Tag Archives: inspirational stories

Who Holds the Most Guinness World Records?

atkins-bookshelf-trivia“How can your life be satisfied / With small realities / If your heart has big dreams?” Sri Chinmoy

Inspiration comes in many forms. This is the story of how a book and a meditation class changed a person’s life forever. Soon after The Guinness Book of Records was published in August of 1954, Ashrita Furman (the future “Mr. Versatility”) was born. As soon as the lad could read, he became fascinated with the record book: “[Perhaps] it was the sense of perfection about being the best in the world at something that attracted my interest. Whatever the reason, I remember poring through “the book” as a kid, filling my head with all those spectacular superlatives… Of course, I never imagined I would ever get into The Guinness Book, because I was totally dedicated to developing my mind and felt sports was a complete waste of time. In fact, I even got beaten up my first day of high school for being such a nerd!”

Furman’s life changed dramatically when he attended a meditation conducted by Sri Chinmoy, an Indian meditation master.  Chinmoy introduced Furman to the Eastern philosophy of transcendence, allowing the young man to harness the power of meditation. Furman elaborates: “Chinmoy radically altered the way I looked at things. Instead of using the mind to settle the questions of existence, he taught me to dive into the heart where a person’s inner divinity can be most easily felt. I was flooded with a newfound peace and delight. My teacher’s philosophy of self-transcendence, of overcoming your limits and making daily progress spiritually, creatively and physically using the power of meditation, really thrilled me… Attempting records has become an inherent part of my spiritual journey. I scour the Guinness Book looking for a category I think will be challenging and fun.”

Chinmoy was absolutely right: “if one can be in touch with one’s inner spirit, anything is possible.” Beginning in 1980, Furman has gone to set an impressive 481 Guinness World Records all around the world (he has broken a Guinness record on every continent). Today he holds 166 standing records, including the record for “the most records held at the same time by an individual.”

When he isn’t training or breaking records, Furman is a store manager at a health food store in Queens, New York. Despite his amazing accomplishment, he remains humble and hopes his life’s journey is an inspiration to others: “I hope after reading all this that you are inspired to attempt some feat of your own. The particular event is unimportant as long as it gives you the opportunity to dance on the edge of your capacity. But be prepared – the benefits could be both illumining and far-reaching!” To that, Chinmoy adds: “The determination in your heroic effort will permeate your mind and heart even after your success or failure is long forgotten.” 

Below are 10 of the 166 records that Furman set, followed by year and country where the record was set:

1. Somersaulting – Longest continuous distance: 12 miles 390 yards (Apr 1986, US)
2. Hopscotch: Most games completed in 24 hours: 434 games (Mar 1998, Mexico)
3. Milk Bottle Balancing on Head – Longest continuous distance: 80.95 miles (Apr 1998, US)
4. Pogostick Jumping Up Steps – Fastest time up CN Tower: 1899 steps in 57 min  51 sec (July 1999, Canada)
5. Brick Carrying with One Hand (9 pounds) – Longest continuous distance: 85.05 miles (Oct 1999, US)
6. Somersaulting – Fastest mile: 19 min, 11 sec (Nov 2000, US)
7. Pogostick Jumping – Fastest mile: 12 min, 16 sec (Jul 2001, England)
8. Sack Racing – Fastest time for 10 kilometers: 1 hour, 22 min, 2 sec (Aug 2001, US)
9. Underwater rope jumping – Most in one hour: 900 (Aug 2001, US)
10. Skipping (like children without a rope) – Fastest time for a marathon (26.2 miles): 5 hours, 55 min, 13 sec (Aug 2003, Canada)

Read related posts: Fastest Man in the World
Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space

For further reading: http://www.ashrita.com

The Power of Literature

Inside stories lies transformational power,
Power that moves the invisible us,
Power that stirs our emotions,
To experience the experiences of others;
Stories allow us to imagine and live momentarily the lives of others.
And thereafter set a different course and perspective for the life we seek to live.
   Emmanuel Reed Manirakiza (c.1993-2012) in a speech to the
African Leadership Academy held in South Africa in September of 2010.

