I Would Love to Run for Eternity

Little by little

I must change my life only

in God’s own Way.

Poem of the Day

Written by Sri Chinmoy

July 31st,2007

With but a few exceptions, none of the runners here is running so quickly that most people, even in pretty average condition, could not keep up with them for the length of at least one city block.  There are times of the day when they might pick it up, but for the most part every body here runs pretty slow.  When dealing with time nothing moves quickly.  Though as the final days slip away into oblivion our perception of time can be skewed.  The striking enormity of the distance they are running and the super human effort to accomplish it however never changes.

What is miraculous is how much that can be accomplished and transformed in ourselves simply by being diligent and persevering.  Harnessing ourselves to a, never give up attitude, and trying to eliminate the distractions in our lives that serve no genuine purpose.   Instead, imagine how better we would feel and be if we just started focusing on the tasks that will give us inner satisfaction and fulfillment.

Over the summer I have heard lots of stories from others who have found inspiration from what the 11 runners have done here this summer.  For some it is simply reevaluating their priorities.  Get more exercise, eat less and better, and maybe just trying to reexamine their goals, both outwardly and within. Finding out what taking little steps can do to improve our own lives.

“Yeah, step by step.” Purna-Samarpan. “Don’t overstretch.” Pushkar.  I had asked Pushkar and Purna-Samarpan to recite the above poem and before you know it they offered some commentary on it.  “Yeah, one step at a time, and also accept whatever is given to you.  Be patient.”

When I mention that there are very few days left, Purna-Samarpan jokes.  “Yeah, we paid for 52 days so we are staying until the end.” He adds more seriously that while Pushkar will finish likely in 2 days,  he himself has almost 200 more miles to go in order to reach 2700.  “It sounds little in comparison to what we have run already but still, it won’t come easy.  It is coming to an end and it is a good feeling.”

Pushkar jokes, that now they will need to become really spiritual in the last few days.  “No joking and kidding any more,” and laughs hilariously.  “I have a crying eye and a smiling eye.  Crying eye, is that it will be over, and no more running.  No more divine progress running.  Smiling eye, is that you have reached the finish line and you can get a little rest.  You are so happy delighted.”

Purna-Samarpan describes that for him as soon as the race is over, that life afterward takes some adjustment getting used to it again.  “In the beginning it is a little bit plain, also a little bit dull or something.  It changes obviously.  It is not so easy to readjust.  It takes some time to get back into your rhythm.”

“Here you run because you run.”

“Tonight we will finish 7 weeks of running.”

Pushkar, “just after Asprihanal finished, I got a very happy feeling, that I am still not finished.  That I can still continue running.  I got such joy that I can continue to run. I got the feeling, that I would love to run for eternity.  Up to the moon and back, whatever.  This was quite special.  Running for eternity, eternity, and eternity.

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I Am Just Running

I don’t know.  I just did it.  I don’t think about it.  I am just running.” Pranjal starts day 48 with just 18 miles more to run.   When he crosses the line in just a few hours he will once again better his timing on the course.  It is his 6th straight year here and if he maintains his pace he will break his personal record from last year by more than a day.

This is very much his world here.  Over the past 48 days no one has ever arrived on the course before him and he has generally been the last one to leave at night.  He seems to try and take advantage of every possible available moment in which it is permissible to run.  If the 3100 was always difficult in past years the race this summer has been a nightmare of heat and humidity.  For a big man like himself there had to be long stretches of absolute and utter torture in order to somehow average 65 plus miles a day.  The reason he succeeds so well is simple.  “I don’t like easy things.”

“I like when you have to really fight for something.  You get more happiness from that.  When people try to have life as easy as possible, I don’t think it is right.  You will not get the right experiences from that.  You will get more experiences from the obstacle that you must go over.”

We talk about how his spiritual teacher always set new and higher goals for himself right up until his final days.  Pranjal models himself very much on the importance of trying to better yourself in every possible way.  “This race is the best for that.  This is the main point of the race.  It is not what you do, You have to do your best.  It does not matter on the outer result.  When you try your best this is the real goal.”

He feels that all his capacity, endurance, and energy comes from within.  “The problem is that people are thinking too much about it.  This energy is always inside.  Your mind always gives you some boundaries.”  Once one does this he believes than the possibilities around us become unlimited.  There is nothing that we then cannot accomplish.  “What is holding us back is our mind.  When you go beyond the mind you can find that there is much more.”

