Sunday 23 September 2012

Wisdom From A Dentist's Chair

“Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string...Insist on yourself; never imitate...Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is unique...Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare.” 
-Ralph Waldo Emerson on Self-Reliance

I had been searching for ‘The Answer’ since the last 7 years. My search as a runner has been for ‘The Perfect training program’. The best program, which would help me ‘Arrive’.
For 7 years, I have been searching for the best training program which I can follow like one follows religious scripture.  Which is the boat that will take me across to the Promised Land?  
My moment of clarity arrived at the unlikeliest of places.  My search ended at my dentist’s office. 
Let me explain.  My dentist, Dr. Nipa Diwanji, is also a runner.  She is absolutely the best dentist in India.  Unfortunately, I cannot say that about her running ability.  But, Dr. Nipa is a perfectionist at work and this personality trait also compels her to continuously try to improve her running ability. 
Just like me, the good Doctor, is also continuously looking for the best and greatest training program to help her run faster and further.  But it’s still just a work-in-progress. 
As I entered her office last week, to have her look at my nagging toothache, I noticed a book on her desk: “Run Less Run Faster” by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr and Ray Moss.  The book claimed to help runners train to qualify for the Boston Marathon. 
I was delighted.  This was the Holy Grail I had been searching for. A panacea for all my problems! This is the boat which will carry me to the Promised Land. I want to run a 4:15 at the Tokyo Marathon in February and this training program would surely help me get there!
The Dentist’s chair always reminds me of a medieval torture device. And as I settled in for an extended torture session on ‘The Rack’, I tried to distract my mind by thinking of my 7 year search for the greatest marathon training program.    
The search has been unending.  I have tried all the programs that are out there. I have tried out programs by Tim Noakes, Jeff Galloway, Joe Henderson, Art Liberman, Bob Williams, Pete Pfitzinger, Jack Daniels, Alberto Salzar and perhaps a dozen others suggested by every possible Running magazine. 
So now, is my search at an end?
But as Dr. Nipa prodded and poked around my mouth with all kinds of sharp knives, I wondered whether the best program for me is out there somewhere or is it already inside me.  To attain my goal of running faster and further, must I search outside or inside of myself?
With the help of an X-ray, the good Doctor soon diagnosed the source of my toothache. She opined that the 3rd Molar needed to be extracted. Oh! How I hate my Dentist.
As she started preparing an anaesthesia injection (which in my opinion was big enough to put an elephant to sleep), I kept thinking about my search for a perfect marathon training program.
As she started her torture session, I remembered a story once told by Osho: 
“There was once a King who was searching for the greatest religion in the world.  He had been searching for it since he had been a young man and had not still found it.  And since he had not found a perfect true religion, the question of living a religious life in accordance with it did not arise for him. 
He called on scholars, saints and philosophers to help him find the greatest religion.  They came and they argued amongst themselves and found fault in every religion out there. Each claimed that his religion was the best and greatest. So the King never found the greatest religion.  But he never gave up his research; it had become his play.  However, as death came closer, he became restless.  Now he became desperate to find the greatest religion, which could lead him to God. 
One day a beggar came to the palace to beg and finding the King worried and depressed, asked the reason.  The King replied, “How can you help me even if I explained? The greatest scholars, saints and philosophers have not been able to help me.”           
The beggar then said, “It is possible that their greatness was in-itself a barrier for them?”
The king looked at the beggar attentively.  The beggar continued to speak, “I can do nothing. In fact, I do not exist. But the one who exists can do a lot.”  
The King spoke up, “I wanted to seek out the highest religion and make my life religious but this has not been possible.  Which is the highest religion?”
The beggar laughed and said, “Oh King! What madness prompted you to seek out the highest religion?  Life does not become religious after you have found religion; religion is found only when life itself becomes religious.  Please come to the other side of the river outside your kingdom.  There, I can point my finger towards religion and God.”
They went together to the riverbank.  The best available boats were brought to them but the beggar would point out one fault after another in each of them. Lots of boats were brought and each one was rejected by the beggar, some as too big, some as too small, some as too plain, and some as too ostentatious.  
Eventually, the king became frustrated.  He said to the beggar, “Oh, great soul! We have only to cross this small river, we can even swim across. Let us forget about these boats. Let us get there by swimming across.  Why waste our time?”
As if the beggar had been waiting for this, he said to the king, “Oh King! I also wanted to say the same thing.  Why are you so concerned with the boats that signify different religious sects? Isn’t it best for us to swim across to God? In fact, there is no religious boat.  The only way is for us to swim.  Truth can be found only through our own efforts.  Nobody else can give it to us.  One has to swim in the sea of truth by oneself. There is no other support.  Those who look for support will drown close to the shore, but those who take courage and swim by themselves will manage to cross, even if they have a little taste of drowning at the beginning.”
As the good Doctor, drilled away inside my mouth, I reflected that over the last 7 years of running, I had collected fabulous amounts of information about running and running programs. I have lots of knowledge.  But knowledge is not wisdom, knowledge is just information.  Wisdom leads to a transformation.  I have collected knowledge on training programs, on shoes, on hydration, on hill running, on speed training and more.  I had filled my mind with lots of information.  Perhaps the time had now come to drop all this information. The time had come to transform myself.  
I felt that it was now time to put faith in my own experiences. 
7 years of running, thousands of kilometres, all over the world, has given me a treasure trove of experiences. It is time to create my own path, I need to be a pilgrim again and seek my own path to salvation.  I don’t need to borrow someone else’s boat; I need to swim for myself.  
I need to drop all the knowledge clogging my mind.  I need to be emptied of all this borrowed knowledge; for when I drop this knowledge, perhaps wisdom may arise.
I shall find my own Wisdom!
I was pulled out of my reverie, by the sound of Dr. Nipa’s voice. “Ok Amit, it’s done!” she said.
“What have you done Doc?” I asked, barely able to speak through my totally anaesthetised mouth. 
“I have extracted the third molar, it was impacted and I had to drill it out” she said.
“Speak to me in English Doc, which tooth is the 3rd molar?” I asked.
“That’s your Wisdom tooth” she answered, “I just extracted the last of your remaining Wisdom teeth”
“OUCH!” is all I could say!

