June 27: To Be More Happy

Something happened yesterday that cannot be explained.  On Sunday, 9 out of the 10 runners ran more laps than they had the day before.  The only one who didn’t run more laps on Sunday was Surasa ,who ran exactly 110 laps the same as she has run every day for the past week.  What make this peculiar event noteworthy is that the average lap numbers didn’t just go up a little, they went up a lot.  Averaged out over the 9 runners it works out to be 7 more laps per person than the previous day.

Now if that seems like a lot you are right.  In some cases there were big jumps that helped bump up the average.  Purna Samarpan, now recovering from a cold went from 85 laps to 110, adding a whopping 25 to the count.  Pradeep who had an off day on Saturday went from 92 to 111.  I am not a statistician but I am sure the odds of such an event happening are off the charts, particularly when you consider that everyone has been out here for 15 days now.

If the weather had somehow improved in any way from the day before than the source of renewed vigor in the runners legs could be identified, but it didn’t.  Essentially the weather conditions on Sunday were identical to Saturday.  Same temperature, humidity, wind and all the usual weather data.That on Sunday there was less distractions from traffic and people possibly, but certainly it couldn’t have accounted for that much of an improvement.

My own theory, at least the one that seems to make any kind of sense at all is that you had 4 runners yesterday who were the first to push through the 1000 mile mark.  Now there will be 4 digits beside each of their names instead of 3.  There is still more than 2000 miles and 2/3rds of the race to go but it is still something satisfyingly symbolic  It in some way demystifies the distance and perhaps you can really feel that from now on the impossible goal in front of you is from now on just a little less impossible.  Mentally at least the numbers crunch just that more easily.

The other important thing to understand is that everyone who runs is acutely tuned to everyone else.  They are a family and a team climbing up into stratospheric levels that few can even possibly imagine.  When energy and motivation are high everyone feels it.   Just as when someone is suffering than they all collectively feel and identify with the suffering and pain as well.  What happens here is not one person surpassing someone else but rather how they all collectively share each others victory.  For perhaps nestled in the heart of self transcendence itself is something really special.  Something, that once you have stepped past all the mundane numbers and all the facts, is what we all are striving for,  oneness with the universal goal.

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June 26: Wisdom Comes With Years

I try my best most days to get it right.  To somehow with my reporting to capture the distinct mood and perhaps, dare I say it, consciousness of each day.  Things can, and often do, change rapidly.  As an early morning person as well I generally only get to observe a very unique and tiny portion of a much much longer day.

The threads of these 10 lives will spin countless stories and experiences, right up until midnight, and really until they all can drift off into a brief slumber.

I also attempt to tell all of their stories as best I can.  It isn’t easy but when compared to what they are doing I really haven’t much to complain about.  It is easy to tell most mornings who just really wants to talk, and who hasn’t woken up yet, or maybe simply just wants to be left in their own private world.  This isn’t reality tv, exploitation of their lives is not the story I am interested in.  What they are accomplishing as seeker athletes however is.  There are many shades and textures to each of their experiences here in this very visible bubble.  My job is to locate the glowing available fragments that are inspiring to all who identify with what is happening here and are profoundly moved by it.

Occasionally I just get it wrong.  Perhaps intrude on a divine moment, that prior to my question, was blissfully silent.  Also simply start to bump into the runner’s experiences when they simply want to hold on to them in their own hearts and not necessarily share it with the world.  There are also simply moments when a runner is enjoying the moment and not really thinking at all about what is happening in and around them.  They may have done so out of pure bliss or as a survival mechanism to shut down all unnecessary mental chatter and simply make it around the course.

This morning Surasa was my well intentioned subject.  I have a deep respect for how well she is doing and in fact her long and distinguished career as a multi day athlete.  We talked at length but clearly she might have preferred the tranquility of a rare quiet Sunday morning in Queens alone.  I asked her a difficult question, and could clearly see she that she was struggling with giving me back an answer.  I asked her what she felt her strongest qualities were, that helped her run here.   “Not to think too much.  I am just running running,” was her reply.  “You are living from one break to the other.  If you can do it, I think it is the best way.  Not to think how many days more.”  For her at that moment, the next break was almost 4 hours away.

