I Need To Be Here

Sometime yesterday, 39 year old Asprihanal Aalto was sitting in a Doctors office hooked up to an Intravenous drip.  On the previous day he had run more than 65 miles giving him a total mileage of 1677 miles over the space of 24 days.

The weather here has been horrendous for almost a week.  Other than having a freezing blizzard of snow, the combination of high heat and humidity are conditions about as intolerable as weather can possibly be for ultra distance runners.

In any other event, in any other place, today he would be sitting on the sidelines and wishing the other runners the best of luck as he headed back to Finland. Being glad at least that he had been able to complete this race 9 times before.  Taking his licks he could justifiably say a case of bad luck had somehow knocked him out of his 10th attempt.  This however is not the reality, far from it.

Today he has come back here to run once again. From the very start he runs as if nothing had ever happened.  As if he had not been stricken for almost a day by diarrhea, dizziness, and vomiting.  At the 3100 mile race our conventional sense of logic and practically just don’t stick to a surface polished shiny bright with limitless possibility.  The mind simply cannot grasp what happens here at every moment.  You can’t possibly comprehend the miracles popping up with blinding brilliance like July 4th fireworks.  If your eyes cannot believe, than maybe perhaps your heart can at least reach up and embrace this realm of impossibility.

I have a short discussion with Asprihanal this morning about Nelson Mandela and some speech that he once gave relating to fear.  He had listened to a talking book and was inspired by something he had heard said about this subject.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.” Nelson Mandela

Sometimes it is possible for me to almost take for granted just how remarkable these athletes really are.  For 25 days I have had the privilege of being able to try and share some of the things happening with them in this little protected universe of the Thomas Edison block.

There are many things that I see happening that I cannot believe, little alone understand.  Just one, in a long list, is how this slight almost frail looking Finnish man can find the courage to come back out here again after the day he had yesterday.   I know I will never ever understand, and he has more than 1400 more miles yet to run.

Fear beckons danger.

Fear is self-enslavement.

Fear is the eternal loser.

Fear is helplessly founded upon stupidity.

Fear secretly travels with the mind and openly travels with the body.

Because you fear, God the Satisfaction does not hear you and God the Perfection does not near you.

If fear knows how to grow quickly, then love knows how to glow soulfully, convincingly and perfectly.

ecerpt from Silver Thought-Waves, Part 2 by Sri Chinmoy

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A Very Sacred Place

The World of reality shows thrives on melodrama, intrigue, and exposes the absolute worst of our human frailties.  It is however a cutthroat microcosm of how many people actually view the world.  One which is shallow, superficial, and the only thing important in life, it blatantly declares, is wealth and fame.

There is supposed to be at the end of the contest one person who is the winner.  Ultimately these kinds of shows offer nothing more fleeting than a pinch of glitter thrown in the dust at our feet.  If this is what is truly important in life than we all are going to be loosers.

In most of its 13 previous years the 3100 has not seen much great drama unfold over the long days.  There is precious little time or energy for noise and showmanship.  The big things most often happen quietly within and are are not exposed to the public, who doesn’t much care what happens here anyway.  Most great experiences take place within where a runner finds something to learn from and hopefully  treasure and then move on to the next one.  Today however was one in which the race saw its fair share of spectacle.

The last 2 days in particular have had their highs and lows of all kinds.  Not least, breaking through to the front page of race life, has been the weather, which once again hit triple digits.  Today 2 of the 11 runners could not stand on the starting line this morning.  Stutisheel did not come this morning at all and Asprihanal stayed in his van.  Yesterday Stutisheel was barely able to walk 18 grueling miles, at which point he could  simply could go no further.

For 5 days he has waged an epic war with his right knee, and for now at least he has retired from the race.  Dr. Mitch Proffman, who examined him today says that the pain there is officially called, “exquisite Pain.”  Which simply means that even to touch it gently will create spasms.  He is able to move right now only with the use of crutches.  His only plan for now is to rest the knee, and allow some healing to take place.  When asked what will happen next, his answer, “we will see.”

In Yesterdays 103 degree heat Asprihanal Alto ran nearly 66 miles.  Who can imagine how it is possible.  How could any of them stay out there at all and yet they did.  Horse race tracks all along the affected heat wave area have been closed.  Con Edison was gravely concerned that it might simply run out of power for the Metropolitan area.  The runners here however managed to go on and go on.

