An introduction to Inspiration-Letters
We are very happy to introduce Inspiration-Letters to you, a collective effort that tries to serve the literary thirst that so many of you have expressed to us. Inspiration-Letters is a forum for inspired writers with a multitude of backgrounds and interests.
We have sent this first issue of Inspiration-Letters in the hopes that you will find it interesting, entertaining, or, at least, amusing. Unless you subscribe for future editions, you will be spared additional pain.
We would be most grateful if we are able to offer even a little inspiration.
Mahiruha Klein, editor
Priyadarshan Bontempi, technical coordinator
P.S. For the word game lover, word 81 has been intentionally misused.
In the middle of June the World Harmony Run brought me to Sedona, Arizona, a unique place for many seekers. A generous couple had learned that we were coming and offered to put us up for the night in their home. Situated on several acres of desert, and a few miles from any main road, the house had big windows, indoor and outdoor gardens and (God bless them!) a hot tub which we tired runners could use.
The wife was a great reader, and kept a big personal library. As she had prepared beds for some of us in that room, I got the chance to look at her wonderful collection. I love old and unusual books, and her tastes were eclectic.
I saw one book that I remembered well from college. It was J.W.N. Sullivan’s: “Beethoven: His Spiritual Development”. Published in 1927, it has never gone out of print. In the book, Sullivan presents his own philosophy of music, and then talks about how Beethoven’s music is special because of the consciousness it reveals. Well-reasoned and powerfully written, Sullivan’s book confirmed my own feelings towards Beethoven, especially his late string quartets.
In the last three years of his life, Beethoven wrote these famous five string quartets. I think of them fondly because they gave me some clues as to what the spiritual life is all about. By listening to soulful, spiritual music like Beethoven’s we grow as people, and we begin to think and feel out of the box.
My former political science Professor, Barry, loved these quartets and played them every day at home. We would take long walks together and talk about…everything, but especially our shared love of Beethoven. I did not go to a “Brand Name” college, but I had wonderful Professors like Barry who introduced me to their own intellectual and spiritual interests.
As I put the book back, I remembered something my philosophy Professor, Dominick, told me, that certain works of art go beyond beauty. They take us to a place or a state of consciousness which words cannot properly describe. He placed Beethoven’s late music in this category.
Dominick’s very presence was special. A monk in his youth, in a contemplative order, he maintained a four-year vow of silence while cloistered. When he would lecture or just stand in front of his students, we could feel his silence and profundity. He embodied, in my view, a lot of what Beethoven expressed in his last works.
One scripture that Dominick sometimes quoted in class, the ancient Isa Upanishad, summons the experience of the late quartets better than any critic ever has: “That moves, and that moves not; that which is near and yet that which is far; that which is immanent, and yet that which is transcendent.”
That night, I dreamt I was back at my old University. I was sitting in a classroom with my dear philosophy Professor, Dominick, and there was complete silence. The lights were dimmed, but sunlight poured in through the windows and I could hear strange, but beautiful bird calls. The calls reminded me of the slow movement of Beethoven’s greatest and most unearthly string quartet- the opus 131 in C – sharp minor.
When I woke up, I noticed I could still hear the birds. I unzipped my tent and looked around at the vast desert landscape with its sage and Joshua trees and brush. The sun had turned one edge of the sky a slight pink and the air was so wonderfully crisp and cool. I offered a short prayer of gratitude to the wonderful teachers I have had in my life, who have taught me to think deeply, live bravely and go forward continuously.
Philadelphia - USA
This question concerning my latest climbing expedition was asked by my spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy. I appreciated his sincere concern for my safety and well-being; and I also appreciated the fact that he listened carefully and sympathetically to my reply. He cares enough about me to take the time to understand my motives for climbing. But to all the other people, including my parents and some of my colleagues, who look at my mountaineering ambitions as if they were a completely useless and hardly understandable – not to speak of justifiable – extravaganza, I wish to tell this story.
Sri Chinmoy made it clear to me that I was free to decide. I wasn’t told not to climb this mountain, nor was I in any way “ordered” to test my capacities and fate there. Everything was up to me. This moral dilemma was a several tonnes heavy boulder in my heart. I called a dear friend, another silly girl “who does things in the mountains”, (actually quite brave things far beyond my skills and abilities) and I told her about my plan and The Question. She asked back: ‘Yes, why do we take a risk?’ And we both laughed – even if it was a serious kind of laughter. We both knew that we take risks, because there is simply no mountain without danger, there is hardly any summit without risks... And then why do want to get Up There? The question persists.