This is an insightful and profound testimony about the power of literature, why literature endures, and why we read. But what makes these words so memorable and compelling is that they were not written by an academic, an accomplished author or playwright, but by a young man, a Rwandan refugee, who experienced first-hand the darkest side of humanity, seething with intolerance, hatred, and cruelty. Through an unlikely conjunction of events, perseverance and faith, Emmanuel managed to escape its evil clutches. As a young boy (6 years old) he witnessed the vicious slaughter of his extended family — his aunts, uncles, cousins; his father was stoned to death and he lost his mother and sister to cholera. For years, they lived as feral children, foraging for food in the Congo, the weeks and months punctuated by a seemingly endless cycle of fleeing and hiding until the war ended in 2001.

Fortunately for Emmanuel, an Anglican bishop took an interest in him and placed him at Sonrise School, founded for orphans of the genocide, and it was there that this frightened but tenacious boy (now age 9) blossomed as a student, a provider (earning money to support his sisters), as a community leader (helping others develop a trade, tutoring, mentoring), as a writer (writing for a newspaper and public performances of his poetry), and as an English teacher. Emmanuel’s scarred skin and the bullet fragments lodged in his calf were a constant reminder of the brutality that helped forge his character: “Perhaps because I was old enough to distinguish a boil scar from a bullet scar. It is also these haunting memories that remind me time and again that I have a responsibility to fight against evil and divisionism. Such ideology caused terror and brought tragedy that ruined my life and fellow Rwandan citizens’ life. It cannot be repeated.”

Despite the world he was born into, Emmanuel never considered himself a helpless victim. Quite the opposite, he was graced with a maturity and self-awareness to discover the one inescapable truth in life that separates achievement and failure, hope and despair, life and death: in the words of Jean Paul Sartre, “we are our choices.” Emmanuel lived by a motto: “tough times make tough minds”; however even a brave, determined, and resilient young boy had moments of doubt — but he persevered because he believed in himself and his choices. In his diary, during some of the darkest days of his life, he records his struggles with the turmoil that exists in his world and within his soul: “Emmanuel, do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of justifying why you can’t climb the ladder of success. You owe no one an explanation why you will not achieve your goals. Your success or failure in life largely depends on you and what you are doing with life today but not what life had done to you in the past. Though you’re to look for God and others for comfort and instructions, you alone are responsible for your choices and you hold the key to your future. Do not let the world define how far you can travel and how much you can achieve. The speed by which you run is set by the speedometer of your mind.” With the kind help of teachers and mentors, Emmanuel allowed the wisdom and insights of literature into his heart and into his life, a glimpse of the vast canvas of life and humanity not obscured by the shadows at its edges.

Tragically, Emmanuel life’s was cut short by a swimming accident; he drowned on July 15, 2012 in Kigali. He had just learned how to swim and enjoyed it immensely.

Knowing something about this remarkable young man, and rereading his words about literatures’s transformational power, one cannot help but feel humbled by the teachings of an extraordinary human being who severed the shackles of his past, to crawl through the pitch-black night of evil and hatred to reach daybreak, filled with the light of love and kindness. How extraordinary that he was able to look past man at his worst, transcend his suffering and sacrifice, and use the lens of literature to see man at his best; to renounce hatred and intolerance and have the courage to live and love with an open heart. Despite all the violence and brutality that he experienced, Emmanuel believed in the intrinsic goodness of man. And for all that was taken from him, he gave back so generously, so selflessly. Indeed, Emmanuel’s story is a powerful reminder that stories can heal and transform — and here’s the rub — if we let them.

The world will never know how much more Emmanuel could have contributed to the world; however this much is clear: his words (thanks to Andrew Powell’s blog) will continue to resonate, illuminate and inspire us to live our lives more authentically, more courageously, more responsibly, more generously. He challenges us to battle hatred and intolerance, and use our talents and skills to contribute to the world to help — and not hurt — one another. And it is important to share and reflect on this story; by doing so we honor him, his family, his teachers and mentors, and what he believed in. Like all great stories, Emmanuel’s story is fragile — it must be treasured, it must be remembered, and preserved so that it may speak to future generations. Emmanuel came to appreciate what any student of literature knows: that when we stop reading and sharing, when we stop reflecting and learning from these stories we will forget where we came from and who we really are; we sever the delicate thread that binds all of mankind.

