream. You can sprawl about on your choice of those oaken chairs while the staff fuss about, pander to your eccentricities. Head chef Shouri’s lunchtime hotpots are also perennial favorites and I’ve been known to shamelessly queue jump to secure a last portion.
On a trial breakfast there recently I was steered by a staff member towards a newly launched in-house cereal, all my hesitations overwhelmed by a salvo of irresistible affirmatives: ‘vegan’, ‘gluten-free,’ nutrient dense’, ‘ organic’, ‘prana rich’, ‘super food’, ‘colon cleanse’, then jokingly, peering at this customers thinning locks….’hair restorative’ (that won me over). I poked about for a while, scrutinizing chia seeds, goji berries, soaked muscatels, ground flax seed, almond milk – delicious!
There’s a shop as well and you can potter about and update your knowledge of nutrition, explore a range of genuine superfoods, summon your intentions to live to 100 years! It’s totally different from anything in the usual cafes and restaurants in Auckland – but you come away feeling really peaceful without even knowing why. I rate the Hungry Elephant right up there – a five star.
Welcome to the 21st Annual Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race and one of the most remarkable races in history! Called ‘The Mount Everest of Ultramarathons’ by The New York Times, this is the longest certified footrace in the world and the 2017 event has just kicked off in New York with the first ever woman Kiwi contender.
Athletes are able to test themselves in a format unlike any other ultra-marathon event. They must average 59.6 miles per day, for 52 straight days, in order to reach 3100 miles. They must run these miles between 6am and midnight each day. The surface is concrete sidewalks around a playground, ball fields, and the confines of a vocational high school, and all in a city neighborhood setting. The physical and psychological demands are prodigious, if not overwhelming. Thus, participation is limited to invited athletes who have a history of multi-day running experience and elite endurance abilities.
Day 1: New Faces, New Beginnings Ten runners started the 21st running of the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race this morning at precisely 6:00 am. The concrete sidewalk course has been used the previous 20 years as a test of extreme endurance, stamina, and running ability beyond any normal realm. Founded by spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, the .5488 of a mile course (883.2079 meters) has been the playground for ultra elites who have tested themselves by trying to run nearly 60 miles every day for 52 days. Five time finisher and 2013 winner Vasu Duzhiy from Russia led the way through the early going, but carefully avoided the heat of a sunny Father’s Day until sundown. At the end of the 18-hour day, Mr Duzhiy totalled 75.18 miles(120.99 km) to lead veteran Austrian Smarana Puntigam by five laps. Nirbhasa Magee of Ireland ran strongly in the evening to reach 71.34 miles. Kaneenika Janakova, the Slovakian champion led the ladies with 69.7 miles, just two ticks ahead of Austrian Nidhruvi Zimmermann. Surprise first-timer women Harita Davies ( New Zealand) and Yolanda Holder also did well with 68.05 and 60.36 miles, respectively.
Recently I have been listening to the Indian singer Kaushiki Chakrabarty performing her beautiful and haunting devotional bhajans while accompanied by tabla, sarangi, harmonium and sarod. The songs were a recording from a live concert in the Netherlands, but across the span of time and space nothing of the power of her soulful singing is lost, her voice still melting one’s heart. Watching Kuashiki singing conveys a clear sense that she is gathering and capturing some beauty that comes from another, higher plane, the artist a vessel through which this beauty can find an outlet and manifest itself in this world.
I am reminded of that other celebrated Indian composer/musician Sri Chinmoy, who often spoke of an infinite, unmanifested inner world where all the music and art and undiscovered things have their source, a world of ideas and infinite possibilities yet to see the light of day.
Sri Chinmoy spoke of inner stillness and meditation as a way through which the finite connects with the infinite and how the artist can receive inspiration from this rich inner world of endless possibilities. He comments: “Silence is the nest and music is the bird. The bird leaves the nest early in the morning and returns to the nest in the evening. Similarly, in the spiritual world, divine music comes from the inmost soul of silence.”
Artists sometimes access that lovely realm when we go beyond technique and mind and become one with our chosen art itself, as though we ourselves are an instrument and some beauty that is not our own is flowing through us. Athletes call it ‘being in the zone’ – a rapture of pure consciousness when the mind is free of all thought, constraint, self-consciousness and everything we do flows from some deeper part of our being. While performing, the ego ‘I’ that separates musician from music has gone and we have become the music itself.
It was in this spirit that the artist Paul Klee compared the artist-performer to a tree and wrote,
“From the root, the sap rises up into the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Overwhelmed and activated by the force of the current, he conveys his vision into his work. And yet, standing at his appointed place as the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what rises from the depths. He neither serves nor commands – he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own; it has merely passed through him.”
