Saturday 12th: A Tale of Two Cookies
...a Master showing his wares of Infinity and leaving the door open for me to claim them...
Not too much effort getting up this morning: I reckon my jetlag-defeating tactics have worked. First things first: meditation. A real feeling of sweetness in the heart. The two mile race is not until 8pm, so I have time to sing some meditative songs. Ah. Jago amar swapan sathi. My favourite song. Guru's favourite too, apparently; I have that on not-very-good authority. And I just read yesterday that he wrote it when he was fourteen. Unbelievable. I can't even sing it properly; I squawk the high bits, grunt the low bits, but still as long as the heart is in the right place, the experiences one can get with this song...'Arise, Awake, O friend of my dream' the English translation begins, and indeed, it embodies this unshakeable, nay, trenchant demand that the soul come out from where it is hiding and make itself felt...
(Here is jago amar swapan sathi sung by Shankara from the London Sri Chinmoy Centre, it takes a few seconds to start)
...and then out for the 2-mile race. Every Saturday, this race is held in most Sri Chinmoy Centres around the world; two miles is the perfect distance for self-transcendence, the requirement of both speed and stamina mean that I invariably have to call on something very deep within every time I run it. Most of the Centre's best runners aren't around in November, and in their absence last year I managed to finish second and first in the two races I ran. However, the past month or so, the Ph.D. has inveigled itself into every nook and cranny of my time, and my running had been minimal; my last two races were well above the 12 minute mark. Plus the right knee is a bit dodgy at the moment. Therefore: no pressure. Yaaay. On my way to the course my hamstrings are so tight I can barely run, which is strange because I haven't been running for a week, but I do some stretching and run it off; everything is fine. I collect my number and run towards the starting line; how I feel along this stretch is usually a general indicator of how I'll feel during the race. I feel good.
"Where ya from, boss?"
I turn around, there's a friendly face behind me, he looks Irish, but of course the instinctive reaction is to say...
"I can see that", he says. "Where in Ireland?"
"I can see that too", he says, eyebrows raised, regarding the ancient Kepak jersey I had chosen to sport this morning. It turns out he's originally from Galway; he has been working over here for over ten years now.
Asidhari from New Zealand jogs up; last year I won only because a taxi pulled out in front of second-placed Asidhari and nearly flattened him. I joke that I've another taxi waiting around the corner.
Ok, Sundar the race starter has arrived; time for a short meditation....
....and off we go.
Carefully crafted race plan: stick to Asidhari and see what happens. Sanjay tears off ahead, Asidhari second, me third. Pace is fine, but it's Asidhari's pace, and it's hard to mesh with his long loping strides. Up the first hill - Gyula, the three-time Self-Transcendence Marathon champion from Hungary passes me, this is just a training run for him. I go into his slipstream and pass Asidhari. Struggling a bit with the pace, and the prospect of finishing up in the place stakes is distracting me a bit. Asidhari passes me on the next hill. The one-mile mark: 5:45. Inwardly, a cloud lifts. Just focus on getting 11:30, who cares about places. It is so beautiful out this morning, the definition in colour only winter can bring, golden trees studded like jewels against a sharp blue sky. How lucky I am just to be out here. There's Gyula and Asidhari in the distance, just lock in on them; if I catch them, well and good, if not, well and good. Up the hill, last stretch, I peg it home. Fourth; 11:46. Colm comes in four seconds behind me and collapses into me. I must be slowing down in the home stretch. It doesn't matter. If you'd have told me 11:46 at the start of the race, I'd have been very, very happy.
After the race, we gather across the sidewalk for the race results. For the past year or so, Sri Chinmoy has been giving out prayers at the end of each race spontaneously from the depths of his meditation. Some of us have come equipped with notebooks; we take it down and repeat it to make sure we have it accurately. Sometimes he sets the prayer to music; sometimes the song comes out first. Today, Guru feels our pronunciation needs improvement, and in particular we're not closing words ending in 's' properly. Guru has always lamented that compared to his native Bengali, writing poetry or songs in English is a little like writing a report, and he feels that to keep the soulfulness, the structure of the language should not be allowed to lapse the way it does in conversational language. He asked us a while back about pronouncing the "s", and we're still not doing it. Now, as I listen to Sri Chinmoy talking, I'm thinking of the inner experiences I have had, in the world of the heart and the soul, a world where things make sense only through experience. This is what trust in a spiritual teacher is all about. It is the confidence that whilst you may not have a blind clue right now why closing our s's should be anyway significant, it will make sense once you set about doing it. It is a confidence borne of experience, of similiar things proving true in the past. Trust in a spiritual teacher is developed in the same way one trusts anyone else, by the trust being validated again and again. Sri Chinmoy has never let me down.
