Friday 18th - Transcendence in Action
...it really becomes clear how much Ashrita has brought the message of self-transcendence and going beyond your own boundaries to the world...
It is going to be a busy day today. After meditation, I have to buy water for Colm. He’s running with Unnatishil as he attempts another one of his 42 marathons; they are running around the course used for the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race every year. He has been out on the course almost an hour by the time I get there; says he feels good.
Then I'm going to help the Oneness-Heart Tears and Smiles humanitarian organisation. Since 1990 this organisation has been responding to requests for humanitarian assistance from around the globe, sending specific medicinal, educational and other items to the places where they are needed. Some novel programmes run by the organisation include the Kids-to-Kids programme, where school children in one country assemble basic aid kits for use by children in another country, and the 'Drawings of Hope' programme, where children from all around the world, in an expression of empathy and solidarity, drew pictures to send to the children of Aceh who had lost loved ones as a result of the tsunami. Today I am helping them unload a garage of clothes educational and medical equipment, and sorting it out into things that can be sent off today.
I have to leave at nine; I promised Bipin I’d help him out. Aspiration-Ground is dotted with statues of inspirational spiritual figures; many of the more delicate ones have to be moved indoors before the onset of snow in about a week’s time. In particular some of them are made of plaster and were probably made for indoor use; the plaster is a little bit wet and crumbly so we have to exercise particular care. One of them is so big, we have to leave it there and construct a temporary wigwam to cover it (see right). The rest we're moving to a garage just down the road, and unfortunately a car is still stuck in the driveway, lengthening the distance we have to carry them. It takes four of us to carry them; the serene expressions on their faces are in polar contrast to the red-faced huffing and puffing of their carriers.
Guru arrives at Aspiration-Ground for a short while: brief meditation, gives prasad and goes. Colm returns from his run just in time to catch the end of meditation; he ended up running 50k overall, longer than he has ever run before. He says he feels fine (he certainly looks fine in that photo on the left), and he’s glad there’s still a lot of the day left so he can walk around and keep himself from cramping up.
Run back up to the Oneness-Heart Tears and Smiles garage; all the stuff is out now and they’re just cataloguing and labelling things, in particular checking the expiry date of the medicines so that we don’t give people supplies that are out of date! Have to be back at Aspiration-Ground at three; the last of the statues are being unloaded. Thankfully there’s no car in the driveway this time. Then back to help with the humanitarian work. By now everything is sorted into things that are being sent out today and those that will be sent out at a later date. The goods have a ready recipient who is working on a project in Guatemala; we just have to wait for them to show up. It is rather close to the evening meditation function, and there is a bit of discussion over whether we will be able to make the start of it, there just seems so much to load onto the truck when it does get here, it could take forever. I wander away briefly to get my bag; when I return, the loading is underway. The guys from the receiving organisation are really cheerful, and what to us seemed like and an enormous pile of stuff is packed away in twenty minutes. It really goes to show what can happen when you stop doubting and start doing. We share some pizza with the guys and chat a bit. Then a quick shower and change and off to the function.
Due to the numbers coming to New York from far afield at the weekends, the evening meditations for today and tomorrow are being held in a local hall about twenty minutes from here. As soon as I walk in the door I love the place; such a nice cosy feeling. At the start of the function three sisters are invited up to perform; the eldest, Bhoiravi, is a veritable prodigy on the violin. It runs in the family; a couple of weeks previously their mother, Shamita, set a Guinness World record by playing the cello for twenty-four hours.
But this performance is but a hors d’oeuvre to the main purpose of the function. The night is given over in honour of Ashrita Furman, a long-time student of Sri Chinmoy, celebrating his achievement of 100 Guinness world records. First Guru asks for people who can read sheet music to come up. Well, I can read it for playing harmonium and flute and such, but I’ve a suspicion Guru means something a little more than that...in any case, I decide to take Guru’s words at face value, standing well at the back of the group just in case. Sure enough, there are sheets of music handed out which we’ll all have to sing straight from the sheet...well, Shane, I tell myself, you knew it was going to happen and you went up anyway. There are three beautiful songs on the sheet that Guru has written in honour of Ashrita in the past. The third song is a song Guru wrote in China after Ashrita broke the record for five miles on stilts that had previously remained standing for over 100 years! The singing starts; quite a few people are in the same boat as me I think, the singing isn’t exactly a technical tour de force. The esteem we hold Ashrita in is present in our voices though, and I don’t think Ashrita minds the occasional wobble, he’s just sitting there meditating like anything.
After that, Guru spontaneously composes another song honouring Ashrita in English. Guru invites Ashrita to read out a list of his records and all the places in the world where he has broken them; the list reads like a compendium of all the major cities and places of interest on every continent, including Antarctica. Many of them have a very childlike quality about them; for example, Ashrita has the record for the fastest mile pushing an orange along the ground with his nose and another record for the most amount of pogo jumps performed in a minute whilst carrying a dog. We then see a video compilation of all his records and media appearances; watching this, it really becomes clear how much Ashrita has brought the message of self-transcendence and going beyond your own boundaries to the world. There is a particularly nice clip where Ashrita is being interviewed by the legendary comedian Bill Cosby; Ashrita tells him he has the perfect head for milk-bottle balancing and proceeds to demonstrate it by placing the bottle on top of his head. Bipin also comes up for a mention; he has given Ashrita so much support over the years.
Sri Chinmoy then honours Ashrita in the typical Indian fashion by placing a huge garland of flowers around his neck, calling him a “world-adventurer-surpriser-astonisher-emperor”. On being told that a couple of those words don’t strictly exist in the English language, Guru's smiling response is “so I’ll coin them then”. Then we partake of a huge prasad consisting of many traditional Indian delicacies, some of which were made by Sri Chinmoy himself in his own kitchen, before leaving home with full stomachs and hearts.