It has been 3 years now since Sri Chinmoy was last able to come.  Like all who continue to run here he is adamant about the feeling that all have expressed that his presence is still very much alive here.  “This is his race.  His spirit is always here.  This course is very special, like sacred.  You can really feel his energy here.  I think this is what draws people here.  They can really experience his consciousness here.  I always felt here that his energy was more stronger here.”

He describes this experience as being totally an inner reality.  He describes that on the surface the course can appear to be utter bedlam.  With kids playing basketball, the traffic, construction on the field, and all the myriad of distractions and eruptions that take place in and around the area all day long.  It cannot be seen only felt.  “This energy is somewhere inside.”


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Self-Transcendence’s Distant Shore

He stands on the starting line this morning with but 30 more miles to go.  He is silent and serene and his eyes gaze downwards.  He is meditating, he is praying, he is offering up thanks or he may be doing a thousand other things or maybe nothing at all.  On the outer plane however, the loud volume of his actions over 46 days are open to all for inspection.  His miles carefully annotated and can be scrutinized by all who choose to do so.

But how to understand and appreciate the heart and spirit that carried him through out the long hot summer.  Can any of us who have watched the full measure of his heroic deed here really grasp and comprehend any of it at all.

At even our finest moments of pristine clarity and of vision, we can barely glimpse only a fraction of the enormity of the burdens he has borne here.  And not just this year but in all the 10 summers he has set off for the impossibly distant finish line.  All we can really see for sure are the numbers, and the times pressed by pencil into neat columns on clip boards.

For the past 46 days he has run 3069 miles.  He has traveled so far and yet he has gone no where.  At least our eyes tell us this, but in our hearts know this is not true.  For the power that really moves him also moves us and the world around us as well.  For 3100 miles he listened to, and became one with, the power within.  Hopefully when our call comes, no matter the deed, we too will be able to answer.

He was given an invitation to take a great and monumental inner journey.  He willingly and gratefully accepted, and now he heroically stands on Self-Transcendence’s distant shore.

Galya starts the day with just 61 more miles to go.  This will be the 2nd time he has reached the finish line.  His time this year will be something like 2 days faster than last year and by any and all computation standards his betterment of his previous time is unequivocally a demonstration of Self-Transcendence.

But the transformation of this 39 year old Ukrainian is much more than just better timing.  He started the race as Vladimir, and somehow by the wondrous mysteries of life, he is now known by the spiritual name of Galya.  He has a lifetime ahead of himself now to appreciate and identify with this new inner identity.  Use it to unlock and reveal much more of the world within him.  To fully become the divine being that his heart wants him to be.

At the same time in just a few hours more he will be able to rest and sit still at last.  No longer be driven by the relentless pace of his constantly churning legs that never knew true rest for the past 46 days.  To at last enjoy and abide in the place within that he has struggled so hard to arrive at.  He will be the 2nd champion to arrive at last on Self-Transcendence’s Distant shore.

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Be A Part Of The Race

It is his last full day on the course.  At his present rate, most likely sometime on Thursday afternoon Asprihanal will stride across the line and be declared the winner of this years 3100 mile race.  He starts the day with just 95 miles more to go.  A number, that for most of us, who are even fairly good runners would seem pretty intimidated, if not terrified by.  Yet for Asprihanal it will be a mere victory lap.

He will not break any records.  Measured up against all the other times he has run the race it just might even be his slowest race.  He did however miss a full day of running due to illness.  The true measure of his greatness however cannot ever be calculated by we who merely stand and gaze out from the sidelines.   It is also almost impossible to even count up all the miles he has run all together in competition.  The only thing which is certain, is that after he runs across the line here tomorrow he will have completed this race for the 10th time.  Meaning that he has run 31,000 miles around this little block in Queens.

This slight gentle Finnish man is not one for facts and figures.  He would not likely ever spout off his statistics or accomplishments even if he remembered them all.  He is not a self promoter or one who needs fame or attention.  Though certainly he has performed beyond the measure of most mortals in this world of ours, and could rightfully be declared a real and rightful hero.    He simply has run so far and so often because he must.  Not to please the media, not to please the record keepers, but to please the heart within him that has called him forth to come and run here again and again.