I walk back, coughing; I really have pushed my lungs to their limits. I want to eat some porridge. No oatflakes in the deli though. I bump into Balavan, he says go to he health food store. Good idea. If they weren't shut. I find a shop down close to Hillside. Still coughing; the Indian woman at the counter says I should take some Robitussin.
Colm is writing a diary when I get back. I tell him he should publish it on the web; unwittingly, I realise now, I have planted the seed for this little weblog. We need to clean the place a bit; the dust is aggravating Colm's hay-fever like crazy, it's probably not doing my coughing any good either. An hour makes a mighty job of the place, the place actually looks bigger now with some of the stuff taken off the floor.
For the past few days, Sri Chinmoy has been coming to Aspiration-Ground for meditations twice a day; around noon and evenings. We shower and head out the door; it is barely two minutes walk. When we get there people are already sitting down meditating or reading. I take a walk outside the tent. Aspiration-Ground is a converted tennis court surrounded by bright blue wooden beachers sloping upwards amidst sheltering trees; at the moment the temporary tent constructed for the cold winter months takes up most of the space where the court would be. I walk around the deserted bleachers, strewn with leaves, enjoying the contrast with April and August when these bleachers are filled with visitors from all over the world and the trees provide welcome respite from the heat. Leaves detach from trees and sway down in slow motion. There is great peace here.
Guru arrives and meditation begins. I feel I am nothing but my heart, that these other appendages that make up my body are only there to serve my aspiring heart in its quest for the Infinite. Guru calls up small groups of people according to their age group so he can meditate on them. One can feel that Guru is really paying individual attention to the souls of everyone present in such a way that each of us can feel it. In fact, time runs out before he is even halfway through meditating on us. We take prasad before Sri Chinmoy waves goodbye and leaves.
There is a little bit of work to do after everyone leaves - some of the decorations that adorn the tent are fraying a little and need to be replaced. In replacing them one has to look out for the decorations that are already in place; I can be accident prone at times, so I try to be careful. One or two near misses, but no damage. Colm and I are helping a husband and wife team who put up a lot of the decorations throughout the year and really help keep the place looking soulful. Because of my recent experiences with the PhD, I have become more attuned to the different ways in which people undergo sadhana, or spiritual practice, according to their individual temperament. It's not all about meditation, especially not on this path. You name any sporting or creative activity, and there's probably a student of Sri Chinmoy somewhere making spiritual progress through its exploration. I know of one gentleman who spends months organising a spectacular multifaceted act for the biannual circus that takes place in New York in April and August, I know another who practices magic tricks and at one time performed every day for a month when visiting Sri Chinmoy. This is sadhana too. And now in helping this husband and wife team put up put up the decorations, I am thinking of how the two of them, along with a third genius of design, often create the most elaborate decorations, often at short notice and fast pace, the type of situation where I could imagine one would need all of ones spiritual wherewithal to stop tempers from fraying. This also is sadhana.
It takes less than an hour to sort everything out. We hear that Guru is paying an extended visit to a store owned by one of his students; we've probably missed him by this stage. We'll head down anyway, I need a shirt, I wasn't really thinking when I was packing, and I was wondering why my rucksack was so light. We arrive to find there's a quite a few people outside. The store is really small and there's only so many they can let in. Looking at the people outside, I reckon it's going to be ages before I can get inside; maybe I can go down to the library before it closes, quickly access the supercomputer back in Dublin to run a couple of programming jobs, and then come back when the queue dies down. I've had a couple of ideas since I got here. I turn to go. Golapendu is at the door making sure the place doesn't get too crowded; he calls out "Is there anyone else to go in?". It appears those outside have been in already. Fair enough; I make my way to the door. Golapendu raises his eyebrows as if to say "typical, Shane" (he's lucky the raising of eyebrows aren't classified under either the libel or slander laws) and lets me in. Guru is here alright; I have never seen shopping done so quietly as by the customers inside. I make my way to the back of the store and tell the assistant I want a shirt in medium. It isn't long before both myself and assistant are holding a pile of shirts in extra large, extra extra large...you get the picture. I spot a large one and hold it against my shoulder; it's not bad. The assistant spots some more shirts to be searched for the elusive medium. Sri Chinmoy notices me and motions for me to come over. Large it is, then. There I am, fumbling with my wallet that never comes out of my pocket without the mother of struggles to pay the girl and getting everything back into it and looking up and... the smile. Much has been written about the smiles of enlightened Masters down the centuries and the qualities of vastness and love they evoke, and indeed Sri Chinmoy's smiles, whether seen in person or preserved for posterity on a photograph, have this brilliant radiance about them, like the sun; ah, but this one has something else also, it has the softness of a candle drawing a moth towards an infinite source, no compulsion to enter, just a Master showing his wares of Infinity and leaving the door open for me to claim them...Very good! he smiled, reaching into a bag and handing me a giant cookie.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Hiyamallar opening the door, just in case I decided to stay there forever. Poor Hiyamallar, having to deal with unreasonably blissed-out people all the time. Once outside, I suddenly became aware of this giant hunk of something inside me, this hunk of piece and light that felt almost solid, that Sri Chinmoy had obviously just given to me, and that somehow sat there, too big for me to digest in one go. Sri Chinmoy has frequently written about the need after meditation to "assimilate" what you have gained through meditation by being in a soulful frame of mind for some time afterwards; this to me was such a tangible example of what he meant. Of course, I say all this with the benefit of hindsight. Did I retire to a lakeside park surrounded by autumnal glory and remain in said soulful frame of mind? Did I go home and sing a few soulful bhajans to enhance this meditative state? Er, no. I handed the shirt to Colm to take home and pegged it down Parsons Boulevard as fast as my little legs would carry me, determined to make the library before it closed. There I was, racing across the street at Hillside at sunset and at the same time trying to stay in the heart and assimilate. Don't try it at home, kids, that's all I can say.