This morning Asprihanal arrives but goes to his van.  He had stomach problems all night and his infected toe is bothering him today.  In a short while he will go to a Doctor and receive an IV.  Exposure to heat may be only one of a number of elements that have collected to conspire against him.

It is possible that the infection in his toe has added to his woes and it is also possible he ate something that had quickly turned in the intense heat.  He tells me the story of an infection he had in the winter 2 years ago.  The Doctors treating him with antibiotics tried 3 times before they could get it right.  At that time they told him they were using the strongest antibiotic they had.  It was one that would kill anything in him smaller than a cat. (It may sound funnier in Finnish)

For Asprihanal and Stutisheel it is not over.  True today they will not run and tomorrow will be another day.  Soon enough they will find themselves once again on the long road forward.  Whether this journey takes them to the end of3100 miles or simply continues on the endless road of the Divine life itself.

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Try And Do My Best Today

Every sane and sensible person is taking it just a little bit easier today in New York city.  Up and down much of the eastern seaboard, most people are taking special precautions because of the now official heat wave in the area.  In New York city and in other cities, cooling centers are being set up to take care of the elderly and those who do not have access to air conditioning.  Where ever you may be during this hot period the smart people are telling us to drink lots and lots of fluids to stay hydrated.

The human body likes to keep a core temperature of 98.6 F.  It really isn’t happy when it goes above or below this number.  In winter we have pretty much figured out how to stay warm but when it comes to summer and temperatures above 98.6 there is simply no easy fix other than to take it easy and drink lots.

(the weather map doesn’t even have a proper color for this kind of heat)

I started reading up on this subject recently and the information is just plain scary.  The body, in its desperate attempt to stay cool pushes more blood towards the skin surface.  It then grabs moisture out of the body and throws it to the surface of the skin in the form of sweat.  The body makes this its main priority and shifts its energy from all the other tasks it is supposed to do, like moving and maybe even thinking clearly.  When you factor in that the air around us, because of its added humidity it just cannot accept our body’s heat.  At this point a person under physical stress is potentially in for some real trouble.

The 11 runners here have heard the scary stories about the forecast and are living in the perilous reality that has now befallen the course.  They are drinking and they are slowing down, but they are also not stopping or giving up.

There is very little evidence that any creatures in nature are designed for sustained activity in high temperatures.  Yet the 11 runners are are doing just that.  They run slower, they run smarter, and they listen to their bodies closely and they listen to their hearts even more.

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Slowly Steadily and Unerringly

The weather is trying its hardest to be the big news at the 3100 mile race.  It is in some ways transcending itself from any of the previous 13 editions of the event.  It just may be the hottest race on record.  A fact that is impossible to ignore when you have to spend 18 hours a day out in it.  Yet for those who are truly committed to the race the heat and humidity are just part of a grand assortment of difficulties that can occur when you are running here.  If you thought you have never had a problem in your life you will undoubtedly find an opponent of dimension, and ferocity, that you never dreamed possible in your life confronting you at some timer or another while you are on the course.

Most of us would love to be able to achieve success easily and bask in radiant beauty at every moment. The race, like life itself, is not so generous with its sweet charms.  Without adversity there is no way of making progress or ever really appreciating what we have and what we really cherish.  2 runners, who for the moment, find themselves on the opposite ends of the success and adversity spectrum are Asprihanal and Stutisheel.

This morning Asprihanal will pass the fabled half way mark in the race, and so far, despite the heat is running consistently and strongly.  He does not have to look not too far back over his shoulder and see that the big man from Slovakia, Pranjal, is slowly inching his way towards him.  But barring catastrophe he is still almost a day ahead of him.

Stutisheel on the other hand is going through an epic bad patch in which his leg injury is causing him not only discomfort but also makes it impossible to even run.  His daily totals are about half of that of Asprihanal.  They are 2 experienced runners and between them they have run the race a total of 15 times.  It is so easy to celebrate for Asprihanal and be sympathetic towards Stutisheel, but in the grand scheme of things we can only see a fraction of the battles that are waging deep within them.

What is being conquered by smooth running and easy miles and what is being overcome by being able to push through adversity.  We all must plum the depths of our inner strength and reveal ever new invaluable experiences within ourselves.

Slowly, steadily, and unerringly

We are marching towards our destination.

Aphorism by Sri Chinmoy

“I just opened it and read it.”  This morning before coming to the race Stutisheel opened a book and read this aphorism.  For the past 3 days he has been in pain and been barely able to even walk smoothly, little alone run.  He tells me how much inspiration and hope reading it has given him.

