Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Immediacy of Now

Men are as forgetful and heedless
In their waking moments
Of what is going on around them
As they are during their sleep

Fools, although they hear,
Are like the deaf;
To them the adage applies
That whenever they are present
They are absent.


I recently wrote an e-mail to my dear friend, Nikki Campbell.  Nikki is South African and has run over 12 Comrades Marathons. She encourages runners all over the world by maintaining one of the best web-sites pertaining to Comrades Marathon training:
In my e-mail, I shared with Nikki all my training plans for Comrades 2012.  I told her how I planned to train to be stronger than ever and to run faster than ever.  I told her about the planned gym sessions, yoga sessions, long runs, speed runs and hill sessions.
She totally agreed with my approach but added, “Don’t over think it though Amit, just have fun out there”
I think Nikki offered a wonderful insight into the way our mind works. 
Osho says that most of the time we are blind to the present.  The mind sometimes cannot see that which is very near. It can only see that which is very far. Our mind always longs for the distant, never for that which near. That which is distant attracts us, makes us obsess about it, it goes on calling us, inviting us.   It gives us dreams and hopes and fills us with the possibilities of pleasure.  And in our craze to make the future right, we miss the present. We are full of expectations about the future and we keep missing the present. 
And finally when we do reach the goal, that which we used to know is now distant, now has an appeal, now something worthwhile. We long for the place from where we came. We long for the past.  But by then, not only have we lost what we had but we have also missed the beauty of the journey.
If I only think and obsess about that one day in June 2012 when I hope to run Comrades, I might simply miss the pleasure of all the days in-between. I should enjoy and celebrate each and every run from now until the day I run Comrades.
If I get caught in a certain thought process, I become closed to the present. I find that during every gym session, I am thinking only about Comrades day.  During every speed & hill session, I am thinking only about Comrades day. During every Yoga session, I am thinking only about Comrades day.
Of course, one cannot make it to the finish line on race day unless one has a plan.  But if I, as a novice runner, make race day my obsession, I will perhaps not enjoy the journey to the race day. And if I don’t enjoy the journey then, I have missed the beauty of this life. 
Osho share this story about a pilot who was flying over California.  The Pilot tells the co-pilot, “Look down at that beautiful lake. I was born near it. That is my village.”
He pointed to a small village just perched in the hills near the lake, and he said, “I was born there. When I was a child I used to sit near the lake and fish; fishing was my hobby.  But that time, when I was a child fishing near the lake, always airplanes used to fly in the sky, passing overhead, and I would dream of the day when I would become a pilot myself, I would be piloting an airplane.  That was my only dream.  Now it is fulfilled, and what misery! Now I am continuously looking down at the lake and thinking about when I will retire and go fishing again.  That lake is so beautiful...”
Nikki is right, we must not lose the present in search of the future. One must wake up every day and go out and simply enjoy the run.  There is so much pleasure in simply doing yoga, strength training, hill-training and speed sessions, each for its own sake!
Kalidas wrote: 
Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.

I need to plan for the future but I need to live in the present because if I continuously focus only on that one single day, I might miss all the wonderful miraculous pleasure which running brings me every single day.  I might miss the present.
I have heard a story which may not be true but it is said that when Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he would sometimes get tired and bored of lying on his back high on the scaffolding facing the ceiling with the paint continuously dripping onto his face and body. 
From the top of the scaffold, he would see that every day a pious old blind woman would be brought to the Chapel in the afternoon when the Chapel was empty.
Somebody would bring her and then leave her there and she would spend the whole afternoon in the empty Chapel praying.
One day on a hot afternoon, when he was working on the ceiling he felt like taking a break.  He looked down and saw the old blind lady kneeling down in the chapel below and chanting her prayers. The Chapel was totally empty.  
He decided to play a prank on her and from the top of the scaffold shouted, “This is Jesus Christ, pray to me and I will perform miracles.”
The old blind woman kept kneeling, clasping her rosary and chanting her prayers and offered no reaction.
Michelangelo wondered what was wrong with her and shouted louder, “This is Jesus Christ, pray to me and I will grant all your wishes.”
The old woman kept kneeling and clasping her rosary but in an angry tone said, “You shut up! I’m not talking to you.  I am talking to your mother.”
Heraclitus said,
“Fools, Although They Hear,
Are Like the Deaf;
To Them the Adage Applies

If I get preoccupied solely with the future, I will be the fool who miss the gifts of the present. The present is equally, if not more, important than race day... Don’t over think it, just have fun out there...every single day.

