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Agnikana’s Group in York

agnikanas-group-a5-frontWe were very fortunate to welcome Agnikana’s Group to York on October 27th, for a concert entitled ‘Music for Inner Peace’, at the De Grey Rooms.

The music group is based in the Czech Republic, with members also from Slovakia, Switzerland, Austria and Canada. They perform solely the music of Sri Chinmoy, and have toured many countries across the world. The concert was part of their autumn tour of the UK and Ireland.

With a range of instruments – including the Indian harmonium, guitar, concert and wooden flutes, santur and glockenspiel – the music is soulful and ethereal, blending angelic voices with acoustic instrumental arrangements of Sri Chinmoy’s music. The performance was exquisite, from start to finish. As one lady said, “I did not want it to end.”

‘Ore Tora’ was composed by Sri Chinmoy, to the words of Sri Ramakrishna:

More about the group at www.agnikanasgroup.cz »
Hear more at www.radiosrichinmoy.org »

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Thoughts on Peace

Peace Statue, Botanic Garden of WalesIt felt homely to be back in Wales, if only for a weekend. I’d forgotten how fond I am of the atmosphere. There’s a magic about it, a friendliness, a deep self-certainty in the people that I’ve not noticed anywhere else.

Carmarthen is a long way into the heart of Wales and thus a long way into the magic of it. There I met with members of the
Sri Chinmoy Centre for an evening’s meditation and music. I treasure these times to share inspiration, news, and – especially important to our community – food. (Eating a Krispy Kreme strawberry-shortcake doughnut for the first time could almost be called a spiritual experience IMHO).

But this was not the main reason for my trip. It was four years almost to the day since I visited Wales to meet the Peace Run and to witness the unveiling of a statue dedicated to peace – that time in Cardiff Bay, alongside the National Assembly. Further still into the heart of the country is the National Botanic Garden of Wales, now the site of a similar statue.

The Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run – to give it its proper name – is a global relay. I find it hard to describe, as it has no meaning or agenda other than spreading the message of peace, inclusive of all cultures and regardless of politics. The runners take turns to carry a flaming torch: in groups or alone, on main roads and rural lanes, from one country to the next. Others join for brief stretches or simply hold the torch to make a wish for peace. The European leg of the run will cover 24000km through 49 nations this year – a pilgrimage of 7 months.

Pilgrimage is the best word I can find to conjure up the simplicity of it. In his life of 76 years, Sri Chinmoy offered countless talks and published hundreds of books on peace, meditation and other aspects of spirituality. In public interactions, as his life progressed, he turned more towards performing meditative music, demonstrating feats of weightlifting, or simply offering meditations. Sometimes, as the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words.

Like timeless pilgrims, the runners give up their homes and jobs for a few days, weeks or months, and take whatever food and shelter is offered along the road. Their reward is in the journey itself rather than the destination. Its source is entirely inner, like a prayer in action. I’m not much of a runner, so was glad of the chance to make my own little pilgrimage by train and to offer my prayers.

How does it help to stand in some far-flung corner of Wales when humanity is sick, hungry, volatile and vulnerable? I do so often feel my heart crushed under the idea of all that suffering, but what use am I to anyone crushed? There is ample good in the world too, so I just try and add what good I have to it. In the end, the only person one can change is oneself. And honestly? That’s more than a lifetime’s work in my case 🙂

We have to go to the root-cause of world-problems, and the root is human ignorance. If we can go to the root and remove this ignorance in just one human being — ourselves — then there will be one rascal less in this world. Today if there is one rascal less, tomorrow there may be another rascal less, and in this way it will go on.”
– Sri Chinmoy, AGDF 22

Nature in Wales seems supernatural. Though trees and shrubs were bare in the Botanic Gardens, emblems of St David’s Day were strewn across the green still – daffodils in all sizes and yellows. The Peace Runners arrived – a team from 10 countries, all smiles and flags and bubbling enthusiasm, holding the torch aloft. A male voice choir sang in their native Welsh, people dressed up as flowers for the occasion and ran a short race. Lord Elis-Thomas unveiled the statue, and the sun reached through the clouds at last.