Fortunately I came back several hours later.  When I returned she was just coming through the camp with one of her helpers, Vasavi.  She became very excited when she saw that I had come back, and with real joy and intensity she told me that she now had the real answer to my question.  Clearly she had been pondering it for a while and in the process her deep and heartfelt love of the race was stirred up to the fore.  Her answer, “it is all grace.” As concise and as all embracing an answer as anyone could reveal who is trying to conquer the impossible.  Using only the strength and vision of the one who set the goal for them in the first place.

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June 25: Keep Trying

“I had a really good experience of flowing.”  It has been pretty obvious for the past few days that Sarvagata is having an extraordinarily good start to his 3100 mile adventure.  Yesterday he ran 130 laps which was the most of any of the other runners.  But it is not just the numbers that tell the story, it is also his very presence.  He seems to exude a deep sense of calmness and tranquility.

It is not without effort of course but it is almost as though the big numbers are not accumulating with struggle but with surrender.  That something else is pushing him along and he is just a passenger.

It was on Wednesday that his running, he says, became almost effortless.  For a time all parts of his being seemed to exist in complete harmony.  He felt quite clearly that this experience had come directly from Sri Chinmoy.  “You could call it cosmic consciousness, or whatever.   I had that experience and nearly burst into tears.  It was hard to breathe because it was so delightful.”

The power of that most significant inspiration he continues to try and maintain, though the exact experience has not repeated itself.  He describes how much he yearned for it to return.  “I am waiting and waiting, and running and running.” (Laughter)

“I don’t feel like I am running faster, but somehow it happens that it is a little bit faster than usual.  So I think in this case expectation adds up the miles.”  Yesterday he says, when he ran 71 miles, “I had an experience not so bright, but still really outstanding, for me. I was really happy yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and the day before yesterday.”

When I suggest that today seems to be going pretty smoothly, he says, “yeah, I am a little ahead of my morning schedule.  Usually I am waking up the first 10 laps.”

One can always hope that bliss and joy be part of every moment here.  The life of a 3100 mile runner though is filled however with many rich experiences.  Learning and becoming are established only by conquering challenge and adversity.  Without obstacles, without the goal of perfection enticing us to go on, than self transcendence itself could not even exist.

Perhaps the script has already been written for each who runs here.  The outcome known but certainly yet to be revealed.  Two days ago Sarvagata was granted a most significant and rewarding stroll through the garden of his own inner beauty.  Tomorrow, it may not be so easy, but at least he can always remember the sweet fragrance he felt there for a time.  Tomorrow, or on other countless tomorrows to come, at least maintain a prayerful hope, to find his way once again back along that same sun-bright path of his heart’s eternal journey.

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June 24: Go Beyond Everything

There are for me many times when I wonder what it would be like to actually do the Self Transcendence 3100 mile race myself.  It is an absurd if not even crazy question but still it is one that forces me to examine more seriously just what I am doing with my own life.

Part of this question, in fact 99% of it, is based on whether or not I even have the physical capacity to do it.  The answer is an unequivocal no.  To even cover 60 miles in one day might likely send me to a hospital.  Just the same I run quite a few laps here every morning and every one is a joy and a celebration.

The real question, raised by wondering about participating in the race myself, is for me a real curiosity about whether or not I had the capacity to stay as happy and as positive as these runners.  Because as far as I can see, being able to maintain this kind of joy is perhaps even more important than piling up the necessary miles. There really can’t be anything in life more stressful and difficult than running 3100 miles.  Yet again and again I see faces filled with spontaneous joy and light.

Everyone here has been running now for almost 2 weeks.  Just about everyone has completed 700 miles or more.  It just has to be tough, it has to be really hurting, and everyone must be really tired.  The scary truth is they have only literally just begun.

We all in our own way try to do the right thing in our life in the right way.  Even if we do the correct thing with reluctance at least it is better than not doing it at all.

To do something like the 3100 than, with all your body, heart, and soul, has to be an accomplishment of unprecedented potential.  To be able to surrender yourself in your entirety, without any pangs of attachment, whispers of desire, or shimmering visions of glory.  To toe the starting line with all the baggage of what your mind demands of you and gradually simply cast it all away until it is just your spirit unburdened, journeying towards its transcendence goal.

