I get endless pleasure when I contemplate how the small details of my running reflect the larger issues in my life.
Conversely, understanding life’s big patterns helps me understand my training.
An example. Over the years, I’ve realized that some things always “work” when I run. That is, they invariably yield wonderful results of enjoyment and improving fitness.
They’re big, fine-sounding principles like “directional relativity.”
That’s a fancy-pants way of saying that the only way to make progress is by accepting ourselves as we are.
Take my maximum aerobic training pace. (Please.) Seriously, if I’m able to run at 9:00 pace aerobically, it would be folly to pretend that I could run 8:30 pace, simply because it pleases my ego.
I’m a 9:00 guy – that’s my reality and nothing will change it. Of course, by training I can move in the direction of 8:30. In fact, the same methods that can take a world-class Kenyan to a sub-2:04 marathon will help me run sub-9:00. The direction is the same (toward greater aerobic speed), but the training pace that’s right for Mr. World-Class is way, way out of my league.
Well, back to my original thought. Big ideas like directional relativity can help us with the details.
What about the really big ideas? Such as: is life meaningful? Or is life, as various atheists, orthodox biologists, nihilists, cynics, and drooling Internet commenters claim, just a random bubbling-up of meaningless gurglings from the primeval ooze?
After a life of spiritual seeking, I find I don’t have to go very far out on a limb to assert that life is meaningful.
Life’s laws have the beauty of scientific order and consistency. And those who follow the rules are rewarded with inner fulfillment.
Consider human history. Orthodox historians and orthodox scientists tell us that history is linear. Our ancestors were plants, fish, frogs, and chimpanzees. Human history has moved forward one brick at a time. Toward – well, who knows what ultimate end?
According to the biologists, history is meaningless – it will unfold as a response to the brute urge for survival.
But if we turn to the wisdom of the East, we find a very different picture. The eastern view of history is beautifully described in a recent book by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz, The Yugas: Keys to Understanding Our Hidden Past, Emerging Energy Age, and Enlightened Future.
It’s a 350-page book, so I won’t try to summarize the whole dang-blased thing. Suffice it to say that, in the view of India’s ancient sages, history proceeds in 24,000-year cycles – an ascent of 12,000 years during which human awareness becomes increasingly refined, followed by a descent during which humanity falls into relative ignorance.
Where do we stand today? According to the Yuga timetable, humanity recently emerged from the darkest age of materialism and has entered an age of energy-awareness that will last 2,400 years. A 200-year transition period from the age of materialism to the age of energy began around 1700. Around 1900, we entered the energy age (called Dwapara Yuga) full-bore.
How do these grand cycles connect with running?
I find it deeply reassuring when I encounter evidence that the grand scheme of things is meaningful, including the long and arduous cycles of human history.
It reinforces my sense that life is meaningful in the microcosm as well. In the tiny world of running, I find a playful model and metaphor for life. Running is lawful, and as we apply its laws, we experience fulfillment.
The same principles bring us success and satisfaction as runners and in life.
What will life look like in future ages? According to the ancients, the age of energy-awareness will be followed, around 4100 AD, by a dawning age of mental awareness, called Treta Yuga, when matter will be understood as composed not only of energy (as science discovered at the turn of the 20th century), but ultimately as a manifestation of consciousness.
In the most advanced age, Satya Yuga, mankind as a whole will be aware that the material cosmos is a manifestation of God’s divine awareness.
We’ve got a long way to go, baby.
Still, I find it reassuring that we’re moving upward, and that the whole mess is ultimately meaningful.
I enjoy a good super-hero movie. I’ve seen them all: X-Men, Thor, Fantastic 4, Iron Man, Avengers, Captain America, Incredible Hulk, etc.
Something in me responds with childlike delight to the notion of flying around, exploding things with rays of energy that shoot out of my hand, and communicating telepathically. On some level of my being, it all seems so very natural.
At first I imagined that my enjoyment of these sci-fi flicks was pure escapism, a relaxing trip into my subconscious when I’m feeling brain-dead after a long day at the keyboard.
But after reading The Yugas, specifically the chapters on Treta Yuga, about the distant age of mind-over-matter, it occurred to me that those movies are simply describing abilities that will be fairly common in that far-off time.
Treta Yuga corresponds to the Silver Age of the Greeks, who also used the name Age of the Demigods. They considered this era to be a time when men had great powers, when some men were considered to be the offspring of unions between gods and men, or to have been born with divine qualities.
The concept of an Age of Demigods was not limited to the Greeks. The Native American Hopis’ Second World was populated by men and women possessing extraordinary powers. The Chinese legend of the Three August Ones ascribes great wisdom and power to three emperors who gave man the keys to moral living, agriculture, and medicine. The Three August Ones are said to have passed on to mankind the wisdom of the gods. Among the best-known demigods are Rama, whose life and exploits are told in India’s Ramayana, and Gilgamesh, whose adventures are told on clay tablets of Sumerian cuneiform in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Dating the origins of these epics is difficult. The only certainty is that they were put into written form sometime in descending Dwapara Yuga. But because they are generally thought to have existed as oral traditions long before they were written down, their likely origin was in descending Treta Yuga.
There are a number of common themes shared by the surviving Treta Yuga stories about demigods:
- Rama in the Ramayana and Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh both go on epic journeys and encounter powerful demonic adversaries. The Three August Ones in similar fashion travel through China encountering and battling demonic foes.
- Rama, Gilgamesh, and the Three August Ones experience realms barred to other men: Rama in the court of the gods; Gilgamesh in the underworld; and the Three August Ones in frequent converse with the gods.
- Rama, Gilgamesh, and the Three August Ones all possess extraordinary powers, which they use scrupulously to protect mankind.
- Rama, Gilgamesh, and the Three August Ones directly relate their ancestry to the “first man”:
- Rama is in direct lineage from Manu, India’s first man, the “law giver” who is said to have passed on the wisdom of Satya Yuga.
- Gilgamesh is in the lineage of Alulim, the first Sumerian king: “After the kingship descended from heaven…”
- The first of the Three August Ones is FuXi, himself the first man.
- Rama, Gilgamesh, and the Three August Ones are often described as “god-kings” and are portrayed as moral and benevolent rulers, loved by their subjects.
Those well versed in ancient cultural traditions may notice that we have not so far mentioned other well-known heroes, such as Heracles (Hercules) and Odysseus of the Greek tradition, Cuchulain of the Celtic/Irish tradition, Siegfried of the Germanic tradition, and the five Pandavas of the Indian tradition, as told in the Mahabharata. The heroes in these tales do share similarities with Rama, Gilgamesh, and the Three August Ones. They are often portrayed as semi-divine and possessing great powers. It is, however, more difficult to reliably date them as far back as Treta Yuga, although some experts do so.
Well, never mind. It’s all fascinating stuff, no matter how tenuously it connects to our times, and more specifically to our running.
I vigorously recommend The Yugas if you’re looking to add a piece to the puzzle of life’s meaningfulness. To my mind, it’s wonderful to catch a glimpse of humanity’s bright future, and to realize where we’ve travelled in the past.
Who knows – if we’re re-born together in Treta Yuga, perhaps we’ll go for a run, wearing thirty-fourth-century Spandex suits, and we’ll blast out the blocks like Thor and cover 50 miles in 10 minutes like Captain-America.