Sri Chinmoy on the best attitude to take towards competition
About the author:
Nirbhasa is originally from Ireland but currently lives in Reykjavik, Iceland. He is an enthusiastic multi-day runner, having twice completed both the Ten Day Race and the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race - the longest race in the world.
The philosophy behind Sri Chinmoy’s races is one of self-transcendence - getting joy by transcending one’s own capacities. However, he felt that competitive races did have their own value, provided it was done in the proper spirit. Here are some of his writings on the best frame of mind to approach competition:
In competitive sports, our primary aim should be not to surpass others but constantly to surpass ourselves. In the outer life, when we run with our friends, we are seeing who is actually the best. And we cannot properly evaluate our own capacity unless we have some standard of comparison. But we compete not for the sake of defeating others, but in order to bring forward our own capacity. Our best capacity comes forward only when there are other people around us. They inspire us to bring forward our utmost capacity, and we inspire them to bring forward their utmost capacity. This is why we have competitive sports.
The value of competition is that you will try to transcend your capacity. If you lose to somebody after trying your best, it is absolutely immaterial. But if you don’t make progress even here on the physical plane, then you won’t try to make progress on the spiritual plane. At that time you will say, “I get up at 7:00 or 8:00 and then once in a blue moon I meditate. Who is going to see?” If you are sincere about making progress on the spiritual plane, then you can start your sincerity with the physical plane. Then the progress you make will spread to the mind and to the heart. I wish to say that there is nothing wrong with a competitive spirit, provided it is competitive in a good sense. You are competing with yourself.
While competing with others,
We see that our competition
Is actually with ourselves.
I always say that the goal is not static; the goal is an ever-transcending reality. Satisfaction is our goal, but we see that the goal itself is climbing high, higher, highest and running far, farther, farthest and diving deep, deeper, deepest.
A child's goal is to learn the alphabet. Then his goal becomes kindergarten, primary school, high school and college. And when he completes his university course, if he is sincere, he comes to realise that there is much more, infinitely more, for him to learn. Once a university student was boasting of his achievements. He said to Mother Earth, "I have completed my course. So look at me, look at what I have achieved." But Mother Earth said, "My son, you have just learnt the first letter of the alphabet. Now sit down and learn the rest."
The goal is constantly going high, higher, highest. Whatever we achieve can be today's goal, but it can never be tomorrow's goal. Tomorrow's goal is something infinitely higher, infinitely more illumining and infinitely more fulfilling. Perfection, which is satisfaction, is nothing short of constant self-transcendence. So here I wish to say that we do compete, but we compete with ourselves, with our own achievements, not with others.
The above writings were taken from Sri Chinmoy’s books The inner meaning of sport, A Twentieth Century Seeker, The body: humanity's fortress and Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees
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Sri Chinmoy answers questions on the connection between Sport and Meditation
Question: How can sport and meditation be combined?
Sri Chinmoy: Our philosophy does not negate either the outer life or the inner life. Most human beings negate the inner life. They feel that the inner life is not important as long as they can exist on earth. Again, there are a few who think that the outer life is not necessary. They feel that the best thing is to enter into the Himalayan caves and lead a life of solitude, since the outer life is so painful and full of misunderstanding.
We do not believe in living either a life of solitude or an ordinary human life - the so-called modern life that depends on machines and not on the inner reality, the soul. We try to synthesize and harmonise the outer life and the inner life. The outer life is like a beautiful flower and the inner life is its fragrance. If there is no fragrance, then we cannot appreciate the flower. Again, if there is no flower, how can there be any fragrance? So the inner life and the outer life must go together.
The body is like a temple and the soul or inner reality is like the shrine inside the body-temple. If the temple does not have a shrine, then we cannot appreciate the temple. Again, if we do not keep the temple in good condition, then how can we take proper care of the shrine? We have to keep the body fit, and for this, running is of considerable help. If we are physically fit, then we will be more inspired to get up early in the morning to meditate. True, the inspiration to meditate comes from within, but if we are healthy, then it will be much easier for us to get up at five or six o'clock to pray and meditate. In this way the inner life is being helped by the outer life. Again, if we are inspired to get up early to meditate, then we will also be able to go out and run. Here we see that the outer life is being helped by the inner life.
Both outer running and inner running are important. A marathon is twenty-six miles. Let us say that twenty-six miles is our ultimate goal. When we first take up running, we cannot run that distance. But by practising every day we develop more stamina, speed and perseverance. Gradually we transcend our limited capacity, and eventually we reach our goal. In the inner life our prayer and meditation is our inner running. If we pray and meditate every day, we increase our inner capacity. The body's capacity and the soul's capacity, the body's speed and the soul's speed, go together. The outer running reminds us of something higher and deeper - the soul - which is running along Eternity's Road. Running and physical fitness help us both in our inner life of aspiration and in our outer life of activity.
Question: Many great athletes tell of having experiences of higher consciousness in the form of visions of their performances or oneness with the elements. Where do these experiences come from?
Sri Chinmoy: It is not because these athletes are very spiritually developed that they are having higher experiences. Many people practise spirituality and do not get them. Sometimes it happens that God tries to inspire people in a very special way, at a very special hour. These athletes have killed themselves practising sports for so many years, and now God wants to show them that there are higher realities in life. He wants to tell them: "Do not halt, do not stop here! Now you are doing something for name and fame. If you come in first, you will get joy, and if you come in last, you will feel miserable. But there is another world. In that world, even while you are doing something, you get tremendous joy. Here you are thinking that there are so many things you have to do, so many things in front of you, and you feel that you cannot do them all. But in that other world, you will not only be able to do many more things at one time, but you will also get joy while you are doing those things. You will not have to wait for the results to get joy."