My own interest in this principle was greatly heightened when in the mid 1980’s I attended a free concert offered by Sri Chinmoy in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York city. Seated in this great vault of a cathedral, I could clearly feel that people around me were meditating – there was a stillness and a peacefulness that came from some inner dimension. On stage Sri Chinmoy stood before us, hands folded over his heart as though in prayer or invoking some higher force. Then he sat and began playing on a succession of different instruments, including an unusual triple-barreled wooden flute presented to him by the New Zealand flute maker Leo Cappell.
As my mind quietened and my heart opened a little, I began to feel something responding inside me, as though I was glimpsing through a small, clear window another, peaceful inner world. His melodies were simple and unconcerned with technical virtuosity, yet somehow they evoked the fragrance of a meditative inner reality, the musical downpour nourishing the wide-open spaces of the human soul itself. What a wonderful concert that was. I was remembering Franz Kafka’s remark about art, that it ‘must be the axe for the frozen sea within us’ – the concert had been like that, a thawing and an opening of the senses to something mystical.
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy” said Ludwig van Beethoven. “Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.”
Sri Chinmoy saw music as a great unifier, a great force for world peace, a universal language uniting us together as one world family. He comments: “Music transcends the barriers of nations, nationalities and religions. It is through music that the universal feeling of oneness can be achieved in the twinkling of an eye. When we listen to soulful music, or when we ourselves play soulful music, immediately our inner existence climbs up high, higher, highest. It climbs up and enters into something beyond. This Beyond is constantly trying to help us, guide us, mould us and shape us into our true transcendental image, our true divinity. …A river is flowing through us, a river of consciousness, and this consciousness is all the time illumined.”
“Chosen are those artists,” wrote Klee, “who penetrate to the region of that secret place where primeval power nurtures all evolution. There, where the powerhouse of all time and space – call it brain or heart of creation – activates every function, who is the artist who would not dwell there?”
Compositions by Sri Chinmoy can be heard here: https://www.radiosrichinmoy.org/
Ah this cold winter. Peering outside into a dreary grey dawn, at sagging clouds and wet glistening roads and footpaths with their banks of sodden leaves; and to the east the apricot blush of sky above the harbor, its serpent tides tugging at the roots, the kelp beds. Warm bed calling me back. Force yourself out the door. Coddled head to toe out I go. On Graton Bridge, a group of overweight women thunder past me as though I’m standing still — bare arms, bare legs, tough girls unperturbed by winter. These plumes of misty breath, breath of my life, marrying me with the sky. James K. Baxter, that immensely great poet, brooding and drunken lived here, saw this tide of people scurrying to work each dawn as I do. And there, a poem of his still up on a café wall:
‘Alone we are born And die alone; Yet see the red-gold cirrus Over snow-mountain shine.
Upon the upland road Ride easy, stranger: Surrender to the sky Your heart of anger’
The dark sky droops like a soggy canopy, each step is a triumph of will — if I can reach Remuera Village without stopping I’ll be satisfied. Under my breath singing my today’s favorite song — ma eseche, ma eseche, ‘Mother you have come….’, my invocatory mantra. I like the aloneness of running, its simplicity, splashing across the waterlogged parklands in my muddy shoes, chilled feet leaving my signature tracks in the muddy grass like the spoor of a night animal, talking my foolishness to God. Ma eseche…yes you have come, we are cradled by God.
At my morning shrine Guru’s words spiral off the page of a book…. “Spirit is creative, conscious existence. What is matter? It is anything but lifeless, mechanical substance. Matter is vibrant energy which deliberately hides within itself life and consciousness”.
It is remarkable that spiritual masters — and here, Guru himself — ‘see’ into the fundamental nature of reality and the discoveries of quantum physics, that ‘vibrant energy’ and consciousness are the ground of all being and the very matrix of the universe. Everything material emerges from the infinite unmanifest, the sub-strata of potentiality, and consciousness itself manifests the worlds of our external and internal experiences. These insights imply a mind-created, dreaming universe and were self-evident even to the sages and yogis of past millennia.
Guru often spoke as well of the cosmic energy pervading everything, its accessibility to the receptive athlete, and that if there is a tug-of-war between strength and power, power will always win, ‘for the source of power is infinitely greater than the physical strength that any human being can have.’ Reading of these revelations, remembering them while running today, I was wondering how to take the quantum leap, how to run a sub 3:30 marathon in August, fill my being with the vibrant energy of the cosmos. Is it too late to reactivate this superannuated body and race away to a stunning age category victory? If I dream this, then perhaps, perhaps….