Once we had each made a silent wish and sat awhile in quiet reflection, there was time for exploring. The Great Glasshouse was designed by Norman Foster – he of London Gherkin fame – and earns its name for being the largest single-span glasshouse in the world. It harbours rare plants from California, Australia, the Canary Islands, Chile, South Africa and the Mediterranean. Though their homes may be scattered around the globe, they all enjoy similar climates and share similar traits.

In a glass-covered café, in the company of sparrows, we gathered for more of our treasured pastime – sharing meals, stories and laughter. While my closest friends may be scattered far from me most of the time, still we enjoy the same inner climate, and their outer company is all the more valued for its rarity.

Peace does not mean the absence of war.
Peace means the presence of harmony,
Love, oneness and satisfaction.
Peace means a flood of love
In the world-family.”
– Sri Chinmoy, HRPC 16


More photos of this event at peacerun.org and tejvan.co.uk

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Ashprihanal & Surasa Break 3100-Mile Records

Ashprihanal AaltoOn July 24th 2015, Ashprihanal Aalto completed the Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race in 40 days, 9 hours and 6 minutes. That’s an average of around 76 miles a day for 40 days straight, on a concrete pavement in Queens, New York.

Ashprihanal, 44, from Finland, completed the race for the 13th time. Though he’s won the race several times, he has never held the course record. He finished 23 hours and 10 minutes ahead of the record held by Madhupran Wolfgang Schwerk from Germany. He gives all credit to the founder of the race – his Guru, Sri Chinmoy.


UPDATE

JG2_0029On August 2nd Surasa Mairer, 56, from Austria, broke Suprabha Beckjord’s 17-year record. Her time was 49 days, 7 hours and 52 minutes, averaging around 63 miles per day. This is the 3rd time she has run the race.

This year there are two female runners, but for many years Suprabha was the only woman to participate. Like Ashprihanal, Suprabha has also completed the race 13 times.


You can find out more about the race, and also see a beautiful documentary about Suprabha by Jessie Beers-Altman, called Spirit of a Runner at 3100.srichinmoyraces.org.

1

Sri Chinmoy answers

Sri-Chinmoy-meditation-BWAll 38 parts of Sri Chinmoy answers have recently been published in two hard-cover volumes. They are beautifully compiled and typeset.

Holding the weight of a volume in the hand is satisfying. When reading any question answered by Sri Chinmoy, I’m reminded of hearing the Master speak in person. I was always amazed how he would talk effortlessly on any subject. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise where a God-realised soul is concerned – his answers came from the universal consciousness itself – but the experience was (and still is) a delight.

Sri Chinmoy answers gives an insight into Sri Chinmoy’s agility in this sense. Some examples of broader spiritual questions are:

  • How can we conquer our defects?
  • How can I know who I truly am?
  • How would you describe today’s world?

Even on very specific topics, the Master would give fascinating answers, which often encompassed wider topics, for example:

  • How does it affect our palm when we wear a ring?
  • Can dogs feel if you were a dog in your previous incarnation?
  • Is it possible for mountain climbers to conquer altitude sickness spiritually?

I love to read these passages for my own spiritual illumination, but reading also brings Sri Chinmoy’s presence to life. Sometimes I may read an unfamiliar question and try to guess how the Master would answer before reading the response, and I am almost always wrong. There is something strangely reassuring in that – something I can’t quite describe – but it makes books like this all the more enjoyable, and all the more precious.


The two volumes are available on Amazon, published by Ganapati Press:

Sri Chinmoy answers: Volume I

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

Sri Chinmoy answers: Volume II

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

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Portishead Try-a-Tri

18502916821_350a5defe7_oHad you said the name Portishead to me 20 years ago I’d have instantly thought of the band. Now I think of stopwatches and swim caps. I think of breakfasting on bread and tea in a squally coastal wind at dawn, and all the many things that happen before second breakfast (a hearty fry-up at the Lido). In short, I think of the annual Self-Transcendence Somerset Try-a-Tri.

No disrespect to the band – the fragile voice of Beth Gibbons got me through many a dark hour back then – but the fact is I’m immeasurably happier now. It might sound eccentric giving up a weekend to travel 9 hours round-trip from York to Portishead so I can stand around with a fluorescent bib and a clipboard to count swim laps at an outdoor pool, but trust me, I wouldn’t want to miss it. There can be few things more heartening than the sight of a hundred novice athletes – of all sizes and ages – giving this challenging and incredibly complicated sport a go. You wouldn’t even catch me out there in my swimmies at that time in the morning, never mind the rest of it.