The spiritual life is like that. People who pray and meditate most soulfully get tremendous joy while they are praying and meditating. They do not expect to get some result at the end of two or three hours which will make them happy. Praying and meditating itself gives them joy.
Question: What does your slogan mean: "Run and Become, Become and Run?"
Sri Chinmoy: If we run, we see our capacities becoming fully manifested. Previously our capacities were dormant; they didn't function inside us. But when we run, we bring to the fore our hidden capacities and are able to do something and become something. But once we have become something, that is not the end. Still we have to go forward, because we are eternal pilgrims. Everything in us is transcending. It is like a child. To learn the alphabet is his first goal. He studies and learns it. But will he then give up? No. His second goal is to go to school. Then he wants to go to college. A runner brings forward his capacity and becomes something. Then he looks around and sees some champion runners, and he gets the inspiration to try to become an excellent runner like they are. Perhaps he will one day excel and go beyond them. So there are always higher goals even after we have become something. Once we reach our first goal, we have to run towards a higher goal.
Question: As a meditation teacher, why do you encourage sporting activities?
Sri Chinmoy: I encourage and inspire my students to organize and participate in triathlons, long-distance races and short-distance races precisely because I feel that the world needs dynamism. The outer world needs dynamism and the inner world needs peace. We are all seekers; so we pray and meditate in order to have peace. Again, we feel that if we can be dynamic, then we will be able to accomplish much in our outer life. To be dynamic we need physical fitness at every moment, and running helps us considerably to keep physically fit. Also, running reminds us of our eternal journey in which we walk, march and run along Eternity's Road to our eternal Goal.
How Meditation helps Sport
Question: Does inner running help our outer running?
Sri Chinmoy: Our inner running definitely helps us in our outer running. Through prayer and meditation, we can develop intense will power, and this will power can help us do extremely well in our outer running. Meditation is stillness, calmness, quietness, while the running consciousness is all dynamism. Again, the runner's outer speed has a special kind of poise or stillness at its very heart. We can bring this stillness to our outer life. Poise is an unseen power, and this unseen power is always ready to come to the aid of the outer runner.
Question: Does an athlete who has spiritual purity have greater capacity than an athlete who does not care for the spiritual life?
Sri Chinmoy: Suppose there are two athletes who, on the physical plane, have the same standard. If you are pure and the other is impure, what will happen? If you really have the same standard, then definitely you will be able to defeat the impure one. As soon as you touch the shot, you will be able to control your vital thoughts, mental thoughts and physical thoughts. But when the other one holds it, he will look around to see if others are looking at him. When he is thinking of the audience, some of his strength goes away. As soon as he identifies himself with the audience, what he gets is their worries, anxieties and tension. But when you are throwing, as soon as you hold the shot, there is only you and God. You are not allowing your vital to come forward. You don't open the physical door. You don't open the mental door. Purity is your bodyguard. It does not allow any wrong force to come. You have no idea who is good, who is bad, who is your enemy. Your purity-guard is very strict. It will not allow anything wrong to enter into your mind. So if one athlete has the same capacity as someone else, the one who is purer is bound to win, because he will not allow himself to be attacked by outside forces at the time of competition.
Question: Does the spiritual life actually change the physical form?
Sri Chinmoy: Yes, the spiritual life does change the physical form if while practising spirituality you care for the physical. There are many spiritual Masters who practise spirituality and also care for the physical. I am one of those. Even while I was in India I took regular physical exercise as well as meditating. Again, there are many Masters who don't care for the physical.
The spiritual life does have the capacity to change the physical, but if we do not consciously use the spiritual life to help the body, then naturally the body will respond only to a limited extent. It depends on the seeker - whether he wants his spiritual life to enter into his body-consciousness or whether he wants to have two separate existences. I feel that the two should go together. But again, it is useless if the body becomes strong, but one is not aspiring. The body and soul have to go simultaneously on the spiritual journey.
How Sport helps Meditation
Question: Does the concentration that athletes use help them in any way spiritually?
Sri Chinmoy: Although their concentration is in the physical plane and the vital plane and not in the psychic plane, still it does help. It is a power, like money-power, which can be applied to any purpose. But if you want to buy something subtle, with money-power you cannot do it. For subtle things you need a different type of concentration. There is a great difference between psychic concentration and physical or vital concentration. Psychic concentration is really difficult - much more difficult than physical or vital concentration. It is like the elder brother. But the younger brother can definitely help the elder brother. The concentration-power that you learn from athletics will definitely add to your psychic concentration. And if someone has psychic concentration as well as physical concentration, vital concentration and mental concentration, then that person can easily be a great champion in the athletic world as well as in the spiritual world.
Question: How can we effectively channel physical energy into spiritual energy?
Sri Chinmoy: We have to know that physical energy has only one source, and that source is spiritual energy. As long as we remain in the body-consciousness, we are not aware of this. But when we go deep within, we see that spiritual energy is the source of physical, vital and mental energy. When spiritual energy enters into the physical, it becomes somewhat polluted. It is unable to maintain its pristine purity. What we need is purity on the inner plane and dedication on the outer plane. Inner purity we can get through aspiration, and outer dedication comes through gradual inner purification and inner awareness. When we have both inner purity and outer dedication, then spiritual energy enters into physical energy, and physical energy at that time becomes an added strength to spiritual energy.
Question: How can we benefit spiritually from training for and running marathons?
Sri Chinmoy: The marathon is a long journey. Of course, there is also the ultramarathon, but the marathon is unique and it will always remain unparalleled among long-distance runs. Just as the marathon is a long journey on the outer plane, so is spirituality a long, longer, longest journey on the inner plane. Your own spiritual run is birthless and deathless; it is endless.
