Self Transcendence Stories
Arpan DeAngelo joined the Sri Chinmoy Centre in 1972. Here he describes the beginning of his running journey, and of widening the boundaries of what he considered possible. This article is quite eye-opening when you consider Arpan went on to run over 200 marathons (many of them under 3 hours), and compete in varous ultradistance races including the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race - the world's longest race - in 2004 and 2012.
When I first came to the Centre as a college student, I had been a gymnast for a few years and could not relate to running. I felt it was meant for track stars who eventually wanted to try to get to the Olympics. Running around the block, slowly and endlessly seemed boring and pointless to me.
But one day some of the guys I was living with on campus asked me to go for a jog on the roads near campus. They said that Sri Chinmoy likes us to stay fit and that running is good for your health and nervous system. So I put on a pair of Converse all-stars sneakers and went out to the half mile point and turned around while they kept on running. I could not believe that they did not turn around as well. They went on to run about three miles which seemed like an Eternity to me.
It took me about a half year to get up to three miles by running one to two miles about three or four times a week. When they asked me to do a three mile open race which meant that it was not for the track or cross country team but for everyone, I almost died from fright. I managed to run the race, walking a bit in the middle of the course due to cramps. I was almost the last one to finish, having to sprint to catch an older professor who was just ahead. I felt like I had won that race just because I actually crossed the finish line and was still alive.
It then took me another two years to get up to four miles. It was in the early seventies when no one even thought of doing marathons except well accomplished long distance runners who were daring enough to do what seemed like the ultimate distance. Of course, little did we know about those brave souls who were running Ultradistance well beyond the 26.2 mile marathons, like Ted Corbitt and Park Barner.
In the Sri Chinmoy Centre, the long distance race until 1975 was a 2 mile race on the track once a year on Sports Day in August. Although Sri Chinmoy himself had only been a track runner and had no long distance experience to speak of yet, he had asked one, only one, of his students to train for the marathon distance. This brother of ours became our running hero. Even Sri Chinmoy would go up to Boston to see him run the marathon. We were in awe when he would tell us of his training runs of 7, 10 and even longer mileages to train for Boston.
In 1975 we held our first long distance race within the Centre, a 7 mile race on the track on Sports Day. I had still only run up to four miles by then but decided to give it a go. I did better than I expected and have been thoroughly hooked on racing since then.
The next year on Sri Chinmoy's Birthday we ran a half-marathon, 13 miles around the lake in Flushing Meadow Park. Some of us had just returned from a 50 State relay run around the United States called Liberty Torch. This was created by Sri Chinmoy as one of the many offerings of his to honor the Bicentennial of the U.S.A. Anyway, the half marathon in August 1976 was called the Madal Marathon and was definitely the next step in self-transcendence in the running world for all of us, except the few more heroic warriors who attempted a marathon that year. There was even a T.V. reporter there to cover the story of this long race in Queens.
It was that same year, 1976, in October that the New York City Marathon changed from a multi-lap race in Central Park to a huge five borough race that a few daring souls from our Centre ran successfully. Needless to say, Sri Chinmoy was thoroughly pleased and even went to see them finish. I had trained for it but unfortunately had an infection in my foot at the time and could not run it. This was quite a disappointment to me. It meant that I had to train for another year and stay in shape to run the next one in 1977.
I did run that New York City Marathon, my first, in 1977 along with about 30 other students of Sri Chinmoy. He again came to honor us and thank us at the end of the race. I was so sore the next day that I felt like I was run over by a truck and decided that marathon running was just too hard and not for me. That was not a very accurate vision of the future for me.
This was indeed a pivotal year for running in the Centre, as the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team was formed, and we held our first ever open public road race. It was a ten miler in Greenwich, Connecticut. It was a hilly course and quite difficult to race. Near the end of the race we passed the ten mile mark with no finish line in sight.
It turns out that the race director back then decided that we needed to have the finish line in the same parking lot as the start so he had to extend the ten mile race to almost ten and a half miles. I sprinted to catch a fellow runner with whom I was unintentionally competing during the whole race. As I nipped him by a step at the finish line, I grabbed my tongue depressor with the number 20 on it. That was the way we were scored back then.