I remembered the first day I saw the picture of the summit I was aiming at. I liked it immediately. I loved the number of its height in meters: 4027. (That is approximately 13 289 feet.) And I knew it was meant for me, just as well as I knew that I was too weak, too heavy, too slow and too inexperienced. Thus I decided to give myself time to train, and to gradually progress until I would be able to try it. And each time I saw the picture of this mountain, I would burst out in tears and mumble a prayer. I thought that in a year or two, I would pull myself together and try it.
But life and time had a word on it. Only one extremely busy month later, an opportunity turned up to join a small group that would venture climbing this “horn”. And suddenly the clouds I could see from my balcony after the big summer storms took the unusual shape of a cone (clearly imitating the summit) with other types of clouds lightly floating near the upper edge of the triangle: so much reminding me of the picture some brave climbers made of Mt Everest with those almost transparent veil-like clouds touching its topmost parts, somewhere above the Hillary step or South Col. At the sight of this I asked loudly, ‘Are you playing with me God? You want to send me up to this mountain? Please, give me another sign, a clear one.’
Have you ever heard of clouds that take exactly the same peculiar shape in two consecutive days? I hadn’t. The next day, however, this is what happened. I refused to let God to pull my leg like that. I wanted another sign, and I made it clear to God: no way of using clouds, He has to use some better means of letting me know whether He wants me to try to climb this mountain or not.
And no third sign came. I only got a call from a Swiss mountain guide association asking me whether I wanted to participate in this trek as the implementation of it would depend on my answer: if I said ‘yes’, it would take place, if I said ‘no’, they would cancel the trip, for there weren’t enough participants. This was a long distance call, the program of four other people depended on my decision and I had only one second to answer. Quite unfair, I thought, and quickly said ‘yes’.
On the way home from my office, I cursed myself, knowing that I no longer could recline; I felt nothing but uncertainty. How could I accept the challenge without the third, the real sign from God?
The same evening I glanced at a new climbing magazine nd the first thing I saw was a picture of my compatriot unfolding the Hungarian flag at the summit of Chomolungma. I immediately started sobbing and couldn’t stop until it slowly dawned on me that the third sign had been carved in my heart long ago: I so badly wanted to do that mountain! I cried a little more and went outside to run downhill and then uphill and then I trained on stairways... after all, in a week I had to be able to do this for four consecutive days at the maximum of my strength. Thank God, I had already been doing that all spring and all summer, so it wasn’t that I was starting training a week before the probe. However, in spite of my yearning to get up to that summit, all I could feel was fear and worry.
A month ago I had some unpleasant falls in the treacherous crevasses of a glacier and now the prospect of repeating this wasn’t to my liking at all. There was just too much fear in me that I needed to overcome. Not only the fear of falling, but also, and above all, the fear of failure. I was trembling at the thought of not being able to keep pace with the others, of having to give up, especially if I gave up after reaching the “no return” point, for instance the first glacier or any place where one cannot just walk or climb down alone. I was scared to imagine myself being totally exhausted on the second day while others lightly went on. I was really terrified at the thought of this humiliating retreat. So, when I was put to it, I felt compelled to choose the harder thing: packing and going to try, instead of enjoying a calm and peaceful week at home.
A whole evening spent in train, a whole night spent at a noisy railway station, and here comes the morning of the first day I won’t be able to take a shower as usual. Who cares now? I am just too nervous to meet my future companions. To climb with strangers is always a lottery game. Then we set off. We test each other’s normal pace. I warn the others that I am utterly slow. They say, it’s OK, and that they don’t mind it. They all are much more fit than I am, one of them had climbed Kilimanjaro, the other two, a couple, spend every week-end at high altitude... the fourth is the mountain guide. He spends almost every day of his life in the mountains. I am just a little self-taught mountaineer-seedling, with not much time spent above 3000 meters, not much experience in running downhill with crampons on (this will be regrettable), and quite concerned about glacier crevasses. How will the five of us spend the next four days together?
We go up to a hut at 2600 m altitude to stay there overnight. By the time we arrive, we are a little bit wet. After two more hours of rain, the sky is again clear albeit colourless and the sacred object of all mountain fans, the Matterhorn condescends to reveal its particular shape. We stare at it like devotees at a murti (idol). I remember a colleague of mine complaining that during the two weeks he had spent in the region he hadn’t managed a single time to get a glimpse of it. So, I feel chosen.
I AM chosen. We leave for our next, somewhat higher destination early in the morning. Continuously moving eastward and upward I feel very tempted to look back all the time at the twisted horn-shaped stone god, the awesome and exhilarating Matterhorn which occupies the horizon and boldly watches our tiny bodies becoming smaller and smaller with the increasing distance. We crawl higher and higher. We struggle up from huge stone to another huge stone amidst a debris of rocks of every size from a lion’s head to a mammoth’s head, or a house even. Stones that almost all move below one’s feet.
