The Middle Way

Zen Spot #117 -- Mindfulness, meditation and purity of effort February 3, 2018 00:05

It used to be four minutes

In 1954, on a cinder track in Oxford England, Dr. Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile. The feat, while inevitable, like the moon landing, was nonetheless staggering. The question of who would be the first to set foot on the lunar surface, and be remembered forever, was not that different than the question of who would first to set foot across the finish line in 3:59.9 or better.

The difference

Neil Armstrong had thousands of professionals, and tens of millions of dollars, committed to building his legacy . During his pursuit, he was never alone. In particular, as he descended the ladder that allowed him set foot on the moon, Buzz Aldrin was only ten feet away, and could just as easily have been the man after whom schools and highways were regularly named.

Hicham el-Guerroj was both by himself, and with Noah Ngeny, when he set the most recent world record of 3:43.13.

A two ton cast iron bell ringing

There is a purity to four laps around the track, each run in just a little less than 56 seconds that, like jazz, can’t be explained to a someone who doesn’t understand. When a listener can hear the ring of a bell slowly fade over four minutes, the sound disappears quickly if not listening closely.

A sublime.

The machine red lines

World class runners describe taking their engine and spirit beyond the red line on the tachometer, knowing that they will continue fearlessly toward the finish line, discovering what resources they have left for the final one hundred meters. At that point, they will explode — or not.

Some describe hearing white noise while doing the calculus of navigation and competition, fading in as necessary, otherwise tending the pistons and human juices that could become shrapnel. A yin and yang of violence and peace.

Traveling together

Noah Ngeny pushed Hicham el-Guerroj into history and also broke the world record that day. His name will never be written in the record books. His not-quite anonymity is sublime. He is neither Bill Buckner nor Mookie Wilson. Neither Buzz Aldrin nor Neil Armstrong. Neither Mary nor Joseph.

Noah's and Hicham's spirits traveled together. Close enough, too, that they were of one mind, and two minds, at the same time, crossing together over a threshold impossible for billions.

The teacher is often forgotten, except by the student.


I’ve written often of the idea of the collective mind coexisting with the individual mind. My belief that we are all one, but still alone, is contrasted by the ability of one person to perform an individual act of singular brilliance.

In particular, the ability to run one mile faster than any of the billions of human beings who have lived and died since before the dawn of the written word captures me.

That complete focus

A sustained effort, defined by a particular kind of concentration, where the mind is focused on only the moment occupied, is a notable gift. To extend the gift over four minutes, then slowly reduce the time, while simultaneously going deeper within, and without, is a sight to behold.

Spend four minutes watching the video. His effortlessness and concentration are breathtaking.

Enlightenment, perhaps?


Invented by DharmaMechanic