18514594335_d9478285fb_oThis is the event’s 4th year, and entries are booked out months in advance. Each athlete seems to have a ready-made support crew of proud parents or offspring waving homemade banners, clanging cow-bells, and belting out improvised chants from the sidelines regardless of the weather, and there’s always plenty of weather. The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team organises races worldwide – anything from a 1-mile run to a 3100-mile run, as well as swimming, cycling and multi-sport events. The emphasis is on self-transcendence, following the inspiration of its founder Sri Chinmoy. I’m no athlete, and I may or may not become one in this lifetime, but I love the chance to play my little supporting role at these events.

Self-transcendence gives us joy in boundless measure. When we transcend ourselves, we do not compete with others. We do not compete with the rest of the world but, at every moment, we compete with ourselves. We compete only with our previous achievements. And each time we surpass our previous achievements, we get joy.”
Sri Chinmoy
The oneness of the Eastern heart and the Western mind, part 3

Report at srichinmoyraces.org »
Photos by Surabhamat »

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The Record Breaker

The Record Breaker is an award-winning short film by Brian McGinn. It follows Ashrita Furman, student of Sri Chinmoy and Guinness World Record holder for holding the most Guinness World Records of all time. McGinn himself achieves a lot in just 25 minutes – the film is funny, heart-warming, moving and fascinating. It captures the quirky and joyful side of the story, as well as the deep inspiration and discipline – the spirituality underpinning Ashrita’s achievements. Bravo! A must-see for anyone interested in Sri Chinmoy, in physical achievement – such as slicing apples mid-air with a Samurai sword – or in life generally. The joi de vivre is infectious.

More about the film at recordbreakerfilm.com »
More about Ashrita Furman at ashrita.com »

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A Moment’s Peace

Carl Lewis and Baroness Flather Unveil the World Peace Dreamer Statue

I was extremely fortunate to be part of an event entitled “A Moment’s Peace” on July 28th. Renowned Olympians, peace leaders, artists and musicians came together in London to celebrate the Olympic spirit of peace and universal friendship.

Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis highlighted the event by unveiling the “World Peace Dreamer” statue, a bronze sculpture of Sri Chinmoy holding an Olympic-style peace torch, which will be offered as a gift to the City of London. “This statue will remind us of the highest ideals of the Olympic Games – peace and friendship between all nations,” Carl Lewis said. “Sri Chinmoy was my mentor for more than thirty years, and the most peaceful person I have ever known.”

Joining Carl Lewis on stage were fellow Olympians Tegla Loroupe — former marathon world record holder — and Bob Beamon, CEO of Art of the Olympians, whose Olympic long jump record 44 years ago remains unbroken. “This statue embodies the same spirit of oneness, brotherhood and friendship which has infused the origins and traditions of the Olympics, both ancient and modern, and which to this day gives the Games their unique appeal,” Tegla Loroupe said.

I was so touched by the speeches of these illustrious guests. They each offered views and ideals that were personal and full of personality, but each with a similar profundity. What struck me most was their courage to remain hopeful in a world that does not always dare to believe in the ideals of peace. There was an all-pervading sense of brightness, a dignified light-heartedness and wide-reaching unity.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu could not be present, but had recorded a beautiful and heart-warming speech which was shown on a huge video screen. His daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu, was present and spoke beautifully. She noted that the event gave the next generation the opportunity to step forward – it was as though a torch was being handed on. It seemed just so, as other daughters were there to represent many pioneering luminaries: Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King; respected philanthropist Khaliah Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali; Marlene Owens-Rankin, daughter of Jesse Owens and managing director of the Jesse Owens Foundation. Also present, and entirely captivating, were Sibongile Mkhabela – CEO of Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund, Portuguese Paralympian Jorge Pina and former President of the General Conference of UNESCO, Dr. Davidson Hepburn.

