Is it unspiritual to care about winning?
Spiritual philosophy teaches us to be detached from the result of our actions. Sri Chinmoy writes that the right attitude is to take victory and defeat in the same spirit.
“Who is the winner? Not he who wins, but he who has established his cheerful oneness with the result, which is an experience in the form of failure or success, a journey forward or a journey backward.”
When racing I try to bear this in mind. But, as well as taking victory or defeat in the right spirit, I still like very much to win. I feel the secret is to concentrate on your own performance – to race to your potential, to strive for greater efforts and speed and not worry about others. If we are competing with ourselves, then it is a spiritual discipline. If we are only concerned about winning, we start focusing on other competitors and just try to beat them. In a way this dissipates our energy because we are worrying about others getting faster, etc.
In racing, mental preparation also plays a key role. The first step is to concentrate on a positive visualisation of doing well. This is not a visualisation of seeing yourself at the top of the results board, but a visualisation of doing the best possible race. When racing, it is also very important to have the right motivation, enthusiasm and concentration. When racing, as much as possible, I try to keep the mind quiet and blank. In a short intense race, such as a hill climb, this is quite possible. It is a very striking experience when the body is numb with pain, fighting every signal to slow down, and you are just experiencing this mixture of sensation and mental quiet. The effort needs to be so intense that thinking random thoughts feels as if you are dissipating your precious energy.
When you can race at that intensity, being completely detached from thoughts, you feel you are giving your best performance. Some of my most disappointing results come when the mind gets distracted and I start thinking and doubting myself.
I wouldn’t say racing with a clear mind is like meditation. There is a great pain in the body and part of you is screaming for it to end, but it feels that with a silent mind you can maximise your limited energy; it also feels an exhilarating experience – at least when you collapse over the finish line.
For longer races, keeping a completely quiet mind is not possible. In long time trials, e.g. 100 mile TT, it becomes quite easy for the mind to start wandering. In these kinds of races, I may inwardly repeat a mantra (sacred word) or concentrate on visualisation techniques.
On one of the few occasions Sri Chinmoy spoke to me, it was about cycling. He took an interest in my races and liked to see the results of the races I did.
Sri Chinmoy was involved in so many multifarious activities during his 76 years on earth, that it is perhaps not surprising that he also tried his hand at cycling. In the 1970s, Sri Chinmoy and other members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre took part in a 24-hour cycle race around Central Park, New York. For a few weeks before the race, Guru would go with disciples to practise cycling in Flushing Meadows Park. Being relatively untrained, he didn’t find cycling easy, but with great determination he completed three 24-hour races. After his last cycling 24-hour race in 1979, Guru increasingly focused on long-distance running, completing several marathons and ultra-marathons.
In one sense, Guru didn’t have to be involved in so many different activities. But, I feel he was trying to show that spirituality could be applied to any aspect of life. It was certainly inspiring to know Guru had tried cycling with great enthusiasm.