The 47 Mile Race 2009

sign-up-table----Somehow it was slipping away from me.  Like it always does, the 47 mile inspires and touches my heart like no other running event.  This year the night of the race was perfect.  The evening air was cool and light as the midnight start approached.  An impressive group had turned out to participate in a run that has now taken place on every August 27th for the past 31 years.

I had taken hundreds of pictures in and around the track lit bright by candles and dangling light bulbs.  Out on the still twisting streets I flashed even more shots of the smiling faces of the intrepid runners who ran with light and determined steps, at least during the early laps.

Throughout the long night more and more precious moments from the race where being captured by my camera and my microphone.  Those fragments of joy, of determination and of selfless service had inexorably gathered into a mountain of data stuffed onto digital memory cards.     After the race I faced  the daunting task of unraveling a story that now seemed much more difficult than tying on shoes and running the 47 miles itself.  A persistent case of nagging procrastination dogged my heels for weeks.  I felt myself almost uncontrollably sliding towards a precipice where the story was heading towards some digital oblivion.

Photo by Jowan

Photo by Jowan

Then on a recent bright Sunday, which seemed to be gilded more by the soothing promise of Spring than the gray dullness of late Autumn, I found myself out running on the 47 mile loop.  On an afternoon flooded with light and warmth I felt myself caught up in fervent tide of sweet memory.  From whence it came I do not know but soon my dawdling middle aged footsteps were feeling the selfsame effortless lightness and unbridled hope of all those many times I had run the 47 as a much younger man.   It was though  my own countless cherished memories of running the race were reaching out to me from my own not too distant past.   But it was not just my own memories that were calling out to me it was as well as though the inspired experiences of those who had just run weeks earlier were calling out to me to bring that magical night back into focus.  To find a voice for a magical event in which impossibility itself becomes banished in the boundless enthusiasm of those who take part in this most sacred of Sri Chinmoy Marathon team running events.

Guru-in-47As I rounded the corner near goose pond and made the sweeping right hand turn, across from Jamaica High school and looked ahead, I had a profound moment.  It was a vivid experience in which I felt as though I could clearly see Sri Chinmoy running on the road ahead of me.  He had run the full race himself on 2 occasions and had run on the course during the race at least one more time.  I remember clearly, during one race,  coming round this same corner only to be shocked to see the familiar form of my Spiritual teacher bobbing along under the dim street lights in front of me.

At the time he would have been either 48 or 49 years of age.  I was in my running prime and gradually I was overtaking him.  As I came up behind him, each step I took I felt myself repeating his name in silence to myself.

This was after all his birthday and it was in honor of him that I ran.  It could not escape me what a beautiful experience it was to thus find him there on the course as well.  I can remember my slow and inevitable approach from behind him and then my sweeping pass on his right side.  I can remember saying something as simple as, “Way to go Guru, way to go.”  I am not aware of any comment or remark that he may have made in return.  Nor do I remember any other time that I passed him again, though most certainly through the night I must have passed by him a few more times.  What I do recall however is how so much I wished to carry him with me throughout the night and lighten the burden of his steps.  Yet inevitably in time I would understand, that all along that it was he who was actually carrying me.


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All the Melodies of the Universe

pavaka-SOTS-Prague“It was like he was touching all the melodies of the Universe.” Pavaka describes his first impression of Sri Chinmoy’s music when he first heard it. That was 14 years ago when he first became one of his students. Now he has just released his second CD based on some of those same melodies. He says that in his new CD he is trying to more powerfully embody what he describes as the ‘universal aspect,’ of Sri Chinmoy’s music.

“It is a very challenging project as a musician. I would say it is the most challenging thing I have ever tried to do.” He says that what he is attempting to accomplish is to take his teacher’s spiritual music and by using his understanding and abilities as a ‘regular musician’ translate that spirituality so that it might sound more familiar to western ears.

SCAN0115The result of his efforts is not only a fine new CD but also a new understanding in himself of the direction he wants to take with his life. He feels a new fulfillment in focusing almost exclusively and creatively on Sri Chinmoy’s music and says, “I am no longer interested in playing any other kind of music.”

His first CD he describes as being an almost 10 year effort to produce. Before it was finished he sent some of the recorded tracks to New York for SriChinmoy to listen to and he was very pleasantly surprised to hear later how much it was appreciated by his teacher. He was also surprised to find that children as well seemed to enjoy the eventually completed CD. He tells me he has heard many stories from parents that their kids wanted to hear it again and again.