Kanala is here from Austria, a whirlwind sprint around the country, four centres and cities, five sitar concerts in a clutch of days. We take him out to Auckland’s west coast forests in the early hours for an amble in the 60 miles of plantations. This sweet clean air, the sea sighing all around us in the sound chambers of forest, the unburdening calm of a high sky and these undefiled hours. The lovely freedom of wanting nothing else. Wet spear grass, the dusty pollen of the yellow flowering ragwort, ocean combers breaking, echoing up in the tall canopies of pines, sometimes a silent urgent hand pointing up ahead — there! — the flick-flicker of a white rump darting away silent through the trees, a hind and fawn. I am thinking of the shape of my life, of things sensed in the seas proximity, the unbreakable perimeters of my nature, a sense of despondency that I have not ventured more. The trail recedes away but will not take me any closer to an understanding of these things.
Consider this evening’s gifts, the fading light above the rim of earth and the streets filling with my human family, seen but never to be known, though I would like to single out a stranger or two, saying “can we talk for a while?” Stare out the window, complain of the weather, of the wind bludgeoning the manicured pampered trees along Karangahape Road.
In his book The Outer Running and the Inner Running Guru writes: “Unless you touch something every day, it does not shine. Often I have told people to touch the furniture in their homes every day. As soon as you touch something it gets new life. If you are aware of something, immediately it shines and gets a new luminosity. If you have good health, if you touch your health every day, it gets new life.”
So I go out, Thursday’s trot around a block or two, my feet pattering and rhythmic on the sidewalks, seeing all the familiar desperate things, eateries steaming up, the pubs with their lonely cargo and I remember Roethke’s poem, his line ‘agony of crucifixion on barstools’. Yes it does seem like that. Three miles then home.
I like to run early when the dawn comes, the slow gray light flushing up into the black canopy, a city slumbering and quiet. This is the hour of the songsters, the thrushes and blackbirds — and sparrows have the streets, squabble over scraps. In the human world only a few homeless ones are about, stirring in their damp blankets and newspapers. Hunched on a park bench, sometimes they curse me — I am too privileged, too remote to be accepted.
I don’t need an alarm to awaken — one of our disciples, unfailingly on time, visits the centre early and I hear the little sounds of movement, the subtle shift of energy in the darkness. The building squeaks and creaks, awakens like a sentient being.
She comes to the Centre every morning around 3:30 am, the holy hour, for her early three hours of meditation. She is quiet as a falling feather but the old wooden floorboards and creaking joists betray her, shift and sigh as she passes my room. In her hour long walking meditations, her slow circling shuffle around the great room, she claps her hands together just once when thoughts come, a novel rebuke to her mind. Lately she has found a tiny brass bell shaped like the corolla of a golden flower, and rings it to alert herself when her mind trails sleepily away. I hear it from far away, ting-a-ling-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling. I like lying awake in the early morning’s silence, feeling the sincerity and the quest for God impressed in to the darkness, and from time to time the tinkling of the penitential bell like a call to remembrance and prayer.
I remember in the 80’s there was a TV series, all about the Shaolin monks, called Kung Fu. The enlightened master tested his disciples’ progress by having them walk across a rolled out length of rice paper — when enlightened, supposedly their footfalls would leave no trace. Our walking is a register of our consciousness: some have little awareness and walk into the meditation room like elephants, ponderous, the whole room trembling. But at night she walks past my door like a wraith, silent as a shadow, leaving little imprint on the rice paper. Only far away in the other room I hear her thoughts, the clap of hands or lately the muted ting-a-ling rebuke of the tiny brass bell.
We held a public race today in the drizzle — 150 people come. After prize-giving they dawdle and talk, eat porridge under the tent, enjoy the camaraderie that running elicits. You can talk to any stranger — ‘how was your time today?’ The winners so uplifting to watch, shining with rain as they pass, the girl glissade-smooth, almost floating, the boy all muscular concentrated power. Effort and transcendence have made them happy, they smile, their hearts shine. Guru likens running to a family picnic — body, vital, mind, heart, soul all fed and satisfied — and to the perennial journey, the ultra-marathon back to God. I am the marathon Guru, he said. We gather to watch the children’s 1.5 km event, the way they flew down the hill at top speed, all enthusiasm and unrestrained joy, a sprint, the gauntlet of parents and adults all huge smiles.
Last night in the Centre we were talking about the need to be a disciple at every moment, and that consciousness is our main manifestation — standing in the street, buying an apple, sitting on a bus, be a disciple. This week one of our girls, simply walking down a road, had been asked by a discerning stranger, ‘Are you with the Sri Chinmoy Centre?’ So today at the race we are all smiles, we are smiling at everyone and practicing our karma yoga.