Remembering the experience of my first big marathon, the 1996 NYC Marathon, I offer gratitude at regular intervals, when I feel that we gained again 50 or 100 meters altitude. It makes me happy. I use all I learned from my spiritual Master on yogic breathing. It does help. However it doesn’t reduce the risk of twisting one’s ankles while moving upwards on, in between and amidst all these small and big boulders. I start repeating a mantra in English, some simple sentences about a Master’s love for his students and vice versa.
The boulder-chaos becomes milder and we find ourselves in a col, a mountain saddle or ridge section at 3150 m altitude. I am glad that my sunglasses hide my tears. I am bathing in love. Again I offer my gratitude and keep offering it as I climb on. For long minutes all I can feel is but gratitude, unalloyed gratefulness. .
Far in the horizon the challenging alpine tasks of Dufourspitze, Castor and Pollux, the Matterhorn, la Dent Blanche, Fluhalp, Breithorn stand immobile, invariable in the sun. And according to the guide, our goal, Allalinhorn is there, just before Taeschhorn and behind Alphubel, if I just look more to the right. I don’t want to look, I just don’t dare. I need two more days to bear its majestic aspect in its shining white overcoat.
Half an hour later comes the first fall. As we descended a particularly icy slope, we see the remnant of a glacier that has almost disappeared. Quite steep, at places we cross huge stone blocks, at places we cross streams of grey glacier water running down, at places we make our way through half-vertical fields of ice. The place where I fall is the bed of a fast running river current. I fall in ice-cold water, right on my back. I spring up, shake my body and go on. Something is weird though. I touch my back, my clothes, my rucksack and everything is dry!!! It was very clear that I had fallen in icy water. After all I slipped on a wet stone while crossing a stream. Yet, I am dry. My elbow bleeds a bit. I wash it with the dirty snow I find everywhere, where it hasn’t yet become either ice or water. I keep on descending, lowering the altitude, and wonder: ‘if it is bleeding why does it not hurt’? A day later I check the wound, it is smaller than a gentle scratch... I feel love all around me.
A little lower, at the milder section of this slope, the stones transported there by this bygone glacier are simply fabulous. Each of them carries a whole history of our mother earth. For a geologist this place would be heaven itself, there are so many samplings of various minerals. But the majority of stones have some silicate in their composition and also metals, in all likelihood Iron. There are hundreds of silver-coated shining flat stones. I cannot stop wondering at these little marvels. Then suddenly I notice one that looks not alike any of the others. Its shape is common, it is a flat, several layered stone, shining in the sun. But its colour is something I haven’t yet seen today: it is golden! I don’t have much time to ponder, I quickly pick it up and walk on, following the leader. A gold coloured stone warms my palm. With eyes fixed on the uneven, rocky ground, I keep searching, scanning to find more of these fairy tale type of golden stones. Not a single one! By the evening I understand that the one in my pocket was the only golden one; all the others are silver or just some other plain colour. My heart gives a special significance to this and it dances with rapture, solemnly and excitedly at once: I found the only golden stone of this mountain! The Golden Stone. The mountain gave it to me! Not to the person who stepped there before me, not to the one who came after me... I guess this is one of the things we take a risk for. The task or mission of finding the Golden Stone. No other mountaineer would take a gram of extra weight on his back, especially if he has to carry that for several days. But I am bound to do this, for I have to carry the stone down after having taken it everywhere up here with me. I have proof, a justification that saying YES to that long distance call a week ago wasn’t a bad choice. I have at least and at last an answer to the question about taking risks.
Day Two continued: Silent Night
When dusk starts to descend with its long legs slowly slipping down the cliffs and valleys all around, when the temperature cools down to make our backs shiver, we all retire in the hut to enjoy a warm drink, a soup and each other's company
At quarter to three, before the first flock of climbers, the ones aiming at the more distant summits get up to leave the hut. I quickly go out to silently pray and to do some spiritual exercises. I walk out into the chilly night only to realize that I have spent my evening and the first part of the night in a five million star hotel. Or five billion stars… or more even. Hush-gap silence envelops every single object of this undisturbed nature, no human eyes can perceive anything on earth but the sky where glittering diamond powder has been scattered by a noble and generous hand.
The Milky Way freely flows from one end to the other of two horizons incrusted among chains of black mountains. In the mythology of my ancestors, the high cheek-boned Szeklers who used to be the Kshatriyas of the Hungarian nation once upon a time, the Milky Way is not milky at all. We call it "Hadak Utja", which means "The Road of the Warriors". For the collective consciousness of my forefathers, this myriad of stars is nothing but the dust triggered by the galloping divine army of our Greatest Ancestor, Prince Csaba, when once he descended and lead down a massive celestial army from the eternal skies in order to rescue his trapped great-grand sons fighting against an enemy that largely outnumbered them. The memory of this miraculous battle is enshrined in the heart of every Szekler and I am no exception to that. And each time one of us looks up into the night above us at remote places non-affected by light-pollution, the sight of the "Warriors' Road" reminds us of what we are: warriors, the Kshatriyas of a nation that tends to forget us, yet warriors to the very core, people who once upon a time received help of a divine army dashing down from the stars. In these moments I feel so proud of my star- and horse-worshipper forefathers who had the capacity of drawing divine grace while obstinately resisting the oversize adversaries storming on them from every direction.