When you run a marathon, you are trying to accomplish on the physical plane something most difficult and arduous. When you do this, it gives you joy because it reminds you of what you are trying to accomplish on the inner plane. As you are determined to complete the longest journey on the outer plane, the marathon, so are you determined to reach the Goal in your inner journey. The one journey will always remind you of the other. The outer journey will remind you of your inner journey toward God-realisation, and the inner journey will remind you of your outer journey toward God-manifestation.
Question: What are the best qualities of running as opposed to playing tennis?
Sri Chinmoy: Running reminds us of our inner journey, which is ahead of us. The goal is ahead and we are running towards the goal. It is a great feeling, which eventually grows into a great achievement. Playing tennis reminds us of being an instrument. The tennis ball is a self-giving instrument, always trying to please us in our own way. Whichever way we want to strike it, the tennis ball listens to us. Tennis reminds us of a divine goal, which is to become a perfect instrument of God and to please God in His own Way, and running reminds us of our continuous journey along Eternity's Road toward the destined goal. Tennis and running are like two paths going to the same goal; they both ultimately reach the goal, but they reach it from different directions.
Question: Does the triathlon have any spiritual or symbolic significance?
Sri Chinmoy: Swimming reminds us of our spiritual life. Right now we are swimming in the sea of ignorance, but we are praying to our Beloved Supreme and meditating on Him to be able to swim in the sea of Light and Delight. Running reminds us of our birthless and deathless journey along Eternity's Road.
While we are cycling, we are reminding ourselves of evolution, of how the world is evolving in cycles. When we think of our planet, we think of a wheel turning; our life also is evolving like a wheel. Once upon a time, in the hoary past, we lived in an era of truth. Now we are living in an era of falsehood. There was a time when truth reigned supreme, but now we see at every moment and every place that falsehood is reigning supreme. Our goal is to bring back again the golden age in which truth will be our inner guide and will reign supreme.
I appreciate and admire the athletes who have tremendous capacity in these three major events: running, cycling and swimming. Each event is so significant. We want to swim in the sea of Light and Delight and not in the sea of ignorance-night. We are running along Eternity's Road. And in the process of evolution, our life-process, our life-energy - everything - is spinning so fast. The faster we can go, the sooner we will be able to have outer success and inner progress. And with our outer success and inner progress, we will be able to arrive at our goal infinitely faster than otherwise.
Question: What is a winning attitude?
Sri Chinmoy: A winning attitude, from the spiritual point of view, is a self-giving attitude. If you have a sincere self-giving attitude, then you are more than ready to conquer your own ignorance. In ordinary human life we try to win by defeating others. In the spiritual life we try to win by conquering the unaspiring and the undivine in ourselves. The winning attitude is our eagerness to conquer the qualities that are not willing to progress.
Question: What is the spiritual purpose of competitive sports?
Sri Chinmoy:Our aim is not to become the world's best athlete. Our aim is to keep the body fit, to develop dynamism and to give the vital innocent joy. Our aim should not be to surpass others but to cnstantly surpass our own previous achievements. We cannot properly evaluate our own capacity unless er have some standard of comparison. Therefore, we compete not for the sake of defeating others but in order to bring forward our own capacity. Our best capacity comes forward only when there are other people around us. They inspire us to bring forward our utmost capcity, and we inspire them to bring forward their utmost capcity. This is why we have competitive sports.
Always there should be a goal. Having a goal does not mean that we have to try to defeat the world's top runners, far from it. In the spiritual life, there is no competition. But there is something which is very essential, necessary and inevitable, which we call progress. Our goal should be our own progress, and progress itself is the most illumining experience.
Let us say that we want to make progress; we want to transcend ourselves. Now, if somebody else is with us, immediately his mind or our mind will think that we are competing. In the ordinary life, we compete with others to gain supremacy. But in the spiritual life, we are not in competition with others. We are only trying to transcend our own capacity.
We can think of ourselves as two halves: imperfection is one half, and our sincere cry for perfection is the other half. One side is weakness, and the other side is strength. With our inner cry for perfection, let us run towards our destination and reach the illumination-shore. When our being is fully illumined, then dark, ignorant forces are afraid to come near us. Before we reach the destination, they challenge us. But once we reach the illumination-destination, the ignorant forces do not dare enter into us because they feel that they will be totally destroyed. They do not know that they will only be transformed and illumined.
Question: Would you say that today people are turning to running as a kind of supplement to their spiritual lives?
Sri Chinmoy: You are using the term "spirituality." But in this case, let us use the term "happiness". Many people have discovered that running is a most effective way to bring about happiness. Running demands not only the fitness of the body but the fitness of the vital, mind and heart as well. Sometimes the body is fit enough to run, but the mind is not ready. Sometimes the mind wants to run, but the body does not want to cooperate. When it is a matter of running, all the "members of the family" - the body, vital, mind and heart - have to work together. Through running, the soul wants to offer a feast to all its children. Its joy will not be complete if even one member - the body, vital, mind or heart - does not participate. What running is doing is keeping the body, vital, mind and heart fit so that the soul can get complete happiness.
Question: Can running help get rid of frustration and anger?
Sri Chinmoy: Running is an excellent way to rid oneself of frustration and anger. If you are really angry with someone, go and run. After a mile or so you will see that your anger has gone away, either because you are totally exhausted or because the satisfaction that you gain from physical exertion has replaced your anger. In India one of my mentors used to say that if we were angry, we should jog in place. Instead of telling us to pray to God to take away our anger, he told his students to jog. He always said that we didn't have to cover any distance - just jog in place. Within a minute or two all our anger would go away. He knew that running could be an effective method of ridding ourselves of negative emotions.
Question: For a serious runner, is there any difference between aspiration and ambition?
