Monday, June 2, 2008

Doubting Thomas

I hated Guru's weightlifting.

Okay, that's a bit strong. But of all of Guru's multifarious activities -- and there were many -- I liked his weightlifting the least.

The beginning was fine -- 100, 200 pounds with one arm -- but by the fall of 1986, Guru was attempting big, big numbers. And it wasn't the numbers, per se, that bothered me, but how each successive lift was promoted to the public -- as if they were world records.

I found it embarrassing.

Not the weightlifting itself, which Guru attacked with the same gusto that he applied to each new endeavor. I was fine with that. Instead, I was embarrassed by the over-promotion, the hard sell used to attract praise from weightlifting luminaries outside the Center.

It's tempting to blame the very small group of eager beaver disciples in charge of promoting Guru's weightlifting achievements. I think they did Guru a disservice by their gushing descriptions of his lifts and their attempts to get various sanctioning bodies to recognize Guru's lifts. As I would later learn in the Navy, however, responsibility always lies with the skipper. Guru no doubt encouraged -- if not explicitly directed -- his publicists to take the actions they did.

That's not to say that I was against Guru's weightlifting efforts. On the contrary, I wanted him to be successful in everything he tried. It just wasn't my cup of tea.

So it was that one Sunday afternoon that fall I found myself at Guru's house with about 20 other disciples, mostly women. We were all in the living room area with Guru watching a video of his most recent one-armed milestone. That morning, Guru said, he'd pressed some 500 pounds and change with one arm. As I watched the video replay, though, I didn't see the weight move at all.

Guru did these one-arm presses with the use of a rack that held the massive dumbbell at about shoulder height. Typically, Guru would grab the bar, lock his elbow, and then use his entire body to drive the weight upwards in the rack. Unlike the 200 pound lift, though -- which Guru pressed up as high in the rack as possible -- at the higher weights, Guru was satisfied to just budge the bar even a half inch or so (which was no mean feat).

For that reason, though, it could be tough to see. But if he budged it, the weight would visibly move. And I wasn't seeing it this time. Guru played, rewound, and played the video over and over, asking nobody in particular: "Did you see it? Did you see it move?"

I don't remember now any specific response. Perhaps there was some enthusiastic nodding from some, but apparently it wasn't enthusiastic enough because Guru -- starting to his left -- began asking each disciple one at a time whether they could see the lift.

After each person answered, Guru would replay the video and then repeat the question to the next person in order. He started with the women (about 15 or so) and all but one -- Amita -- said that they had seen the weight move. Then Guru moved to the guys (about five or six of us).

I felt really uncomfortable. I wanted to see the lift. But it hadn't budged and there was no question that I'd have to tell Guru so. After I said so, Guru replayed the video and asked me again. No dice. So, Guru moved on to the next person.

In all, there were just five of us who told Guru that the weight didn't move (Amita, Databir, Ketan, me and I don't remember the fifth, maybe Sagar). Guru said we were "doubting Thomases." In fact, Databir disappeared for a short while and when he reappeared he had five baby blue t-shirts with the words "Doubting Thomas" emblazoned across the chest. Guru handed each of us a shirt and then we headed over to the tennis court for the evening.

It must be said, Guru gave us the shirts in good humor, and that night at the tennis court, Databir wore his proudly. I stuffed mine in the bottom drawer of my bureau and never touched it again. Initially, I felt kind of bummed about the entire incident, but with time came perspective.

I think Guru was pleased with the five of us. Under some real duress, we hadn't buckled. When it came down to it, Guru knew that we would be frank with him, even if such frankness wasn't in our own personal interest.

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