June 20: I Am Helping You

When your vantage point on the race, is from the safety of the side lines, sometimes you see things you just don’t really want to see.  At 6 am this morning the air is still, bright and promising.  But somewhere in the background of the sky you can feel a tension slowly building hour by hour.  The weather maps for days have been thick with gloomy predictions, but as we all know too well here, Summer was sooner or later really going pay its respects to Queens.

In the camp there is the usual chaotic stir of activity as the runners gather shoes and clothes and supplements in the fragment of time before they have to start off for the day.  I dart back and forth between the resting runners as they lounge luxuriantly, but o so briefly on the their plastic chairs.  What I sense though is that the great hot wave of summer, with all its gluey humidity is now just a short way off from us.  If it steams into the city as predicted by midday, it will make the lives of all who run here excruciatingly difficult.

This morning as I was walking here I was enjoying the still peace when I unexpectedly heard a car horn toot.  I looked over and saw Arpan waving me over to take a ride with him.  It is just a short walk for me but I really can’t imagine what it must be like for him to drive back and forth, morning and night, and then run all day.

Somehow he has time to tell me a short story about his last 3100 mile race in 2004.  He describes how during the late stages of the race he was having a really tough time.  On one night in particular it became really difficult for him.  It was late and he had been running for weeks and covered thousands of miles.  Dark thoughts come and go all the time for all of us but for Arpan on this night the mental barrier he was confronting was exceedingly stubborn  and refused to be dislodged no matter how hard he tried.  He just felt like he could not go on.  He was desperate and in this moment of true crisis he resorted to the only strategy that he felt he had left, and that was to pray.

Arpan running the 47 mile race in 1980

A brief time passes and he is running on the far side of the course by the Grand Central.  It is by now past 10pm at night and it is hot and dark and he is running all alone when he starts to here light footsteps moving up from behind.  He doesn’t look back, but notices that they must be being created by a small child in light plastic sandals.  There is a light but rapid snapping sound as the sandals rapidly slap slap the hard sidewalk. In a short time suddenly a little Indian girl appears at his side running.  Her hair is long and brown and swings back and forth behind her.  She smiles up at him with all the sweetness and purity of youth and says, “I am helping you.”

At the right hand turn on 168th street she continues along straight just as Arpan makes the sharp right hand turn.  In an instant his cares and burdens were gone and he ran contently on until the cut off at midnight.

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June 19: Grateful To Be Part Of

Usually there isn’t much to be gained by taking long backward glances over our shoulders and looking longingly into our past.   Whether it be yesterdays mistakes and failures or even our triumphs over adversity.  Indulging in memories of being conquered by our inner foes or resting our thoughts  on the summit of yesterdays perfection.  Any moment we reach out for either yesterdays pain or its glory we will have unconscionably diverted the speed and momentum of our today’s forward progress.  Perhaps in even briefly touching the ground behind us we will have delayed the transcendence that is calling out to us just beyond the edge of tomorrow.

Here at race the runners are constantly reminded of the restless shifting sands of time always churning beneath their feet.  A minute lost in aimless inactivity is equivalent to many yards of forward progress.  Feet need to move, and bodies and beings have to dodge endless hidden missiles of doubt and lethargy lobbed up at them from their own unillumined natures.

Despite all their best intentions, planning and their prayers the 3100 will never be an effortless experience for the runners because, not just for them, but for all of us, our true self transcendence has to be a long hard fought journey.

One which may be more about ultimately releasing the bonds of our own ignorance and allowing the divine within us to be our only beacon and our guide.  How intangible and incomprehensible it is to be racing towards a goal that we cannot see with our eyes and yet within we feel it ceaselessly and clearly calling out to us.  Always patient and also always tirelessly waiting for us to answer it with our hearts cry of perfect surrender.

For all the 12 who run here there is a deep and unshakeable inner bond with their late teacher Sri Chinmoy.  His legacy of achievements is monumental.  In many fields of endeavor he offered up countless soulful offerings to inspire not just those who were his disciples but also to any and all who hungered for inspiration to rise up and reach out for their own highest dreams.