One has to wonder: why was Emmanuel taken so early? Perhaps he was too pure, too innocent, too good for this world. His time, however short, was full of purpose and meaning; he touched so many lives so deeply, bringing illumination through his good nature, acts of kindness, and mature wisdom. Divine Providence must have looked upon this angelic child — who had suffered enough, sacrificed enough, and given enough — and knew that it was time for him to slip the surly bonds of earth to return to his eternal home, to be reunited with his family, leaving behind the struggle and the strife of human existence.

Related posts: William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
Universal Human Values
The Poem I Turn To

For further reading: http://apatala.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/emmanuel-manirakiza-uphill-climb/

The Mayonnaise Jar and Cups of Coffee

Americans have a love affair with their coffee; and that affection comes with a hefty price tag — $12 billion per year. More than 50% of Americans over 18 years of age (150 million +) drink coffee (or coffee-related drinks) each day. Among coffee drinkers in the U.S., the average consumption is 3.2 cups per day. Since the average cup size is 9 ounces, that amounts to 28.8 ounces of coffee per day. Who needs Red Bull with this amount of caffeine? Men and woman drink about the same amount of coffee per day; however their motivation for drinking differs dramatically: paradoxically, women state that drinking coffee helps them relax, while men indicate that it helps them complete their work. By extension if Starbuck and Peets were to close shop, American business and commerce would come to a grinding halt (pun intended). To fuel corporate America, coffee shops are conveniently located to provide consumers their daily fix — Seattle has 15 coffee shops per 100,000 residents, while San Francisco and Manhattan have 9 per 100,000 residents.

A cup of coffee consumed on a typical work day can be rather prosaic and inconsequential. But a cup of coffee in the hands of perspicacious old professor is another matter altogether:

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, when life seems to be passing you by, remember the lecture of the mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee.

A wise elderly philosophy professor stood before his class of young students, hungry for his insight and wisdom. Before him was a table with a large, empty mayonnaise jar and a box of items. After the students settled down, without speaking a word, the professor filled the jar with the eggs. He turned to his students and asked: is the jar full? They unanimously agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar, shaking the jar lightly. The pebbles gently rolled into the space in between the eggs. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand slowly filled in the remaining space. He asked his class once more if the jar was full. The students responded in unanimous agreement.

The professor then produced two cups of coffee and poured the entire contents into the jar. The sand absorbed whatever coffee did not fill the remaining space in the jar. At this point, the students were amused but puzzled. Clearly the professor was up to his usual pedagogical antics — “there is some profound meaning in all this,” they collectively thought.

“Now” said the professor to his intrigued students, “I want you to note that this jar represents your life. The eggs are the important things in life — your faith, family, children, health, friends, and passions; the things that if everything else in your life was lost — and only these things remained — then you could conclude that your life would be full. The pebbles represent the other things that matter — like your job, house, car, and so forth. The sand is everything else — the small, trivial matters.

“If you were to put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the eggs. Life is the same way: if you spend all your time and energy on trivial matters, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your life, that bring you fulfillment and happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Enjoy your hobbies. There will always be time to do the thousand little things in life. It is so important to set your priorities.”

A wave of enlightenment passed through the class, evoking smiles and knowing grins. Sitting at the back of the class, one student remained puzzled. She raised her hand and asked, “Professor, what does the coffee represent?”

“I’m glad you asked,” he said, smiling at his own cleverness, “It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a few cups of coffee with a friend.”

Class dismissed.

For further reading: http://www.e-importz.com/Support/specialty_coffee.htm
Story adapted from the story by an unknown author who posted “The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee” on a myspace bulletin board many years ago.

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