Monday 15 August 2011

Swim But Don’t Get Wet

On some days, when all is going well in my life, I wake up eagerly early in the morning and am rearing to go for a run.  On some other days, when something is bothering me either at work or at home, I am not so motivated.  As my eyes open in the morning, the problem wakes up with me and I feel burdened.  On those days, I don’t feel motivated and excited to face the day. A heavy weight rests on my mind and shoulders. 
We are too engaged in the marketplace of life. We almost always ride a roller coaster of emotions. 
The Zen masters say, “Walk in the river, but don’t allow the water to touch your feet.” Be in the world they say, but don’t be of the world.  Be in the world, but don’t allow the world to be in you.
That is easier said than done.  Walk in this river of life but don’t allow the water to touch your feet? That’s hard because I normally get drenched!
I understand that the Zen master is talking about a meditative mind.  The mind that is able to step back and look at every situation as an unattached observer.  But it is so difficult to just be a ‘witness’ to all that is going around us.  We are too engaged in Life to step back and simply look at ourselves from without.
I am simply too affected by the ups and downs of everyday life.  But I have evolved my own formula for facing the very few small and insignificant problems that I have to face. 
Firstly, I am happy to admit that I have been incredibly blessed and don’t have any real problems in life.  I am a happy man.  My family and I are in good health and we are a close, tight-knit unit. 
So, when I really think about it, the problems I face are actually inconsequential in the scope of things. They are not problems at all. 
But oftentimes I am self-centred, selfish and want everything in life.  I want only good things to happen to me.       
The biggest disappointment I have faced in my life till date is not finishing the Comrades Marathon twice (in 2009 and again in 2011). (That this is the extent of my life’s tragedy actually shows the blessed life that I have enjoyed)
Yet, when I did not finish the race, I was, for short period of time (a few split-seconds) heart-broken, sad and depressed.
In running as in life, there are three keys to rebounding from a set-back. 
The first is to quickly find inspiration. Some find inspiration within themselves, some without.
The second key is to count ones blessings.  No matter how bad the situation, one always has something to be grateful for and so one must never forget those good things. 
And the third key is to have a never-say-die attitude and to find some good even in one’s failure.  There are some people who are able to see the bright side of every situation, no matter how bleak.  

There are two stories that I try to remember whenever I face some disappointment:

The first is from a short cartoon film made by Pixar called: Boundin'.  The plot of the cartoon goes like this:

A young sheep out in the American west has a wool coat that he takes much pride in.  He keeps dancing all day long and showing of his beautiful woollen coat. His prairie dog neighbours across the stream join in as do a burrow owl, a rattle snake and little fishes in the stream. Life is good and he is very happy.
One day a man comes and takes him away in an old car. You can hear the lamb being shaved and then he's dumped into a mud puddle during a raining night. 
The lamb, shaved of all his wool looks pathetic and sickly!  He is devastated and depressed.  Everybody starts laughing at him. He cowers under the sagebrush to get out of the rain just as a wise American jackalope comes onto the scene and gives him some good advice.   
The jackalope tells the Lamb:
“Now sometimes you’re up and sometimes you're down,
When you find that you’re down
well, just look around.
You still got a body, good legs and fine feet,
Get your head in the right place and hey, you're complete!”

Sometimes, I simply have to remind myself of all my blessings. 
However that day in May 2011 at the 67 kilometre mark, when I was lying semi-comatose on the road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, after failing and bailing in the Comrades Marathon, I was heartbroken, depressed, and in state of shock.
And as I waited for the Ambulance/Bail bus to pick me up, I remembered the second story I love. 
A little school kid once went out alone to play cricket.  He threw the ball high in the air and shouted, “I am the best batsman in my school” then swung his bat as the ball came down...swish... he went but missed and the ball went...plonk...on the ground.
Undeterred, he picked up the ball again, threw it high and shouted, “I am the best batsman in Mumbai” then swung his bat as the ball came down...swish...he went, but missed and the ball went ...plonk...on the ground.
He took a deep breath and undeterred picked up the ball again, threw it high and shouted, “I am the best batsman in India” then swung his bat as the ball came down...swish...he went, but missed and the ball went...plonk...on the ground.
Undeterred, he picked up the ball again, threw it high and shouted, “I am the best batsman in the World” then swung his bat as the ball came down, ...swish...he went, but missed and the ball went ...plonk...on the ground.
Picking up the ball he shouted, “HECK! I AM THE BEST BOWLER IN THE UNIVERSE”
2 Did-Not-Finishes out of 3 Comrades Starts!
In those first few uncertain seconds after lying down on the road to wait for the ambulance/bail bus, what did I say to myself ?

I smiled while I thought: 
Very often, it is not the event which shapes our life, but out interpretation of the event!