“Not fast, not up and down, but unerringly.  That is the poem for my day.  Sometimes runners do face themselves with all problems.”  He says he has an inner feeling that he will be running again soon.  He says this experience inwardly than will eventually manifest itself outwardly as well.  “It is a matter of 2 days before I resume my quick speed.”

Stutisheel interview

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I Can Learn To Be Everything Here

On June 26 1976 Sri Chinmoy stood in front of the Statue of Liberty and meditated before 27 young men who were about to run across all of  America’s 48 states.  It was to be a journey of  8,800 miles and  for 46 days they would carry a lit torch the entire way.  It was a continuous relay run and 2 teams ran  in 12 hour shifts 24 hours a day.  America was celebrating its bicentennial that year and the mood and enthusiasm in the country was unbounded.

America is a place in which the word impossibility is unfamiliar to most lips.  It is a place in which doing, is not and cannot be replaced by trying.  To move fearlessly forward and not be intimidated by failure is an attitude that is common and accepted wherever you go in this vast beautiful country.  Sri Chinmoy himself came here in 1964 and felt that America was ripe to embrace the inner life, as it had so successfully accomplished so many things outwardly.   Running and America seemed to go hand in hand.

The Liberty Torch relay was followed in quick succession by other events and running contests.  The Self-Transcendence 3100 mile race is now the pinnacle dream of individual competition.  This year there are no Americans running the 3100, but on this day the 11 runners will feel an enthusiastic out pouring of American spirit all around them, as today is the 4th of July.  A time when America celebrates in a big way, and 3100 mile runners will find celebrate in their own unique fashion.

Stutisheel stands here holding a torch once used years ago during one of the earlier relay runs that crisscrossed over America. He once said that he always dreamed that he would like to be in America on the 4th of July.  Today marks the 7th time he has been able to say that he has done it.

If one were to add up all the mileage he has completed from his 6 previous races here, by himself he could have covered the same distance the Liberty Torch relay completed 2 times over.  Beside him the Enthusiasm Awakeners are singing the America song just for him  because he loves it so much and it touches his heart.

Sri Chinmoy: America is a young nation. It does not want to walk; it wants to run as fast as possible in order to breast the tape first.

I appreciate America for its dynamism. If you are dynamic, you run towards your goal. If you do not know where the goal is, then you may run from this side to that side. But it is better than to remain static. Americans are running. They may not be sure of the goal, but they are constantly on the move. They go to one side and run into a wall and get hurt. Then they go to another side and the goal is not there, so they get another blow. But at least they go.

The best quality in the spiritual life is not to hesitate once you know your goal. But even if you do not know your goal, it is good to run. God’s Compassion will dawn just because you are running, because you are on the move. Once you feel that your goal is not where you are, that your goal is somewhere ahead of you, then you have to run. And if you run, eventually you are bound to reach your goal.

Excerpt from The Outer Running And The Inner Running by Sri Chinmoy

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Running is a Transformation Process

“It is the one great school on how to be surrendered.”  For the past week Pranab has been a visitor to the race.  He has come from his home in Slovakia to support his friends, and at least for a brief while, be a part of the thing that has meant so much to him.  He has completed this race on 4 occasions and at each race he found ways to self-transcend.  Both by bettering his times each time and also growing as a spiritual person as well.

“These experiences, of knowing how to let go, and how not to be dependent on things that I want.  To be able to separate the things that should happen from the things I want to happen.  That helped me a lot with other things in my life.”

“Two years ago it got really bad and somehow I got through it.  Last year it started very soon and came back again.” It is enough for any runner just to battle the distance little alone combat health issues at the same time.  Pranab had been a fixture at this race for 4 years and last year he was running well here when a stubborn skin rash attacked him with a vengeance, and by June 26 he had to retire from the race.

“Running itself is a transformation process and this race is an embodiment of this.  You cannot really expect to run something long and not to be changed.  It is a very concentrated life.  Outer signs of self transcendence is just a number.  I do not really believe in comparing year by year.” He speaks about some of his fellow Slovaks and how much he admires what they are doing here.  Each uncovering unknown capacities and also gaining strength in other more recognizable areas of their lives.

He was able to run this race most years when Sri Chinmoy was still outwardly and integrally part of the event.  He still feels that he is deeply part of it now.  “It is his race, so how can you separate him from this.  I would not be coming here if not for him.”