As he goes about his first few laps today he checks the sheet so see how his friends have done the previous day.  He takes his time and reads each column and rejoices when the numbers are big and sounds a little sad when the numbers are small.  They are his family.  They will cluster by the line when he crosses and rejoice in his victory.  In turn as each of them come home he will be there for them as well.

We don’t know for sure if he will return again and run here once more.  10 summers here in Queens is a lot of time and a lot of miles.  In fact, if you added it all up together he may have spent more than a year of his life here running around and around this block.  In about a week he will go back home to Finland where he will not have to ever worry about the heat and humidity.  But I suspect there is a deep and soulful portion of  himself that will always look upon this little hard endless path as his home as well.

In microscopic repetitive detail he has seen every molecular aspect and dimension of this block.  But like the grand journey of life itself there is always the next corner to turn, and the next new discovery to be revealed.  The ultimate goal of self-transcendence is never reached by those who sleep and wishfully think of doing.   Perfection is only for those who do and those who allow themselves to become.

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What Ever Capacity You Have

There is no easy way to describe what function it is exactly that Parvati and her Enthusiasm Awakeners perform every day at the 3100 mile race.  That this group of women collectively pull themselves out of beds at an ungodly hour to stand in front of an empty school and sing every day is a given.  That they are always color coordinated and every day seem to have a lengthy repertoire of uplifting songs is understood.  That they are always smiling and cheerful and…..yes, enthusiastic, is predictable.  Let us not omit that weather conditions never ever play a spoiling role in their performances.  This years heat and last year’s rain never cooked or dampened their appearances.  That every day they bring special treats for the runners and cheer them on with more verve and soulfulness than any cheer leading squad any where in the country is just plain remarkable.

To call them a force of nature would be getting close to what they are but this description doesn’t even bring into play the sweet soulful simplicity of what they collectively are and what they do for the race itself.  To ever not see and hear them on this block every morning at 6:30 as they have done for years would be to feel a great gaping hole in the very fabric of the race itself.  It is not as though the runners could no longer be able to run, but without the Enthusiasm Awakeners the heart of the race would be in some way diminished of a great source of joy and of life.

By 7:30 they are all pretty much gone.  Dispersed in every direction back into the world of jobs and responsibility.  Places in which soulfulness and singing simple songs of devotion don’t really count for much.  To the runners, for the hour they are here, they are a great surge of energy that can propel and sustain them, perhaps in some instances, through out the long day itself.

Many other people will come to the race throughout the day.  Performing all manner of useful and practical functions.  The Enthusiasm Awakeners have no practical function at all.  Without this extraordinary group of women singers however the race would feel somehow empty, devoid of something incredibly significant yet one in which the full extent of their service is not so easily comprehended.

It is because they come and sing and inspire, and be inspired, and feed the great churning divine engine of the race that many of the miracles happen at all.  It is in and through their voices, which are filled with joy and hope and inner promise that maybe the world beyond this block is blessed, just a little bit as well, with this miracle.

As a group they had been performing many of  Sri Chinmoy’s English songs for years.  They also had been singing at the race every morning on a regular basis. Every day while they were there, Sri Chinmoy used to drive up in his little red car early in the morning and teach them a new song.

On this day in 2007 however they received their name.  Today, in a splash of color and gifts they are celebrating their anniversary.  Parvati tells me how they had been asked on this day, 3 years ago, to come up at a function, later in the day, and learn a new song.  It was the Enthusiasm Awakeners song.  They sang it over and over and gradually the girls got the drift.  This would be the name of the group from then on.  She says, “and then T shirts appeared.  And then it all came together that maybe this was our group’s name.  So after many years of being a group this became our official name.”

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We Win Ourselves

He is a most unlikely looking runner on this damp Sunday afternoon.  A light rain has just begun to fall and it is creating dark spots on his crisp blue shirt.  He does not run fast or far in his shiny dark shoes, but he is clearly eager to be part of this wondrous event.  He could have stood quietly on the sidewalk and waved, and shook hands, but Mr. Shamsul Haq, the ex Consul General of Bangladesh felt the spirit pull him and he just had to run.

“I have known about this event for the past 2 years,” he says.  He had been part of the ceremony at the end of the race last year and once before he had been part of the ceremonies for one of the shorter races.  Of these events he says, “we win ourselves.  By running this race you discover your power.  A very inspiring event.”

