Question: I find that during competitions my aspiration varies a lot, sometimes going up, sometimes going down. Is there any way that I can maintain my aspiration throughout the whole competition?

Sri Chinmoy: This is my simple suggestion. Before the competition starts, meditate most soulfully for five minutes. Try to make yourself feel that you are not the competitor, but that somebody else is running, jumping or playing in and through you. You are only the witness, the spectator. Since somebody else is competing, you are at perfect liberty to watch and enjoy. While you are running, sometimes it is very difficult to enjoy the race. Either the competitive spirit or frustration is killing you, or your body is not abiding by your mental will and you feel that you are literally dying. So many problems arise.

But before you start, if you can convince yourself that you are a divine observer and that somebody else is competing in you, through you and for you, then fear, doubt, frustration, anxiety and other negative forces will not be able to assail your mind. Once these thoughts occupy the mind, they try to enter into the vital and then into the physical. Once they enter into the physical, they create tension, and this makes you lose all your power of concentration. But if you feel that you are not the competitor, if you feel that you are observing the competition from the beginning to the end, then there will be no tension, and these forces will not attack you. This is the only way to overcome these forces and maintain the highest type of concentration from the beginning to the end.

Question: Before a 400-metre race I am full of anxiety. I feel afraid of becoming too exhausted, even though I know from experience that this fear is baseless. Why am I so anxious?

Sri Chinmoy: For long-distance you need stamina and for short-distance you need speed. But the 400 metres demands both stamina and speed. So first of all, you should recognize that this is a most difficult race. But since you have run it many, many times, you know that you are not going to die. The difficulty, in your case, is not actually fear of exhaustion, but a subtle fear that you may not be first, which creates anxiety. You do not actually worry that after 400 metres you are going to collapse and die. That fear would be absolutely baseless. The real fear is that someone is going to beat you.

You have to learn the difference between anxiety and alertness. Anxiety and alertness are two different dynamic energies. With anxiety, you are always worrying about others and comparing yourself to them. But with alertness, you simply want to do the best you can. When the starter is about to fire the gun, you should be alert but not anxious.

When you run, try to feel that you are the only runner in the race. Before the gun goes off, do not think of others; think only of yourself - that you are going to run at your own fastest speed. You want to see your capacity. Whether you come in first or last is for God to decide. So you will remain alert, but you will not think of others. In this way there can be no anxiety.

Question: Recently, in a mile race, I ran the first two quarters on my pace, but in the third quarter my concentration went.

Sri Chinmoy: At that time a kind of relaxation or complacent feeling came. You felt that you had achieved your goal. You should have said to yourself, "I have achieved my goal for the first half, but I have another goal." If you always try to go beyond, to transcend, then you will have a better speed. Satisfaction is good, but it is also good to have hunger. God has given you an iota of peace, so you are satisfied. But you should want to have more peace. This hunger for something more we call receptivity. You can increase your receptivity. When you come to a particular standard, you have to say, "Is there anything more I can do?" Then do it.

Question: Is it better to concentrate or meditate when running a marathon?

Sri Chinmoy: It is always advisable to concentrate while running a marathon. If you meditate, then you will feel that you are either on the top of a snow-capped mountain or at the bottom of the sea. That is the very highest type of meditation, but that will not help your running. But if you concentrate on running, then at every moment you will be able to regulate your steps and your forward movement. Also, discouraging, destructive and uncomely thoughts will not be able to lower your consciousness. If your consciousness is not lowered, then naturally you will run faster.

Before running, however, meditation is good to make the mind calm and quiet so that wrong forces do not enter. When you meditate, your mind acquires some poise. Then, while you are running, if you can bring forward this poise, it will help you overcome the mental frustration that often comes while running long distances. When you are running long distances, all kinds of frustrating thoughts will come and make you feel that what you are doing is useless. Or the mind will say, "Oh, this is boring," and you will not want to take one more step. But if you were able to meditate earlier in the day, then you will have acquired some solid inner strength that will carry you mile after mile. Also, meditation teaches you how to empty your mind of thoughts. And if you can keep thoughts out of your mind while you are running, it will help you tremendously - far beyond your imagination. At that time a new creation will be able to dawn inside you, and this will give you added inspiration and receptivity.

But while you are actually running, it is better to concentrate rather than meditate. Another thing you can do is sing spiritual songs soulfully and powerfully. This will also help keep your mind from becoming tired and frustrated and interfering with your running.

Question: During training an athlete sacrifices a great deal of time, and yet on the race day itself he may not be able to do well. What do you think is the attitude he should have toward this sort of thing?