“Inspiration works in mysterious ways.” He feels that the influence of the 3100 can be felt by those who are receptive, but as one who has experienced it first hand has no way of judging what it might be.  He had been thinking about doing it for years before he eventually came.  “I have been inspired by this race a lot.”  He said it touched him long before one could go daily and view the results on the internet.  Just hearing about it from others alone was enough to feel a thrill inside.

When he leaves today and heads back to Slovakia, “I am going to miss it.”  Then he laughs and adds, “But I am not going to pretend that I will be crying into my pillow.”

Complete Pranab interview

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I Am Happy That I Am Happy

“Right now I am trying to get them and their shadow lined up.  There is a nice shadow that they are casting, and I am trying to get the runner and their shadow following them.  I am trying to get each runner before the angle of the light changes, and it won’t work any more.  It is changing quick. “

“In the morning, the runners are different you know. They are really open.  They tend to really have unguarded expressions.  They have honest looks on their faces.  It is definitely the best time.”

For many years Jowan has been coming to the race at all hours of the day and night.  His photography reflects the ironic world of the race in which so many things are changing rapidly and yet constantly remaining the same.  Close by you can hear his camera shooting off hundreds of pictures and its clatter mixes interestingly with the whir of traffic below us on the Grand Central.

He is patient, focused, and trying to see a glimpse of something about the race that he has not already seen in the 100’s of previous visits he has made here over the years to the race.  A single photograph is just a frozen moment of reality captured in some digital realm that we can examine, admire, and identify with.  The race is always about movement. Nothing stops, nothing slows, in some ways as each day advances towards the goal there is almost a sense of time subtly speeding up. His pictures just help us hit the pause button on the incredible world that is unfolding here.

When you look at Jowan’s pictures you feel like he has captured a brief glimpse of heaven.  These are not just slow runners ambling around the block.  There is a inner divinity here that he is somehow able to reveal in ways that our eyes cannot.  He is showing us pilgrims on an ageless quest.  With beauty, with pain, but with a timeless urgency to move on and demonstrate, that self transcendence truly does exists for a world thirsting for transformation.  He also somehow captures the spirit of the founder of the race, Sri Chinmoy, like I cannot do.

There are shots that he has taken, in which I feel, that just out of view, is Sri Chinmoy’s little red car, just about to speed into the frame and make perfection itself even more transcendent.

Jowan interview


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The Spirit Never Dies

Just to be an Olympian and attend the Olympic games is a tremendous achievement.  To attain a medal of any sort places you on a lofty stage in world sports.  To win the gold medal in 4 consecutive competitions, setting an Olympic record each time, places you on the loftiest rarefied pinnacle of World sport champions.

The legendary Al Oerter was a sport figure, whose achievements in discuss competition, from 1964 when he was just 20 until his last competition in 1968 at age 32 are unlikely to be matched.  In each of those competitions he was never favored to win, and was never selected as the first man on the US Discus team.  Yet in him burned an inexhaustible spirit to transcend himself. He once said, “You die before you quit.” And, “I didn’t set out to beat the world.  I just set out to do my absolute best.” photo courtesy of http://www.aloerter.com/pages/olympian.html

He was a admirer and friend to Sri Chinmoy and this past weekend his wife Cathy visited NY to pay her respects to Sri Chinmoy’s weight lifting anniversary and also enjoy a visit to the 3100 mile race.  One morning at the Smile of the Beyond restaurant I had a chance to speak with her and she said that after her visit there she was planning to jog with the runners on the course of the 3100.

“I see the inspiration it gives.  I almost want to bow to them when I see them going.  That feat, well we can’t wrap our heads around it at all, because that is not where it is coming from.  It is coming from the heart, and a kind of inner spirit that they have.  I think Al had that spirit too.  Because he broke through all kinds of barriers.  And loved the event for just the sake of the event itself.  I think the people out there running have that same kind of passion.  Just their ability to dedicate themselves to this event has won my heart, and I applaud it. “

When she talks about what she and Al saw in Sri Chinmoy she says, “the ability to keep going.  It was the effort over a lifetime really.  Al did the same thing.  He broke all odds.  He was never the favorite, but he always came through.  I think because Sri Chinmoy and Al had this in their heart, that they were very focused on what they were doing and could push through anything.”

When asked how this influence is still felt, “It is the spirit isn’t it, and the spirit never dies.  They have left that to all of us to carry on.”

