August 4: Fulfill A Dream of the Soul

They assemble on the starting line one last time.  Now there are but 3 champions left on this hard but sacred ground.  They have covered many thousands of miles these past 53 days.  Yet they remain in the exact same spot as where they began.  An irony most certainly not lost on those who seek out and crave outer adventure.  For a spiritual athlete however the quest is not for victory without, but to try and achieve a self transcendence victory within. Something intangible to most, but no less real than a gleaming trophy sitting in a case.

The  journey is not about the number of signposts that you have passed along the way, or who you have left behind. It is more that you have been attentive to your own inner voice and just how many you have inspired and gathered up with your heart’s oneness.  In so many areas of life we judge and measure and attempt to balance all the conflicting and self important bits of who we are and who we think we are.

Here the playing field is flattest for those runners who can somehow manage to toss away the nagging conflicts that erupt between a lethargic body, a restless vital, and a mind tainted by doubt and fear. It never becomes effortless and yet the greatest burden a runner here has to bear are those stubborn bits dredged up from the shadowed places we all have within.

Photo by Jowan

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August 3: My Soul Was Pleased

Early this morning a young runner got up and set off for a training run with a special lightness in their step and a sense of eager anticipation in their heart.  They left before the day became heavy from the sun”s heat.  They found cool satisfying steps that led down a familiar country lane, or beside the bright waters of the Black Sea, or maybe it was even on the still streets of Kiev, before the cars filled the city with their confusion and their haste.

Somewhere in the Ukraine or maybe even in the Russian Federation a young runner went out running knowing that by tonight something  significant would  at last be realized.  Something that would take place far away but still be able to uplift their own dreams.

For no matter how you look at it, Stutisheel, over 8 years has been a consistent and true  inspirer of distance runners throughout the region.  Tonight in what is most certainly an historic event, he will complete the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race for the 8th year.

They may have never met him, perhaps only read one of his books, or attended one of his talks.  They may have never even fully committed themselves to the spiritual life, or maybe never even run as far as a marathon.  Yet still they have somehow heard of his historic accomplishments and felt in themselves an unmistakable inner thrill.

We know this to be true because once upon a time a young runner from Berdansk, Ukraine, felt this same thing.  His name is Sarvagata.  In Vinnitsa, also a young runner named Igor was dreaming of the 3100.  Both thinking it was impossible,  not just to run 3100 miles, but also to spend such a lengthy time here in New York so far far away from home.

Yet in their admiration of Stutisheel they found that the impossible was possible.  That he was just the first of many who would follow in his steps and find their own places on the starting line.  Find that transcendence is not to be taken lightly but with absolute willingness, cheerfulness, and surrender to whatever the inner experience commands that you do.

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August 2: Then I Knew I Was Going To Make It

There is some strong anecdotal evidence that suggests that at one time there was a sect of Buddhist monks in Tibet called the Lung-go-pa.   Theirs was a life of absolute austerity and spiritual discipline.  By practicing meditation and pranic breathing exercises they were able to perform incredible feats.  It is said they could run tirelessly, for incredible distances across the barren landscape.

To observers it was so effortless it was almost as though they barely touched the ground.   Their faces continually turned up to the sky, focusing on a single celestial object.

In her book, “Magic and Mystery in Tibet,” the author Alexandra David_Neel, wrote

By that time he had nearly reached us; I could clearly see his perfectly calm impassive face and wide-open eyes with their gaze fixed on some invisible far distant object situated somewhere high up in space. The man did not run. He seemed to lift himself from the ground, proceeding by leaps. It look as if he had been endowed with the elasticity of a ball and rebounded each time his feet touched the ground.”

Less mythical and certainly very real are the marathon monks of Japan called Kaihigyo, a Buddhist sect based in Kyoto Japan.  They are recognized as spiritual athletes and train extremely hard both in their exercise regime and in their meditation. Their ultimate goal is to one day complete a 1,000 day challenge.  Only 46 men have completed this feat of fasting, chanting, and running in the last 130 years.

There is no simple all encompassing description for anything to do with the self transcendence race, other than the two words that make up its name.

After that the mental world flounders at trying to grasp the enormity and significance of how the runners do what they do, and more significantly just how powerful, peaceful, and transformative it is to be there and identify with it.

*Yesterday the injured Surasa increased her mileage once more and completed 106 laps (58 miles) She has 3 days to complete 168 more miles*

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August 1: Inner Fulfillment

A little more than a year ago scientific researchers finally calculated just which bird had the longest yearly migration route.  Prior to then their instruments were just too cumbersome for some species to wear and thus make their calculations.  The winner of this dubious distinction is a very small 4 oz bird called the arctic tern.  Each year flocks of them travel back and forth from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a journey of some 44,000 miles.  Nature has no doubt given them good cause to do this.  Their path way is also not a straight one.  They often follow special seasonal shifting wind patterns and stop here and there along the way to feed and prepare for extra long legs of the flight.

