Sri Chinmoy usually invites his students to visit him in New York in the middle of November, before he leaves to spend the Christmas months somewhere warmer than snow-covered New York. Here is just a little taste of what we experienced this November.....
This year he was using the anniversary of when he started weightlifting as an opportunity to transcend himself - by lifting double the total weight he lifted in a similiar anniversary celebration two years ago! The weightlifting took place over three days. The first morning after we arrived we drove up to New Jersey to an airfield to see him lift helicopters and airplanes using a standing calf raise, then on to a nursery where he lifted a 20-foot tall Christmas tree! Not content with that, he got six of his students to climb the tree ('human monkeys', he jokingly called them) and then lifted it again. And all of this before lunchtime.... blankets were laid out on the nursery lawn and we all sat down to have a what felt like a real family picnic.
Weatherwise, the next day was pretty miserable. Myself and Ambarish were helping to set up all the equipment and facilities to be used during the morning's lifting in Aspiration-Ground, and the non-stop rain and cold meant we had to move around pretty quickly in order to keep warm. There were many invited guests and media present which meant that one had to constantly watch one's step to avoid bumping into someone or getting in the way of a camera. The lifts - all performed on a standing calf raise machine - included a yacht, an elephant and a camel! The elephant was docile enough, preoccupied with throwing the carrots aside in his bucket of feed and eating the apples, but the camel was quite nervous about getting onto the lifting platform and several attempts were needed to lead him onto it. We then all hurried into the relative warmth of indoors wher Sri Chinmoy performed some more lifts on a sitting calf raise machine, including a fishtank and an ice sculpture just created that morning!
But he had saved the best for the finale on the evening of the third night. In front of a packed auditorium, Sri Chinmoy set out to lift over 90 tons during the course of the night. The night began with the presentation of national honours to Sri Chinmoy by representatives of the governments of Hungary, Vietnam and Cambodia. Then the weightlifting started with two sets of twenty repetitions lifting a half-ton weight on the sitting calf-raise machine - already almost a quarter of his total! He then went on to lift a human pyramid of 15 people, his entire collection of 1490 published books, and four grand pianos. He also honoured many past and present Olympians with the 'Lifting up the World with a Oneness-Heart' award using a specially modified apparatus where he could lift them up by shrugging his shoulders upward. However, the best was saved for last - first he lifted up two concrete lions with a total combined weight of over a ton, and then, and then he lifted a car using a specially constructed apparatus in which he was standing overhead - the car could be clearly seen swinging underneath him, thus providing quite a dramatic finish to the night. The next day, we were helping to put away the equipment and weights - hauling a 40kg plate around made you appreciate just how heavy some of those weights were, and made it even more mindboggling that Sri Chinmoy managed to move 24 of them in one lift!
Sri Chinmoy was also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the commencement of his 'Jharna-Kala' paintings. At the time he was drawing many birds on a series of notebooks he had purchased in San Diego and become quite partial to. He then went on to paint 30 paintings on 30 different qualities, for example 'Hope' or 'Humility'. He would write the quality down first and then his painting hand would follow wherever his contemplation on that particular quality would lead him. All during the night an instrumental group was playing songs that Sri Chinmoy had composed about his painting, and assistants were moving around displaying the freshly-created paintings to everyone in the audience.
Ashrita breaks another record
Ashrita Furman, a long-time student of Sri Chinmoy is the current holder of the most Guinness world records, ranging from the most sit-ups in an hour to the fastest mile travelled whilst pushing an orange with his nose! This time around Ashrita was aiming to break the current record of 42 seconds for the 100-yard dash bouncing on a 'space hopper' - you know, one of them big inflatable balls you sat on with horns you grabbed on to .
If you were hibernating during the seventies and dont know what a space hopper is, click here....
The setting was Flushing Meadows, behind Shea Stadium and site of the huge World Expo globe. A suitable track had been found leading out from the globe; the autumnal tree-lined avenue made for quite a majestic setting. Helping Ashrita with the attempt logistics were Dipali Cunningham, world record holder for running 1000 miles, and Suprabha Beckjord, the only person to complete the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile race - the world's longest road race - all eight years it has been held.
Ashrita easily smashed the record on his first attempt, coming in at just under 31 seconds; however hadn't managed to better the time he had set in practice, so he decided to have another go. I arrived just in time for this second attempt - I had borrowed a bicycle that was far too big for me to get there and on the way got confused and ended up cycling on the freeway for a stretch (not a good idea, I'm told). After a short and powerful meditation, Ashrita pushed off again. The event is quite tough, you really have to use those calf muscles to push the hopper of the ground, and the strain was evident on his face as he neared the finish line. In the end, he just about beat his previous record, with a time of 30.16 (unofficial). A film crew was on hand to record the entire thing; we stayed behind to watch as Ashrita demonstrated some of his record-breaking techniques to the media - milk bottle balancing, pogo-sticking and hula hooping. The ease with which he seemed to be able to do all these things belies the enormous amount of hard work Ashrita puts into perfecting each discipline.
For more information ablout Ashrita's records, see his website...
(These are just my personal remembrances, and as such the feats described below, although I've done my best to make them sound as heroic as possible, are definitely not in the same league as what has been described so far)
Every Saturday morning there is a two-mile race consisting of two and a half laps around the local high school block. The miserable weather the previous day had not left me much inclined to venture out at all on the first Saturday, but I trudged out there anyway. But as soon as the race was started, I found myself sharing the lead with Praban (my boss when I worked in Austria last year and a noted runner) and wondering whether should I really be up so close to the front. I went through the first mile in personal record pace - that fact made me a little edgy; I soon lost Praban and found it very hard to keep up the same momentum in the second half of the race. However I still thought I had second place by a long way - I crossed the finish line without looking over my shoulder, but then a second later the whole cavalry arrived hot on my heels! They had spotted me fading and were gunning to pass me out before the finish line, so I was very lucky, I could have been in sixth place or even further back. After the race, Sri Chinmoy usually composes a prayer and perhaps even sets music to it, before handing out prizes in the form of prasad (blessed food) to the top three boys and top three girls. The next week, many of the better runners had flown home already, so I had a much easier time of it, winning the race by ten seconds. I was happy though, that I had bettered my time of the previous week by a few seconds - that's what it's all about, competing with your own capacities rather than looking over your shoulders. Actually, I had quite a graphic illustration of that during the race: I went into an early lead, and for the first mile whilst running I was a little insecure because I couldn't see anyone behind me. Then I passed the mile mark, got my split time and formed an idea about what final time to aim for. This made me feel much better because I could then concentrate on transcending myself and reaching that time regardless of who was ahead of or behind me.
For a general account of what takes place when we visit Sri Chinmoy in New York, click here.....
This is just a selection of some of the happenings that took place during our visit. And November is reckoned to be one of the quieter times to visit Sri Chinmoy.......