Sri Chinmoy: There is a great difference between aspiration and ambition. If a runner wants to exert himself to his utmost capacity and reach his best running speed, then that is his aspiration. But when there is ambition, immediately a kind of rivalry starts. Ambition wants to be the best in everything, but aspiration is different. It says, "I will do my best and run regularly. But the result, the achievement, will be entirely at the Feet of the Supreme."
Question: How important is it for a spiritual aspirant to remain physically fit?
Sri Chinmoy: Physical fitness is of great importance in our life. If the body is in good condition, then we can perform all our life-activities well. So it is important to run or do physical exercises every day in order to become strong, healthy and dynamic. If we are physically fit, we will be able to keep ailments and other uninvited guests from entering into us.
In the past, people cared for the fitness of the body because they knew that if they had a healthy body, then they would be able to stay on earth longer. If they were spiritual people, they felt that a healthy body would enable them to continue praying and meditating for many more years. Today also we know that if the body is full of sickness, then we will not be able to pray and meditate well.
We have the body and we have the soul. A spiritual person has to give equal importance to both the body and the soul. If he pays attention only to the body, if he becomes physically strong but spiritually very weak, then for him there will be no peace of mind or inner happiness. Again, if he pays attention only to prayer and meditation and neglects the body, then his body will not be a fit instrument to reveal and manifest God. In the morning he will try to pray to God, but he will have to stop because he has a headache, upset stomach and so forth.
If someone does not get any exercise at all, then the physical will remain unlit, lethargic and a real hindrance to the aspirant. If the physical consciousness does not aspire, it will remain separated from the soul. Then rest assured, you will never be able to achieve perfection. The physical has to aspire in its own way to increase its capacity so that it can hold light. Then the physical will contribute to the spiritual and you will be able to aspire and manifest much more.
So physical fitness and spirituality must go together. It is like having two legs. With one leg I cannot walk; I need two legs to reach my destination.
Just as an outer runner
Daily practises and practises
To run his fastest race,
Even so an inner runner
Must sleeplessly practise and practise
To reach his highest height.
Question: What do you think is the best attitude for an athlete to have during training and during competition?
Sri Chinmoy: The athlete, during practice, should feel that he is preparing himself to become a beautiful flower. Then, at the time of competition, he has to feel that he has grown into the beautiful flower and now is all ready to place himself at the Feet of his Lord Supreme. But I am talking about the seeker-athlete. If the athlete is not a seeker, then he has to feel that there is a special day for each and every thing in life. To observe that special day, we have to prepare ourselves for a long time. It is like a final examination. At the time of the final examination, we see the results of our preparation. An athlete cannot maintain his seriousness, his willingness and his enthusiasm at the same level throughout the year. So on one particular day, the day of competition, he can maintain all the good qualities that are needed to prove to the world at large that he is an excellent athlete.
Question: How can we sustain enthusiasm and freshness in our training and keep it from becoming tedious and boring?
Sri Chinmoy: We can prevent training from becoming tedious and boring if we keep in mind that running is nothing short of a newly-blossomed flower which we are placing each day at the Feet of our Beloved Supreme. We have to feel that this newly-blossomed flower is our soul's daily awakening, a self-giving reality that each day we are offering to our Beloved Supreme. If we can maintain this experience while running, then we will never find our training tedious or boring.
Another way to sustain freshness and enthusiasm in our training is to have a sense of a clear, meaningful and fruitful goal. If we keep in mind this meaningful and fruitful goal, then enthusiasm and freshness will automatically dawn. If we value the goal, then the goal itself will give us enthusiasm and freshness. We are not aware of our goal's conscious eagerness to help us reach it.
The mother will stand at a particular place and wait for the child to come crawling or running toward her. But the mother is not only passively waiting and observing; she also has tremendous eagerness for the child to reach her. If the mother sees that the child is trying but not succeeding, she will come running toward the child. Similarly, in the inner world the goal actually comes toward the runner. If we value the goal and feel that the goal is something worthwhile, if we feel that it has boundless things to offer us, then naturally the goal itself will inwardly help us. The goal does not want us always to feel that it is a far cry; it wants us to reach it.
Question: Sometimes I feel like going out for a run, but something inside holds me back. It's like an inner battle going on. Yet when I do run I feel very happy.
Sri Chinmoy: We are composed of the body, the vital, the mind, the heart and the soul. These parts are members of the same family. They are supposed to go together. The eldest brother is the soul. Then comes the heart, then the mind, then the vital, then the body. If they stand in line, one after the other, then the soul will be able to pull them - like string. If they are lined up in this way, then it will be very easy for the soul to pull them along.
Unfortunately, it does not happen this way. The soul will go first, but the heart will not be there. Then with greatest difficulty, the soul will run to find where the heart is hiding. Meanwhile, the mind becomes rebellious and revolts. It says, "No, I won't go behind you." Then the vital becomes absolutely stubborn. It says, "No, I am not going at all!"
What will the body do? The poor body wants to go, but it is not getting any inspiration because the vital and mind are not supporting it. The body wants to go with the soul, so that the outer running will go along with the inner running. But the body sees that the mind does not want to go, the vital does not want to go and the heart does not want to go. Then the body starts doubting if it is doing the right thing. The body says, "If I am doing the right thing in following the soul, then how is it that the heart and the mind, my elder brothers, are not doing it? Perhaps I am not doing the right thing. Perhaps the soul is not telling me the right thing."
If the soul says to pray and meditate, it will be very easy for the body to believe. That is because as soon as we say 'soul', we think of God. We think that inside the soul is God, or that inside God is the soul; the soul and God go together. God has given the message of the inner and outer running to the soul. Now the soul is trying to bring the younger members - the heart, mind, vital and body - along with it. But when the heart, mind and vital do not join with the soul, then suspicion starts in the physical consciousness.