A falling star puts a halt to my thoughts. I know that in a second I have to wish something and it will be fulfilled. I quickly wish "let nothing wrong happen to us, let us accomplish the journey safely." Another star falls, and I wish the same thing. I realize that it is the 13th of August today, one of those days when a specific group of asteroids approaches our globe on their perpetual journey around the Sun.
I repeat my silent request five more times, as I see more falling meteors.
I still have some time at my disposal, in silence. I stay in front of the hut's door, with my headlamp switched off and I inwardly sing the Invocation, a sung of supplication to the Highest of All Beings, the Supreme One whom I so much wish to be near me at this and at every moment. In no time I feel His Cosmic Aspect penetrating into my heart, my eyes, my smallest cells. I let him occupy my psyche and body as well. After I finish singing and bow to the glittering night of hundred thousands of years of space, I feel that God is looking through my eyes, God is moving through my movements. It is He, well, in my case: She that looks into the first headlamp coming closer from inside. It is She that hears the familiar sound of metals clinging and singing when bounced against each other the moment climbers clip karabiners, ice-screws onto their harness… I will soon be doing that too, in the deep night somewhere above 2700 meters on top of a slope, below the drooping feet of a hanging glacier.
(Next issue - part two “A Game of Risk”)
If you came here in August, if you have an interest in things of the spirit, you might have walked down this driveway in the New York City Borough of Queens and through a gate as I did, and entered into a world of great beauty and surprise.
Today, August 16, they are celebrating the birthday of Chitta Ranjan Ghose, a devout soul born into a family of great Indian souls. 800 students of Chitta’s brother, the living spiritual Master Sri Chinmoy, are here to commemorate this sacred occasion.
Inside the gate two majestic stone lions greet you, regal guardians immaculately carved in white marble. They are immense, alive, full of power – the fierce gatekeepers inspire in you humility, reverence, respect. You find yourself standing in an outdoor garden of sorts, a temple grounds rich with bright colours and flanked above by steep terraced benches. People are milling about, the women in brightly coloured saris, a garment honouring the spiritual and sacred, the men in white, the colour for ceremony and meditation.
In the background, set into a grove of shading oaks, stands an elegant low temple, Zen-like with its flowing lines and graceful simplicity. Everywhere nature’s riotous beauty, bursts forth in the multifarious greens of summer – evident in the tendrils and creepers of the wisteria vine, engulfing the western roof of the temple in a blaze of invading green; in the dappled shadow-greens of the oaks and sycamores, their boughs merging with the temple’s elegance in a symmetry of man’s artifice and nature; and amid all this, the indescribable abundance of flowers. Yes, flowers are everywhere, the jubilant yellows of marigolds and sunflowers; peonies and violets tumbling from dozens of hanging baskets; the huge, tall moon globes of orange blossoms, heavy with fragrance.
Inside the temple, beneath its burnished copper-tiled roof, Sri Chinmoy is a calm, solitary figure. Like the leonine gatekeepers, the Master sits motionless, and you watch and marvel at his stillness – in his simple white cotton dhoti he, too, is a statue, majestic in the repose of meditation, eyes half closed, conscious of this world yet clearly roaming in other, inner realms that lie beyond the horizons of our comprehension.
Gathered behind him, life-size images of his family stand together, each garlanded with flowers – Shashi Kumar Ghose, the pious father; Mantu, the renunciate; Hriday, eldest brother; Chitta, once a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and so close to Sri Chinmoy.
Down on the garden courtyard a stage has been set for a concert of songs that will honour Chitta-da’s life, Chitta-da’s soul. Behind the assembling performers, cosmic gods and goddesses have been installed in panels of bright colours - Mother Kali, dark-hued transformer of human ignorance, depicted with her necklace of human skulls; Saraswati, imparter of knowledge: Ganesha, protector of homes and temples. Everywhere bouquets of bright flowers, statues, a rich feast of colours and details enchanting to the eyes. Overhead long streamers of white paper flowers sway silently in the breeze, prayer-flags moving slowly in unison like underwater plants swaying to the rhythm of silent seas.
Invisible in their overhead kingdom of trees, cicadas sing their harsh summer song. Their voices rise in unison then fade into silence – rise again together as though attentive to some unseen conductor.
