Beating the demons


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Category: Reflections Date: 20 Feb 05


It’s five thirty in the morning. The week before Carnival. A woman runs round the Savannah, again and again and again and again and again and again and again. Eight times. A man on a day off watches and approaches her, runs alongside her on her seventh round.


“Excuse me, what are you doing?”

“I’m training for the marathon.”

“I’ve heard something about people like you.”


The woman keeps running, thinking I just want to run and run and run till I make my 18 miles and not talk.


“I hear that everyone who runs marathons is crazy.”


I know this woman well. I’ve run with her. Up to 13 miles. But after that she leaves me way behind, hobbling on my hurt feet, because she runs up Chancellor and down again. Twice. Superwoman I call her. How she juggles two children a six day workweek, a home, husband, family, friends? Running?


I understand the addiction. I ran my first marathon last year and wanted to do a decent time this year.


Two short breaths in, two short breaths out, one minute more, two minutes more. The lungs protested. The feet hurt. No more. No more. I stop, sometimes after six, eight or ten miles. My foot injury won’t let me. All year long I’ve pored over running and nutrition books for athletes, woken up at 5 am to run around the Savannah or time my run up Lady Chancellor Hill. I’ve taken my running shoes to Boston, Venezuela, Miami and London. Gone to bed clutching a dream. Woken up clutching it.


You talk to people you read books and the papers, and everybody’s got their own demons to wrestle with. Even you, reading this. Money, illness, misunderstandings, loneliness, loss, regret whatever.


The two breaths in, two breaths out, is not madness, it’s prayer. I discovered that when I went to a meditation workshop this week with my usual bag of cynicism. Sri Vasudev of Blue Star was speaking. I went for the same reasons people read self-help books, practise religions and rituals, smoke, drink, take drugs, travel to the Himalayas or join groups. Looking for something.


I’ve met him a few times and finally I have to say this man is the real deal. (No I’m not going soft on you). On this evening, he traced his path to spirituality by evoking his younger 18, 19-year-old questioning self. Asking “Why are we here?” “Why be born with longings of immortality only to age and die?”


The question he asked that really interested me was this. “Wouldn’t you like to control your mind?” You mean, not be pushed about by emotions like anger, be glad one minute, sad the next? Yes. He described thoughts in a way that would appeal to everyone who’s used a computer. There is the observer (your core, the spirit that never ages) and the thought. You can observe, the thought, be amused by it, or angered, even but you are not the thought. You are not controlled by it. You have the power simply to delete it, and type in another one, something more positive.


Then he asked us to meditate. To concentrate on our breathing, on one thought, and someone we loved.


For 20 minutes in a community centre in St Augustine, this cynic was amazed. Running and control of the mind coincided. In my head I was running on a sun dappled leafy path with someone I loved. Two breaths in, two out. We ran together weaving in and out of this forest. The meditation was over. Too soon.


Later he talked about the power of everyday choices—to live automatically or in a perpetual state of meditation, at the complexity of human cells as you eat, at the suns in stars at night, at the revolving earth beneath your feet as you walk.


Both the runner and the guru discovered a way to beat up the demons. It’s not so separate. Controlling the mind, seeing its power, banishing despair, holding on to wonder, a breath at a time.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur