There are many qualities needed for success, both in daily life and in meditation. But perhaps the most important is perseverance. We can’t succeed unless we stay the course until the end.
I’ve just read a very inspiring book that exemplifies this quality. It’s called 26 Marathons, by Meb Keflezighi. Meb, as he is affectionately known, is one of the greatest of all American distance runners, having won numerous national and international titles, and run in four different Olympics. The book takes you through all twenty-six of his marathons, which is fascinating for anyone interested in athletic achievements, but more importantly, he shares the lessons he learned from each race.
As an aside, it is a good practice to try to relate everything we read, watch, or do to our spiritual quest. Lessons and inspiration are hidden everywhere, waiting to be discovered. Even seemingly mundane things have a link to inner states. For example, both Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda collected opals. I know that Swamiji found them to be among the most beautiful of all jewels because of their ever-changing colors. But more important than their outward beauty was that they reminded him of the light seen in the spiritual eye during deep meditation. He had the ability to find in everything a thread that led to the remembrance of God.
One of the things in the book that I found most uplifting was the author’s ability to use difficulty, even failure, to inspire him to greater heights. He often battled against severe obstacles, but he always persevered. He was a living example of Paramhansa Yogananda’s admonition, “The season of failure is the best time for sowing the seeds of success.”
Few of us will ever run a marathon (although I ran three of them when I was younger), but his insights can and should be applied to the most challenging endeavor of all, the long run toward enlightenment. Here are three important lessons that came to me while reading the book:
1) Use failures as inspirations: For Meb, almost every marathon had a severe obstacle, often an injury or illness. Some he could fight through, others he couldn’t and had to accept. But he always found a lesson in his failure that gave him a pathway to future success.
2) Stay positive: “Training for a race,” Meb wrote, “is done from the neck down. The race itself is run mainly from the neck up.” Training he found enjoyable although physically strenuous. But racing against the world’s best runners required such supreme effort that it forced him up against his mental limitations. There were times in nearly every race when negative thoughts such as, “I can’t win and never want to run another race” began to dominate. Do you ever feel this way in meditation? At those times, his solution was to resurrect a positive outlook, and when he succeeded, his strength returned. The same applies to our spiritual efforts.
3) Persevere: If we are going to grow, we will first be brought up against our present limits. At this time, the desire to quit will arise. (Hint: If a challenge is too easy, we won’t grow from it.) If we can fight through the despondency, we will rise to new heights.
Swami Kriyananda overcame numerous challenges during his life. I was with him one Sunday afternoon in early 1968 when he called together a small group of a dozen or so people to see if they would be interested in joining him in the adventure of starting the first Ananda community. As he explained his thoughts I could see that the group was not with him. Their reactions ranged from intellectual curiosity, to barely hidden indifference, to active negativity. I was the only one in the room who was truly inspired. That meeting could only be called a disaster.
Undeterred, Swamiji realized that he needed first to inspire people, so he spent the next month writing Cooperative Communities, How to Start Them and Why, which became the blueprint for the communities movement. Nor did he let one bad experience stop him. He persisted through countless tests while building the Ananda communities, until today they are a global example of a new way of life. Swami ran and won many such “marathons” during his gloriously successful life. We, too, can cross the finish line to Self-realization if we follow these simple principles.
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