Now for several minutes a ritual bell is rung, single-noted, vibrant in the silence, summoning the soul of Chitta-da from its own abode to this earth world. “Come, come” it seems to say. “We have decorated our garden-temple for you today, beloved Chitta-da. Come, come, we invoke you, it is you we celebrate.” Tumblers of incense are lit, activity fades into stillness, everything falls silent in anticipation.
Now the singers begin their mantric song chants, beautiful repeating melodies accompanied by harmonium, hammer dulcimer, flute, tabla and the haunting sounds of the two stringed Chinese erhu, eerily resembling the human voice in supplicating song.
And how beautiful the human voice is when harnessed to the force of spirit – listening our very souls seem bathed in sunlight. Immersed in the Master’s songs, you are surprised how deeply moved you feel, your hands fold together over your heart in spontaneous devotion. Sri Chinmoy the composer-alchemist is transforming the base stuff of mind, body into a golden rapture of pure consciousness, an effortless euphoria of spirit. Each tribute song distills some essence of Chitta-da’s earth-life, some aspect of his soul – the words are garbed in Sri Chinmoy’s wonderful melodies that so energise, awaken our spirits. They are pure brush strokes of music that somehow capture and convey a sense of something very lovely – what is it ? – something already familiar to the soul and waiting just beyond reach for its rediscovery. So that spirituality is less an act of learning and knowing, but simply of remembering.
What was it that summoned Chitta-da’s soul – the ritual bell, the songs filled with such a pure devotion, the force of brother Chinmoy’s encompassing love, spanning other realms, other times not of our knowing? Later Sri Chinmoy would recount to us many of his inner experiences during the concert – experiences that would seem remarkable and wonderful to us. What might have been only a belief in the endless life of the soul becomes a compelling portrait of its reality as you hear Sri Chinmoy talk of these visitations by his family. Clearly, an illumined Master is a bridge between co-existing worlds, a meeting place between the seen and the unseen, the material and the ethereal, body and spirit, a truth vividly revealed this day.
In his book My Brother Chitta, Sri Chinmoy writes: “My brother was not an ordinary human being. He was a really great soul… His love for me was unparalleled… When I was meditating, or studying, or writing poems, he would come and stand in front of me and look into my eyes. I am his youngest brother and his only wish was to look into my eyes.”
“I wish to say that no elder brother has been so indulgent to his younger brother in God’s entire creation… Unconditional love and unconditional service my brother showed me all his life. He only desired one thing: my happiness.”
From My Brother Chitta, by Sri Chinmoy
(Pgs. 3, 50, 51)
Auckland - New Zealand
A child greets the world alone, primary breath exclaiming life itself through sound. Voice is born as the ambassador of feeling; words attend in retinue. Sound is the boundless assembly of any mortal relevance.
Anthem tends the patriot, canticle tends the pilgrim, sonnet tends the lover, march tends the warrior or bride, requiem the mourner. Crying or extolling, stooping to entreat; music, poetry, or two combined in songs, string hyphens between human hearts: now and ever, and in every realm.
Creation’s adoration listens for a higher Realm, where the Song Elemental shines from earthly hearts and eyes, thrills in sun’s resonance, lilts in colour’s harmony, leaps in chorus from the lawn-bound blades.
God harkens to an endless Song of Love, Self-born; Self-absorbed surveys Estates of sky through Ocean’s mighty lens, set to compose a verse of dawn or tempest, and to weave it in the Melody.
Through one who intuits any nuance of that Realm, one song of many songs, one instrumental tone, one phrase of one verse of many poems, is a voice and vessel of the Source.
“…Thou art the ring
Of the lowest chasm and spanless height….”
- Sri Chinmoy, excerpt from “Master,” My Flute
Cardiff - Wales
In the movie Forrest Gump, the main character on an impulse starts running throughout the entire United States and along the way he alters the course of history. For four months through all 48 contiguous U.S. states and for eight months along the highways and byways of Europe, groups of runners, all running under the banner of the World Harmony Run, cross entire continents for the cause of friendship and mutual understanding. - always accompanied by a flaming torch. For two weeks I had the good fortune of being a member of the European team on the Run, the world’s longest relay race, as it made its way through Switzerland and Italy.
‘How far still?’ my Austrian teammate asks in broken Italian to the 79 year old man who runs with us during the last part of today’s stage to Florence. ‘Solo uno kilometro,’ he replies sullenly. One more kilometre. That kilometre seems never to end as ten minutes later we receive the same answer, ‘Solo uno kilometro.’