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June 23: Just Smile and be Happy

I think I know what draws me out of bed before dawn each day and come to the race.  Over the years it has become ever more clearer to me that I can receive and experience something here that is available for just 52 days, and only right here.  As the race enters its 12th day it is also becoming obvious that gradually more and more people are slowly being drawn here.  Not just in the early morning but also through out the day as well.  People who may not know exactly what it is that happening here but still feel an irresistible tug from within to show up on the course.  To walk the route, to bring gifts, to even feel that they are in some way a small part of this unique journey.

A schoolteacher on her way to class this morning dropped off this pot of sunflowers.  She had been deeply touched by the singers who perform in front of the school and also appreciated all the flowers that have been planted around the course.

Glenn who typically supervises the small park at the west end of the loop came by this morning just to say hello.  He is at another park this summer and misses seeing the runners coming around and around all day as he cleans the Joe Austen park.

Then there are those who cannot resist the urge to run here as well.  The number has multiplied in just the past few days.  At one point Surasa dashes by me and right behind her came a lady wearing a Punjabi suit.  No running shoes, no exercise clothes, she appeared to be someone who simply saw another woman doing something challenging and fulfilling, and maybe felt that it just might be good and inspiring for her as well.  She couldn’t of course keep up with Surasa but she did keep going.  When she was finished she stopped by the counting area and asked for a cup of water and then returned to her world.  For a short time, and certainly for at least one mile, this was her world as well.

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June 22: There Is Some Purpose

“It is very nice, I am already there, I am beyond.” For Sarvagata a new milestone will tumble by the wayside with each new step he takes as he continues to circle the course.  He, like the other 2 new runners, up until today had never run in a race longer than 10 days.  For each of them, going by the numbers at least, self transcendence will be an undeniable verifiable reality.

There is however something truly remarkable to note in what has happened to Sarvagata here yesterday.  Just a month ago when he ran the 10 day race he completed 605 miles, yesterday he completed 656 in 10 days and continues to run strongly.  The finish line for him, and for all the other runners is still far far away.  You can’t however simply point your finger at what might have happened to Sarvagata over the past month to understand how it happened.  Instead you need to step back and, examine the fact that he has been training and preparing hard to do this race for years now.  Putting in miles of training and racing, and also maturing as a person, but most importantly of all becoming fully ready to commit himself on all levels to this race.  To give himself in his entirety, outer and inner, to the Self Transcendence 3100 mile experience.

I participated in the 10 day race 4 times.  My first time was really horrible.  I mean it was good and nice as well, but only at the end.  Before I got to that point I had to go through all kinds of different experiences, let us say.  I did 480.”

Each time he ran the 10 day race, he improved by 60 miles, except for the race this year.  When only by summoning a super human effort on his last day he ran 5 miles more than the previous year.  “I was a little disappointed from one side.  From the other side, I said, maybe there is some purpose to that.  Now I see why.  I did it here.”

If all our life’s journeys had odometers, it might be interesting to note from time to time just how far we had come and of course just how much further there was left in front of us.  The 3100 is a shockingly difficult event to undertake.  The only certainty each runner has is that each knows categorically, that with each new lap they will draw closer to the finish line.  The thing of greatest importance however, the transformation going on within, is something that is not so discernible.  We are allowed at best a hint and a subtle feeling that something powerful is happening to each and all who run here.  Perhaps, if we are fortunate, we  too can gain something as well.   By our encouragement, by our service,  and if nothing else, than at least by our sense of oneness with these 10 champions.

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June 21: A Sweet Memory

photo by Jowan

Everything always moves along so incredibly swiftly here at the Self Transcendence race. There rarely seems to be much time or opportunity to look back over your shoulder. If one did it too often you could easily trip over the present.

It is challenging at the best of times to even just attempt to keep up with the relentless pace and rhythm of all the events taking place here, on this little half mile island of concrete.