Wednesday 19 September 2012

“The Way of the White Clouds”

“The Way of the White Clouds”

In 1785 Scottish poet Robert Burns in his poem “To a Mouse, on Turning Up in Her Nest with the Plough” wrote the lines:

“The best-laid schemes o’mice an’men
Gang aft agley
An’ lea’e us nothing but grief an’pain
For Promis’d joy!” 

For those of us who use the contemporary form of the English language, these lines can simply be translated as follows: “Shit Happens”

I had made some plans.  I had planned that I would run a 4:19 Marathon in Amsterdam on the 21st of October.  The training plans had been made and put into action. The arrow had left the bow. The game was afoot. 

And Then...shit happened!

On the 16th of August, I went for a haircut.  Half way into the haircut, my barber standing behind me asked, “Amit Sir, which is the strongest antibiotic according to you?”
I cringed. I shrunk into the chair.  I looked at his reflection in the mirror and in a voice filled with panic I asked him, “Why do you ask?”
“Oh Nothing”, he said, “I have contacted this really bad virus which does not seem to leave me.”

I looked at my reflection in the mirror.  Can I jump out of the chair and leave? He had already cut the hair on the right side of my head.  If I left then, I would have looked like half a Mohawk. 

I told him that it was a bad idea to call in clients when he was unwell.  I tried not to breathe for the next 15 minutes as he finished my haircut.

48 hours later, I lay in bed with 103 degree fever.  I cursed my barber. 

Why? Why? Why was this happening? 

As I lay in bed, my friend Raymond in Australia sent me an e-mail that he was injured and it seemed that his planned run at the Delhi Half Marathon seemed to be in jeopardy.  He lamented, “Why did I get injured just when I had started enjoying my runs?”

On the 18th of August, as I lay sick in bed, wallowing in self-pity, I had my ipad next to me and I was fixated on following one of the greatest athletic endeavours about to be undertaken. 

Diana Nyad, a 62 year old athlete was about to swim from Cuba to Florida, a distance equalling 5 English Channels. A 164 km swim in shark and jellyfish infested open waters. She was to swim it without a shark cage.  She had been preparing for this attempt for a lifetime.  This was her 4th attempt. 

What made this attempt incredible was not just that she was 62 years old or that the distance was too long.  What she had to face was also the unforgiving weather, the dangers of hypothermia, and the possibility of being bitten by sharks and venomous jellyfish. 
Diana had tried this swim before.  In 1978, at the age of 28, she had fought against raging sea currents which had pushed her off course, out of reach from land. 

30 years later, in 2011, she made two more attempts, the first attempt failed due to an asthma attack and the second due to jellyfish bites.  But in 2012 she had again collected over $3,00,000/- to put together a team of over 50 people to help her make one more attempt at the crossing.