I’ve joined the European team of the World Harmony Run as the representative for The Netherlands. The World Harmony Run is the longest relay run in the world, which takes place simultaneously on different continents. The purpose of this Run, which was founded in 1987 and takes place every two years, is to foster friendship and understanding among people and nations. On the way the team visits many schools, but also mayors and athletic clubs to pass on the torch of harmony and friendship. Today’s stage runs from Bologna to Florence, a distance of 110 kilometres or 70 miles.
After having already run about 20 kilometres or 12 miles today, my knee suddenly starts hurting. The team vans have already driven to the finish so I’m forced to continue running. The pace dictated by our guest runner isn’t really the problem; I can keep up while speedwalking. However, we have a meeting planned with a group of children and a number of dignitaries from the city council and we’re already more than an hour behind schedule.
We continue at a jog-trot. The old man now functions as our guide, since he is the only one who knows, or at least “should” know the area. He leads us away from the highway on a deserted gravel road. On the left looms a large factory, on the right an overgrown grassy field. The view doesn’t look very promising. After about another kilometre the gravel road suddenly ends before a large iron gate and we come to a full stop. The old man throws his arms heavenward in desperation and rages in Italian. His friend was supposed to meet him here, he maintains. Meanwhile, our torch has run out of fuel and gone out.
The European part of the relay started on March 2nd in Lisbon, Portugal. In Europe alone 24,000 kilometres will be covered altogether in 45 different countries. The European coordinator and team captain Dipavajan Renner (what’s in a name?) is the only one to complete the entire eight months on the road. The rest of the team consists of runners joining for a few weeks or perhaps for a few months. You can decide for yourself how much you would like to run every day, for there are two vans driving to and fro which the tired runner can use to jump into at any time to take rest.
The front runner carries the ever burning torch, a symbol of friendship and harmony, which passes from hand to hand during the Run and in a greater sense, from nation to nation as the Run progresses. Quite a heavy piece of equipment to be carrying along for all those miles, but according to Dipavajan the torch gives energy. ‘Whoever holds it inevitably runs about ten per cent faster. We usually have to slow him down.’
We’re now following the old Italian into the grassy field on our right. Thistles are pricking at our legs and bushes are lashing against our arms. Running is out of the question here, so we proceed walking in single file like a family of ducks. Suddenly the old man falls down head first into the grass. My heart skips a beat as for a terrible second I think of a cardiac arrest. At 79 years of age anything can happen. Fortunately he gets up quickly and marches on grumbling crankily. After what seems like an eternity we finally reach a gravel road alongside a highway leading towards civilization. At a local restaurant we borrow somebody’s cell phone to call the team captain. It turns out we’re pretty close, so sprightly we resume running.
It still takes longer than expected, however, and my knee is also hurting more than I dare to admit. I decide to keep the ambling old man company instead, while the rest continue running to the finish. Finally the two of us also reach the small school building, where, much to my amazement (we’re two hours late), a group of children is still waiting for us with banners and slogans for peace, harmony and friendship. ‘Viva la fiaccola!’ they chant, ‘Long live the torch!’ The big shots from the city council have already left (understandably of course!).
One has to have a reasonable level of fitness to participate in this relay. Although it’s up to you to decide your daily mileage, it is silently assumed that you’ll be able to do an average of about ten to twenty kilometres (six to twelve miles) a day. My Austrian friend Pratul runs about a marathon a day - an exceptional feat. His secret: Italian olive oil, about half a glass a day and undiluted. ‘Olive oil is my discovery of this run. I recover extremely well because of it,’ he explains. I surreptitiously try out a spoonful which leaves an unpleasant burning sensation in my throat. I decide to apply some to my knee instead. Two days later the results speak for themselves: the pain in my knee has vanished.
We usually spend the night in pensions or small hotels. Once we stayed in an abandoned gym hall; occasionally we will lodge at friends’ houses. Food and lodgings are often sponsored by the communities where we end the day’s stage. It proves very helpful, since we do not have a big budget. The World Harmony Run is financed by the runners themselves, who are all members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team (SCMT), a worldwide organization of ultra runners coordinating the event. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team sponsors over 500 athletic events each year, including a number of multi-triathlons in Australia, a swimming marathon in Lake Zurich, Switzerland, and the longest certified road race in the world, the 3100 mile race (4988 kilometres) in New York. Founder of the World Harmony Run and the related marathon team is Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual teacher, author and artist living in New York. To Sri Chinmoy sports form a significant instrument to develop international friendship and global harmony.
After a refreshing night’s sleep in Florence we lace on our running shoes again for our next stage through the Tuscan hills towards the medium sized town of Arezzo. Early in the morning we start by visiting two local schools to share the inspiration of our run with the children. Here in Italy the enthusiasm of the hordes of bambini we meet is unbounded. We are greeted as if we were movie stars and more than once are asked for our autographs. The southern European temperament shines forth as the children run a few laps with us around the schoolyard. Madly sprinting would be a better term for it.