“This is a very extraordinary event, and I have come here to reconnect with such a great leader. (Sri Chinmoy) A great son of the soil of Bangladesh.  I have come as a diplomat.  I believe that Sri Chinmoy is a great source of soft power.  His teachings, his meditation, his self-transcendence race, his music, his sayings, his speeches, everything are so inspiring.  They can really inspire the young minds of Bangladesh.

He is soon about to return once again to his country.  He hopes to introduce, “Sri Chinmoy’s inspiring music to the Bangladeshi people and also his meditation, to the school system in Bangladesh.  I will advise the policy makers, to think, and implement that idea.  I am a follower of Sri Chinmoy as well.”

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From Inside

“I was curious as to what motivated these people to walk these great distances.”  On a very hot Saturday afternoon I come across a man, who almost looks as though he is in some kind of trance.  Martin McNiff is not spaced out however he is in fact very much tuned into the steamy world of activity circulating around him.  He looks at the board with its impressive jumbled mountain of numbers and he is in awe.

“I feel that it is more than a physical thing, it is a spiritual thing that drives these people.  I feel that they are in touch with a higher power, and that is where they get their energy, and they are able to do that.”  He had heard about the race from his son.  He lives a fair distance off in the near but far reaches of Long Island but was drawn to come and see it for himself.

He reads an article about the race, posted on the fence, written by the Wall Street Journal.  It is a thoughtful informative piece but doesn’t go very far in exploring the deeper aspects of the motivation driving the runners forward or what the atmosphere is like just being there, and standing on the sidewalk.

I ask if he feels any unique inner experience by being here.  “Without a doubt I feel it.  It is more than being physically fit.  I feel they are being driven.   That it is greater than just being physically fit.”  He believes that some of that same energy inspired him to come by today.  “I believe in the spiritual.  It is a different source of power.  I believe we are all beneficiaries of a higher power.”

He has been an admirer of the founder of the race, Sri Chinmoy, for many years.  He is not surprised that such an event still takes place in his name.  He was particularly inspired by all the spectacular lifting events that Sri Chinmoy regularly participated in.  “I remember him from many years ago from the physical end of it.  I was an athlete myself.  I was always intrigued with the physical strength that this man had.  I remember reading about him.”

He recalls some of the lifts that Sri Chinmoy used to do on a regular basis by lifting large groups of people and heavy objects resting on large platforms.  “He wasn’t muscular.  He didn’t look like an Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He didn’t train in gyms, but he was able to get this strength from his spiritual, from inside.  He was able to do this.  It always fascinated me to read about this.”

“His feeling is still going.”  He gazes with such respect as the sweaty runners continue to pass by.  He wonders why more of the world is not aware of this miracle taking place on a hot hard Queens sidewalk.  He shakes his head and eventually leaves the course.  He says he will come back soon.

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I Reside Inside His Heart Home

Today may well turn out to be the hottest day yet.  The air is dense, and if there is any kind of a breeze about it has no power at all.  It is able to push nothing and refresh no one.  Yet everyone’s energy still seems high and it is perhaps because, if there is any real movement here, it is the quick disappearance of time itself.  With the clock now perched precariously on day 42, if the end is not in sight for everyone, it certainly has to be for most.  By tomorrow it will just take 10 fingers to count down the remaining days.

To add to the already dramatically challenging conditions a work crew showed up this morning and proceeded to swiftly tear up the sidewalk along part of the course.  Like earlier in the week, the runners were obliged to move out onto the roadway which they prefer anyway.  The asphalt  just feels softer.  They move with haste and the job is done quickly.  But there is noise and there is dust and it makes everyone feel just a little topsy turvy.  The truth is that it would take a lot more than this to upset the equilibrium of the runners.

Yesterday there was a tremendous thundershower in the evening.  Pranjal says it was the longest hardest rain of the race, and yet it was over and done in little more than a half hour.  He never even took out his umbrella or had to change shoes.  The road is never easy and there still might yet be more joyous surprises and devilish torments that will spring onto the path of those who run here.

My Lord’s Compassion Eye

is my heart-home.