He had performed for Sri Chinmoy on several occasions and on each he was encouraged by his teacher. It was however in June of 2007 that he made his last and his most memorable performance for his teacher. It was a brief solo concert, of what he calls his looping bass piece. At the end of which Sri Chinmoy is heard to say, “very nice, very nice.” Pavaka says that the recording of that performance is something he will always cherish. “That has meant a lot to me.”

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He has now become a regular on the Songs of the Soul concert tour. He describes however that his live performances are quite different from his recordings. The main difference being that in the recordings he has access to an ensemble of musicians, where in concert he doesn’t have the same luxury. He calls his live performances, “little bits of this and that. You don’t really get a chance to dig in.” Yet he is very inspired by the concert format which now has staged concerts in many countries across Europe and North America. He says, “it is a privilege to share Sri Chinmoy’s music that way.”

Steph-violoncelleHis own introduction to music came at the very tender age of 4 or 5 when he first took up cello lessons at his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He tells me that he started composing his own original works almost as soon as he learned how to write music. He thinks he was about 8 or 9 when he first did this. He took great delight in his new found love of composition. He remembers asking his Mom at what age Mozart was when he first started composing. He laughs even now as he describes her answer. “He was 4 but he was a genius.”

This did little to discourage him. He continued to study the instrument for 10 years when he was then inspired to enter whole-heartedly into the world of rock music. He tells me that he decided to dedicate himself to the bass guitar which he selected because he mistakenly thought was tuned the same as a cello. He was surprised to discover that in fact it was not.

After a short time of learning the bass guitar he devoted himself to trying to create rock music that represented his own French-Canadian sensibilities. He felt there was lots of 90’s rock music that understood the mood and culture of English speakers across the spectrum but very little at all the represented his own French perspective. He says, “I performed a lot, with a lot of different groups, and in a lot of different venues. There just wasn’t any good French heavy rock so we will write it. So we did rock in fact.”

Pavaka-circa-1993ish-3He describes that of course his tastes have changed dramatically as he himself has immersed himself in his spiritual path. He still feels however that spiritual music has yet to be expressed adequately in the popular world. That in fact there is a need for spiritual music to be expressed in Pop, rock, jazz, and all other more traditional forms of music. His own hope is that on his part he can bring forward Sri Chinmoy’s consciousness into this world so that more can appreciate and be inspired by it.

Picture by Unmesh

He says that there are many of his musician friends who are concentrating solely on presenting soulful interpretations of his teacher’s music. For himself though, he is clearly inspired and focused on bringing forward his teacher’s music in a dynamic and pragmatic way. He feels there is a real need and a wish in audiences worldwide to have access to this inspiring music. He hopes as well that his music can both entertain the mind and also perhaps offer some consciousness to the heart at the same time.

He feels that of all of Sri Chinmoy’s music his keyboard compositions were his favorites. In his own way he tries to imbue his guitar playing with some of the same form and intensity that Sri Chinmoy seemed to use so instinctively well. When referring to them he calls Sri Chinmoy’s works as, “brilliant pieces of music. When he played on the organ in particular I think it was phenomenal.”

CIMG3430On a warm afternoon in August Pavaka quietly released his second CD. Most of the musicians who had helped in the recording were there to help launch a project that he had worked on painstakingly and with real devotion for many months. It was a quiet affair that can best be described as neither dramatic nor pretentious. It was simply Pavaka and friends sweetly and beautifully playing their teacher’s music.

The little concert also in a way marked a major change in the course of Pavaka’s life. He had just recently terminated his job and was now Pavaka-SOTSembarking on a new direction in his life. One in which recording and performing Sri Chinmoy’s music was taking a more center stage in his life. When he is asked whether performing live or people listening to his CD is more important he says simply, “what I am interested in is people listening to Sri Chinmoy’s music.”

He laughs now at the difficulties and challenges involved in the current CD’s creation. His first recording was well received and he thus felt a real challenge in surpassing and transcending his first effort. He received lots of input in trying to make it listenable and that the spiritual aspect of it fit in seamlessly and naturally. He is confident that he is fulfilling an inspiration that comes from within to be more involved in the musical world. His teacher on many opportunities encouraged him to take this path. Sri Chinmoy praised his first CD and as I listen to the sweet full rich sound of the new one I am sure he would appreciate this one even more.