Cathy Oerter interview

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A God Touch

Three years ago, on this date, Sri Chinmoy wrote the following poem, dedicated to all those who were taking part in the 3100 mile race.

A Single God Touch

Gives the seeker

Enormous thrills

Ceaseless unimaginable

by Sri Chinmoy

A Single God Touch

“Inwardly when you are doing something divine, which comes from your heart.  Somehow there is an inner feeling that God is doing it in and through you.  And that is what I feel is the God touch.” Vajra recited the poem today and gave his own interpretation of its meaning.

Three years ago when Sri Chinmoy was inspired to write these daily poems they were immediately copied and handed out to the runners.  They were meant to inspire them of course on their long journey.  In the following years they are again continued to be handed out, on the appropriate day. The message as inspiring then as they will continue to be for eternity.

They are meant for everyone of course, and each person will find their own unique and personal meaning in them. For most of us who are caught up in the daily circus which is life, it may seem impossible most of the time, to imagine that God even exists little alone that he has the power to touch and inspire us with his love.

There are special moments in a seekers life however in which, not only the existence of their own souls,  but also God’s constant inner connection with it becomes an irrefutable reality.  At that time only one goal exists.  Make ourselves an instrument of the divine.

These are precious moments and they can carry us through the times in which our own doubts seem more real than our own precious divinity.  It is a long road home.  Yet eventually we all must take it.

The runners here are on this sacred road like very few others.  What sustains and carries them on is their inner strength and their inner connection to the divine within.  On some days it is all God and on others, well, sometimes there are just bad days for everyone.

Yesterday Dharbhasana had a most remarkable day.  He had calculated that the 1/3 mark of the race would come today, at 17 days and 6 hours and that he was in danger of not being able to complete the race by the 52 day cut off.  In order to achieve the standard he would have to run more miles in one day than he ever had done before.  It was going to be a phenomenal achievement of running 68 miles.  He thought, if he was lucky, he might just do it by midnight.

He not only made the distance, he made it by 10:30 last night.  His wife and daughter were there to see it, and Shakti even rode the final lap with him on her bike.  It was a glorious victory for him, for his family, and for all those who love self-transcendence when it manifests itself in bright and beautiful ways such as this.

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Not Giving Up

She has been to the race many times before.  Today however Niharika is returning to her home in Finland.  She is here this morning cheering for fellow Finn, Asprihanal and of course all the other runners.  She is smiling and calling out to them as they pass by but it is clear that she looks just a little bit sad, because soon she will have to leave to catch her flight.

She is a Massage therapist, and over the years, she has been tireless in helping Suprabha through many of her long hard struggles here at the 3100 mile race.  Last year in particular when Suprabha was teetering on the verge of dropping out of her 13th consecutive race for the first time, Niharika got on a plane and made a special trip to New York just to help her.  She was a powerful factor in allowing Suprabha to bear through her incredible ordeal and eventually finish the race in 61 grueling days.

“I love this race.  It is very concrete that you can see the self transcendence.”  She says that the inner reality of the race is not always perceived by people who pass by.  They notice only slow joggers and may wonder why they are not running quickly.  Without any real discernment they perhaps might think the race is easy.  She describes how the runners complete more than 2 marathons a day for 40 or 50 days.  “It is unbelievable.  Your mind can’t really take it, and they keep going.”

What she feels distinguished Suprabha was simply, “not giving up.”  I ask her about coming back a second time last summer to help Suprabha.  She says that Suprabha’s team of course did a lot for her.  She says that mentally for Suprabha her return helped her as much as the therapy that she was able to provide.  “O, if she is returning I have to finish this too.  I will do my best.”  She feels that her own efforts were not anything special, “but maybe that little bit extra.”

Niharika is one of those special people, who even though they live far away, are still intimately connected to what is really happening here.  They are the ones that you cannot see, but if you look within, you can still feel their presence.  They are not, and most likely will never ever be one of the 11 runners. Instead those who love this race from afar, are part of the boundless inner dimension of the race.

With an indefatigable oneness they identify with the belief that human life can and must be transformed into the divine.  In this untiring acceptance of the inner goal one also  can become a champion.  You don’t have to run here for your heart to identify with the races message of self transcendence.  That somehow, in ways that we cannot comprehend, the boundless heights of the inner world are being summited at every moment, right here on this slab of Queens concrete.

Niharika tells me, with emotion that surprises her, “I will miss this race.”

Complete Niharika interview

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