The runners who come here to the 3100 each year do not have the singular excuse that human nature can provide, to do what they do.  Their journey goes no where but around and around.  It is a task in which though they are never hungry they are however almost always continually sore and tired. All their human needs and wants could easily be fulfilled back home in their own countries.  There is no incentive to do this other than one that is indescribable and is generated by a deep and inner source.

Atmavir today will finish the race for the 5th year in a row today.  “I feel very grateful to be here this year, though it was a very difficult year for everybody.  For me it was absolutely the toughest one.  For me it was a miracle that I was able to compete the race this year.”  He says that on the very hot day 2 weeks ago, that when he left the track that night he went home and had tremendous problems.  “I felt it might be over.”  He says that it was only through divine grace that he was able to complete the race this year.  “I am very grateful.”

Despite being so difficult he says, “I got inner fulfillment.  There are more things than miles and laps here.”  He feels as though he made real progress towards his goal.  He then reads a poem which he says helped him tremendously.

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July 31: To Make Progress

Perhaps if one had the ability to truly  listen then you could always somehow hear the sands of time as they slipped away forever.   But how does one soberly comprehend this, when you are caught up in those precious moments of glorious celebration, such as when the race began here 50 days ago. Each day that followed a turbulent mix of hope and pain and yes, progress.

Runners, helpers, well wishers all caught up in a dizzy swirl of anticipation.  Who dares or wants to see that an inevitable  stone faced conclusion was going to simply march forward to end it all.  Perhaps not to mortal ears but certainly to some, the distinct discordant note of finality could always be heard, even when the calender made it all seem so so distant and so endless.

Back then certainly I could not peer forward into the murky mists of time.  Now of course you don’t need any telepathy, or crystal ball, or conjuring spell.  An ever increasing weight of quietness, and a sobering lack of energy is tangible and real here now. The great fat luxury of what appeared to be endless time has now been reduced to just 5 stick thin days.

Four runners have retired victoriously from the course and one was felled by injury.   The math is clear, that leaves but 5 gallant souls to continue the great odyssey on their own.  The board is static with victory banners, a few are still creeping their way up there as well.  But 5 less bodies means 5 less footfalls, 5 less smiles and cheers, and all who are left are more alone on the half mile loop than ever.

 

Then you have the incomprehensible saga of Surasa.  The luxurious reservoir she had in order to reach the goal has been reduced to vapors.  2 days ago she completed just 12 miles and yesterday 27.  In front of her is 261 more unflinching miles and 5 hot days in which to do it.

 

The Las Vegas odds makers certinaly wouldn’t  put any money on her chances here, and yet.

And yet today she begins to tentatively run once more, if even for a few steps here and there.  To push and prod her way back from the brink of disaster. How this story will conclude I cannot yet see or hear.  It is only on the tablet of her heart that it is etched clear.  Eventually time will be forced to share it with us all.

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July 30: The Way To The Goal

At the end of its life the Phoenix bird would go to its nest, and once there, be consumed by flames.  It is a mythological bird and its story seems to exist in many cultures with some variations.

What is similar throughout all the variations of the tale is how, once it is reduced to ashes, it rises up again to take flight.  It somehow lives again as it did before.

Surasa has amazingly reappeared on the course again this morning.  Maybe not rising out of the ashes, and certainly not immortal, but just perhaps maybe unstoppable, as she refuses to give up her flight of self transcendence.

I am just trying to see if I can walk properly.  I like to be here and to be out, and not to lie down.  I just came and I will try and see if it gets better.

The first Doctor said that it was a very deep muscle inside my calf and it was injured, and I have to rest for 3 days.  Then I should see her and she would tell me if I can walk or run.

After this I thought, I have to try everything.”  Then she visited a local auyervedic Doctor who gave her some pills and a massage oil.  “Ahh, in 3 or 4 hours you can run.”  (Laughter)  “And I was looking at him, hunnh?  He was absolutely sure, yes.  Of course.  In 3 or 4 hours you will run.”

After this she went home and applied the oil, took the pills, and came back to the race.  So she continued.  Not flying, not running, but at least she is walking.  “What can I do?  You have to take it and accept it.  That’s life.”

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July 29: Another Dream Complete

In most team sports whenever  a player is injured or not doing well they can be benched or substituted with someone faster or stronger or simply better suited to face the game conditions.  But in individual competition taking a break for long is never an option or a solution.

For individual runners who are competing here ultimately they have only themselves.  They are alone on this 3100 mile road and whenever and whatever the experience may be comes, it has to be felt, experienced, and endured by them alone.

Nothing can be avoided or put off until tomorrow.  There is no hiding from duty, no shirking of responsibility, you must stand up and confront adversity with who you are and what you have inside.  Today Surasa is facing a foe, who with brute and painful force is trying to steal away from her, what appeared just yesterday to be inevitable and an almost certain victory in the 3100 mile race.

When she started on day 47, Thursday morning, she looked as relaxed and confident as she has been all summer.  Yet even then the pain was building in her leg and refused to be subdued and beaten back by her will.  “These muscles were tight for a long time, especially after the day off.  Then in the evening and the next day they were very tight.  Then yesterday they were worse.  Then all of a sudden, I couldn’t move any more.”