I was so happy that I finished strongly in the very first Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team public race, even though it was only 20th place. It turns out, the top twenty finishers received trophies back then. So I got my inner reward and outer reward for facing the challenges of long distance racing on the roads.
Nowadays it seems that people toss around mileage numbers like they were counting sheep. It is not surprising when a first year runner attempts his first marathon, or a marathoner tries for a multiday race. The multiday racer is now attempting multi week races, and on and on. This is indeed self-transcendence, and Sri Chinmoy is the ultimate hero-inspirer not only in the running world but in many other fields as well.
A Spiritual Father's Love
by Arpan DeAngelo
This spiritual path is based on love. This love has to expand beyond the limits of just human love to a deeper, more profound experience of Reality's true power we call Divine Love. This higher Love can only come from beyond our mind and body, from the soul and our divinized consciousness. Since Sri Chinmoy has mastered all the levels of spirit and consciousness, he therefore is also a master of Love, the Highest Love.
This story is about one sweet and unexpected demonstration of that Love. The date was May 4, 1980. I was about to run the Long Island Marathon in New York. I had been injured with shin splints from training too hard earlier in the year and I stopped running for three weeks prior to this particular marathon so I could recover. I kept in shape by cross-training, using swimming and cycling to stay in shape.
I thought I should not run this race so as not to aggravate my shin condition again. This caused some conflict in my mind because I had been trying to break three hours for the marathon for a few years now. I had gotten within 12 seconds of doing that the past year and now I felt I could really do it in this race. That was until I developed the painful shinsplints.
I had signed up for the race earlier, but now I decided not to do it. The day before the race, something very powerful inside me, call it the soul if you wish, compelled me to go and run the race the next day. No matter how hard I tried to rationalize not doing it, I just could not feel right until I decided to go and run it. My shins were stronger but I felt I lost the speed needed to break 3 hours so perhaps I should not chance reinjuring myself and run a slow time as well. But none of the rationality of the mind was powerful enough as the reality that was compelling me to go and 'just do it'. Some of my friends also tried to convince me not to run it, but to no avail.
The next day, I went to the race with enthusiasm in my heart but a bit of fear in my mind. To ease my mind, I just planned on running the race strategy I had to break 3 hours and forget about my injury which was probably recovered enough now anyway to endure the distance.
Although I started with a bit of pain in my shins and the readiness to drop out at any time if it seemed to get worse, within the first ten miles the pain in my shins gradually went away as I stayed with a group of people going out at a sub 3 hour pace. I was feeling quite strong as I was definitely well rested before the race. So although my shins were a bit weak, I felt that I had the reserve energy and strength to keep it up.
The second ten miles was a bit tougher but I was still quite steady as most of the group I was with slowed down. The last person I was with also dropped back by the 18 mile point. Now I was running alone and this made me a little more apprehensive about what was to come for me even though I had run quite a few marathons in the past years, but none as fast as I was running then. I began to tire by mile 19 and started doubting whether I could actually finish in time or if I would fall apart altogether and do my worst since I had done no long runs in the past month or any running in the past three weeks.
At that critical and confusing juncture, I saw one of my spiritual sisters pointing out that Sri Chnmoy was just ahead sitting and watching the race. He was on the median of the parkway we were running on, sitting by himself with legs dangling like an excited young boy getting a thrill out of seeing so many poeple strive for such a lofty goal to finish a marathon which he himself had run in the past.
I was the first of his students to pass by and he was so happy, smiling and smiling at me. Then as I was passing him quite happy to see him at this critical point with my energy waning and legs hurting, he suddenly put his hand to his mouth and threw me a powerful blessing disguised as if he was blowing me a kiss. It looked like a true father or mother sending all their love in the form of a kiss through the air. It was such a powerful blessing that I could not feel the pain in my body anymore and it was as if I was almost not even touching the ground.