Then, out of the infinite blue, a sweet memory will simply lift me out of my shoes and hurl me backward.   It is almost like stepping into some kind of time portal and I find myself returning back to something that took place here over the past 15 summers.  Today there was just that kind of special moment.  It was an instantaneous shock, and It felt  like I had been struck by a thunderbolt. In this precious instant. I briefly found myself in exactly the same place, but it was 5 years earlier.

The spiritual history here is so incredibly deep and rich, that sometimes I am surprised  that I am not delightfully tangled up in it more often.  In the later years of his life Sri Chinmoy spent a great deal of time at his race, often coming several times a day.  Starting in 2006, he used to write a special race pray every day, and have it given to each of the runners.  Today, the very first in that series was once again handed out to the runners.  From the moment my hand touched the blue page, my heart’s clock spun immediately backwards to that time.

Stutisheel was one of the 5, of the current group of 10, who was running the race that year.  He says, “for me it was so delightful, because I adore Sri Chinmoy’s aphorisms, and he started writing them especially for the runners.  It was so special.  Every aphorism reveals the universe to you.”

“Just, I know how to run.   That is it.  It is so simple, but I am running for my Lord Supreme, and therefore he loves me, with his blessing pride.  This is the secret.”

Click to listen

photo by Jowan

New memories are being written here all the time, just as they should.  5 of the runners here today were of course not even here back then.  Some even may never have even seen much of Sri Chinmoy in person, at all.  But it doesn’t mean to say that they cannot connect with his vision of transcendence as powerfully and as most assuredly, as any one who had the opportunity to be standing close by Sri Chinmoy at the starting line 5 years ago.

For many of us Sri Chinmoy’s physical life was all too brief, yet his inner life continues to illumine and inspire.  His gifts to humanity are still being revealed, his guidance, and vision still felt as strongly as ever.  A confirmation of this of course is clearly revealed in each of those who continue to run so bravely and with such unerring dedication to the goal of transcendence each and every day here.  His vision will continue long past the countless tomorrows.  Long after the sound of footsteps have passed beyond the finish line.

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June 20: Inner Door Constantly Open

“It was a dream of our family to be here helping him.”  Sarvagata’s sister is beaming with enthusiasm as she runs beside her brother on this the 9th day of the race.  The sun is low and golden in the sky and the air is still and clear.   It just may be as beautiful a morning as the race will see all summer.  The irony of all this is that in fact Sarvadhara (Sarvagata’s sister) is currently committed to leave later in the day for Chicago.  She flew in from the Ukraine just last night and came immediately here, only to arrive by fate, just as her brother was going home for the night.

So on this most exquisite morning she is getting the briefest opportunity to share with her brother the 3100 mile race experience. Absorb somehow, in the few fleeting hours she has left, the vast and limitless world her brother and 9 others now inhabit.

This is for her an incredibly special moment because in fact, Sarvadhara has never ever even seen her brother running in a multi day race before. She, like most people have only seen the race via the internet.  Tried to make some sense of something, that on a computer must be incredibly difficult to even begin to follow or even comprehend.

For most people, the moment you have taken even a few steps here on this loop, then you may actually begin to see and feel the world the runners are completely immersed in.   For a moment at least it is possible, to more deeply appreciate  the reality the runners inhabit every second of their day. Every hard slab of concrete here has after all, felt millions of footsteps pass by for the past 15 years.

Things have happened ever so quickly for the Ukrainskyi family.  Even Sarvagata himself did not know for sure that he would come and now neither his sister or his wife will be able to help.  Sarvhara says, “I am not a little sorry I won’t be here, I am a lot sorry.”  With the few hours she has left she says, “Now I am trying to come into this.”

She has followed his experiences previously in the 10 day race via the internet.  “You know it is like a miracle.  When I look at this from the internet I don’t believe in this.  3100 miles in 52 days is just impossible.  When I look and don’t think, I just feel proud of humanity, and gratitude to the Supreme that this is possible for human beings to do this.”

When she arrived last night she had been traveling non stop for more than 24 hours from the Ukraine.  “I was so happy to see him, and all of this, that all my tiredness just flew away.