Early in the morning, first the heart says, "Why go out and run? It is time to pray and meditate." Then, after a few minutes, this same heart will have no more energy left to pray and meditate. It will say, "Let me go back to sleep." Then the mind is such a rogue! Whenever the heart is not in tune with the soul, at that time the mind listens to the heart and fully supports the heart. When this kind of separation starts, it is extremely difficult for the body to achieve anything here on earth, on the physical plane.
Question: How can I go faster? I find it so uninspiring to run slowly.
Sri Chinmoy: To a great extent, speed in running starts with the mind. You have to develop more imagination. Imagine that you are running fast and appreciate your speed. Then let the thrill and joy that you get from your imagination inundate you. This joy will increase your speed. You can also think of some people who really do run fast and try to identify yourself with them.
In your case, you do not have to look very far. Your husband runs much faster than you do. You have seen him running fast many times, so you can identify your legs with his. The next time you go running, as soon as you start, feel that you have borrowed his legs and from then on, whenever you want to run, feel that you will be able to use his legs.
This is all based on imagination. Of course, you can take quite a few exercises to increase your speed. Limbering and stretching exercises will help a little. But imagination plays a great role in increasing speed.
Question: Some days I run much better and faster than others. How can I remain cheerful about my running on days when I cannot run my fastest?
Sri Chinmoy: Your running capacity changes every day because every day you are in a different consciousness. One day you feel light. One day you feel heavy. One day you feel inspiration and another day you feel no inspiration. But once you have been running for a while, you will have developed a basic running capacity, and this capacity will determine how fast you can run even on your slow days. If you can run a seven-minute mile, then one day if you are not in a dynamic mood, you will go at a nine or ten-minute pace. You will not go at a fourteen or fifteen-minute pace. Even on your worst day, you are not going to run slower than a nine or ten-minute pace.
On a slow day, if you want to maintain the same joy that you have when you are running well, you can play a trick on yourself. Imagine that instead of being forced to run at a ten-minute pace that day, you decided to run at that pace. If you feel that you are compelled to run slowly, then you will feel that your freedom has gone away, and you don't want to be anybody's slave. But if you feel that it was you who commanded your body to go at a ten-minute pace, then you won't feel miserable. Right from the beginning, if you feel that it was your decision to run at that speed, you will be as happy as if you were running at a seven-minute pace.
Question: Sometimes when I start to run I get angry, even furious.
Sri Chinmoy: See if you have had enough rest. Perhaps you are compelling the body to run, but the body is not cooperating because you have not had sufficient sleep on those days. You have a very mild and kind nature, so I think that you are not getting enough rest at night. Then the following morning you curse yourself and ask yourself why you are running. You need more rest to calm your nerves.
The divine meaning of competition
Is the manifestation of soulfulness In the outer life.
The supreme meaning of competition
Is the perfection of oneness In the inner life.
Question: How careful should I be about choosing a running coach? What qualities should I look for?
Sri Chinmoy: Some coaches know many things worth learning, but they lead a very undivine life. If a coach has some spirituality in him along with his coaching capacity, then consider him. However, even if he is a good coach, if he is also full of aggressive, lower vital qualities, then be careful. Indirectly or unconsciously you will invite his undivine qualities into your own life.
We unconsciously try to emulate people. Many, many students ruin their lives when they are learning something from their teachers. A teacher may be good in his specific field, but when students become enamoured of the teacher's capacities and the teacher is not spiritual in the vast sense of the term, then unconsciously the students suffer. They lose their ideals. That is why very often I do not advise my students to take special instruction.
You have to be very careful and determine how much you can learn from a teacher without affecting your spiritual life. If you are very good in the spiritual life and start learning from a coach who is not very spiritual, even though you may start shining in your outer running, your life may be adversely affected. It may happen that your goal in life becomes totally different and you start to ignore your spiritual life. That would be a bad mistake. But again, you may be lucky enough to get a good coach. He does not have to be a disciple of a spiritual Master - far from it. He may be a spiritual person and not even be aware of his spirituality. There are many like that. If he has goodness, kindness, a clear mind and a sympathetic heart, then he is more than spiritual.
A runner may develop a very strong inner relationship with his coach. Then what happens? At the start of a run, or even during the race, if the runner invokes the presence of his coach - his style, his encouragement, his inspiration and dynamic push - at that time the runner can draw extra energy and extra force from his coach. Again, suppose there is some great runner that you look up to and idolise. Even if he is not your coach, if you consciously invoke his soul during the race, you can get added strength and added inspiration from him.
Competition is good,
Provided it is the competition
And not the competition
Question: How can our outer smile help our running?
Sri Chinmoy: Your outer smile can help your running considerably. When you smile, you disarm your opponent. Take running, for the time being, as your opponent. While you are fighting or struggling with your enemy, which is running, if you give a smile, naturally your enemy will lose some of its strength. So play a trick on your enemy by smiling. This may sound absurd, but I assure you it is true. Just think of the running world as an enemy and weaken the strength of this enemy by giving a smile.
Question: Why is a short run sometimes less comfortable than a long run?
Sri Chinmoy: When you do a long run, you can go slowly and steadily like an Indian bullock cart. But when you run a short distance, in ten seconds it is over, so naturally you will feel uncomfortable. In a short distance, as soon as the gun is fired, you have to reach the goal. The starting point and the goal are at practically the same place. But in a long-distance run, the goal remains for some time a far cry. During the time that it takes you to reach the goal, you can discover your own way to be physically more comfortable during the run. You can measure your distance mentally and calculate your capacities in your own way; you have the time. But for a short distance, in only a few fleeting seconds you have to reach the goal. You have to give your body, vital, mind, heart and soul most forcefully, if not willingly, to the goal. Therefore, it becomes most uncomfortable.