Sri Chinmoy: It entirely depends on what kind of athlete one is. If one is a spiritual athlete, a seeker-athlete, then every day is a golden opportunity to become a better instrument of God; it is a life-long process. Therefore, every time one practises, one has to devote and surrender oneself to the Will of the Supreme. If someone is not a seeker, but an ordinary athlete with abundant capacities, then he should feel that life is not a matter of self-giving or sacrifice. Life is only a matter of giving and taking. When he is training, which means he is preparing himself, at that time he is giving. Then, on the particular day when there is an athletic meet, on that day he is receiving world recognition. So the athlete gives and gives and gives for a few months, and then there comes a time when he receives appreciation, admiration and adoration from the world. So how can there be any sacrifice? It is all give and take.

An athlete practises seriously for three or four months, and then during the competition he has to show his capacity. If he does poorly, he may think, "Oh, I made such sacrifices for so many months. Now what a deplorable result!" But it was not a sacrifice. He was only giving for a period of time, and now he is receiving the result in the form of an experience. The seeker who recognizes his inner oneness with the rest of the world will not feel sad and miserable if he does poorly. This kind of experience - both success and failure - is absolutely necessary for everybody in every walk of life.

Question: If someone is near me, I find it easier to maintain the speed I want to maintain. But if no one is in front of me, I find it difficult to concentrate on speed.

Sri Chinmoy: At that time you have to use your stopwatch. If you know you can do under a five-minute pace for seven miles, then try to increase your capacity. You may be ahead of the other runners, but you are not ahead of your best possible time. Suppose you were planning to run at a 4:30 pace, but everyone is behind you, so you are not getting any inspiration or challenge. Just look at your stopwatch and think of it as another rival or competitor. Then you will be inspired to run faster.

Question: How would you describe it when someone "hits the wall" during a marathon?

Sri Chinmoy: Each person has his own description of the wall. What does hitting the wall mean? It means that your exhaustion has touched its ultimate height. When you reach this point, everything may go blank before your eyes or you may see all black. You might feel that there is a thick wall right in front of you that you can't penetrate, or a vast ocean or a big mountain that will not allow you to go further. It is an obstacle that you cannot push aside, penetrate or go beyond.

If you have really hit the wall, then even with adamantine will you can run only one or two more miles. Hitting the wall is like feeling that all your life-energy has deserted you. It means that you have an absolutely real sense of collapse. Your body gives you the feeling that death is imminent. At that time, real discouragement - physical, vital and mental - assails your life.

Question: What should my attitude be when someone else wins a race I am running in?

Sri Chinmoy: As children, we learn how to walk only after repeated falls. We become a fast runner after losing the race many times. We become good wrestlers by being defeated many times. If I feel sad when I observe someone else winning a race, this will not help me. But if I can appreciate his speed, automatically some of his capacity will enter into me. Through sincere appreciation we gain capacity. When I see that somebody is running the fastest, I really feel that I am that person. If you can identify with other people's successes, instead of envying them, you will get a great deal more joy out of life. And of course, if you can identify with their defeats as well, you will learn sympathy and kindness as well as enriching your own experience.

Question: Suppose a race is very close and the capacity of two athletes is the same, but one of them is aspiring. Does God's Grace let the one who is aspiring win?

Sri Chinmoy: It depends on the Supreme's Will. If someone is very aspiring, the Supreme may tell the person, "All right, since you are sincerely dedicated to My Will, you don't have to win in the Olympics." Again, if someone is a seeker and he also has very great potential as an athlete, then the Supreme may give him just a little bit of success in sports. But if somebody with great aspiration becomes only an athlete, it will be a waste of his capacity.

Question: How does your philosophy of self-transcendence, in which you state that mankind should strive for progress instead of success, apply to the up-coming Olympics?

Sri Chinmoy: All the athletes should bear in mind that they are competing not with other athletes but with their own capacities. Whatever they have already achieved, they have to go beyond. The presence of all the great athletes at the Olympics represents a great opportunity. When an athlete has to compete with the rest of the world, there is every opportunity and possibility that he will transcend his own capacities. This is what is of paramount importance, and not whether he defeats others or not. God, the Author of all good, will be extremely pleased with the athlete only when he transcends his own capacities.

What is of paramount importance is the individual's attitude. The athlete has to feel that he is establishing a new record not for his own glory but in order to increase the capacity and improve the standard of the world. The winning athlete has to feel that he is representing all of humanity. Then, with a devoted and soulful heart, if he can soulfully offer his achievement to the Supreme Athlete, his Source, at that time he is doing absolutely the right thing. If this is his attitude, then let him try his utmost to break world records. But if he wants to defeat the rest of the world only to bask in his own glory, then he is making a deplorable mistake.

The Olympic athlete should feel that he is a member of the world-family, and his goal should be his own continuous progress. If he can continually transcend his own achievements, he is bound to achieve satisfaction, for progress is nothing short of satisfaction. The two go always together. If he cares only for success, then even if he succeeds he will not get abiding joy. For in the twinkling of an eye he will look around and see his achievements being shattered here or elsewhere. But his own progress is like a seed that eventually becomes a sapling and then a giant banyan tree which will give him a continuous sense of satisfaction.