Click to play interview


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June 19: Grateful For Every Step Here

Photo by Bhashwar

For the 10 runners taking part in the Self Transcendence race each new day now, and each additional lap is starting to blend and blur into the immense vision of what they are attempting to do here.  It is such a massive effort and an undertaking of such proportions that the enormity of it, in its entirety, is really incomprehensible.  Only the present moment can remain distinct, and briefly held.  Yesterday is gone just as what happened an hour ago.  Tomorrow will come of course but all they really have is the precious now.

The creator of the race, the late Sri Chinmoy saw clearly what this race represented.  Not just the challenge it presented to the runners but also how it could, in its own unique way, inspire the world, should they dare to examine it.  The legacy of his life is still richly visible in all that he created, accomplished, and offered to the world.  How he was able to inspire people from within takes some closer examination.  How he continues to fuel the fires burning in the hearts of these 10 runners however is clearly visible.  It is evident in not just the fact that they have come to challenge the impossible but also in each of their unblinking  attitudes to what lies in front of them, and perhaps less understood, their consciousness.  When faced with incredible adversity they still are able to shine so, so, bright.

In America today is Father’s day and many are paying tribute to their late teacher here in NY and elsewhere.  He never asked to assume such an intimate relationship with his students but instead it was one in which they themselves established and humbly offered back to him.  His students felt and experienced such an intimate connection and closeness that for many no other relationship, other than father and child would quite do.  There are quite a few here today to celebrate and honor him, who they feel he did so much for, and who they believe continues to provide for in ways not so clearly understood but are profoundly aware of just the same.

photo by Bhashwhar

A marathon is being held today just across the street from the 3100.  Inspiration will flow, back and forth across the road for many hours.   Then after 5 hours the last of the marathoners will leave and the street will return to its weekend stillness, just as it does every Sunday.  It will once again become the singular world of those who have chosen to run here every day.  The future ahead blurred beyond recognition. The past 7 days gone forever.  But the inspiration within remains as fire bright and as precious as anything that man can treasure.  A higher reality attainable, an inner promise fulfilled, the road ahead now as open and as inviting as a full bright sky.

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June 18: Go On, Go On

If Ashprihanal was the car you drove every day and not one of the greatest ultra distance runners in the world you probably would have traded him in a long time ago.  Don’t get me wrong, he probably still has a lot of miles left in his legs but the mileage on this 40 year old Finnish runner is shocking and incomprehensible if not incalculable.  At this Self Transcendence race alone, over 10 summers he has racked up 31,000 miles.  Also just this year he has run a 6 day race and 24 hour race.

Over the years he has run so many multi day races and gone for so many lengthy adventure hikes that he has lost track of them all.  Ironically his job in Helsinki is as a deliveryman who walks on foot all the time he is on the job.  Even from the beginning he really wasn’t too interested in recording numbers and totals.  He really just seems to want to immerse himself in whatever the distance experience is.  He is however far from robotic, it is not some endless mindless exercise in movement.  He seems to enter a rarefied world that only the very best distance runners can enter.  The mind is gently nudged out of the way and the heart takes over the wheel and drives him gently, with sweetness, and an incredible lightness as he flutters along, and just above the very hard concrete.

As he enters his 6th day here he has run 420 miles and though he seems to not yet have found his perfect form he is motoring along quite nicely just the same.  Barring something unforeseen he will almost certainly be able to finish the race again this year. He has of course won the race 7 out of the 10 times he has competed.  There is no simple analysis of how and why Ashprihanal is just so good at what he does.  He is such a comfortable and solid  fit into the environment here it is almost impossible to imagine that he would not come back.  Certainly at least not until he has run here 13 times, the same as the incomparable Suprabha.

His footsteps are always so light and his arm movements almost seem to effortlessly twirl and spin in an incomprehensible pattern that never seems to ever repeat itself.  When ever I try to slip into the same orbit as his, I cannot help but notice that he seems to just barely ever to rest upon the same mortal path that the rest of us  members of the human race have to slog along on.  The chemistry and mechanics of Ashprihanal are not to be deciphered by anyone, at least certainly not by me.  His heart at least is open to the world, and is much greater and vaster than the human form that has been granted the task of bearing it around and around this Self Transcendence race.

Ashprihanal running

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