There are only three winners:
The one who competes with himself,
The one who crosses the finish line first
And the one who finishes the race.
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Sri Chinmoy on racing and competition
Sri Chinmoy completed 22 marathons, 5 ultras and countless sprinting and middle distance races over a career that lasted many decades. He always felt that running and meditation should go together, and that competitions and races could help one inwardly progress as long as the runner had the right attitude. Here are a selection of his writings on running and competition:
The value of competition
We cannot properly evaluate our own capacity unless we have some standard of comparison. Therefore, we compete not for the sake of defeating others but in order to bring forward our own capacity. Our best capacity comes forward only when there are other people around us. They inspire us to bring forward our utmost capacity, and we inspire them to bring forward their utmost capacity. This is why we have competitive sports.
Before a race
Before the race starts, meditate most soulfully for five minutes. Try to make yourself feel that you are not the runner, but that somebody else is running in and through you. You are only the witness, the spectator. Since somebody else is running, you are at perfect liberty to watch and enjoy. While you are running, sometimes it is very difficult to enjoy the race. Either the competitive spirit or frustration is killing you, or your body is not abiding by your mental will and you feel that you are literally dying. So many problems arise.
But before you start, if you can convince yourself that you are a divine observer and that somebody else is running in you, through you and for you, then fear, doubt, frustration, anxiety and other negative forces will not be able to assail your mind. Once these thoughts occupy the mind, they try to enter into the vital and then into the physical. Once they enter into the physical, they create tension, and this makes you lose all your power of concentration. But if you feel that you are not the runner, if you feel that you are observing the race from the beginning to the end, then there will be no tension, and these forces will not attack you. This is the only way to overcome these forces and maintain the highest type of concentration from the beginning to the end.
This is what I do. Right from the beginning I try to become an instrument and feel that somebody else, my Beloved Supreme, is running in and through me. At the beginning of the race, I offer my gratitude-heart to the Supreme, and at the end, after I finish the race, I also offer my gratitude. If you can offer your soulful gratitude to your Inner Pilot before the race, during the race and after the race, then there can be no frustration, no decline of aspiration. Your aspiration and your power of concentration will remain the same throughout the race.
Coping with losing
To cope with the disappointment of losing, you have to ask yourself whether the mind is disappointed or the heart is disappointed. You will come to realise that it is your mind that is disappointed and not your heart. The mind creates division; the mind is division itself, and division is another name for pain, devastating pain. The heart, on the other hand, creates oneness; in fact, the heart is oneness itself, and oneness is another name for joy, spontaneous joy. When you live in your heart, even if your worst rival wins the race, you will not feel miserable. To your wide surprise, you will find that his joy quite unconsciously and unexpectedly will enter into you and widen your heart. Then you will feel almost the same joy that the winner feels.
Sri Chinmoy on how meditation can benefit athletes
As well as being a fitness pioneer, Sri Chinmoy conducted peace meditations at the United Nations for 37 years. Here are some of his writings on how meditations can benefit athletes:
Inner peace gives us inner strength
When we meditate, we make our mind calm and quiet. If inside us there is peace, then we will derive tremendous strength from our inner life. That is to say, if I have a peaceful moment, even for one second, that peace will come to me as solid strength in my sports, whether I am running or jumping or throwing. That strength is almost indomitable strength, whereas if we are restless, we do not have strength like that.
Look at an elephant. An elephant has tremendous strength. It is not restless like a monkey which is moving here and there. It is exactly the same for us. In our inner life if we have the strength of an elephant, then only in our outer life can we be peaceful. A lion is very peaceful. Then when something happens, he starts roaring. But its strength is the peace that it has. It has confidence. But a monkey and other animals that are very, very restless, what kind of strength do they have? Meditation gives us inner strength. Once we have inner strength, we are bound to be successful in our outer life.
Through meditation we can find peace, and once we have peace of mind, impossibility cannot exist for us.
An infinite source of power
Because of our limited mind, because of our doubting mind, because of our suspicious mind, we have limited ourselves and we always think that we cannot go farther, deeper or higher. We are stationed at one place. There is no hope for us to come out of this mental prison. But no, we can come out on the strength of our prayer and meditation and fly in the sky of Infinity.
The physical mind has to be transcended by inner prayer. When you can transcend the limitations of the mind, at every moment you can perform so-called miracles. In the inner world, however, there are no such things as miracles. They exist there as realities. We bring them down into the material world to prove that there is something called inner power.
We can draw upon the cosmic energy by entering into our deeper consciousness, the all-pervading consciousness, which is here, there, everywhere. It is the inmost consciousness that touches the springs of the cosmic energy. If we can have a free access to our inmost consciousness, the cosmic energy is bound to come to the fore. If you go deep within, it comes like a spring, a never-failing spring. And when it comes, it permeates the whole body.
From the spiritual point of view, there are many things we can learn from games. One is fellow feeling. Then, in volleyball there is something called a serve. Let us take the term 'serve'. By playing, we are serving mankind. You will say, "How?" Let us say you are playing volleyball, and I am in the audience. You are giving me joy and inspiration. You are playing so well, you are smashing the ball and doing all kinds of things.
Why do we watch sports? The world needs inspiration and enthusiasm. You play volleyball extremely well, and I am inspired by it. Then I go and play tennis. You have given me the inspiration, and I go and play some other game. But you gave me the joy, you gave me the inspiration, you gave me the courage. Like that, each person can get inspiration from another person to do better in their own respective fields.
Why do we watch sports?
To receive inspiration, enthusiasm,
Joy and courage.
The inner world inspires the outer world
It is individuals who are responsible not only for their own lives but also for their countries and also for the entire world. It is from individuals that the message-light of inner strength can and will enter into nations… I feel that there shall come a time in the near future when the entire world will be inundated with peace and this world of ours will become a oneness-world-family-home.