He personally loved running perhaps more than any other sport or activity.  During the time when injuries did not hold him physically back then he would challenge himself in ways unimaginable to any other previous spiritual master.

Here it is August 27th 1980 and a 49 year old Sri Chinmoy is running his own 47 mile race for the 2nd time.

photo by Shradha

Spiritual people often like running because it reminds them of their inner journey. The outer running reminds them that a higher, deeper, more illumining and more fulfilling goal is ahead of them in the inner world, and for that reason running gives them real joy. Sri Chinmoy, The Outer Running And The Inner Running, Agni Press, 1974.

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June 18: It Becomes More Than A Race

I was asked a very good question the other day and unfortunately it is one that I have no answer for.  Simply put, someone asked me, that if a person was not interested in running or sports very much, would they still be able to establish any real connection to the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race.

I am not a behavioral psychologist or have much interest in analyzing sports data so I have no practical way of answering this question.  Certainly all those who have posted comments here are all runners and some like Purna Samarpan and Smarana have run the race many times.  Laura of course, who lives and runs somewhere out in Kansas has been a keen fan for 6 years, though I suspect she is a little sad this year that Surasa could not return and run again.

On the surface the most dedicated followers of the race who cannot visit in person have several ways of making themselves known.  Quite a few emails come into the race site every day to be distributed to the runners, some runners even receive regular phone calls.

Pradeep just may have the most dedicated fan base back in Holland.   This morning I saw him eating a granola bar that he brought from home.  Very carefully wrapped around it and tapped to the package was a joke his friends had given him.  He has in fact one for every day of the race, a unique gift that provides something  delicious to nourish the body and also something cheerful to lighten the heart.  He loves the bar and insists that today’s  joke only makes sense if you understand Dutch.

I am in a unique position and thus am able to gain an almost exclusive entry into the inner workings of the race.  To see it as close perhaps as it is possible to experience the event without actually having to be there 18 hours a day.  Talk silly nonsense sometimes and at other moments have the most intimate spiritual conversations.  See all their faces up close as I run along and then afterwards look at the photos I took and marvel at the radiant beauty that emerges from the faces of those who are stepping almost free of the material world and going on a journey that I can only dream of.  So I cannot help but be enraptured by it all but also humbled at the same time to have the privilege of having this access.

Yes I run and have run for decades so it is nothing for me to easily and instantly feel the soulful inviting pull of the race and all it has to offer.  But if you did not run and if you did not like sport of any kind what would you see and feel here?

The ones who carom by in cars certainly cannot feel much at all.  But if you actually are able to even walk on the course I am positive you will most certainly experience something deep, heartfelt, and meaningful.

But even if great distance forces you to observe the 3100  from a vantage point on the far side of the world.  You are only able to envision the runners through your own imagination as they actually strive and struggle to reach for the highest, then definitely some receptive portion of your inner being will respond and be stirred.  If today you are not a runner than perhaps tomorrow you will become one, no matter which road your feet and heart take you ever closer to your goal.

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June 17: You Have To Start Somewhere

“Sometimes I feel like that I have never gone from here.  It is like a continuation of the last one.”  The Self Transcendence race is just minutes old and Sarvagata, like all the other runners, is still warming up.  Loosening up reluctant bits of body, fine tuning his focus, more heart and less mind, and still trying to find an inner rhythm and strength that will be his most important constant companion for the many miles ahead.

There was a small enthusiastic gathering as the race started at 6 am this morning.  The cheers and applause gradually faded away as most of the bystanders slipped back into the personal private worlds in which most of us all inhabit.  In an hour or so the sidewalk around Thomas Edison High school was once again swept free of bystanders and became the sole unique world of the 12 who have dedicated themselves to an almost impossible journey .  A sacred place, that  last year  changed Sarvagata’s world  forever.  Somehow he was able to come here as a first timer and did not simply survive but thrived and found victory in just 44 days.   This city block may be a tiny material reality but at the same time it is an infinite universe teeming with limitless possibilities for transformation and transcendence.

