On the road, everything is simple

As a brand-new disciple, Subarata was quite sure she would never take up running. Reluctantly at first she would jog a few metres, walk a little, then allow herself to be coaxed into another short stint of jogging. Very gradually the distances increased; then came the trips to Celebrations, the many races and the opportunity to run with Guru. Very slowly, running became established in her spiritual life.

Guru’s explanations about the spiritual significance of running, the inner and outer benefits conferred, were deeply felt by Subarata. She noticed the development of will-power and self-discipline, the fostering of aspiration and clarity of mind, a widening world of personal possibility. Perhaps most importantly for her, running opened up an inner doorway, a portal through which she could really feel her soul’s connection with her beloved teacher. Her running became an expression, an extension of her devotion.

Running became centre-stage in her discipleship. Here she could deeply live the spiritual life in one of its purest forms, confronting in herself during the long hours of each day the frailty of the body, the stubborn resistances of the mind, wearing them down till only the trusting heart was left. In her running, as in her departure from this world, she most intensely invoked her Guru – in both, she most felt his responsive presence. Out on the road, everything was simple, everything else fell away. There was only the essence of life, only its ultimate purpose.


Subarata had an almost spiritual affinity with the ocean. She embraced it and loved it, swimming across great stretches of sea with that languid, floppy-armed reach of the long-haul swimmer. Confident above the depths that dropped down into unfathomable blackness, she loved feeling the heaving sea rising and breathing beneath her – unlike her landlubber, waist-deep-only husband. She loved dolphins, hoped she had been one in another time in her evolution – and was mildly disappointed when Guru hinted at a different animal incarnation.


In the month of March, 1985, Subarata successfully finished Auckland’s Ironman triathlon in a little under 12 hours, an almost Homeric adventure. For all the wrong reasons I shared her relief at finishing as I had followed her around for months – her support crew – breathing hard and peddling on an ancient bike through remote parts of rural Auckland while she flew effortlessly up and down hills in training on a gleaming Shogun. I spent weekends changing punctured tires and poring over maps, wondering how to find my way back to the sanctuary of the faraway city while interested cows lined their paddock fences and listened to my mutterings. Subarata had disappeared into the shimmering distance.

During her swim training I had secured an equally ancient dinghy and with flailing oars battled through the green chop of the Waitemata Harbor, trying to keep sight of her yellow hair as she dipped and sank with the breathing, swelling sea. Our tiny house was littered with bike parts, sprockets and chains, training manuals, goggles, shoe-goo.

One of only a tiny handful of women competitors in the full Ironman, her presence generated a great deal of interest with the commentators, and whole pages of biographical minutiae were shared with the attentive, cheering crowds. The race director announced, “And now let’s hear it for Subarata Cunningham, who is a member of the Sri Chinmoy meditation group in Auckland. Look at her go! She’s clearly meditating even now to get that last bit of energy and peace!” Then Subarata lumbered out of the gathering dusk and shadows, looking extremely cranky and in her most unmeditative consciousness, and we were worried for her and at the same time smiling at the remarks.

One weekend we went south to the great crater lakes near Rotorua and she swam alone and fearlessly across an immense emerald deep, a tiny dot against the vast sheen of water, disappearing finally from view and swallowed up by colossal distance. I drove to the other side, paced the shoreline worrying about her, watched the summer clouds marble the hillsides and mountains with shifting shadows. Then she would appear, a splash of white far out, the languid calm of the arms rising and falling. I always admired her resolute spirit and the joyous gratitude she felt when she met her considerable goals.