I was rather fortunate there was a big queue for the computers and I could close my eyes and meditate. Soon enough, my turn came at the computers. From a public library in Queens, I can access a supercomputer in Dublin, make modifications to my code, and start the jobs running just as surely as if I were back home. Familiarity with technology does breed contempt, yet I can't get over the fact that you can actually do something like that. It's an amazing world.
I head back and sit with Colm chatting for a while. He wants to go down to Annam Brahma to get something to eat. I'd like to meditate a little and eat my cookie; I say I'll join him later. Of course, after he goes my eyelids start drooping, and the meditation takes on a slightly more horizontal nature. I don't even bother setting the alarm clock, sure Colm will wake me when he gets back. He does, and he's not best pleased. He had two menus and two glasses of water ordered for me and all. The boy working there asked "Ahh, did he stand you up?". I certainly did. Oh well, he'll get over it.
Fully awoken myself, I go down to Annam Brahma myself to get a bowl of their delicious dahl before making my way to meditation. On Saturday night the local New Yorkers have their weekly meditation, and also people come each weekend from as far afield as Canada, so the place is a little more crowded than usual. These evenings often consist of many activities; but all done in such a way that one can have a continuous meditation the whole way through. Guru is still calling up people by age groups; he remarks that some people in a particular group are not in a soulful state and asks them to please make an effort. He spontaneously composes a couple of songs based on prayers he wrote in China at the start of the year and then asks all the New York singing groups to come up one by one to sing them. A funny interlude is when Arpan's singing group is called- only the bold Arpan is present out of the entire group, and he acquits himself admirably.
Next up are two plays. Databir's plays are always worth watching, not least for the vibrant acting of Databir himself; today he remonstrates with a neighbour over a land dispute and dramatically slams a sword in the fence between them to make his point. That play is followed by a play enacting a scene from the life of the great spiritual Master Troilanga Swami. Then follows the birthday of Akuti, one of the oldest of Sri Chinmoy's students both in age and length of time meditating under his guidance - 90 and 38 years respectively. Guru asks anyone who joined his path under Akuti's guidance to come up. Many well-known students came up; "Akuti's children", Guru sweetly calls them. Arpan is one of those students; every year on Akuti's birthday, he makes giant cookies (yes, more cookies) as prasad for everyone. They were just made today; they're still lovely and soft. Guru has also bought sweets as prasad to celebrate his recent weightlifting feats; childlike joy is had by both Master and student as Guru throws the sweets to us as we walk past him. I catch mine for the first time ever; usually there's an embarrassing scramble under a chair or rug or somewhere awkward to get it. And imagine; after all that there's still the usual prasad to come. Guru always looks after the visitors when they come; there's a hefty big slice of pizza in the prasad. Then Guru stands up, waves to everyone and leaves.
I bump into Asidhari and Dinesha from New Zealand on the way home. The All Blacks are on a rugby tour of Ireland at the moment; I tell Dinesha that all the pubs in Dublin have big signs outside declaring that the New Zealand captain Tana Umaga is barred from their premises for the "spear-tackle" he pulled on Brian O'Driscoll during the Lions Tour some months ago. He replies that the barring didn't stop New Zealand doing the same to another unfortunate Irish player today. Mustering up whatever nationalistic indignance I can, I try to spear-tackle Dinesha, whilst of course still remaining in a most soulful consciousness. I narrowly fail, due to the slight height differential between us (as can be seen from the scale drawing on the right). Might try again tomorrow with Colm's help though. Watch this space.