When Dipavajan is asked about the highlight of the relay he doesn’t have to think long. ‘For me the kids are the highlight. Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults, so I think it’s important to give them the right example. Children are always enthusiastic and really feel what the Run is all about. They get a kind of magic twinkle in their eyes as soon as they hold our torch.’ Having had many first-hand experiences of children running with us, I cannot but wholeheartedly agree with him.
After the school visit we immerse ourselves again in the ocassionally rough, but always inspiring Italian landscape. Here in Tuscany we enjoy and marvel at nature’s beauty and the breathtaking, picturesque villages built on the undulating hills surrounded by the ever present olive groves. It would be a completely different experience if one would cover the same distance by bicycle or car. As a runner one can completely merge with the surrounding scenery. This feeling of oneness with nature which the runner experiences is surely one of running’s most beguiling charms. In this I am most generously accommodated during this relay.
We are often joined by local athletic clubs who run with us for a few kilometres by way of training. To meet that many different people and to run together for an initiative that unites people, nations and continents is truly uplifting. It is an idea that speaks to many people directly. During the Run drivers honk their horns at us or give us a “thumbs up” in appreciation.
A runner makes friends easily. Already in these two small weeks I’ve met hundreds of wonderful people, both old and young, from all walks of life. Kindred spirits sharing the same longing, the same ideal, the same aspiration for a world of peace and a world of oneness. True friends. I feel that through everyone we meet, through every smile we put on a face, through every heart that opens to our message, we are sowing a seed. A fertile seed. One day these seeds will germinate and little plants of peace will start growing all over the world. Over time these plants will become trees and a day is bound to dawn when this beautiful forest will give shelter to the entire human race. This is the vision that is behind our Run. This is why we lace on our shoes every day. This is why we are here.
Running through the city centre of Arezzo we see a robust Italian man, a real macho, coming out of his local pub. Arms crossed in front of his chest he observes us from behind his cool, dark sunglasses. As we pass him, however, we are surprised to hear a sincere and enthusiastic 'Va ragazzi!' Go kids! I smile in silence. Can there be any greater reward?
The Hague, The Netherlands
At the turn of the last century, the development of the modern bicycle gave a new freedom to working people across the UK. The bicycle enabled workers to escape the dour grime of factories and race into the countryside. At that time motor cars were the sole preserve of the wealthy and were a rare sight on the roads. Since by nature people like competition, it wasn’t long before cycle races were being organised on British roads. In fact, they were so successful that wealthy motorists began complaining about the roads being filled with fast and dangerous cyclists. (This was in the days when cars were limited to speeds of 20 mph.)
Unfortunately the wealthy motorists had the right connections with powerful people and a law was passed in the UK banning cycle races, because they were too fast.
This could have been the death of British cycling but resourceful cyclists found a loophole. It was only mass start cycle races that were banned. There was nothing to stop cyclists setting off at one-minute intervals and seeing who was the fastest over a certain distance. Thus the sport of cycling time trials was born. In essence it is a simple race: Each competitor rides unpaced and completes the distance as quickly as possible. For this reason they are often known as “The Race of Truth” as the strongest rider should win. Road races, on the other hand, with a peloton (group of up to 150 cyclists) can often be won by weaker cyclists who have good tactics or are just good at sprinting at the end of a race.
In contrast to Britain, European cycle races were nearly always bunched road races, which are much more exciting for spectators to watch. Therefore on the continent famous races like Paris - Roubaix, Milan - San Remo and The Tour De France developed. Britain on the other hand was stuck with time trials, great to participate in, but lousy for spectators.
The heyday of British time trialling was in the post-war period. During this time cars were scarce and many thousands took the opportunity to cycle in the country. Long distance time trials of 100 miles, 12 hour races and 24 hour time trials were also particularly popular. In recent years the sport has struggled with the ever-increasing level of cars on the road making it difficult to find safe courses. Because of this, many races now have to start very early in the morning. Early morning starts are one of many eccentricities to the sport. - In the early days riders had to wear all black to make them look less conspicuous. Thankfully this is no more, instead riders are now more concerned with aerodynamics. To save a few seconds, riders will use disc wheels, shave their legs, wear lycra skinsuits and pointy aero hats. This sometimes leads to mirth amongst the British public who are not noted for their appreciation of cycling. (Several times a year a passing pedestrian will shout out to me “France is the other way mate!”)
