Football meditation by Pavitrata

Football and the art of meditation, a photo sublime on more levels than playing fields, by sublime photographer Pavitrata Taylor.

If you see art, try to see the Artist inside it. You will do this only by taking them as one. When you see art, you will feel that inside the art there is something which you need badly, and that is the Supreme. The Supreme is both art and artist, both creator and creation. When you realise this, you can easily meditate on the Supreme in art.
—Sri Chinmoy, Art’s Life And The Soul’s Light

A video and news story from ABC on the passing of Sri Chinmoy on Thursday, 11th October, 2007.

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Oct 12, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy, a peace activist who inspired his followers to feats of extreme physical endurance, has died at the age of 76 at his home in New York, a statement from his organization said on Friday.

Chinmoy, who suffered a heart attack, died on Thursday.

Chinmoy was born in India and in 1964 immigrated to New York, working in the Indian Consulate. He later started a meditation center that eventually spread around the world.

A statement issued on behalf of Chinmoy’s followers said he had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Friday. He was a strong supporter of the United Nations and his charities sent food and medicine around the world.

Chinmoy’s followers were said to take on a regimen of vegetarianism, humanitarian service and extreme physical challenges as a way to inner peace. He set an example by running ultra-marathons before switching to weightlifting. Acolytes said he was capable of lifting airplanes and had written more than 1,600 books of prose and poetry in his quest for world peace.

Read more: ABC News: Peace activist Sri Chinmoy dead at 76.

Already at work, early morning here in New Zealand and trying to do a spot of writing before the day proper begins, I had half an eye on the World Cup Rugby, a live game being played between Scotland and Romania—I, the world’s most lukewarm rugby fan snatching a few seconds here and there, eyes raised whenever loud cheering or excited commentary crowded past the corner flag of my awareness.

What do you suppose then did I suddenly hear?

“I don’t think they respect the ball enough. It’s got to become your friend, something you cherish and really look after…”

By which I was reminded of something in character parallel, but form and shape entirely different, tangential flight of imagination embarked, as is often my wont.

I am not infrequently reminded to respect meditation more, to make it my friend, cherish its practise and really look after the positive fruits it bears. It is too easy to let meditation become just another part of the day, to sandwich it between sleep and waking, but never snack in between. To not give it it’s due—due respect, gratitude and devotion. To not see the bigger picture that meditation is painting every day, one slow brush stoke at a time.

It is a slow and steady process. We are in the process of consciously becoming in the outer world that which we have always been in the inner world. But this process of growth has no end; we can grow eternally. We need never stop.

We have sown the seed, and right now we have a tiny plant. If storms of doubt and hurricanes of jealousy come, then naturally the progress can be very slow. But if there is implicit faith and devoted oneness, the plant will very soon grow into a tree. Previously there was only a seedling, but now it has germinated into a tiny but healthy plant. So there is every hope that it will weather all the buffets and blows of human doubt and weakness and grow into a huge tree.

Excerpt from My Meditation-Service At The United Nations For 25 Years by Sri Chinmoy.

Respect the ball?

Of course, a case can be made that some people “respect the ball” a touch too much.

In the following (admittedly cool) video, several New Zealand All Blacks discuss what the “haka” means to them (a traditional Maori war-dance performed at the start of each match).

Ah, the Rugby World Cup is here, and New Zealand played its first game today…

Children protesting the 1981 Springbok outside Parliament, Wellington, NZCan you detect the uncertain tone in my voice? The slight reserve, pause before speaking that belies I am of two minds? For of this simple, four-yearly sporting event, I have decidedly mixed feelings.

Lace up your boots, tape up your wrists and shoulder your shoulder pads—I’m going to tackle the game of rugby head-on.

The Spiritual Home of Rugby
New Zealand, my home for all but one of thirty-two years, is the self-proclaimed “spiritual home” of rugby—although in this context, a sport more guttural than ethereal, spiritual takes on a slightly different sense than usual. The physical home of rugby of course is England, but as with other sports invented by the “Mother Country,” New Zealand plays it considerably better.

When the New Zealand All Blacks are playing, the entire country, from business to play, closes down, and it is said that a sitting Government will win elections when the All Blacks win, lose them when they lose.

The All Blacks
Jerry Collins of the All Blacks.The New Zealand rugby team are considered to be the “Brazilians” of world rugby, and like the Brazilian football team play the game with a flair and a passion seldom seen elsewhere; New Zealander’s do not just expect their side to win (and win every game), but expect them to win well, with “beautiful” play. New Zealand would be the only country in the world where the phrase “the beautiful game” doesn’t refer to the sport of football.

The All Blacks have one of the highest win ratios of an international sporting team in any sport—74%, and there are still major international sides yet to record a win against them—Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Argentina included.

I am not a true devotee of our national religion, and despite being descended from an All Black trialist grandfather have never even played the sport, but by virtue of my black singlet, black-booted heritage, permit me to comment a little on New Zealand’s national sport, part-time indulgence, full-time obsession.

Grown Men Hurling Themselves Into Each Other
Most would assume that American Football is the most violent, confrontational of sports, but most would not be familiar with rugby, played at a similar tempo and rate of collision, but with a bare minimum of protective clothing. In rugby, where the minimum playing weight is near 200 pounds, grown men hurl themselves into each other repeatedly, and occasionally pass the ball.

To the unfamiliar observer it seems a complicated sport, and has become more so in recent years—several law changes leaving even players unsure of the rules—but in essence the object is to “score tries”—touch down across the opponents end-line with ball in hand, passing the ball backwards but never forwards on the way. Everything else in rugby is secondary.

The Tour
Springbok Tour protestors face police in Palmerston North, New Zealand.It is said that New Zealand came the closest it’s ever come to a civil war over the sport of rugby, and those who say so are not exaggerating. The 1981 Springbok Tour—referred to as “The Tour” then and ever since, was a three month visit by the racially selected, white only South African rugby team, and it gave rise to the largest ever protests and acts of civil disobedience in New Zealand’s history.

The fallout from the tour indirectly lead to the fall of the Muldoon Government three years later, and was almost their downfall at the time, the conservative National Party only retaining power by the narrowest of margins—winning despite a minority of the vote due to the vagaries of the then electoral system. Countless marriages and friendships were divided between sporting white lines, and for the first time in New Zealand’s history sport became a source of national shame, rather than pride.

There were, in fact, many peaceful protests around the country, but sporadic violence attracted the press and led to the impression of a nation at war with itself. The police, on the other hand, prevented the release of ‘provocative’ images (such as an officer on fire after being hit by a molotov cocktail). These images were, however, shown to policemen to ‘motivate’ them before the Auckland test. Perhaps because of this, the tour remained a bizarrely civilised breakdown of order. Neither side used firearms or tear gas. There were no deaths, and no serious injuries. Some of the more violent policemen were quietly disciplined. Protesters who might, in another country, have faced charges of attempted murder or treason, were charged and convicted of relatively minor and unimportant disorder offences — or acquitted after defence by pro bono lawyers. Leaders of both sides went on to fill important roles in public life.
Source: Wikipedia

I had an uncle in the “Red Squad” as it was called, the arm of the New Zealand Police formed to confront and disperse the protesters, which in effect equated to hitting unarmed members of the public with truncheons—the official protest movement chose Gandhian non-violence, and were a soft target for the specially issued long batons. My uncle left the police force several years later, officially because of stress, but no doubt several broken skulls were a contributing factor.

Growing Up Rugby
So what does all of this have to do with the Rugby World Cup? I grew up in the middle of the 1981 Springbok Tour, actually attended protest marches with flag waving mother and teaching colleagues, and like many of my age group, was forbidden to play the sport for years to come.

Virtually a religion in New Zealand up to this point—playing the game, like church service, was compulsory for boys in the junior years of many high schools—rugby became a social and political issue during my childhood, and for the first time ever people questioned whether manhood and rugby were one and the same thing.

James K. Baxter, postieSoccer, who adherents up to this point were usually foreigners, near universally decried as “poofters,” boomed in popularity—New Zealand reaching the World Cup finals for the first time a year later—and this period saw cultural high-points in music and theatre and film, often in direct reaction to rugby and its all encompassing “culture.” It is not an exaggeration to say there was virtually no culture besides rugby in New Zealand before the 1980s—a repeated subject of poet James K. Baxter’s often vitriolic Pig Island Letters fifteen years earlier.