The event was organised by the World Harmony Run, and hosted by Cathy Oerter’s Art of the Olympians (AOTO), founded by four-time Olympic discus champion Al Oerter, to help Olympians promote the highest ideals of humanity through their creative talents. In that vein, the ceremony was followed by a performance by Boris Puroshottama Grebenshikov, who offered a specially written song with the London Choir. Then the “World Harmony Art Exhibition,” featuring paintings by Sri Chinmoy, opened at the University College London. The exhibition was like a world in itself, I cannot remember ever seeing so many original artworks by Sri Chinmoy.

It is hard to put into words how powerfully uplifting this event was. For me one of the highlights was being able to perform a song by Sri Chinmoy during the ceremony, which seems to perfectly sum up the spirit of day.

A moment’s truth
Can and shall make the world beautiful.

A moment’s peace
Can and shall save the world.

A moment’s love
Can and shall make the world perfect.”

— Sri Chinmoy, from Europe-Blossoms


5

Like a Lizard Drinking

Lately, as my father would say, I’ve been flat out like a lizard drinking, and it had probably better be a chameleon, considering the variety of circumstances I’ve found myself in. One of life’s many paradoxes is that having lots of things to talk about is usually inversely correlated to having the time to talk about them. I like to be busy, but I’m also glad to find myself in one of those weekends with enough space for listening to Bach and Tavener. Reading poems slowly. Dusting properly. Gazing out on the glowing embers of evening sky, the last trains rumbling home, with only the occasional bat flickering past in any kind of hurry.


It all began in France. Two weekends a year the British Sri Chinmoy Centres meet with the French on their home turf, and twice a year they come to us. June was Montpellier. There’s only one flight a week from anywhere near me, which seemed a handy excuse to spend a few days with Hita Hirons, and to catch up with her latest painting adventures. Hita’s mural of the Indian goddess Mahalakshmi graces the walls of Tripti Kulai, a vegetarian restaurant run by students of Sri Chinmoy. Photos cannot do the goddess justice – certainly no photos of mine – but here is a close-up of one exquisite foot, a garland of flowers and the beads of her sari trailing in water. Sublime.

The trip brought back happy memories of similar weekends. That intense silvery light of the South of France, mountains covered in rough sweet-smelling greenery and yellow blooms. Fruit that tastes so perfect I eat it for fun, and not just because it’s good for me. Crème de Marrons for breakfast. The clang of bells on the necks of goats as they trot home for milking. Fresh medallions of chèvre in greaseproof paper. Most of all it’s always the easy company, the laughs and chats, the songs and the rich silences alike.


Then it was the start of a meditation course in York. Similar classes are offered free of charge in cities all over the world, introducing meditation techniques and spiritual inspiration, based on the teachings of Sri Chinmoy. I love these opportunities to meet local people interested in meditation – some of whom are trying it for the first time, and others who have practised for a while.

It was also birthday week, which brought back many sweet memories of birthdays past. The highlight of my own was the first night of the classes, but I looked forward equally to the birthday of a friend, who traveled all the way by train from London for a cream tea in York. It was a happy and decadent day spent mostly chatting in Betty’s Tea Rooms, closely followed by chatting in the other branch of Betty’s Tea Rooms.


Halfway through the course it was time for a very new experience: marshalling at a Self-Transcendence Triathlon in Portishead. The good thing about wearing a marshal bib is that it helps keep out the rain – no such luck for the participants, but I suppose they already planned to get wet. The slightly unnerving aspect of wearing a marshal bib is that the participants assume far higher levels of knowledge in the wearer than she might possess. The frowns of concentration paid off though, and all the swim laps, in all 4 lanes and all 4 waves, with all the right colour swim caps, were recorded by our team, then swiftly transferred from their soggy pieces of paper to the relative safety of a computer. Once my own official jobs were done, it was a chance for some impromptu cheering and handing out of water. Despite the almost wintry conditions, it was a joyous and uplifting event. Not being of a sporty nature, I’m surprised how much I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Where will life’s adventure lead next…

1

The Art of Leafleting

I consider myself something of an expert on leafleting. Indeed I went pro at the age of eleven, door-to-door with my brother, earning tuppence a house. Two whole pence mind you. It was the first job I ever had, and I took it very seriously. Having just moved to a village outside York, we two were employed by our parents to promote our new corner-shop. The business had a rather dismal reputation until we took it over. It was thus with particular pride that I informed our neighbours of the sort of family who had joined their vicinity. The premises would be clean and bright, the produce fresh and in abundant variety. Our customer attention would be friendly and efficient; our trading hours accommodating. We would work hard, each of us in our own way, and were glad to be of service. Leafleting, like shopkeeping, was a dignified and lucrative profession as far as I was concerned.