In this semi-floating state of joy, I picked up the pace considerably and began to pass many people who had been ahead of me. I knew I would not keep this up for the last 6 miles or so but I would ride it out as long as possible to insure my sub 3 hour finish. I ended up running 2 hours, 56 min. and 30 seconds. It was my first sub three hour marathon, finally after 10 marathons in two and a half years of running them.
I had never seen this form of blessing by our great and loving Spiritual Father either before that time nor after. I think it was so spontaneous because it was exactly what I needed at that one moment in time. I can never forget the sweetness and innocence with which it was offered yet the power that it had to physically and mentally keep me strong enough to reach what seemed just hours before an unthinkable goal.
In reflecting back on such a sweet yet powerful experience, it is now clear to me that in professing the concept of spiritual progress through self-transcendence, Sri Chnmoy not only practises what he preaches but also never ceases to lovingly and self-givingly help others who sincerely try to transcend themselves.
The Power of Grace
by Purnakama Rajna
I am always amazed how on Sri Chinmoy's path incredible achievers and incredible achievements surround us. So many students run marathons, ultra marathons and multi day races that it becomes commonplace and normal and I almost forget the loftiness of the achievement. It isn’t until I talk with people in my regular work world about some our activities that I realize again how the inner power has created in us such capacity for self-transcendence.
This concept became real for me a couple of years ago when I decided to attempt, at least in part, the Self Transcendence Marathon in August.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a runner. My running is a snail’s pace at best. This has always been a difficult thing for me to accept, especially on this path, surrounded by world-class athletes. I never believed that I could finish a marathon, or even a half marathon, so I never attempted to do either.
After Sri Chinmoy passed away, I was disappointed with myself that I had never attempted a marathon while he was here with us physically, so I decided 2 years after he passed away that I would try, and just see how much I could do.
I made the decision rather late; just 3 weeks before the marathon, so I didn’t have much time to train. I just went out every day and ran. I have no idea how far I actually ran every day, I just ran/walked until I couldn’t anymore. When race day came, I still didn’t know whether I would actually do it or not as doubts were creeping into my mind, but at the appointed time, I showed up at the start line and away I went, buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm of the other runners.
As always I went at my snail’s pace, but I enjoyed the scenery, listening to Sri Chinmoy’s music, and feeling the joy of the other runners. I had no fixed idea of how far I would go, I just decided that I would just go as far as I could.
At around mile 15, it became very clear that I needed to stop. So I did stop, and then remained to help hand out seaweed and tissue salts to the continuing runners. One part of me was happy that I had done as much as I did, because this was an absolute first for me, but another part of me, I think the larger part of me, was disappointed that I could only do 15 miles.
At the end of the race, we all piled back onto the busses, and we arrived back in Queens just in time for me to take a shower and head off to a very intense 3 and a half hour music concert rehearsal, and then prepare for the evening meditation function.
The next morning I woke up feeling quite well and fresh, and just happily went about my day with no after effects of having had a very physically intense day the day before. This made me think that finishing a little more than a half marathon was no big deal, and again I was a little disappointed with myself for not having been able to do more.
After Celebrations, I arrived back in Winnipeg to start my school year. In the staff room there was the usual patter, “So, did you have a good summer? What did you do on your holidays?”
I had one such conversation with a young new teacher on our staff not long after arriving back. She asked me the usual questions of what I had done over the summer and I told her of my usual travels to New York etc. and then I casually said “Oh yeah, and I did a half marathon as well,” not thinking it was really any big deal.
My colleague stood looking at me in disbelief. “Are you serious?” she said. “You did a half marathon?”
I told her that it was really about 15 miles, but yes I had completed a half marathon. Again she looked incredulous.
I asked her why she looked so surprised, after all, I told her, it was only a half marathon, and I felt disappointed that I didn’t finish the full marathon. My colleague was a tiny girl, about 100lbs soaking wet, and she went on to tell me that she trained for a year and a half to do a half marathon, and when she finished she needed 2 days to recuperate.
This time I was the one who looked surprised.
“Really?” I said.
“Really.” She replied.
I went back to my classroom and mulled over our conversation in my head. It was then that I realized what an incredible feat I had accomplished only by grace. What seemed absolutely normal in our spiritual world seemed absolutely incredible to the outside world.