From an old house shaded with macrocarpas
Rises my malady.
Love is not valued much in Pig Island
Though we admire its walking parody.

James K. Baxter from Pig Island Letters, No 2

At my mother’s insistence, I went to one of the few high-schools in New Zealand where there wasn’t a rugby team—one of the few schools in fact without a school uniform—and soon a young, effete “artist,” I looked down my upturned nose at the “rugby-heads” from other schools—beer-swilling, muscle-bound neanderthals as I and my friends saw them.

Over-reaction or exaggeration on my part? Arrogance and excessive pride? I had long-hair in my teens, and during a brief visit to a small rural town, had within half-hour of arriving been told to “get a haircut,” my Cambodian friend called a “gook,” and my other friend’s manhood questioned by the rugby shirt wearing locals. We moved on before insults turned to blows. Rugby and it’s culture of confrontation reached far beyond the four corners of a grassy field.

And so I have mixed feelings about rugby. Growing up hating it, hating the people who played it and the thoughtless, violent culture it represented, I have slowly learned to admire it’s positive side—the courage, strength and skill required to play a most brutal of sports. I admire the discipline and comradeship of those who play it, the breath-taking talent and athleticism at the highest level. At a simple level, I enjoy rugby now as just a game, rather than symbol of culture or identity, and am happy to sup lightly national pride and fervour when it is played.

But you still won’t catch me playing the game.

Before the raceIt’s been just over 48 hours since I walked, ran but mostly limped a marathon, and I think I’ve recovered now enough to string a few thoughts together—I’ve almost stopped limping.

It was my worst ever effort.

I haven’t kept count over the years of how many marathons I have run—somewhere in the low double figures would be a good guess—but my best ever time is 3:40, and my worst—now—5:10. A full 50 minutes worse than my previous personal worse, a forgettable experience already related in some length previously.

At least I think my time was 5:10. I wasn’t wearing a watch, and in all honesty I forgot to look at the clock as I crossed the line—I was too busy concentrating on not collapsing.

By all accounts I should be upset—I certainly was after my last personal worst—it took me a full three years to follow it up! And to think that only five years ago I ran 38 miles in 6 hours, not that much longer than it just took me to run 26.

But I am not upset at all—in fact quite the opposite. I am exceedingly happy, even over the moon. Is this wisdom? Old age? A little bit of spiritual progress? Probably all of the above.

There were many mitigating factors, excuses I am more than comfortable wearing. It was hot. And very humid. So much so that many runners pulled out on the day, and this runner, fresh from a New Zealand winter in the height of the North American summer, was, in the end, happy just to reach the end. Whatever the time.

I went through the half way point in 2:10—by no means fast but still respectable, and at least still running—but very soon afterwards hit a wall—I was simply getting too hot to run, unable to take in air even though limbs were still strong—and had to start walking. I then ran/walked the entire rest of the race—walking only the entire last 6 miles, and surprisingly, very much enjoying myself.

Walking as fast I could—here my 10km a day for eight years as a postman came in handy—I enjoyed myself by simply getting rid of expectation—a valuable lesson in the spiritual life, one I may mastered a little later than others. Being in the moment, just being happy, just being your Self—despite the 13 miles left to walk or run.

Rather than feeling sorry for myself, or begrudging every runner passing me whom I had already myself passed, I cheered them on—and still enjoyed reeling them back in again temporarily when I wasn’t too hot to run.

I even took the starting to wear a little thin now cheers of “Johnno Bloggo!” from friends in my stride.

So despite running a time I once considered respectable only for the infirm, I am more than happy the result.

I may even run a marathon again.

Your self-transcendence-marathon
Has shattered the summitless pride
Of your ruthless life-devouring dragon.
Sri Chinmoy

Excerpt from Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 23

Wish me luck, because I’m running a marathon tomorrow. I may need it.

It’s been three years since I last ran a marathon, and the pain of that race has dulled just a little. After years of running marathons easily and without preparation, I had the humiliation of finishing almost an hour slower than expected, hitting the wall as they say despite the most training ever done.