Nowadays I don’t get paid at all per leaflet, never mind two pence, but I have just the same feelings of dignity and satisfaction. I have spent the last few days leafleting door-to-door for a free meditation course in York, offered by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. Sri Chinmoy himself preferred that whenever his students make contact with people, we do so in person wherever possible. A phone conversation is more meaningful than an email; a hand-delivered leaflet is more tangible and personal than a website listing. It is said that each person in the Western world encounters hundreds if not thousands of advertisements in the course of a day. Don’t get me wrong, my day job is web design, so I know the world moves on, but I feel it is exactly those methods now considered outmoded due to their labour-intensity, that can be the most meaningful. For me it’s like comparing the service of a family-run corner shop to that of a clinical out-of-town hypermarket.

In a spiritual sense I also consider leafleting as part of my own sadhana, a service I aim to carry out with care but detachment, without seeking outer reward or any specific result. It’s not particularly easy or comfortable, but it’s definitely simple. With the generous helping of sunshine England has enjoyed this week, it has not exactly been a hardship for someone who usually works indoors. Like running a certain distance, or repeating a mantra a certain number of times, the satisfaction of leafleting is in the challenge and self-discipline itself. Life is complicated, or at least it is when we are at the mercy of our thoughts. Immersing myself in any straightforward repetitive task is almost like immersing myself in meditation – complications seem to dissolve as though they never existed. So, strange as it may seem, I do it for selfish reasons too – inner tuppences, as it were, for my inner piggy-bank.

We know not everyone will be interested, and why should they be – we only want to share what good fortune we have with those who want it. Whenever I feel reluctant to go out leafleting, I only need think how thankful I was for the free classes I went to myself fifteen years ago. Thankful to those who went before me, for not hiding away their own inner treasure in the Himalayan caves, but for sharing it with me when I needed it most, right here in the everyday Western world – a Bristol public library in my case. Within moments, I am putting on my shoes and heading out with a heavy bundle of printed paper in my bag.

* * *

Maybe it is my Cancerian nature that lends me a love of domestic property – the protective shell, the private domain into which we retreat from the world and its chaos, to rest and renew ourselves. I’m not big on window-shopping – not for clothes or shoes or furniture or the sorts of things for which people generally window-shop. I window-shop for houses or flats, or empty plots of land with dreamy potential. I even window-shop for shops. “An Englishman’s home is his castle,” they say. Genders aside, my own home is tiny and simple, but it is certainly my castle. For me the home is extremely important – some would say irrationally or disproportionately so, but that’s just how I am. Only with special care and reverence would I approach another person’s castle.

Castle gates are sometimes rusted and leaning, wedged into their casing, grating on the ground, groaning reluctantly, or squeaking alarm. Some are peeling or splintering, held together with bits of old rope, the catch replaced by a bungee or a bicycle lock. Others are varnished oak, or glossy black iron in ornate curls, moving with the noiseless grace of a ballroom dancer.

Some gardens are forests of nettles and dandelions, or jungles of ivy. Others are prim rosebush borders and clean-shaven lawns, fresh with the perfume of grass-mowing. Some are all of herbs and meadow flowers, giant poppies like crepe paper, the air mellow with lavender and heavy with the hum of bees. Others are all of crunchy gravel and manicured box hedges. Some are yards of flat paving, full of toys and wellingtons and bicycles, or empty except for a cat dozing in the afternoon sun. Others are so alive with flowers and vines they wind up the sides of houses, adorning windows and street signs.

Some doors are up steps, or down; others are at the side under awnings. Some are flat and newly painted, or tired from neglect; mullioned or inlaid with a stained-glass ornament. Some doors have dogs inside them, flattened back-legged against the glass to my own height, or yapping at knee-level, or silently snatching their paper prize unseen from within.

Some letterboxes have scratchy brushes or bits of carpet inside to keep out the draughts; others have other letterboxes inside for the same reason, or even all three at once. Some open top to bottom, others from side to side; some are nailed shut and don’t open at all. Others have vicious springs, or only make a gap big enough to post a thimble through. Some are just holes cut into the door with nothing to negotiate, or are wide and willing enough for the Sunday papers – magazines and all. A rare few are coupled with huge brass knockers that I long to rap – for the great echoing horse-clopping sounds I know they would make.