I hope that I never cease to be amazed by what we can accomplish by grace. Such is our incredible world of inner light, energy, and self-transcendence capacity.
The Yellow Hat
Pragati is one of the pioneer women ultradistance runners in the Centre, competing in many multiday events in the 1980's.
Toward the end of one seven-day race, I had a very powerful inner experience while I was out walking at around 3 a.m. Just for a few minutes, I felt that I "became" Guru, that he was inside me. I felt that I was walking the way Guru walks, with his leg problems, and wearing one of his hats that he wears on very cold days, that comes down around his neck—it was yellow. Not with words but in his presence, I felt that Guru was consoling me that injuries were forcing me to walk most of the race.
About two weeks after the race was over, I was out running on the Grand Central Service Road when I saw Guru walking toward me. It was an unseasonably warm morning and Guru was very overdressed. Usually, when you meet Guru out running or walking, he just smiles or waves and then returns to his meditation. But that morning he was looking at me as if he wanted to say something. When we were a few yards from each other, he swung his arm and threw something at me. By some grace, I caught it and saw that it was his hat. In silence I offered him my gratitude. It was not until a block later that I realised that this was the same yellow hat.
by Vasanti Niemz
In 1985, I became by Guru's grace the first disciple to swim the English Channel. (Another disciple did it one day later, much faster; his pilot had wanted to wait one more day for even better weather conditions.) It was a very, very special experience. I could feel the inner and outer support and oneness of so many disciples.
And, as I was told, Guru was sitting at home, meditating for most of the time on my swim, always trying to get information on how I was doing.
I was blessed with an extremely easy swim. When I stepped into the Channel water at Shakespeare Beach at 7 a.m., others told me later, I was full of confidence that I would make it. After six hours into the swim, when I could see both coasts, I had the firm conviction that on the inner plane, it was already done—it just had to be executed outwardly. I felt carried by a wave of inner joy and bliss most of the time. After ten hours, the cross-current set in and it was slowly getting dark. Previously I could not imagine swimming in the dark. I would never have dared to get into pitchblack, unknown water at night. Now, with the gradual transition into night, I felt extremely comfortable.
I enjoyed the star-strewn sky above me each time I took a breath. And when I looked down into the black water—where earlier I had enjoyed watching the dance of the rays of sunlight—I started to see bright light once again. In the midst of the darkness, Guru's face, his Transcendental photograph 2, appeared. Because of the unpredictable, strong cross-current, I had to swim for five hours more, but it did not matter to me. For those hours, I was swimming into the light of the Transcendental, into Guru's infinite consciousness of light and delight, which was right in front of me like an ever-transcending goal.
An Ultra-Distance Experience
I would like to share with you my 48 hour race experience in Cologne from July 9th-11th. It was the third time that I participated in the 48 h. I arrived at race day from Basel, I had to get up at 4 in the morning to take the train, and I arrived at 9 o'clock in Cologne. The weather was just terrible. It was cold, rainy and windy, not like summer at all.
I didn't feel good this morning. I couldn't sleep in the train, so I felt tired and I was worried about my physical condition. I was hardly running since the end of the ten day race in May, because of lack of energy. I did some biking instead, but I was not sure if this would be enough to do a race like this. So my goal for this race was just to survive. I just wanted to take it easy, no expectation at all.
In consideration of my bad condition, I figured out a tactic to eliminate my mind. Right from the beginning I imagined the moment after the race when I go to take a shower. This is the best moment, you are happy that it is over and you are satisfied with what you have achieved. I avoided thinking of what will be in between the start and the end of the race, I just focused on this special moment. And it really worked! I was just enjoying running and I didn't care at all about time or kilometers. Usually I am fixed on my breaks and I am dying for the first sleeping break at night, which I usually take around 1 o'clock. Now an amazing thing happened: I didn't get tired until 5 in the morning. Then I intended to sleep for two hours, but after one hour I woke up and I was totally awake. So I continued.
