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.   


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Amit, I came upon this blog post after you posted in the Comrades Aus NZ group on facebook. Probably the first time I'm commenting! I've read your book as well. Firstly, condolences about Amsterdam and yes, you shall reach Tokyo in 2013! Take care of your body, and yes listen to the doctors most of the time.

    Regarding the barber and antibiotics, please take note that antibiotics does not target viral infections. Antibiotics target bacteria. Many people take antibiotics for the slightest of ills, even if they do not need it. This is very dangerous and can lead to antibiotic resistance.

  3. Buddy

    Sorry to hear about Amsterdam. You know I can relate.

    As you and I get older (we are pretty much the same age) we both have PBs at Comrades left in us. It may take many years, but they are in there somewhere.

    Rest well my friend.

    P.S. - you have another friend in Australia? I thought I was your one and only .... :)


  4. agree with Kai
    Sometimes the antibiotics make you sicker
    take them only if it is a confirmed bacterial infection

  5. And whilst there will always be hurdles along Life's way and most of the time they do puzzle the mind so; but it would be most significant to remain steadfast and continue the journey...........and why??????........because we can!!!!!!

  6. Great post... looking forward to reading more.

  7. Amit -
    As one of the kayakers on Diana's Xtreme Dream Team, I can tell you, that you got the details of Diana's swim with a MUCH higher degree of accuracy than many of the news reporters that covered the swim. Just as Diana has not given up on the Xtreme Dream, I can see that you are just as determined. I wish the best for you - ONWARD!!!
    Don "Woodkayaker" McCumber

    1. Don , you guys are our hero's. We draw strength and Inspiration from you ! Onward !!!!

  8. Amit, I read your blog through my friend Vivek Singh.
    About 10 years ago my life was full of sport. Six days a week I played Soccer, Volleyball and Cricket. On some days, Badminton and Squash too. When Vivek and Anil came up with the first Mumbai Marathon, I immediately started training for it. Unfortunately a few weeks later I came down with a severe virus which the doctors were unable to cure for almost 2 months. In that period I coughed and sneezed my way into 2 slip discs. Since that day, though I am much better now, i am unable to play any sport. Many times I too asked "Why me?"..but after a few years of self pity and pain, I found that many new doors opened for me. As of the last year I have for the first time been able to join a gym and start some basic training. I now spend my time playing music and travelling to different countries with Vivek and friends to watch international sport at the highest level. Nothing gives me more pleasure than this. One day I hope to run at least the Dream Run...and prove to myself that I can be a determined white cloud:)