Although outside the mainstream of professional cycling, the sport has produced some outstanding cyclists. Both Graham Obree and Chris Boardman were initially UK time triallists who went on to break the prestigious world hour record in the 1990s. Also Beryl Burton, one of the greatest female athletes of all time, won the Best British All Rounder competition for 25 consecutive years. In 1967 she broke not only the women’s 12 hour record but also the men’s, covering 277 miles. (the women’s record still stands today)
One of the main attractions of time trialling is the fact that a rider can always try to beat his personal best or season best. Most riders in this sport are more interested in their times than their placing in a race. Also very popular is the veteran standard, which gives veterans a time to aim for depending upon their age.
Thus time trials fit very well with Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of self-transcendence. Self-Transcendence is the attempt to go beyond our preconceived limitations and set new goals in both a sporting and a spiritual sense.
I started racing in time trials over 2 years ago, competing for the Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team. It is very satisfying to go faster and set new personal bests.
So far this year I have won 16 races and finished 4th in the National 100 Mile Championship. My favourite discipline, however, takes place in October and November. These are special hill climb time trials: Racing up a hill of 1 – 3 miles. It is more like a sprint and very painful but I tend to do well because I am light.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
- William Wordsworth (1803)
Perhaps you’ve heard of the appellation “storm-chaser” or “tornado-chaser” but have you ever considered that someone might chase rainbows with a similar zeal? If the weather conditions are favorable for rainbows, don’t stand in my way because I make haste to grab an umbrella and rush outside to look for rainbows in the sky. Sun and rain together are fairly uncommon in my region so their appearance elicits full alert! When indoors, I walk around looking out the windows in all directions. If I’m at work, I cross my fingers that my boss will tolerate a little break from my desk to step outside and walk around the perimeter of the building as I look in every corner of the sky for a rainbow. If I’m at home, I put my camera around my neck and pop open my umbrella to walk up and down the street peering intently skyward for some telltale colour. If behind the wheel of an automobile, don’t be surprised if I crane my neck this way and that or just decide to pull off the road for a better look.
Scientifically speaking, a rainbow is simply the reflection of sunlight on drops of water. Sunlight is composed of many colours, which appear as white to our eyes. If the light refracts through water droplets, the myriad colours then appear. The sun will always be behind you when you view a rainbow in the sky and the rain will be in the direction of the rainbow. This play of colour can occur in the mist of waterfalls, the spray of a garden hose or even at night if a full or nearly full moon casts bright enough moonlight while still low on the horizon (Lunar rainbows, or moonbows as they are sometimes called, usually appear as a rainbow of white light or, if the moonlight is bright enough, as muted colours).
The magic of a rainbow can hardly be contained in the scientific equations that explain its creation. The Scottish author and novelist Sir Walter Scott asks:
What skilful limner e'er would choose
To paint the rainbow's varying hues,
Unless to mortal it were given
To dip his brush in dyes of heaven?
- Marmion: The Tale of Flodden Field (1806)
Indeed rainbows herald nature’s glory at her finest. As Sir Walter Scott describes, they whisper to us of heavenly realities as we journey on terra firma. For a rainbow beckons to us to hope and dream of visionary vistas with its ethereal beauty in the midst of dark storm clouds.
Another type of rainbow visionary vista dawned one day for me on an inner horizon. While in Xiamen, China, in December of 2004, I took part in a silent meditation session amidst the landscape of China’s ageless wisdom. The Indian spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy led us, his students from all over the world, in the meditation. As he shared his own spiritual wisdom with us through the vehicle of silence, we prayerfully walked across the room, returning one-by-one to our seats with a hush in our hearts.
As I quietly sat during this shared sacred moment, years of spiritual inquiry under his guidance led me to contemplate on God’s vision of perfection for humanity. Spontaneously, my love of rainbows came forward and I suddenly was lost in the profundity of all the individuals surrounding me as beings of light that together shone with a beauty far surpassing that of a rainbow. As each seeker received Sri Chinmoy’s blessingful darshan (vision), the experience anchored itself more and more deeply inside me. Immersed in the conviction that God views each human being as a radiant expression of the divine source, I imagined that from God’s vantage point the prayerful group passing before us were the individual rays of a rainbow creating infinite colours and beauty. As this vision of a spiritual rainbow felt increasingly real, the room filled up with white light and this light emanated brilliantly from each and every person present.
I felt humbled by this vision and marveled to imagine that perhaps one defining quality of God is seeing the promise of perfection that is invisible to the naked eye. I tried to consider how different my life might be if I could see the world around me at every moment through this visionary lens. If a gathering of individuals could reflect light in a unity more beautiful than a rainbow, what other inner vistas might await to be discovered replete with similar grandeur? I do still resonate to Wordsworth’s declaration that my heart will leap up at the sight of a rainbow throughout the passage of my life. However after this gift of rainbow vision during a China meditation with Sri Chinmoy, an earthly rainbow will now inspire me to reflect on an inner divine beauty – namely the spiritual rainbow called mankind.
Rhode Island - USA