Poem of the day written by Sri Chinmoy July 24th 2007

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First time runner Dharbhasana has just 11 days to compete the 700 miles he has yet to do.  He has completed 2400, which is a tremendous achievement but in his current condition the math calculations of time and distance are working overwhelmingly against him.

His running recently has been on again off again.  “After running 2 days ago.  I think I did a little too much too soon, and ended up going back to a limpy walk all day yesterday.”

“Now today again, out of my Lord’s compassion eye. I reside inside his heart home, that I am able to have a little running experience again today.  I am just taking absolute baby steps.  I am going to stick with that most of the day.  Easy does it.  Nice and relaxed and patient.”

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Makes Everybody Stronger

The little things in life, that we so often take for granted, sometimes seem not so little when your life revolves entirely around a half mile block.  There is no privacy, there are no luxuries, there is little if any rest, and the schedule itself is a cruel master.  There is no dropping by the local shopping mall, no slow lunches, no diversions of any kind.  A niggling pain can gather itself, step by step, into a torment of unimaginable proportions.  You are probably always going to be tired, and you are always going to feel pain somewhere in your body, and yet you always have to keep moving, no matter what.

Yesterday I noticed that Pushkar was wearing his special shirt.  Some of his friends in Switzerland had sent to him the year before.  At the time when he received it, it was a tremendous boost to his spirits.  He felt the love, support, and oneness of his friends back home and it made a difference.  He has been running now for 40 straight days.  He has averaged 61 miles a day in that time.  The only people he has seen in all this time are his fellow runners and the small number of people who come by the race to help out and to cheer them on.

Sometimes the little things can go a long long way.  We all know the power of a simple sincere smile.  How much can be achieved with a kind word.  How some patience can achieve infinitely more than frustration.  Today Pushkar received a little gift from back home.  When he saw the small pile of clothes on his table he lit up like a child when his birthday cake is brought out.

Once again he receives a new shirt signed by his friends.  It seems to have suffered a little in the wash but it has all the names of his friends plus his own.  He has a pair of Swiss National football team shorts and a Swiss hat.  He smiles, he yodels, he is for now on top of the world.  This little gift has more value for him than gold.  For him, who has still 648 miles more to run and just 12 days to do it.  His steps today will be lighter and his smile brighter. The still long journey ahead, at least for now, will not seem quite so far.

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Living A Dream

This morning Atmavir shows me the place where he had written in the fresh concrete 2 days ago.  In comparison to other acts of  sidewalk art it is pretty tiny and inconspicuous.  You literally have to be right above it to catch that he has scratched there ‘3100 race’.

He tells me that when the concrete was being poured he had the inspiration to leave some small, more permanent reminder to the world, of what a great and significant event took place on this little loop.

All who have run here would probably think of this place as sacred ground, though most of the neighborhood surrounding it, or those who dash by all day long most likely give it no thought at all.  When he asked the workers permission to write something, they didn’t give him much attention.

They really had no idea what was going on, who he was, or what these runners who were constantly going by were really doing.  The man he asked didn’t say no and he didn’t say yes, and in a couple of hours he was gone.  By that time the concrete was pretty hard so Atmavir was just able to make this small brief mark there in a place that wasn’t covered.

A big bronze plaque mounted somewhere near by might give passersby something more to consider but truth to tell our eyes really can’t see it.  There are no spires of Notre Dame, no minarets of the Taj Mahal, it is just a pretty ordinary sidewalk, in which miracles have taken place every summer for 13 years.

There is every reason to believe that some way somehow the race will continue into the future.  Nobody is really thinking about it too much.  The people who are putting it on are getting older and the next generation of race directors hasn’t exactly showed up just yet and asked for the stop watches.  The philosophy around here, just like it is for the runners is, one lap at a time.   For the race organizers, it is, each year as it comes.

It occurs to me that the memories of little girls like Shakti are the best repository of the true life experience that is this race.  Just imagine how she will look back at her summer here with Dad and what he did here when he ran the race for the first time in 2010.

Yesterday on his 39th day of running he figuratively died from the frustration of not being able to run.  Now, on day 40, after an adjustment he has been reborn and finds himself able to run once again.  Hope springs eternal and self-transcendence is marked in bold bright letters in the heart and in the life of this young man from New Zealand.   It is also in all the others who find victory in adversity and joy and transcendence  in a place which a pilgrimage to a bright, brighter, brightest inner reality is all that really matters.

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