The weather on the first afternoon was quite discouraging; there were thunderstorms with heavy rain, but luckily it stopped in the evening - at night we had no rain. So far I felt ok, only my thigh muscles felt stiff and sore, but this I could easily manage.
The crisis came at the beginning of the second day, when the 24 h runners started. My legs were still ok, but I didn't have enough energy to run. It took me too much strength to lift up my legs, so I walked for a while and waited for new energy to come. The weather was ok now, it was still quite cool but it was not raining anymore - sometimes the sun was shining. My strength returned in the late afternoon and I started running again, so I ran until I reached 200 km and then I stopped for a rest. It was about 2.30 am. I intended to sleep for three hours but once again I woke up earlier. It was cold and from the heavy rain everything was wet in my tent, so I had no other choice but to get up and to continue.
My legs felt good - it is amazing how the body is able to recover so quickly in these races, sometimes even while running. After one warmup lap I was running again. Now I realised that I could reach 250 km and break even my previous best performance of 251km. That was such a motivation that I focused only on that goal: to get the 250 km flag. (In the lap when you reach 100, 150, 200, 250,...km you get a flag with the kilometers written on it. All the runners and helpers are cheering you. To get a flag is always a big motivation.)
I ran for the last four hours as "fast" as in the beginning, and I felt just great. Finally I got the flag and I broke my previous best with 254.750 km. At the end I was very happy and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Once more I was blessed with God's compassion and grace. I never ever expected to come so far - it was just a gift from above.
During the race I was talking to quite a few runners. It is so interesting to hear the different stories and to exchange experiences. One inspiring story I would like to tell you. It is about a woman named Helga B.
She was once the best German 24h and 48h runner. In 2002 she had an accident with the bicycle. She had to undergo an operation on her right leg and she got a plaster. After awhile she got pain under the plaster. She told the doctors, but they just said that they cannot open it, and gave her some medicine. Finally, when they took away the plaster they saw that the calf muscle was decayed and even the bone was already affected - the plaster was too tight. The doctors didn't want to treat it anymore, and they said that the only thing they can do now is to amputate the lower leg.
Helga didn't want to accept that, and she searched for a doctor who was ready to help her without amputating the lower leg. She found one in another hospital, and she had to undergo several operations. They took away the whole calf muscle. The doctor and the therapist told her that she will never be able to run again. But she didn't want to accept that either, and she tried and trained until she was able to run. Now she runs again.
Before this 48 h race she already participated in another race and completed 100km in 24 h. She said that for her the most important thing is to be able to run again and to participate in these ultra races. That's her life - it's what she loves to do. She also said that only because she did these races before, she had the strength and the willpower to go through all this and not to give up. Finally she completed 190 km, which is absolutely amazing. You have to imagine that when one muscle is missing, everything is unstable.
The 48h from Cologne was once more a big challenge for everybody: for the runners, for the organizers and for the helpers. Perhaps the runners do not show their gratitude to the helpers openly because they are concentrated on their running, but I assure you that we all deeply appreciate the enthusiastic, friendly and self-giving support of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team. All the runners I was talking to, said how perfect the organization was. Now in the name of all the runners I would like to thank all the helpers for their self-giving effort.
A Cycling Experience
by Begabati (United States)
I did the Pepsi 24-hour Bike Marathon in Central Park for several years with the Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team.
We used to practice on the weekends at Flushing Meadow, near where the ultramarathons are now held. Sri Chinmoy would ride and supervise the races. Here in Boston, we would practice by trying to ride a "century" (100 miles) in 8 hours.
On race day, I seem to remember that we had by far the biggest team, and also the best dressed. We would win various places in various age groups and also get the prize for Best Team Uniform!
The race would start at noon around a 5-mile loop in Central Park. Riding around that loop for the afternoon and evening was fun... but then after dark it got less so for the women, because the loop was unlit and surrounded by bushes from which various creatures would creep. (I suspect that was the reason we stopped doing the races after 3 years.)
After 15 hours of nonstop cycling we would be ready to drop off the bike from fatigue. Then the sunrise would come, and with the sun would come renewed energy. From the time the sun came up, it was easy; it felt like it was "all downhill from there" - although actually the course had rolling hills throughout.