As I lay in bed, burning with fever and filled with self pity, Diana jumped into the water. Every few hours I opened my eyes to log onto her website where her crew was posting updates. 
An escort boat “Voyager” was next to her. Her team of kayakers was protecting her from sharks.  There were shark experts and jellyfish experts, all working together to get her to the other shore. Diana had trained for thousands of hours to accomplish her goal.  She had undertaken countless swims for countless hours, training for this very day.  The rules were such that she could not touch the boat. She had to be even fed through a tube. 
On and on she swam. 

I prayed and cheered for her as I lay in bed and so did thousands of people around the world. We kept posting comments of encouragement on her Facebook page.  Diana was swimming for every middle-aged person like me.  She was telling me that I can have still have lots of dreams and desires, that I was not too old to push my limits.  She was swimming for all of us. 

Then the first jellyfish struck. A bite on her neck. Then the 2nd, on her lips. A third on her hand, then a 4th on her forehead. And on and on, jellyfish came in by the hundreds and the thousands. It became a minefield. They had to pull jellyfish tentacles out of her fingers.   The bites were debilitating and caused her excruciating pain, chills and asthma. She kept swimming.  

And then the first storm came in and blew her off course.  She swam on.  

After 40 hours of swimming she fought hypothermia and dealt with swollen lips and a swollen tongue. 

And then a second storm came in and simply settled in on her.  She kept swimming.

On August 21st the update on her website simply said:
“7:42am EDT Diana has been pulled from the water.  We’ll have more information when it becomes available.”

Hot with fever, still in my bed, I cried.  I could not believe this.  Why? Why? Why?

After swimming for 52 hours and 5 minutes, on the eve of her 63rd birthday, almost 112km into the swim, Diana had been pulled out of the water because the storm had simply become too dangerous not only for her but also for the crew supporting her.  She had not wanted to stop.  She felt that the dream was within reach. She had the strength. But it was just too dangerous to carry on.  

Why didn’t Diana make it to Florida? Why did Existence conspire against her?
A few days later Diana wrote: "It's not in my nature to admit that no matter how much will you summon, no matter how much courage you express, no matter how much intelligent and complex planning you do, no matter the excruciating long hours of training, no matter the dedicated and expert individuals you choose to help you, sometimes you just don't arrive at your destination,"
Sometimes you just don’t arrive at your destination! The best laid plans of mice and men, Go often awry!
20 days later, my plans to run a 4:19 Amsterdam Marathon lay in ruins.  The virus left a cough in my chest which would just not go (exactly as my barber had complained).  A plethora of drugs had drained all the strength from my body.  To run a marathon as early as October seemed hard, to run a personal best time was out of the question.  I cancelled my race entry. 

Why? Why? Why do such things happen?
Osho says that asking such questions is foundationally absurd.  Why’s, he says, are always unanswerable. 
“The trees are – you cannot ask why
The sky is – you cannot ask why.
Existence exists, rivers flow, clouds float – you cannot ask why.”

Osho suggests that his way of life is that of the White Cloud.  He says that, “A white cloud has nowhere to reach, no destination, no destiny to be fulfilled, no end.  You cannot frustrate a white cloud because wherever it reaches, is its goal. It has no will. 

White clouds are not directed by the wind.  The phenomenon of direction exists only when there is resistance. 
If the white cloud wants to go east and the wind blows to the west, then there is direction – because resistance is there.  But the cloud is not going anywhere, east and west mean the same, there is no resistance. 

If there is no will on the part of the cloud, then the wind cannot direct it.  If the wind says east the cloud is ready, it is already on the move toward the east.  There has not been a single thought of no; there has not been a single denial.   The wind is not directing, direction is needed only when someone is against. 

But people have their wills and projections and desires and ideas.  They fight with the wind.  The more they fight, the more anguish is created.

One who understands existence stops fighting. He is not even trying to swim, he simply goes with the flood. He uses the current as a vehicle; he becomes one with it and moves with it.”

Osho calls this ‘surrender’.  

This acceptance of Existence without questioning is quite hard.  To simply accept what happens without asking ‘Why’ seems difficult. 

Dan Miller once said, “The only problem in your life is your minds resistance to life as it unfolds.”  The key then, to a happy life, is perhaps to simply accept that sometimes, “Shit Happens”

So now, I will try to live the way of the White Cloud. 

I am now a White Cloud. 

I am drifting...drifting towards...Japan...towards Tokyo...I should reach there...24 February 2013...just in time for the Tokyo Marathon.