I have been good, run every day. In my morning book Guru asks me… “Why is it that in you the inner cry has increased, whereas others are still fast asleep? It is because God has inspired you. It is not that you just come out of your house and decide to run. No, something within you, an inner urge, inspires you to go out and run. And who has given you that inner urge if not our Beloved Supreme?”
I profess to being truly grateful for the enduring gift of fitness and the grace of inspiration in my inconsequential life. Sinews, bones, muscles still work — I have been granted an extension. Although now in my sixties, some days I feel as though I’m twenty years old, I could run forever along the promenade above the Hauraki Gulf, lope out along the headland and watch the ocean-going yachts battering through the chop and big green swells of open seas, or head west with a knapsack and run the empty mountain roads that rollercoaster through forests of overarching ferns, tall kanuka, white blossoming clematis, the earth’s incense, breathing the pungent and fragrant spices of the soil.
My running reflects my nature a lot, I like the same circuits which I revisit, the streets and mountain trails, riversides and parklands, secure in these familiar places. My wider life is circumscribed like this, the perimeters quite narrow and defined, the repetition of days that welcome familiar things. There are the other circuits we travel as well, revisiting the great stations of human life — loneliness, anxiety, remorse, hope, desire and anger. We see them in each other, but do not talk of them, accepting the old covenant of silence.
Don’t we each have too in our lives a personal standard or feeling by which we measure our living and our satisfaction? Perhaps it is the standards and expectations of our souls. For me running is a barometer of all this, the litmus test of my risings or fallings…it keeps me at a certain level, ensures that I maintain this personal standard. In the complex landscape of a busy and multi-faceted life, running is a constant, like eating, sleeping, meditating, an essential ingredient underpinning the physical and spiritual, and without this the other things might weaken or falter.
Running too is a happiness of sorts, a celebration of life and that aspect of life which is movement and dynamism and will — and running confers life as well. Running is the battle against ignorance — it challenges the reluctant mind, the bed-loving body, the gravitational descent into age and infirmity and ordinariness — and masters them. Running, although in the physical, exercises the soul’s further-reaching will.
Guru reminds us: “If you want to run fast, faster, fastest, then you have to simplify your outer life, your life of confusion, your life of desire, your life of anxiety and worry. At the same time, you have to intensify your inner life, your life of aspiration, your life of dedication and illumination…. Your own higher self is the goal that your lower self has been searching for.” (ibid)
With practice, running can also be meditation. Some days when I’m failing miserably at my shrine, I head out for big open spaces, sing songs or chant or talk to God. And coming back over Grafton Bridge today I see one of Baxter’s poem, ‘To our Lady of Perpetual Help’, in that loyal café window — the last few lines tingle in my mind like this lovely sunrise:
…Mary, raise Us who walk the burning slum of days Not knowing left from right. I praise Your bar room cross, your star of patience.
One of the really wonderful features of our spiritual path is the focus on physical wellbeing, especially running. I’m truly grateful that here in Auckland we have so many wild and remote places – rough and edgy mountains, indigenous forests, lovely stretches of coastline – that offer peace and solace and a refuge to the spirit. Cradled in this spirit of place, these landscapes and seas and skies, how can we not feel gratitude on some morning run when we venture down a wilderness of beach that stretches out to a far horizon.
This week has been ‘aspiration week’ in our centre in Auckland, an invitation to each of our members to set and reach new goals, enjoy open nights and new activities and generally rekindle our aspiration. This morning two of us met up at 5:15 am and drove through a wet and rainy pre-dawn gloom to a large area of forest on our west coast – a tract of pines and native forest inhabited by deer, the odd wild boar and lots of small wild life. We ran along the blackness of roads, the sound of the sea in our ears and light rain on our faces, then as darkness receded ventured into the forest, on to the narrow game trails that wind for miles through these hills. We felt like indigenous man, exulting in an almost primeval sense of well-being, all the artifice of civilization gone, jubilant in the simplicity of life itself and the joy of being.
I like these hours wandering in a garden of ridges and valleys and effortless beauty, hearing the water in the streambed below and the language of the forest all around. In the early light the air is filled with teeming embryonic life, millions of tiny spores drizzling from the green fronds of the mamaku and the waist high thickets of ferns – I breathe them in joyfully.
We need whatever it is these sanctuaries provide. Untamed nature can be a harsh learning place but also a great schoolroom of self-knowledge – and here where the wilderness of nature and the wild places of the mind intersect, we are often undone. Life and death experiences, moments of fear, a day or two lost and alone and far from help – such things that our modern world so carefully shields us from are treasures that never leave our memory, moulding us without gentleness or pity. Our ‘self’ is pared away and we are opened up to the capriciousness of life and death, only a moment of chance apart, and to the primal fears and trapdoors that open in the wild places of our minds. Nature is a repository of many potential experiences that ground us and make us better, more complete – and here, as in meditation, all our sensibilities converge toward new insight and discernment. Cut off from all this, we become less human, less civilized.
This ‘aspiration week’ Guru’s writings have provided a wealth of illumining insights into the benefits of running. One recurring theme is the principal of holistics – the inter-relationship between mind, body, spirit. The runner can enhance his or her physical achievements by tapping into an inner power source, while the meditator can achieve a greater proficiency and stillness by first establishing a foundation of well-being, and of clarity in the mind, which running confers. In “Endless Energy”, a compilation of his remarks about sport, Guru comments:
“When it is a matter of running, all the members of the family – the body, vital, mind and heart – have to work together. It is like a family party. The head of the family has invited all of the family members to come and eat. Through running, the soul wants to offer a feast to all its children. What running is doing is keeping the body, vital, mind and heart fit so that the soul can get complete happiness. The soul is happy when it sees that all it’s children have come to enjoy the feast…….” “The body’s capacity and the soul’s capacity, the body’s speed and the soul’s speed go together. The outer running reminds us of something higher and deeper – the soul – which is running along Eternity’s Road. Running and physical fitness help us both in our inner life of aspiration and in our outer life of activity.”
Here is another unusual insight: “Running has its own inner value. While you run, each breath that you take is connected with a higher reality. While you are jogging, if you are in a good consciousness your breath is being blessed by a higher inner breath… each breath will connect you with a higher, deeper inner reality.” (ibid)
Guru encourages his students to run every day, in so doing maintaining the body-temple as a perfect vehicle for the inner journey. Running cultivates aspiration, dynamism, physical excellence, clarity of mind, happiness, will power and determination – exactly the qualities needed for the inner running toward the goal of God realization. In one charming analogy he comments:
“Unless you touch something everyday it does not shine. Often I have told people to touch the furniture in their homes everyday. As soon as you touch something it gets new life… If you have good health, if you touch your health everyday it gets new life. By giving attention to something you give new life to it.”
And finally: “How I wish all human beings would run faster than the fastest, with unimaginable speed towards Eternity’s ever-transcending Goal. Once we reach the highest transcendental Height with our fastest speed and consciously begin serving our Supreme Pilot at every moment, at that time we can and we shall create an absolutely new creation. At that time there will be only one reality, one song: the song of self-transcendence.” (ibid)
It’s 2am and I’m in an all-hours gym, hurtling through some hi-intensity workout sessions on rowing machines, leg curls, a squeaky cross trainer. No one else here, everyone’s abed. The gym manager’s favorite music is on a repeat loop in the background and I’m hearing “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain” for the tenth time, a James Taylor recording awash with memories.
Why does physical exertion always make us feel so good? On the TV screen a rerun of the recent marvelous attempt to run under the 2 hour marathon mark — Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese are trying to become the first human beings to do the seemingly impossible. The attempt, known as Breaking2, has drawn plenty of attention since Nike announced it back in December, and since then we’ve heard all about the course (a Formula One track in Monza, Italy), the shoes (custom-made Nike specials) and the strategy on how the attempt should play out. Six lead runners and pace makers are in a V-formation in front of the hopefuls and charging away into a 4:35 first mile that I could never have kept up with, never ever. It’s beautiful to watch, the thrill of their grace and speed and power, the fastest humans on the planet, their energy flooding my body with inspiration. I’m flying on the treadmill, a 4:35 mile in my parallel universe..
Years ago, sports lover and spiritual master Sri Chinmoy said the 2 hour barrier would be broken, and not too far in the future. Of the four qualities he said were needed, only one relied upon physical training. The others were about the mind and spiritual heart, receptivity to grace, gratitude, access to the power of the inner life which can flood the body with power – realities often spoken of by lead marathon contender Kipchoge. Carl Lewis, nine times an Olympic gold medallist, is there on the screen, talking us through some of his insights. He’s excited – he knows that this is hugely significant, history’s in the making, the marathon is all about humanity transcending itself. He talks about the marathon as metaphor, it’s relevance to every human being: we all have our barriers and limitations, but if we dare to try they can tumble, everything is possible, we are all extraordinary!
Sri Chinmoy agrees. In a conversation with marathoner Gary Fanelli he comments: ‘Try to feel that through your success in running, humanity is taking one step forward in its march towards its ever-transcending goal. When you increase your capacities, automatically you establish a glowing hope and a soaring promise for your fellow runners all over the world.’
‘Capacity is of paramount importance. But along with capacity, if one can invoke a higher consciousness, then one is likely to do very well. Again, we have to know that an increase in capacity comes quite often not only from regular training but also from the descent of Grace, which is part and parcel of a higher consciousness’.