Sunday 7 August 2011

Narayana, Narayana

Neepa and I have decided to run the Hyderabad Marathon on the 28th of August.  We made our decision on the 1st of July after speaking to my dear friend Rajesh Vetcha who is one of the organizers. 
After running Comrades at the end of May, I had not run much for a month and now the decision to run a marathon on the 28th of August meant that I have to go from 0 to 42.2 in just about 2 months.
Before Comrades, I had great endurance and decent speed.  I could run distances of 42 k without too much fatigue.  I could run a 5k in 26 minutes. I could run 10k in about 56/57 minutes. I could run a 21k in about 2:05.  On a long run, I would not even break a sweat until I had reached 16km.
The extensive purging of my stomach from a bug the day before the Comrades changed all that.  And the death blow to speed and endurance came in the month after Comrades when I drastically reduced training to recover from Comrades.
Now as I try to run again, a 5k takes me 32 to 35 minutes, a 10k takes me about 1:14 and a 21k takes me about 2:40.  I start getting tired around 16km and I am done by the time I reach 26km.  And I want to start crying!  Where did all the strength, speed and endurance go? I am lost.
I want to run faster, stronger and further Now! I want to run a strong marathon Now! I don’t have any time!
When will my speed increase? When will my endurance increase? How will I ever reach the finish line of the marathon? 
My Garmin has made me incredibly conscious of every second which passes.  I have become very conscious of Time.  I envy my dog Lance who seems to sit lazily all day long, waiting for nothing. He is so not time conscious.   But as far as I am concerned, becoming conscious of time has made me a bit tense.  It has created a tension, an anxiety and some amount of anguish.
I think that I have lost patience with everything. 
I am told that everything can come to one who is ready to wait for it.  Everything can come when one is ready to wait for an eternity.  I have read that when one is ready to wait forever one becomes very relaxed, then all tension drops, all anxiety drops, all anguish drops and in-fact at such a moment everything can come to you instantly, even enlightenment.
I on the other hand have become incredibly impatient. 
Sometimes in the morning, when I switch on my Ipad, I get impatient when the Apple logo shows up first and I cannot endure even that split second as the Ipad searches for internet connectivity.  
Where are the days when as a student, living in the United States, I used to write letters to my girlfriends and wait for 20 days for the letters to reach India and then wait again for another 20 days for an answer to arrive?  And it was ok to wait even more because most girlfriends never even wrote back. I was always happy to wait for the postman.
In Indian mythology, the equivalent of the modern postman was Narad Muni, a divine sage. He was almost like a postman.  He would travel the earth and the heavens and keep taking messages back and forth and spreading news. He was also a little mischievous and was often the cause of fights amongst various Gods.  He was the e mail between this world and that world.   He carried with him a musical instrument called the Tampura and kept chanting the Lords name again and again, “Narayana Narayana”.
One day, while travelling through earth, Narada came across an old sage who was sitting in meditation, trying to attain enlightenment.  The sage had been sitting in a meditative pose and chanting sacred verses.
The old sage had been in search of enlightenment for many lifetimes and was now losing his patience.  Narada went up to him and asked, “I am about to go meet the Lord, do you want to send Him a message? Do you want to ask Him anything?”
The old sage opened his eyes and said, “Yes, you inquire from Him how much longer I have to wait for enlightenment, I have been chanting these same verses for many lifetimes, I am now getting tired. How much longer, I am out of patience. I am getting bored.”
Just next to the sage was a young man, who under another tree, was dancing and playing an ektara (a single-stringed instrument).  He was singing the Lords prayers and dancing and laughing.
Narada asked him also, “Do you have something to tell the Lord, anything to ask?”
But the young man did not even answer.  He continued dancing and singing. 
Narada asked him again, “Do you want to ask anything of the Lord?” But the young man just laughed and continued to dance.
Narada went to the heavens and asked God about both. 
He then came back and told the old sage, “I have asked on your behalf and the Lord said that you will need to wait for 3 more lives before you become enlightened.”
“3 more lives! I cannot believe this!” The old man screamed.  He got so angry that he threw down his prayer beads and was almost ready to hit Narada. “This is nonsense, I have been waiting and waiting and doing all sorts of penances and undertaking all sorts of austerity measures to become enlightened! This is too much, 3 more lifetimes is just too unjust!”
The young man under the next tree was still there. He was still singing and dancing and chanting the Lords name.  Narada went up to him and said, “Although you did not ask me anything, I enquired about you with Him.  I asked the Lord when that young man, chanting your name and dancing under the tree will get enlightened and the Lord has said that it will take him as many lifetimes as there are leaves on the tree under which he dances.”
The young man started laughing and dancing even more.  He became ecstatic.  He said, “Then it is not very far, just as many leaves as are on this tree? Then it is not very far.  I have almost arrived. Just imagine how many trees are there in this world and the number on leaves on all of them.  Compare that to just to this one tree.  This is so very close.  Thank you for asking the Lord.  I can easily wait.” He started dancing again. 
It is said that the young man became instantly enlightened.
The race against Time creates stress.  If I can simply run without demanding and desiring, then perhaps I will be at ease. 
I need to drop this demand for instant gratification. Because if there is no demand, then there is no demander.  And if there is no demander, then there can be silence.  And if there is silence then perhaps...........................I can arrive.