The Similarity Between An Athlete And A Gnostic

A guy that I work with had a sky diving accident almost 3 years ago. He was hospitalized for over a month ending up with two broken vertebrae, titanium rods in both legs coupled with a few other less brutal injuries.

I met him almost 2 years ago when I started working at my current job, he had only joined a month earlier after recovering from his near fatal fall. I distinctively remember seeing streaks of blood stains occasionally on the back of his shirt, thinking he must have had a back injury..

A few months later he started training for Iron Man Triathlon and successfully completed it in the following Summers. Within a few weeks he competed in Ultra Iron Man Triathlon as if one Iron Man wasn’t enough of an accomplishment (or chastisement for the body  !?). I found it quite remarkable for somebody who had a near fatal experience, his body showing clear marks of what it had been through, to tune it to achieve this athletic fiat! Had he told me that he hoped to participate in the Iron Man at the time he shared the details of his accident with me, I would have wished him luck, empathizing with him at his almost certain failure to complete let alone complete such a physically challenging race.

It made me think that part of the reason why I understand and appreciate his accomplishment is because I have seen him achieve it, thinking it nearly impossible. If rigorous training and self discipline can help a battered body attain such a physical state; why is it so difficult for us to comprehend that people, who dedicate their lives in the attainment of one goal – knowing their Creator, and  continuously strive to cleanse themselves spiritually, can have a stronger connection with God and can achieve certain spiritual graces by conditioning their soul through devotional practices and spiritual exercises ?

Why are we so determined to see proofs of spiritual significance in the physical/material realm when the demonstration of a spiritual gift runs counter to the essence of spirituality? Why do we have to see to believe ? Is it because our scientifically conditioned mental arrogance leads us to think that that the modern man of our age has achieved the height of intelligence and nothing is beyond the grasp of our minds!? Just because something has not happened in our times or in front of our eyes does not make it an impossibility !?

Professional sports men to me are very similar to gnostics, one tries to acheive a physical state through exercises, self discipline and commitment to excel at a particular sport and the other exerts his energies at purifying and conditioning his soul to develop a stronger connection with God..


A Gentleman’s Agreement – How I got my ‘Sabbatical’

When I finally realized that I had to go travelling I started thinking about ways to make it possible. The simplest option available was to quit my job and hit the road. However I faced a conundrum – having worked for the past 8 years in a few different organizations in London, I felt that this place was one, where even though I had spent a year and a half working, I liked the people I worked with, the role and there was still a lot to learn and experience..

I didn’t want to come back from travelling to start looking for a new role with risk that it may not be as satisfying as the job I currently have. I wanted the best of both the worlds – to go travelling and to have a job, that I liked, to come back to.

So, I searched my company’s Employee Handbook to see if there was anything related to sabbaticals. Generally, big organizations have written down policies about sabbaticals which have some pros and cons. One of the cons being that, one has to have worked a set number of years to be able to apply for a sabbatical. Almost always the number of months of the sabbatical is correlated with the number of years worked. I didn’t stand a chance based on such a criteria as most places require the employees to have worked at least 2-3 years before applying for sabbaticals.

Thankfully my employer (a hedge fund) did not have a written down policy which meant that if they liked me enough things could go in my favor. I started working a little harder than usual to ensure that my employers recognized and valued my contribution and would be keen to retain me.

Fast forward six months, with the stars all perfectly aligned (read personal circumstances suddenly becoming conducive to travel) , I decided that I was ready to go even if it meant that I had to quit my job and look for a new one upon my return. Fortunately my manager was happy with my work. They offered me a 3 months sabbatical (instead of the 6 months I had asked for). A fair compromise I thought (especially since the other option was to quit my job without any guarantees), besides if I really wanted to go for longer I still had the option to quit! So I accepted the offer. A few weeks later I learnt that that a certain department was not in favor of granting sabbaticals (and there was no policy as such for a reason). Perhaps to deter any wayward souls who might have similar ideas ?!

My boss, true to his word, proposed a Gentleman’s Agreement. The gist of it was – I would have to resign, and if I were to come back within 3 months I could have my job back. After a final round of negotiations we agreed on a 4 month period of absence with me confirming to them within one month after starting my journey, if I would be coming back at all or not. I thought that worked out better for me than a plain old 3 month sabbatical! A pertinent analogy for those obsessed with Options in finance would be to look at the gentleman’s agreement as an American Call Option on an ’employment contract’ with one month expiry. From an option holders perspective, it was Deep In The Money so I took it.

For those looking for some inspiration to hit the road, here is a piece of advice from Edward Abbey:

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.

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