Homes speak volumes on the rich variety of human character. Leafleting reminds me of that beautiful tapestry which is humankind. All these people live in my neighbourhood, yet even houses sharing the same street can hint at such a wide spectrum of life. I love that we are each so individual. I love that meditation does not just appeal to people of a particular age or location or income bracket. I know that in approaching almost any house there is a chance that what I am about to offer is exactly what is wanted or needed within.

9

Back in New York

Sri Chinmoy, August 2005, by Prashphutita

I still go at least twice a year to visit the place where Sri Chinmoy spent most of his time – once in April and once in August. Some things are naturally different since his passing in 2007, but some things are still the same. Although I do miss the outer presence of my Guru, the feeling in that little corner of Queens, New York, is just as refined and powerful. I always come back thinking I have been away for weeks, even after days – vigour and inspiration renewed, a fresh perspective on life, solutions to problems, new ideas for creativity. It’s a time not just for inner reflection, but a time to spend with friends from all over the world who have come for the same reasons – a time of laughter and conversation, a chance to plan new projects and compare ideas, as well as sitting together in silent meditation, or performing Sri Chinmoy’s music and plays. I was looking through my earlier recollections today, and found these notes from August 2005.

A green profusion makes an enclave in the dusted floor of a former tennis court. On his seventy-fourth birthday Sri Chinmoy sings out under the mellow evening sky. Two hundred songs fly unaccompanied, unhindered, uninhibited through the poised and listening air, and still that rich voice goes on, growing richer with offering; a melting balm for the tension of my wheeling worldly thoughts.

Can this really be just paper and paint, tethered to a table on that same dusted ground? It seems it may fly away of its own accord, such is the life in it all. I catch myself wondering if these colours have even existed before; they dance with such unearthly splendour. I have looked on many paintings, but I have never seen such movement as in the flight of Sri Chinmoy’s birds. Each work could absorb me for an hour or more, yet they stretch and jostle here in their hundreds. Hundreds of viewers tread softly behind me in the queue, awaiting their own glimpses, so my feet carry me on when I would sooner linger.

I stand by the edge of a lake under shields of trees, with two drinks hastily replaced by two more. Those I serve thank me or smile, although they must be ragged on their approach to mile twenty-six. It is I who would thank them for this chance to stand as if at strength’s epicentre, hour after fleeting hour. Instead I strive to remember names as quickly as their owners pass, stir and drain containers, gather cups discarded, my thanks shining through heart and eyes.

It is not just the momentous, but the simple or even momentary, that paint this view: the sweeping of the restaurant floor; the song of cicadas as bright leaves drop before a glossy moon; a thoughtful gift for no special reason; the witnessing of talent, or goodness, or achievements of another, and the resultant inner cheer; the sense of change – day on day, year on year – as my own true self is revealed to me through it all.

There are treasures in this two-week trove too arresting in strength, too sacred in beauty, too wide and deep and delicate to weave in words. I choose seven pure and perfect flowers to offer Sri Chinmoy in thanks for these jewels. It is not enough on my part, but my own wonder and delight now whisper from the softness of each petal, smile from each starry face, and glow through their colour and light. The jewels will not wither though, as flowers do.

4

Ashrita Furman in the News

Ashrita Furman has been in the UK news quite a bit this week, leading up to his next record breaking attempt in Brazil: to jump rope 900 times in an hour. Underwater. In an aquarium tank. Full of manatees.

Ashrita currently holds 137 Guinness World records, including the one for holding the most world records. He attributes his achievements to Sri Chinmoy, having learned from him the art of meditation and the philosophy of self-transcendence since his teens.

My favourite article this week was by Will Pavia in the Times. Here is a short excerpt:

“It’s about getting closer to God,” he said. And what does God make of a man gyrating down a running track with a milk bottle on his head?
“I think He gets a good chuckle out of it,” Mr Furman said.