Today is Friday morning and rain drifts across the course in brief yet drenching bursts.  Eventually it stops but Surasa does not.  Her quest to complete the race bravely and gallantly continues.  This morning she has returned to the race after pain forced her to leave the course yesterday.  She is walking and it is obviously painful.  In front of her appears to be an impossible task.  321 unyielding miles more to go, and now only 7 days left in which to do it.

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July 28: What You Are Meant To Do

Photo by Jowan

One more runner will complete the 3100 today.  Unlike the previous 2 finishers who were first timers, Ashprihanal has crossed the line before.  Today in fact he will complete his 11th self transcendence race.  Not one for overstatement or bravado of any sort he says this morning simply, “I am very happy, very glad.  One more race for Guru.  So That’s good.”

When asked if this race was the hardest of them all?  “Last year I felt also was hard, with heat all the time.  So I don’t know.  So I would say the last 2 years were hard.  Before that I don’t remember.” (laughter)

If we all really thought a lot about very hard projects in advance, before we did them, most likely not much would ever get done.  Even just to prepare yourself for a single one of these races is terrifying little alone accomplishing what Ashpihanal is about to do.  How can you even begin to fathom what it must be like to have run 34,100 miles around the block here.  Only one other person can understand of course, and that is Suprabha, who accomplished the same thing 13 times.  Still if he somehow knew that he was going to do this 11 times, he probably never would have got on the plane in Helsinki even the first time.

It is clear with not just him but with all the runners who come here that something deep within compels them all to come and do this.  Whether it be just once, or in his case, now close to a dozen times.

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July 27: Comes From Within

This morning Igor makes a small joke with Sarvagata.   This marvelous young runner, from Vinnitsa Ukraine, is is looking at the daily lap sheet report and points out to his friend, “you only made 99 laps yesterday.”

It is just part and parcel of the quiet and gentle humor that is Igor.  Sarvagata of course had no reason to run even one additional lap yesterday.  For on that day he completed his journey.  In the process setting a record for first time runners of the 3100.

Tomorrow perhaps another runner will also be able to make a joke about Igor’s laps,  for most certainly they will be much less then his friend Sarvagata.  Today of course, after he completes just 12 miles more, his race will also be over, and he will be the second finisher of the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race.

A few hours later, when he at last has taken his final step and he felt the ribbon of the finish line embrace his chest.  I ask, are you overwhelmed?  “It is not overwhelming.  My consciousness is so spread out that I can’t join it together.”

He has tremendous experience in multi day running, I ask if any other race can compare to this.  “This race is so big that I cannot compare it to any other.  My mind cannot compare it to anything else.”

When he finished his race, he gave no speech, made no grand gestures of celebration, other than to offer up a sweet and humble smile. Yet it was within that smile that there was a brilliance and a brightness that was not overshadowed by the morning sun itself beaming through the canopy of trees.  He had only one request, that Sri Chinmoy’s song, My Own Gratitude Heart, be sung.  Those who were there to celebrate his victory obliged.  I ask him why he asked for it, and he says, “I heard it inside myself all morning.”

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July 26: Gift From Heaven

Sarvagata’s sister, Sarvadhara is with her brother on this his final few hours here at the race.  This morning he will simply continue to do what he has done now for so many long days.  At the end of this day though, he needs go no further, and what is more, he will also be the champion.

He has but 55 miles more to go now, so small a gap it is almost as though his foot is already poised to step at last across the finish line.  Just a few laps more,  when compared to all the suffering and joy he has experienced and endured now for 44 days.  Using an American expression, I tell her that what he has left to do now is but a ‘piece of cake.’  I ask her if there might be a better expression in Ukrainian.  She says his race is like a, ‘Gift from Heaven.’  Her expression is much better.

It was a little more than a month ago that she was able to visit her brother only briefly before having to leave for Chicago.  “He has changed a lot.  Outwardly his appearance has changed.  He became darker and thinner. (laughter) And stronger.  Also I feel that something inside him also changed.  He became more sensitive, more subtle.  It is difficult to explain, but he is like a soul here.  I cannot see his body, it is something very new for me.  Any way he is my brother and I feel a deep connection with him.  I am very happy that I am here and can be in touch with his experience.”

When I saw her last she was a little disappointed that she would not be able to spend the entire time helping her brother.  In fact she was able to be with him for less than a day.  “Of course in every situation we have to see some positive sides.  We just have to look for it.  If I couldn’t be here I feel it was very important for me to dive deep within and try to feel what is going on.  But it is better to be here.” (laughter)

Instead of being her brother’s helper the job fell upon the very capable and tireless shoulders of Dimitry.  “When you have a supporter it is definitely easier to run.”  She describes how he supported Sarvagata both inwardly and outwardly.  On a practical level he simply had to rarely stray from the straightest possible course.  Those few extra steps Dimitry did for him, she says.  “Every lap, 4 or 5 steps.  He saved time and he saved energy for Sarvagata.”

 

 

 

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