Marathon TrainingThe account of my 2004 Self-Transcendence Marathon deserves a story in it’s own right—I have been meaning to write about it ever since I crossed the finish line—but in short it was a hot day, and from the start I was never able to feel comfortable, struggling to breathe, growing dizzy after 16 miles. A stop in medical was no respite—or desperately sought rescue—aside from “mental problems” they informed me, there was nothing wrong at all. Humiliated, but unable to justify quitting, I walked three miles on doctor’s orders and then jogged slowly, the slowest I had ever run—every step a battle with pain physical and mental—jogged all the way to the finish, feeling more of a loser than my actual time, 4:22, reveals.

Believe it or not I will be happy with that time tomorrow. In my case, the pride of youth has since been replaced by the realities of ageing. And maybe just a little maturity…

In retrospect, blisters healed and much fluid replaced, I learned a lot during those four and half hot hours in the New York sun. I learnt about pride and expectation, and conversely about humility and surrender. I learnt about determination and perserverence; harder to practise, yet infinitely more valuable when facing a task more difficult than expected, our capacities extended.

Hopefully tomorrow however I will learn a little about joy.

To be honest, I am not running this marathon because I enjoy running—not over body shattering, mind-cowering distances at least (I am a sprinter by preference and build); and I am not running it to do a good time—I did that last time, my ambition sorely defeated.

Rather I am running to compete with myself. To do something I once thought easily within my capacity, now a true test.

42 kilometres of road to run, 42 hours of recovery, and hopefully, 42 days of feeling pretty good about myself afterwards.

Wish me luck.

The heart-runners
Every day run
The self-transcendence-joy-marathon.
Sri Chinmoy

Excerpt from Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 209

A related story
My Marathon Odyssey by Sumangali Morhall. An inspiring account of running a marathon, and in a time that puts my own personal melodrama to shame.

Lyttleton harbour. Photograph by John Gillespie.I got hit in the head the other day. Never having been concussed before, it’s hard to say whether I was, or in fact still am, but having headaches two days later probably isn’t a good sign.

Boys will be boys as they say—grown men as well. On holiday and playing a game of frisbee, a casual sport some friends are rather partial to, innocent fun soon degenerated into competition and intense struggle—a loser takes a dip in the ocean game of“Donkey.” For those not familiar, the object in Donkey is to make it as hard as possible for your opponents to catch the disc—whether by throwing it with force sufficient to break bones (normally noses in fact), or far enough away to struggle for a clean catch. Drops and poor throws earn a letter of the titular word, the first to spell the animal surely being one. Why a donkey? Said animal is hardly renowned for it’s intelligence or speed…

By the end of the game, played on a precipice with spectacular views of Christchurch’s Lyttleton Harbour, all of the players tied, or close enough because score keeping was taken less than seriously, it came to a single, final throw for redemption, hopefully dry clothes as well. A ‘Hail Mary’ thrown high into the air above, all five of us scrambling to be the catcher.

It looked good for me for a while, with extra incentive as a non-swimmer since ear trouble in childhood. Leaping up to catch the frisbee, admittedly not as high as I might imagine since in stature I am lacking, I came within an inch of clasping the disc, victory as well, glory thwarted only by a mid-air collision of spectacular proportions. Hit from behind, more blind-sided really, I was thrown empty handed to the ground then side-swiped, a brain-shaking, dazing blow to the side of my head by another player as I fell.

Lyttleton harbour again. Photograph by John Gillespie.Like I said already, I can’t be sure if what followed was concussion, but the fact that my head hurt in two places—where collided with and where brain hit skull—is probably a certain sign. There was little time to ponder the finer points of a sore head however as I headed towards the water…

Which got me thinking. A sportsman since the time I could hold a bat in my hand, I have twisted, strained, pulled and bruised just about every single part of me possible to injure, yet touch wood of changing room wall have yet to break a single bone or get knocked out. Sitting here nursing a residual headache, and substantially warmer than when in the water, I am reminded that lack of injuries are truly a blessing, and physical pain, while heroic in the enduring, is not lightly to be invited.