May 2015 By Hari Bhaskaran Hari Bhaskaran vividly describes the epic battle he waged against negative forces during a 250-km cycling race With the desert sun beating down on our backs, every kilometer of the 250-km ultra cycling race takes mental strength. Our minds play tricks with us and we are most vulnerable at turning points when emotional and physical triggers scream at us to turn back. I pressed on past the 75-km turning point determined to complete the 250 kms race creditably, although my creaky 65-year-old body groaned at me to give up and settle for a more manageable 150-km race. Wisdom does not come with just age but with the experience of battles and trials over time. The second edition of the Desert 500 Ultra cycling event in November 2013 was a battlefield that added to my storehouse of experiences that constitute wisdom. This was a battle that had to be won in the mind; the eternal battle that rages between theforces of good and the forces of evil in our minds. When the forces of evil invade and rule our minds, we seek paths of leisure and comfort that eventually lead to dissatisfaction, disillusionment and a downward spiral of unhappiness. When the forces of good rightfully rule our minds, we feel more energized and engaged, and on the path of an upward spiral of happiness. Cycling as a sport is coming of age in India. With at least a dozen cycling groups in almost every metropolis, it is not surprising that cycling enthusiasts would venture into new territories and create new targets. From riding in the Nilgiris to the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, cycling buffs are travelling far, crossing boundaries and making new friends. You could be between 15 and 70 but if you have power in your legs, focus in your mind, strength in your torso, and a well-made cycle, you could be referred to as an Ultra Cyclist. The Desert 500 ultra cycling event has several races within it. The ultimate challenge is the 500-km race, followed by the 250- and 150-km races. For the less adventurous there is the 50-km race. I was better prepared for this year’s event, as I had been training under a personal trainer for over a year. It was only during the months of June and July when we went on a holiday that my training was interrupted. At the age of 65, this led to a sharp drop in fitness levels. So much so that when I did a 25-km ride around Ansal Plaza and Chirag in Delhi, I found my pulse racing, and I was tiring more than I should. It took me all of August to get back to my usual fitness level. In September and October my trainer pushed up my training load quite a bit. I began feeling a lot more tired and struggled to go cycling in the early hours of the morning. I missed out on several days and on other days the distances and effort were below par. I even started resisting the trainer’s sessions, and was tempted to skip some of them or reduce the load. The Desert 500 cycling event was on November 16th and the plan was to ease off on the cardio work-outs and increase the strength work-outs in November. The trainer, however, felt I was falling short of cycling efforts, and kept getting me back on the cycle trainer. I felt the trainer’s regimen was not correct, and that I should be easing off on the training load. I even started feeling that I should really be attempting the more manageable 150-km race rather than the 250-km race and perhaps push myself for a faster timing. It was at this time that I wisely decided to increase daimoku, the Buddhist chanting sessions, to one hour every day. Gongyo and daimoku, the Buddhist prayer practices, help a great deal in facing up to the stresses and trials of day-to-day living, and to equip you to face up to challenges. I have been practicing the Buddhist faith for over 20 years now, although a trifle irregularly over the last year. An early realization through prayer was that I needed to be very clear in my mind what exactly I wanted to do. It was only through this clarity of purpose that I could complete the challenges that I set for myself. No longer was it enough for me to do just the 150-km race. I must successfully complete the 250-km race. The forces of evil would do everything to turn me away from the path I had set for myself. For me triumph would mean that my mind would continue to be ruled by the forces of good. On the morning of the event on the 16th at Bikaner, I remained focused on completing 250 km of cycling. I prayed only that I would have the strength and endurance to complete the event creditably. As I rode past the 75-km mark triumphantly, I felt the going good as the road gently sloped downward. The devilish forces, though, strike at moments of weakness and I had to be extra cautious once again at the 100-km mark, where I could turn to finish a 200-km consolation ride. Voices playing in my head urged me to be sensible and to quit and turn back, to avoid the strenuous and taxing return ride. I remained firm in my resolve not to be swayed by these negative tendencies. I stayed on course with the help of the shotenzenjin, the protective forces of nature, in the form of other riders who mysteriously arrived just before the 75- and 100-km turning points and stayed with me, distracting me from any negative thoughts. This is how the forces of the good work for you. I was making good progress and raced along to reach the 125-km turning point in six hours, 45 minutes, a reasonably good time and what I had planned to achieve. After light refreshments, I was off again on the return leg. I was feeling a lot more confident now and even mocked the devilish forces. Where were they, I asked? As if in answer, I found myself cycling against a strong head wind and also struggling up the incline. My speed dropped and the toll on my legs steadily increased. The forces of evil were slowly turning the screws on me, and waiting for an opportune time to strike. I could pray only that my legs would hold out and that I was fit enough to battle on the side of the good. The forces of good leave the decisions of your life on you. The choices are taken by your own free will. The battle of the mind was now about to begin. The wisdom of prayer, however, placed before me, correctly what was really at stake. If I were to give in to the forces of evil, my mind would be forever under the control of the dark forces, and my life would inevitably slide down the path of unhappiness. The cycling event was just a setting for yet another round of the eternal battle. I would win if I stayed steadfastly focused on defeating negative tendencies. No one said cycling in the Thar would be easy. A balmy 25 degrees in the day, the temperatures fall to a chilling 10 degrees at night, along the road where one has as company, only one’s fellow cyclists. For miles the eyes see only the desert. It was both calming and exciting. The only sounds that one could hear for miles were that of cycles on the road, and the wind whispering to the sand. It was challenging, chilling, calming, and renewing. I gamely pressed on, taking the journey back in chunks of 25 kms, the distance between successive refreshment points. With every passing hour I needed to stop more often to ease the load on my weakening legs. When I entered the final stretch of 30 kms that would take me to the finish line, I had a surge of energy and a smirk for the devilish forces, as I felt they couldn’t beat me now. Alas, once again, I was to face the wrath of evil forces as they descended menacingly for one last effort to stop me. Even with a few kilometres to go I found my resolve seriously challenged on the tougher-than-expected inclines. It was with a sense of relief that I finally crossed the finish line. It was not a time for any excessive celebration but the warm glow of satisfaction hung around me, and would stay with me for a long time. I experienced a great sense of gratitude as I knelt down to pray the next morning. I was at peace with myself, and happy that I had played my role in ensuring that the forces of the good remain entrenched in my mind, at least for the moment. About the author Hari is a business leader, mentor and executive coach with a long track record of achievement, developing high performance teams and mentoring team members.
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