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.’