‘To me, the body is the temple, and inside the temple is the shrine. If there is no temple, then there can be no shrine. The shrine is our soul, our inner life, our inner hunger for truth, for delight, for beauty, for perfection. The body and the soul must go together, like the inner life and the outer life which must go together. When it is a matter of self-transcendence, we have to depend on our inner purity, inner love, vastness and oneness with the rest of the world. We try to develop universal goodwill.’
‘In sports we need energy, strength and dynamism. When we meditate, we make our mind calm and quiet. If inside us there is peace, then we will derive tremendous strength from our inner life. That is to say, if I have a peaceful moment, even for one second, that peace will come to me as solid strength in my sports, whether I am running or jumping or throwing. That strength is almost indomitable strength, whereas if we are restless, we do not have strength like that.’
Man has always been a runner, a biped-miracle capable of running hundreds of kilometers in a single day and seemingly inexhaustible and limitless in potential. The Greek legend Yiannis Kouros ran 303 kilometers in 24 hours and 473 kms in 48 hours and was capable of running 200 kms daily for 10 straight days. Auckland’s own Sandra Barwick still holds multi-day records – including running 883.6 km on a track in six days; 1000 km on the road in seven days, and 1000 miles in twelve and a half days. Less known as a running nation, India last year attempted to change the perception about running in that country by organizing the ‘Great India Run’, the first multi-city ultra marathon, with 12 elite marathoners traversing through six states and covering a distance of 1480 kms from Delhi to Mumbai in 18 days.
For thousands of years, cultures all over the world have used running as part of their cultural and spiritual expression. A new documentary by the Indian director Sanjay Rawal is set to explore these themes, with its film crew spending time with the Navajo Nation in Arizona, the famed running monks of Japan and the Kalahari bushmen in Botswana, as well as spending many days filming at last year’s 3100 Mile Race in New York city. Editing of the film has already started and in the last month, a Kickstarter project has already raised over $50,000 of its $75,000 goal, to enable the film makers to complete the film by August.
Documentary director Rawal comments: “We wanted to learn about the deepest spiritual traditions of exceptional indigenous runners from around the world. We wondered if we could, first of all, find runners that actually embodied the ancient esoteric approach to running and then earn their trust. And so we hunted on the run with the bushmen of Botswana and filmed their ancestral way of hunting. We ran with champion Navajo runners versed by their elders in the spiritual traditions of running. And we embedded with the Japanese Marathon Monks to document their epic 1,000 day running journey where at one time the stakes were literally life or death. Once a generation they pick an athlete to run for 1000 days over 7 years, in 100 day chunks – up to 56 miles per day over mountain trails!
“Then we came across the most elusive, elite multi-day race in the world, the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, which takes place in Queens, New York City each summer and demands at least 59 miles a day for 52 straight days. While the participants of that race are for the most part Western, the event was founded by the Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy.
In a sense, the race requires runners to tap into an ancient energy found in the most remote cultures of the world. We build the arc of the entire film around this race and bounce between remote, expedition-worthy locations to draw parallels between the approaches to running. We’re eagerly looking forward to this new documentary – ‘3100: Run and Become’ – which promises to be the definitive exploration of why ultra-runners do what they do”.
Among other extraordinary running adventures: The Big Five marathon, Limpopo province, South Africa. Seemingly a traditional overland marathon – if not for the regular, freely roaming presence of the “big five” of African game: elephants, rhinos, leopards, buffalo and lions! The Man versus Horse marathon in Wales, inspired by a claim that runners could keep pace with horses. Horses proved the victors in every race until 2004, when a man named Huw Lobb won and took home a purse of £25,000, which had grown unclaimed every year since the race’s inception.
Then there is the ‘Man carrying Wife’ 250 meter dash, originating in Finland and featuring three separate obstacles, one of which involves wading through a water course at least a meter deep with your spouse over your shoulders. The prize for winning? – the woman’s weight in beer! In the world championships, she sits on one end of a seesaw until the amount of beer evens it out.
And on Saturday, May 7 in 2017, Nike sponsored an attempt by three elite marathoners – nurtured over a year of planning – to break the seemingly unassailable two-hour barrier for the marathon.
Durba Lee, Kin Allan, Susan Marshall, Hridayinee Williams, Harita Davies
Kim Allan and Susan Marshall
This month, Kiwis Susan Marshall (408 miles) and Kim Allan (364 miles) came first and second in another challenging race, the just concluded Sri Chinmoy-inspired six day race in New York, a one mile loop around a flat, scenic trail in a pleasant park setting. Local Auckland runner 59 year old Durba Lee also competed, defying the usual constraints of age to cover over 243 miles. These races by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team feature an international field of runners who come to test their endurance, skill with pacing, and ability to recover from the stress of constantly moving. The competitors run with minimal sleep, all the while trying to accumulate as many miles as possible.
