Wisdom does not come with just age but with experiences of battles and trials over time. The second edition of the Desert 500 Ultra cycling event was a battle field that added to my store house of experiences that constitutes wisdom. This year’s event was a battle that had to be won in the mind; the eternal battle that rages between the forces of the Good and the forces of the Evil in our minds. When the forces of Evil invade and rule our minds, we seek paths of leisure and comfort that eventually lead on to dis-satisfaction, disillusionment and a downward spiral of unhappiness. When the forces of the Good rightfully rule our minds, we feel more energized and engaged and on the path of an upward spiral of happiness.
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 to Canada and the US, that my training was interrupted. At the creaky age that I am at, this led to a sharp drop in fitness level. So much so, that when I did a 25 km ride around Ansal Plaza and Chirag, 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.
September and October were months that my trainer used to push up my training load quite bit. I had to get out of my comfort zone, so I was quite prepared for it. But something unexpected started happening. I was feeling a lot more tied and struggling 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 plan. I even started feeling jaded with the personal trainer’s sessions and wanted to skip some of them or reduce the load.
November 16th was the Desert 500 cycling event 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 effort and kept getting me back on the cycle trainer. I was reaching a stage when I felt the trainer’s regime 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 150 km ride rather than the 250 km ride 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 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. An early realization was that I need to be very clear in my mind what exactly I wanted to do. It was only through this clarity of purpose that one can complete the challenges that one sets for one self.
The battle of the mind was now about to begin. The forces of the Evil had insidiously entered my mind and were steering me on to a path that was the easier more relaxed option. The wisdom of the Gohonzon, however, placed before me, correctly what was really at stake. If I was 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 when I stay steadfastly focused on defeating negative tendencies.
No longer was it enough for me to do just 150 kms. I must successfully complete 250 kms. 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 kms of cycling. I prayed only that I would have the strength and endurance to complete the event creditably. When we were waved off at the starting point, I felt relaxed and good and my cycle felt in good shape too.
The devilish forces work insidiously and I had to be extra cautious at two points, the 75 km turning point where the 150 km riders turned back and the 100 km point where I could turn to finish a 200 km consolation ride. Your mind plays tricks with you at these vulnerable points and there are strong tendencies to quit and turn at these points. I remained firm in my resolve not to be swayed by these negative tendencies. I stayed on course with the help of the shoten zenjin in the form of other riders, who mysteriously arrived just before these 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 due to the favourable down ward incline while cycling and reached the 125 km turning point in 6 hours 45 mins, a reasonably good time and what I had planned to do. 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 was steadily increasing. The forces of the evil were slowing turning the screws on me and waiting for the appropriate time of weakness to strike. I could pray only that my legs hold out and I am fit enough to battle on the side of the good. The forces of the good leave the decisions of your life on you. The choices are always on your own free will.
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. I was to face the wrought of the evil forces as they seemed to descend menacingly, for one last effort .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. I would experience that as I knelt down to pray in gratitude 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.