Wednesday 7 October 2015

Life : A place where all your questions are answered.

Life : A place where all your answers are questioned ! 

I slept badly last night.  The pain in my left shoulder was pretty bad and every few hours, it woke me up.  
I have injured my shoulder while learning how to swim.  Most people swim to relax while I’ve injured myself while swimming!! The very thought makes me cringe!  

Over the last 10 years, I’ve had my share of running related injuries.  I’ve now embarked on learning two new sports: swimming and cycling. Makes me wonder what is in store for me?
As I lay awake last night, in bed, waiting for the pain to subside, I thought back to that brave day, about a month and a half ago when I decided to train for a triathlon.   I wrote a blog about my ambition and announced it to the world! (Ok, I understand, the world is a very large place. I announced it to the infinitesimally small group of people who care to read my blogs)    

As I lay in bed, I thought about a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip I had read. 

Calvin is running hard with his arms extended to catch a large dark balloon which is falling. He is totally focused.  He has a smile on his face and a quiet confidence which says, “I’ve got this”.  He is totally sure that he is going to catch the balloon.  Just as he is about to grab it, the balloon bursts.  The balloon had been full of water! 

He walks away, drenched, disgusted and disappointed. 

He mutters, “How can something seem so plausible at the time and so idiotic in retrospect”

To do a triathlon, just because my son showed me a cartoon video, which depicted the fleetingness of life?   What was I thinking? 

Learning any new skill at the age of 49 is hard.  Learning how to swim freestyle at 49 is particularly hard.  But I’ve been at it for approx 45 days.  At least 3 times a week I show up at a local pool.  The pool is full of young small kids. One could stack many of them one upon the other and they would still not reach my shoulder height.  I soldier along with them.  They effortlessly swim the 50 meter length of the pool, touch the wall and turn back.  I start sinking at the 40 meter mark and then when I somehow reach the 50 meter mark I have to hold onto the wall for dear life, to catch my breath.  By the time I recover, they have almost reached the other end.  

Coordinating my head, arms, hips, legs, and breathing, all at the same time, is a bit too much.  Normally I cannot coordinate amongst my head and heart.  

I’ve looked at YouTube tutorials for swimming and I understand that you cannot fight against water.  It has too much resistance.  Brute strength can’t win, one needs skill.  I can’t pound my way along.  I need to glide.  I totally get the concept...intellectually.  But when I jump into the water, all understanding is lost.   

I’m struggling. 

And I haven’t even got to road cycling yet.  My friend Ashok has come home and helped service my Trek MTB. (I haven’t yet invested in a road racing cycle.) Ashok added all sorts of stuff to make the cycle road worthy (New lighter pedals, new sleeker tyres, new aerodynamic handlebar, water bottles etc).   He’s done such a great job that even a TDF participant won’t mind taking it for a spin.  But so far I’ve only loaded it on a home trainer and am cycling once or twice a week for about an hour.

Meanwhile my running has fallen apart.  After doing 3 or 4 swim sessions a week, one weight training session, 1 or 2 cycling sessions, I barely drag myself out of bed for perhaps 3 running sessions.

Last year during the same time period I was pulling off 90km per week of running.  This year it’s more like 40km.

I now don’t know where I stand.  I am quite lost.  I don’t have any answers. 

Is this where I want to be? Instead of being bad at one sport, I am now bad at three.

How and why did I end up here?  And where is the ‘here’? I no longer even know where I stand.  

I’m stuck in total insecurity.  There is total uncertainty.

After 10 years of running.  I pretty much knew all the questions one could ask about running.  I also knew some of the answers.  I’d be the first to admit that I didn’t know all the answers but I can say with a certain degree of confidence that I knew most of the questions. 

Now with the combination of swimming, cycling and running, I know neither the answers nor the questions.  I don’t even know what I don’t know.  It’s as if someone has changed all the questions to my known answers.  Or perhaps there are new answers to my old questions.   

I am reminded of a Osho Zen story.  There were two Zen temples.  They were rivals.  Both the temple priests were so much against each other that they told their followers never to look at another temple.  

Each of the priests had a boy to serve him - to go and fetch things for him, to go on errands.  The priest of the first temple told his boy servant, “Never talk to the other boy. Those people are dangerous”.  

But boys are boys.  One day they met on the road and the boy from the first temple asked the other, “Where are you going?”  The other said, “Wherever the wind takes me.”  A great statement!  Pure Tao. 

The first boy was very much disturbed and offended and he could not figure out how to answer.  Frustrated and angry and guilty, he went to his master and told him what had happened.  “I’m sorry that I spoke to him.  Those people are strange. What kind of answer is this?   I asked him where are you going, a simple formal question and I knew that he was going to the market, just like I was going to the market.  But he said, “Wherever the wind takes me!”

The master said, “I warned you but you didn’t listen.  Now look, tomorrow you stand at the same place again and when he comes, ask him the same question.  And he will say wherever the wind takes me.  Then you also be more philosophical and say, “If you don’t have any legs then?” because the soul is bodiless and the wind cannot take the soul anywhere- What about that?”

The boy wanted to be absolutely ready. The whole night he repeated his question again and again and again and the next morning very early he went and stood on the spot and at the exact time the other boy came.

He was now going to show the other boy what real philosophy is.  

So he asked, “Where are you going?  But the boy answered, “I’m going to fetch vegetables from the market”  

Now what to do with the philosophy that he had learnt?  Everything he had learnt was of no use.  This was a new answer to his old question.

Life is like that.  You cannot prepare for it, you cannot be ready.  Each moment is a surprise and no ready-made answer is applicable. “

After 10 years of running, I once again find myself in a place where I don’t know what I am up against.  I don’t know anything about the problems I will face.  The familiar has now been exchanged for the unfamiliar.  I have no idea about the challenges which lie ahead.

What a place to be in.  It is a total lack of control.  For some time now, I was no longer afraid when it came to running.  Even a bad race, a slow race, taking an IV, Puking on the road, cramping, or even a DNF was something I was no longer afraid of.  After all, I’ve been there and done that. 

But I am now, once again, in an unknown and unchartered place.  

I am afraid and insecure and uncertain.  

The only thing in my power now is my reaction to this new situation.  

All I have is the freedom to react.   And that freedom, is perhaps, what life is all about.  

Will I ever learn how to swim and cycle and run and participate in a triathlon? I don't know.  But I am ready to explore the new questions.    

I’m 49 years old and I’ve never felt more alive. 


  1. The trade-off between being Jack of All Trades and Master of One is never easy. And yet, there are some who magically manage to reach the Master of All level - something tells me you're on your way there. Great post, thanks!

    On a separate note, the Hyderabad triathlon happens this weekend. Why don't you try a shorter sprint one just to get the feel of doing the 3 disciplines back to back and absorb all that goes on in the longer distance events? Not that you need any inspiration - but just a thought.

  2. Well written Amit and quite inspiring. By the way I ran my first Full Marathon last month in Berlin in 4.34. Big part of that resolve came from reading your book. Thank you

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