But why this love of distance, pain and great effort? For many, running is part of a spiritual quest, a journey of self-discovery. Russian athlete Jayasalini, the first female Russian finisher of the world’s longest race, the Sri Chinmoy 3100 Mile Race, comments: “This race is all about how things that seem impossible actually can be very possible…for me the answer is to have that deep inner connection with my soul, with my inner being, at every moment of my life, as strong as I had during the race. There, the conditions are so extreme, that every moment is a sincere prayer, every moment is a sincere cry, and every moment I felt my soul expressing itself in and through me. Now I feel the real objective, the real goal for me is to to be able to feel this during every moment of my whole life.”
Watch Jayasalini interesting online interview:
Sri Chinmoy, the late spiritual master, athlete and founder of the international Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, encouraged fitness and sport as a wonderful lifestyle positive in an increasingly sedentary world, a path to self knowledge, a helpful spiritual discipline and a window into our limitless potential. He writes: “When you come to a particular standard, you have to say, ‘Is there anything more I can do?’. Then do it. The determination in your heroic effort will permeate your mind and heart even after your success or failure is long forgotten.”
Further inspiration: www.srichinmoyraces.org https://nz.srichinmoyraces.org/transcendence/dream_reality
The following article by Jogyata Dallas is reprinted with the kind permission of the IndiaNZ Outlook newspaper.
Many people believe that human consciousness is on the verge of a pivotal change – from the dominance of the mind to a growing recognition of the importance of the heart. It represents a change so significant that it promises to reshape the very future of mankind, pointing the way – for the first time ever – to lasting peace and universal oneness on earth.
In the course of evolution, the development of the mind was a major step forward, a breakthrough of incalculable proportions. It separated humanity from the animal kingdom, freeing us from blind impulse and dark instinct. It gave us a sense of past and future, a sense of history and time. It raised us from the murk of primitive superstition, giving us a rational understanding of the universe. It brought us new sources of energy and food. It showed us how to explore the bottom of the sea and travel to the moon.
For centuries the pinnacle of human consciousness, the mind was responsible for the industrial revolution, which produced enormous material comfort for mankind. It brought medical advances that tripled man’s life span. It allowed us to change and control the environment, harnessing the power of wind and water, turning deserts into farmlands, constructing great cities. It brought us mathematics and physics, poetry and music – opening countless dimensions in which the human spirit could grow and flourish.
But should the mind be the master – or should it be the servant of our higher selves? For the mind has its limitations and teaches us to see others as different and separate from us, thriving on a sense of separativity and divisiveness. If we are inclined to reach out to help someone, it will urge us to be cautious – to ‘think twice.’ It teaches us to care about only our own needs, our own wishes, and not those of our fellow man. It encourages us to compete with others and try to dominate them. And because it tries to dominate or take advantage of others, it makes us think that others are doing the same to us.
International politics, for example, has become largely a contest of minds, with each country seeking an advantage over others. Countries distrust one another, suspect one another, misunderstand one another’s motives and, ultimately, try to destroy one another. The mind has brought us unparalleled prosperity, unparalleled material achievements; but it has not brought us happiness. It has not brought us peace – either peace of mind or peace on earth.
One of the great advocates of the human heart is the Indian spiritual master Sri Chinmoy. When he speaks of the heart, he is not speaking of the physical heart, which supplies blood to the body, or the emotional heart; he is referring to the higher heart, the heart that is the seat of the deepest human wisdom. This is the heart that teaches us to see others as an extension of our own selves and makes us feel one with all humanity. This is the heart that teaches us the meaning of selfless love – the love that does not seek to possess others or be possessed by them, but wants only to give without expecting anything in return. When it helps someone, it does not feel it is making a sacrifice, any more than our right hand feels it is making a sacrifice when it helps our left hand lift a weight Nor does it feel any kind of superiority – a feeling that is often present when we feel we are being ‘charitable.’ Spontaneously, it just reaches out to help.
The ascendancy of the heart holds enormous possibilities for human progress. The heart offers us the message of oneness – a oneness that can become the foundation for the global peace that mankind has dreamt of for millennia. It is only when the mind yields to the heart, when our feeling of division and separateness surrenders to our feeling of oneness and brotherhood, when I feel your need as mine and you feel my needs as yours, and we are both ready to help one another – only then will our world truly change. Similarly, if everyone can regard his own nation as nothing but a tree, whose branches are the other nations, then I will see your country as a branch of my nation-tree and you will see my country as a branch of your nation-tree. At that time, working together we can surely solve the world’s countless problems.
