Recently the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run came to Oxford. I helped as a local co-ordinator to arrange a few meetings. I also cycled with the runners around Oxford.
One of the great things about the Peace Run is that you have to expect the unexpected. Even the best-laid plans need to be flexible. When you are on the run, you soon realise you are very much living in the moment.
I cycled up to Kidlington to meet the runners and guide them to their first school in North Oxford. However, they were running late after their first school visit in Stratford-upon-Avon was a great success. To save time, I volunteered to buy lunch in Kidlington. I order three giant pizzas for ten vegetarians and then ran around the Kidlington shops looking for vegan, gluten-free lunch for another two. I don’t know much about the village of Kidlington, but it doesn’t seem to have too many gluten-free vegans – I thought this kind of diet was all the rage these days?
Anyway, as I waited for the pizza to be cooked, I scurried from shop to shop, but all I could see is cheese and egg sandwiches. Then, as I’m wrestling with the conundrum of trying to panic-buy a couple of vegan lunches, I start getting rung from hungry people in different vans, asking where lunch was going to be. I’m standing in Costa Coffee shop, trying to find something vegan, at the same time as explaining to my friend Balavan, lunch is probably in Kidlington, but I’m not sure. But it hasn’t really been bought yet, so maybe I could ring him back in a few minutes. But, then within a few minutes, another phone call and there is another change of plan – no time for lunch in Kidlington, everyone just drove to the school in Cutteslowe – it was getting late and just 30 minutes to our first appointment. Divine chaos!
Unfortunately, whilst the runners were four miles away, I was still in Kidlington with three giant pizzas, a packet of crisps (the best I could do for the vegans) and a few egg sandwiches. So I stuff the pizzas inside my fortuitously large bike bag and cycle furiously down a main road to Cutteslowe in north Oxford. Dripping with sweat, I pick out the squashed pizzas to a grateful army of runners. I proffer apologies for the state of lunch, the lateness, the lack of organisation, but everyone takes it in their stride – as if this is a perfectly normal occurrence on the Peace Run. If you’ve been running all morning, it seems you’re not too picky about your pizza being a bit squashed.
The battered pizza, a few Costa egg sandwiches and a pack of crisps is greeted with an unexpected outbreak of sincere and enthusiastic gratitude – I felt slightly embarrassed people were so happy with our lunch offerings – as if I had taken all the runners to the Randolph Hotel for a perfectly manicured English tea and scones. It seems runners on the Peace Run are well trained to roll with the flow and from even the simplest things gain great joy.
After that slightly intense lunch experience, I was somewhat hot and bothered, but as soon I met the runners and they seemed happy with a bit of pizza, my organiser anxieties dissipate, and you just let the Peace Run unfurl its magic. It feels like you have stepped into an indefinable bubble and the whole day and next morning I had an underlying joy, where it was perfectly OK not to worry or plan too much, but see what comes. It is like getting a free ticket to a better consciousness. In the olden days, how many austerities would you have needed to perform to work the same magic?
The first primary school seemed to really enjoy meeting the runners, and then we were off into town. We stopped at Regent College, an English language school for adults. Despite the fact they were businessmen and teachers, they had a childlike joy in meeting the run and holding the torch. It was great to see serious teachers run up and down the large lawn, to the enthusiastic cheers of watching students. It was a reminder the Peace Run can break down our inhibitions and remind us of a spontaneity that is usually hidden under many layers of outer problems. Not that I joined in the running up and down the lawn – you can have too much joy for one day. I slinked into a comfortable to chair to relax after the morning’s cycle sprint from Kidlington.
After Regent College, I took the runners on a tour of Oxford. I have lived in Oxford for 18 years, but showing visitors around reminds you of how beautiful the town is. The beauty of the architectural tour is also heightened because of the fact Sri Chinmoy (the founder of the Peace Run) visited Oxford nine times, so there are many places where you can point out where Sri Chinmoy gave a lecture, gave a concert or some other meeting. As we meandered through the winding, quiet streets of Oxford, you would turn a corner, and there would be another reminder of a former visit by Sri Chinmoy.
First up was Lady Margaret Hall. I asked the porter if I could take a few runners into the gardens, and he didn’t seem to mind at all.
[As a side note, I was really impressed with the wildflower front quad. When I was a student, I always had a desire to dig up these impossibly, immaculate front quad lawns and replace with either potatoes or flowers. I’m deeply impressed to see my college has embraced this avant-garde approach to a College quad lawn.]
In 2003, Sri Chinmoy visited Lady Margaret Hall in a “Lifting up the World with a Oneness-Heart Award”, where he lifted 20 distinguished university professors. It was a slightly surreal experience for all this to occur in the college where I studied for four years and went through many life experiences including becoming a disciple of Sri Chinmoy. After leaving university, I even worked in the gardens for one year rather than move to a big city and get a proper job.
Anyway, on this particular day, the college gardens were unusually calm and still (the students weren’t back for a start!). I pointed out the spot where Sri Chinmoy meditated many years ago, and for those brief minutes, he felt like his presence was still very much with us.
The Peace Torch
As the runners departed for their next location in London, I felt a little sad to be moving back to a more mundane reality. On the Run, so much happens in 24 hours. Thank you to those Peace Runners who give up their time to travel across the world and take part in this great event.
The college gardens.
- More photos of Oxford visit at Peace Run.org
Photographs of Sri Chinmoy at LMH, Apaguha and Piyasi