If we have peace of mind, then we develop inner strength. And if we have inner strength, then we shall not quarrel and fight, we shall not declare war. Inner strength helps us at every moment to become good human beings.
The inner world has to be a source of inspiration to the outer world. They should not be like opposite poles — North Pole and South Pole. No, they have to be united. The body and the soul must go together.
Whatever we have within, we manifest in our outer life. It may be undivine qualities, such as anxieties, worries or insecurities. Again, if we pray and meditate early in the morning to become good citizens of the world, then we can express these divine feelings in our outer life.
As part of a series called Run and smile, smile and run, Sri Chinmoy answered questions from top athletes. Here are a few of the answers:
Craig Virgin (American 10,000 m champion, twice World Cross-Country champion, 2:10 marathoner) Question: How do I cope with the pressure of winning or, on the other hand, the disappointment of losing, in a sports competition?
Sri Chinmoy: You can cope with the pressure of winning if, a few days before the race or even just before the start, you can imagine the pleasure of rejoicing in your victory. Imagination is not wishful thinking; it is not a baseless reality. Imagination is reality itself in another world. We bring it down to this world the way we bring down fruits from a tree.
To cope with the disappointment of losing, you have to ask yourself whether the mind is disappointed or the heart is disappointed. You will realise that it is your mind that is disappointed and not your heart. The mind creates division; the mind is division itself, and division is another name for pain, devastating pain. The heart, on the other hand, creates oneness; in fact, the heart is oneness itself, and oneness is another name for joy, spontaneous joy. When you live in your heart, even if your worst rival wins the race, you will not feel miserable. To your wide surprise, you will find that his joy quite unconsciously and unexpectedly will enter into you and widen your heart. Then you will feel almost the same joy that the winner feels.
Question: Given an Olympic final, ten competitors are lined up in the race. All are 100% physically fit and prepared. What does it take for one runner to win over the others?
Sri Chinmoy: It is not just a matter of luck as to who wins, for there are two ways to become a winner: one way is to concentrate on each runner and, like a magnet, draw into oneself the will power that each one has and almost empty them of their will power or life energy. This is called sheer determination-power. The determination-lion devours the weaker animals.
The other way is to identify oneself with the sources of the fastest speed and endurance. Here one consciously becomes one with the higher realities that are invisible, yet infinitely faster and stronger than the outer realities or the outer capacities.
If a runner is a conscious Truth-seeker and God-lover, then he will adopt the inner way and not the outer way. The outer way is the way of the lion: roaring and devouring the rivals.
Don Kardon (USA, President of the Association of Road Racing Athletes; 4th place in the 1976 Olympics marathon in Montreal) Question: Why do you think runners are often able to achieve a kind of meditative state while running?
Sri Chinmoy: Concentration and meditation are members of the same family. When a runner focuses all his attention on a particular race, he is in a position to free his mind from uncomely distractions. Here one-pointed concentration is the path-finder for deeper meditative consciousness.
Franco Columbo (Body-Building: Mr. World, Mr. Universe and twice Mr. Olympia) Question: How important are yoga stretching exercises to the mind?
Sri Chinmoy: If one is practising stretching exercises thinking that he will be able to achieve peace of mind, then he is totally mistaken. No matter how many stretching exercises one takes, no matter how many hours one spends stretching, one cannot get peace of mind. Peace of mind comes only from one's prayer-life and meditation-life. I have a few students who are extremely good at stretching exercises. But unfortunately, their minds can easily defeat a monkey in restlessness. So if a bodybuilder or weightlifter wants to have peace of mind, then he has to be a God-lover consciously and devotedly.
Dick Beardsley (USA, Winner of London Marathon 1981 with 2:11, 2nd place in Boston 1982 with 2:08:53) Question: I ran a 2:08:53 marathon with primarily a road-racing background. Would it improve my chances of making the 1984 Olympic marathon team if I partake in training and racing the 10,000 meters on the track?
Sri Chinmoy: Definitely you will improve your marathon time if you run 10,000 meters on the track. Running is a physical subject, a mental subject, a philosophical subject and a subject of the Beyond. In the physical aspect, nobody will be able to tell you more than you already know.
In the mental aspect, if you become used to running shorter distances, it can really help you. When you are running a marathon, mentally try to feel that you are running only thirteen miles rather than twenty-six miles. If you can convince the mind of this, and if the mind can convince the body that it is running only thirteen miles, then it will be a great advantage for you. This is not mental hallucination. A new discovery has dawned in the mind and the mind is passing it along to the body. Both the mind and the body will have to act together in order to reach the ultimate goal.
In the philosophical aspect, you have to feel that your problems are as insignificant as ants and pay no attention to them. You have had problems with cows, dogs, puddles and road hazards of all kinds. You should take these problems philosophically. Although these things are extremely unfortunate and discouraging for a great runner like you, you have to feel that they are almost part and parcel of a runner's life. If you can see them in this way, then when discouragement and temporary lack of enthusiasm attack you, at that time you can also overcome these obstacles.
Finally, if you can think that through your running you are doing something that has a direct connection with the ever-transcending Beyond, which is far beyond the domain of the earth-bound physical mind, then you will get tremendous inspiration. This inspiration embodies added strength, added joy and an added sense of satisfaction.
Mary Slaney-Decker (Athletics: world-record holder and twice gold medallist in the 1983 world championships) Question: How fair is it to know that other female athletes, because of drugs, have a chemical advantage over their competitors, and how can a natural athlete such as myself justify the use of world rankings knowing that other athletes using chemicals are consistently ranked higher than so-called natural athletes?