This kind of shift in consciousness, Sri Chinmoy feels, represents the next great step in mankind’s evolution – a step every bit as significant as the ascendancy of the mind over the animal consciousness. Some 30 years ago he formed the Sri Chinmoy Centre to help build momentum for this change. He also founded the Oneness-Home Peace Run – a global relay run that strives to create a oneness-world family, a deeper feeling of brotherhood among peoples through sports. And over forty years, he discussed his philosophy with countless world leaders, including the late UN Secretary-General U Thant, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul and Mikhail Gorbachev. He also brought his message of the heart to large audiences through his free Peace Concerts and lectures, and for over four decades explored the possibilities of a world at peace with delegates and staff at the United Nations through his twice-weekly peace meditations.
To Sri Chinmoy, heart-power is not a metaphor. The heart embodies enormous energy, enormous beauty, enormous willpower and determination. It can achieve things that the mind considers impossible because it is more receptive and open to the limitless power of the human spirit. The mind has its fixed notions as to what can and cannot be done, but the heart is always ready to go forward, always eager to take on new challenges. The heart is continually inspiring us to transcend our previous achievements, to strive for greater and greater perfection and satisfaction. In Sri Chinmoy’s words:
“Our goal is to go from bright to brighter to brightest, from high to higher to highest. And even in the highest, there is no end to our progress, for the human spirit is unlimited.
“Through our prayers and meditations, we silence our divided and dividing mind, and we develop our united and uniting heart. With our doubting minds, we try to possess what others have. With our loving hearts, we identify and become one with what others are. This power that loves can solve world problems. This power is full of self-giving, not with a sense of sacrifice, but with the feeling of serving all humanity as our brothers and sisters.
“ A day will come when this world of ours will be inundated with the power that loves. Only the power that loves can change the world. My ultimate goal is for the power of love to replace the love of power in each individual. At that time world peace can be achieved, revealed, offered and manifested on earth.”
Contributor: Ksenia Kala For many years I sincerely hoped for a life of progress, but I never felt progress to be a part of my reality. All my attempts to fill my life with something meaningful had never reaped any solid fruit, despite bringing lots of excitement in the preliminary stages. Instead my life journey has always seemed a slow, progressive downfall.
At some point, I started giving up on the dreams of being sincerely happy or having peace of mind. These dreams I carried with me since I was a child through the teenage years, but the more time passed by the less likely it seemed that my dreams would ever become a reality.
I have always loved art and music in all their forms. I listen very carefully to what the artists express through their creations and to some extent can identify myself with their art. In modern music I felt and heard so much pain, suffering and hopelessness, and through my love for the artist’s creation I became absolutely identified with the reality being offered. Many of these negative qualities entered into my life and lingered there, like unwanted guests outstaying their visit and bringing a life of self-created pain.
Deep within I could feel that I was on a very wrong journey, that negative living isn’t the way. I was conscious of the fact that things like a glass of wine, a smoke, the usual worldly things that console us, were not the solution. These are the means that every young person is widely exposed to, especially if you hang with the artistic crowd.
I was crying for change and new hope, but the willpower to do anything about it was nowhere to be found.
Looking back I can happily remark that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.
The first ray of sun came into my life when I felt that I should learn to meditate. I began to practice on my own, lying down with eyes closed and listening to guided meditations. To be frank, I derived little benefit from this approach but the idea that I can gain a peace of mind through some sort of practice was now planted in my mind. I had gained a tiny ray of hope, enough to keep me going further. I read a book on meditation techniques written by Sri Chinmoy and seemingly by chance came across a class where I could properly learn to meditate. I was focusing on things I liked about the place and the people who were teaching meditation.
A second and more powerful wave of light came into my life when I realised that meditation is like any other discipline, requiring regularity and prioritising. So I joined the spiritual path. In the beginning, the requirements of the path were quite a challenge, but coming out of my life of ignorance and depression was a great unburdening for me at that time.
Like a sunrise, the light that came as a result of my regular practice was illumining for my ego and mind, and in fact, I could myself growing into something new. The light has transformed my stubbornness and idleness into a dynamic energy. This dynamic energy I can best describe as a constant inspiration and a capacity to do things you love. This energy you cannot get from protein shakes, muesli bars and coffees, and not even through listening to your favorite album. The dynamic energy gained through meditation is way more everlasting and powerful. This power isn’t the one you get when you are hyped up and rushing into something, it is rather a solid inner strength that assists you on your journey of perfecting yourself.
One of the most sacred truths has been revealed to me at this point is that real power comes from within – nothing everlasting comes from without.
In the very beginning of my journey I was only asking to gain hope for a personal bright future, but through the practice of meditation with my Guru, I found hope not only for my own life but also for the entire humanity.