  • Read an article about Ashrita in the Telegraph »
  • Read more stories about Ashrita here at sumangali.org »
  • Find out more about Ashrita at Ashrita.com »
  • Or watch this video on ABC Nightline from 9th March 2012…

4

Making a Wish for Peace

Giant glass letters look out from a face of steel, the words like an ancient promise: In These Stones Horizons Sing. The roof shimmers like a beetle’s back in the new spring sunshine, crouching in a burrow of layered slate. I had been using a map until I realised my destination could be seen quite plainly from miles around – Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru,  Wales Millennium Centre – a home for the arts and culture, covering nearly five acres of ground. I am to spend the weekend here with around 50 others. I travelled 5 hours to make a wish for peace; many have come much further than me, and some making a good part of that way on foot.

I lived in Cardiff for several years, but Cardiff Bay was still in its infancy then. Now the Bay is the seat of the National Assembly, and it is as though the heart of the city beats here now. The Senedd (Senate or Parliament) makes its home in a temple-like structure of glass and curving tactile wood, gorgeous and opulent in its very simplicity. The vast canopy looks out over the water as though hovering in a nurturing yet unobtrusive stance, with the workings of the building all nestled underground. The Pierhead serves as a second site for the Assembly, a landmark clock-tower of ochre-red brick. Lavishly ornate in a way only the 19th Century knew how, it has the air of a thing transplanted from a children’s story.

A very different but equally significant landmark survives from the same era. Further out along the water is a humble white timber structure, built by Scandinavian merchants, and known simply as the Norwegian Church. It was a religious and social meeting place for thousands of sailors until the mid 20th Century; then the export of coal declined, and the building all but perished from neglect. Restored with care and kindness, it is now an arts centre and tea room. It seems not to mind this change of occupation at all, perhaps only wanting to be as loved and useful to the community as it was born to be. The bright simple interior and peaceful setting seem a natural continuation of its history: a place to catch the light and the heart and the imagination.

There is a pathway linking this simple place of reflection to the magnificent developments of Cardiff Bay: a quiet but well frequented passage of waterfront; a favourite of joggers, cyclists and dog-walkers; a place for families and visitors to take in the views, or for workers to seek a little calm in a busy day. A bronze statue will look out on the water from today as a permanent expression of prayer and hope. The accompanying plaque suggests to passers-by that they hold the torch, and make a wish for peace.

As the Mayor draws off its blue satin veil, already the statue seems to fit its surroundings so perfectly, I imagine it could have been there always. Its message of oneness is surely so natural to the people of Wales, whose hearts seem to know instinctively the meaning of unity, of self-giving and of perseverance. In these days of bustle and tension – whether individually or globally – there is surely no better time to stop and take a moment to wish for that one thing without which it seems no other quality can flourish. On the inscription is a quote from Sri Chinmoy:

Peace is not merely the absence of war. Peace is the dynamic and energetic presence of love, harmony and oneness in the world family.”

The World Harmony Run, inspired and initiated by Sri Chinmoy, runs from country to country each year, passing a flaming torch from hand to hand in a symbol of peace and friendship. This year is its 25th anniversary, and to mark the occasion the statue was donated by the World Harmony Run to the city of Cardiff. This is a place with a history of friendship with the World Harmony Run. Cardiff was dedicated as a Sri Chinmoy Peace Capital in 1997, when Sri Chinmoy visited and offered a concert at City Hall. It is with such fond memories of my own that I enjoy the ceremony, listening to the heartfelt and joyful speeches, followed by a performance from a traditional Welsh male choir. All at once it is simple and natural, and yet so indescribably glorious. The choir sings of ‘miracles’ and I realise that is the only word that truly fits the beauty and togetherness of it all.

The author Alan Spence made a speech at the ceremony fifteen years ago outside City Hall, including a passage by Dylan Thomas written for the opening of the Eisteddfod in 1953. He reads it again today, and it seems equally and perfectly apposite. Lost for words of my own to describe this natural wonderment, I will end with a short excerpt:

Peace plays on a concertina in the vigorous, starry street, and nobody is surprised… “The town sang and danced, as though it were right and proper as the rainbow or the rare sun to celebrate the old bright turning earth and its bullied people. Are you surprised that people still can dance and sing in a world on its head? The only surprising thing about miracles, however small, is that they sometimes happen.”
– Dylan Thomas, from On the Air with Dylan Thomas: The Broadcasts

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