For those who ponder the most significant questions of life such as, ‘who am I?’  There is no guarantee  that any magic answer will be revealed to them here, no matter how much they commit themselves and sacrifice all parts of their beings, whether it be inner or outer.

But at least with each mile that takes their body around and back from where they started, the most important portion of themselves is continually obliged to move ever forward on the inner journey we all one day must take.   For each and every runner the scenery never changes but their own personal experiences are constantly evolving and have infinite possibilities.

It is unlikely that any runner will have some cosmic vision of their world in which everything is revealed.  Most certainly however  all will have some positive insights into their inner selves and be certain that they have done the right thing to come here and run.   Maybe even from time to time see what keeps them limited or chained to their past.

More likely are the precious silent moments that also reveal the luminous brightness of their true inner reality.  One not defined by tired painful bodies but by smiles and the unhorizoned joy of those struggling to find their way back to the source.

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June 16: The Great Awakening

I don’t quite know how to shake free of this feeling I have been having the past few days.  It is as though I am slowly but surely awakening from a deep and total slumber.  That somehow for the past 10 months my world has been shut down, devoid of boundless inner light and wonder.  Certainly a functioning body has been going through all the necessary motions in that time but in some way my inner being has been stuck fast in some inescapable dim void.  Like a pause button has been struck and the time has come to at last resume living life to the fullest by touching the one marked play. My guess is tomorrow that will at last happen to me and to others who have suffered through that same experience.

For right now the 3100 mile race is just hours away from starting for the 16th summer and with its momentous beginning, some inactive but precious part of me will once again ignite and my soul flames will burn bright once more.  It is almost as though I am about to embark and enter a world that is flooded with light and purpose and where even the most tired soul cannot help but arise and awake once more and set forth upon the tasks which they have been appointed to do.  In countless ways innumerable others will also see some portion, if not all their own  restless slumber, disturbed and brought back to full wakeful consciousness.

There is no accurate or clerical way to judge just how many people find some portion of their lives intertwined with the race,  By this I do not mean the obvious few who wear numbers and circle the endless block.  I believe, but cannot prove it to be true, that there are countless seekers who are inspired by the race’s incompressible magnificence.  See it is a gift to all those who allow their life experience to step beyond the constraints of the limited material world and be absorbed in the effulgence of an unlimited spiritual one.

Discover at every moment in the race that it is an open invitation for all who may be stuck in their personal journeys or who simply want to revive the inspiration to move beyond their self imposed limitations.  It is both the easiest and most difficult thing to allow yourself to be swept up in a great tide of energy and illumination.  Yet without much fanfare and in plain site to much of the sometimes oblivious world, the constant thriving miracle, that is the Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race comes freely and openly into the world each and every year.  Generously providing an energy and boundless experience that is not confined to a city block in New York, but in its own infinite and mysterious way is able to touch and inspire people everywhere.

For the 12 who will stand on the starting line tomorrow morning it is for them a sacred task they have willingly and readily agreed to undertake.  All, except one, have endured this challenge before.  Know all too well the sacrifice and pain that will tear and nip at every fiber of their physical and yet are also aware of the subtle inner rewards that are offered to those who open up and reveal the deepest parts of themselves.  It is not impossible of course for a fit and trained athlete to complete the distance, but if it was just about miles stacked in 1000 mile bundles than that runner would be missing the true and deepest aspect of the race.  As Sri Chinmoy once wrote:

Every day when you run, you have to feel that it is a golden opportunity to appreciate the One who is inspiring you. Always you have to feel that the Supreme is inspiring you to run this longer than the longest distance. Somebody is begging you, urging you, to do the right thing. Again, when you agree and say, “Yes, I will do it,” then that Somebody Himself runs in and through you. First God comes and begs us, “Be a nice person, be a nice person.” Then when we have decided that we should become a nice person, when we have said, “Yes, my Lord, I have decided to become a nice person,” God Himself becomes that nice person. Similarly, when you run, if you offer the prayer, “God, please make me a good runner. I want to make progress this time in my running,” then this is a good prayer. At that time God Himself will become a good runner inside you.

Sri Chinmoy, Run And Smile, Smile And Run, Agni Press, 2000.

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