There were excellent cyclists, the Italians in particular on their sleek racing bikes, with their well-crafted system of drafting for each other to conserve energy. Then along would come Ashrita, pumping along on his basic bike, beating them all with his sheer muscle power, devotion and divine Grace!
The rest of us, who were not really competing but just trying to stay upright for 24 hours without falling asleep and falling off the bike, had the sweet option of cycling behind Sri Chinmoy, in what felt like the gentle breeze of his wake. One year he did 235 miles in 24 hours and I did 240 because I succumbed to my competitive spirit, then criticised myself for it. The extra 5 miles was not worth missing the experience of being in that lovely stream of energy behind Guru's bike.
After the race he would give out prasad (blessed food), wearing a cycling cap with the brim flipped up in a little semicircle above his face like a rising sun, and sporting a huge smile.
Despite feeling sweaty, sore and exhausted, we would be smiling from ear to ear as well, treasuring those dear experiences in the sunshine with our Guru.
by Prafulla Nocker (Germany)
In my training to cross the English Channel, I decided to swim the length of Zurich Lake—16 miles. The water was very cold, about 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
I greased up and swam for one hour, and was already very cold. I continued swimming, trying to convince my mind that it would get warmer when the sun came up, but when the sun appeared, it was still terribly cold. I was trembling and my legs were so tight that I was afraid I would get a cramp. It was the toughest experience I ever had, but I saw Guru's eyes looking at me, and I felt his tremendous determination and his wish that I finish this swim.
After 12 hours of the hardest struggle, I managed to reach my destination. It showed me that you can do much more difficult things if you do them for Guru than if you do them for yourself. After this experience Guru asked me to gain weight, so I was never cold again while swimming.
The Inner and Outer Helper
by Arpita Stott (Edinburgh, Scotland)
In 1979 I ran the New York Marathon—my first. Guru also ran the marathon that year. At the function the night before, Guru gave bee pollen for prasad, which I ate immediately. I felt a tremendous buzz of energy and never slept a wink all night.
I felt very tired on the morning of the marathon, but I was happy and excited to be running. However, it was very, very hot, and I started struggling after 10 miles. By the time I reached the bridge at 15 miles, I was ready to lie down and die. All my energy was drained from my body, I couldn't put one foot in front of the other, and I was thinking of dropping out.
At this point I heard Guru's voice say very powerfully, "Do not give up! Do not give up!" I also saw a mental image of Guru running ahead of me. I started walking over the bridge and picked up my running again. With about six miles to go, I was wondering how I was going to finish, when one of the official helpers cycled up to me and asked if I was all right.
"I'm really hot and I need a drink," I gasped. Water was fetched and for the rest of the marathon, this helper kept checking on me to see if I was still OK.
When I finished, he came up to me and said, "Congratulations, you finished! I didn't think you would make it." So for my first marathon, I had an inner and outer helper — perhaps they were one and the same!
Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team
Tejvan Pettinger - Oxford
"When you can race at that intensity, being completely detached from thoughts, you feel you are giving your best performance. Some of my most disappointing results come when the mind gets distracted and I start thinking and doubting myself.
I wouldn’t say racing with a clear mind is like meditation. There is a great pain in the body and part of you is screaming for it to end, but it feels that with a silent mind you can maximise your limited energy; it also feels an exhilarating experience – at least when you collapse over the finish line."
Abhejali Bernardova Channel Swim
On 11 July 2011, Abhejali Bernardova from Czech Republic swum the English Channel in a time of 14 hours and 37 minutes. Abhejali is the 27th member of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team to complete the crossing and the 42nd solo swim overall – the record for the most Channel crossings by any team.
Abhejali was assisted by support crew Jayalata Dadkovicova, Ritadyumna Tobolkova, Lenka Svecova, Jana Bernardova (Abhejali’s sister) from Czech Republic and Dhavala Stott from Scotland, on the Seafarer II boat piloted by Chris Osmond.
- Sports and Self-Transcendence at Sri Chinmoy Centre