Sri Chinmoy: Sometimes it is good and necessary to know what others are doing. If one is a runner, this can encourage one's competitive spirit. Again, sometimes it is a great hindrance when we know what others are doing. It puzzles us and, at the same time, we have no inclination to adopt their methods. In cases like this it is always good to have confidence in our own natural abilities.
Nature embodies the cosmic energy. This cosmic energy is infinitely stronger than any man-made chemicals. This energy comes from the ultimate Source and it leads us to the ultimate Source while fulfilling and satisfying us along the way. Chemicals and other artificial things will ultimately fail, for they are unnatural. Anything that is unnatural is like a balloon. For a while it will dazzle us and puzzle our human mind, but eventually it will burst.
Greg Meyer (USA, Winner of the 1983 Boston marathon in 2:09; US record holder for 15km and 20km) Question: Why do I get more satisfaction from training than from running?
Sri Chinmoy: You get more satisfaction from your training than from your racing because when you train, you have more oneness with your inner life, which embodies infinite satisfaction. When you race, you are competing with the others because you want to defeat them. The challenging spirit that comes in competition quite often suffers from anxiety, worry, doubt, hesitation and despair. When you are just practising, however, you are performing before the most intimate "members" of your family: body, vital, mind, heart, and soul. In fact, these intimate members of your own being are practising with you. It is totally a family entertainment. While practising, you are consciously working to transcend your capacities. At that time, you are listening to the message of the ever-transcending Beyond, and the message itself is complete satisfaction. But when you compete against others, you are more concerned with victory than self-transcendence. So naturally hesitation, anxiety and doubt have free access to your heart and mind and you do not and cannot have satisfaction.
Rod Dixon (New York marathon winner, Olympic Games 1972 1500 m bronze, 1976 Olympics fourth place in 5000 m) Am I being unreasonable to expect my family to understand my physical urge to pursue my running life? I want to please my family, yet I also want to please my running career.
Sri Chinmoy: You are a great runner. Already you have achieved astonishing glories in your running career. In order to achieve such sublime heights in the running world, you have made tremendous sacrifices, and the members of your family also have made tremendous sacrifices. This kind of mutual sacrifice is in no way an indication of your negligence toward your family. In the course of thinking of the Ultimate or meditating on the Ultimate, along the way you make apparent sacrifices. You have to know that ultimately these sacrifices themselves become a source of illuminating satisfaction. Or they pale into insignificance when you are repeatedly crowned with Himalayan success.
With their human hearts, the members of your immediate family want to possess you and have you all the time around them. Your affection and love for them and their affection and love for you mean everything to them. Perhaps your running laurels are secondary to them.
But again, these same members of your family each have a divine heart. Unlike the human heart, which wants to possess and be possessed, the divine heart wants only to give of itself, widen itself, receive the vast world and be received by the vast world. These are the messages that the divine heart receives from the higher worlds and offers to the outer world at large.
Those who live in the divine heart are meant for the whole world. The messages that this heart gives them they do not keep secretly or sacredly inside their immediate family. No, they offer these messages to all humanity.
So if any want to possess you or want to claim you as their own, very own, they should try to live in the divine heart, just as you are doing. If you and also the members of your immediate family can all live in the divine heart, then your commitment to your dear ones and their full understanding of what you were, what you are and what you are going to become will eventually and unmistakably bring boundless joy and boundless satisfaction to you and also to them.
John Savage (American tournament tennis player) Question: Why is it so difficult to progress or excel in sports?
Sri Chinmoy: In life, fortunately or unfortunately, nothing is easy. If things are easy, then we will be satisfied with our self-complacent life. Like a frog, we have to jump, jump, jump! If things are easy, if we always succeed, then we won't value our capacities or appreciate our achievements. At every moment we must value not only our successes and achievements but also the efforts we make. We must value at every moment not only what we become but what we are doing in the process of becoming. We cannot separate the effort from the result.
Unfortunately, we do not appreciate our efforts. We admire and adore only the result. for years and years we practise hard. Then, in a short time, the tournament is over. Afterwards, the world only remembers that there was a champion at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open or in France. But for that, how many years of preparation did it take? Four, eight, ten, twelve years! This the world doesn't appreciate. It only appreciates the victory, not the preparation.
Channel-Swim-Team '86 (Swimmers of the SCMT who in 1986 attempted to swim across the Channel (33-42 km; 12-22 hours; water temperature 14-18 C) Question: This year about half the swimmers have swum the Channel. How can one prepare oneself better inwardly in order to be more successful next year even with bad weather conditions like cold water, high waves and unfavourable current conditions?
Sri Chinmoy: As soon as you jump into the water, you have to imagine that behind you is fire. If fire does not frighten you, then think of any kind of animal that frightens you most - a lion or a tiger or an alligator or a jelly fish or anything. As soon as you enter into the water, feel that the animal is behind you, chasing you. So you have to go forward and not backward. At the same time, always feel that something most beautiful is beckoning you. Try to imagine a most beautiful garden or golden shore in front of you. That is another reason why you are going forward.
While you are in the imagination world, you will definitely feel less tiredness because you are in the dream world. Only be careful that you are still swimming. Otherwise, you will enter into trance, and your trance will take you downstairs.
Imagination is reality in its own world, and imagination has strength in it. I have written thousands of poems and thousands of songs all from imagination. When you swim, you should sincerely pray to the Supreme in you. In my weightlifting, before I attempt each lift, I pray and meditate for three or four minutes. I go to this side and that side to pray and meditate. So you also should pray and meditate before you swim, and not only on the day that you are going to swim the English Channel.
For us, the physical is just a vehicle for our soul's expression. The body itself can do nothing. When I see that my wrist has held 2,000 pounds, it is unimaginable, unbelievable. But I did it.
Even if you are healthy and in good form do not depend on yourself. Depend 100 per cent on divine Grace and feel that some higher force is pushing and pulling you forward