The Most Accomplished Person on Earth Has Nothing on Us

Steve Roberts black ink drawing: acrobat with heart body and long legs

Here’s a zing of beauty I met through an article by Alec Wilkinson in The New Yorker just before Christmas (2011).

Since we humans are generally loopy and define our well being at the altar of worldly achievement, it’s awfully amusing that Ashrita Furman of New York may be the most accomplished person on earth.  We all look like slugs by comparison.  Then there’s this irony: going by what really matters––self-understanding and a peaceful heart, say––Mr. Furman may be also among the most accomplished of us.  His unique dance with these two seemingly contrary metrics of satisfaction make him a fun-house mirror for those of us attempting to understand what the heck it means to be a healthy human.

  • Twenty-seven thousand jumping jacks in six hours and forty-five minutes.
  • Eighty three hundred forty one somersaults over 12 miles in ten hours thirty minutes.
  • The fastest mile with a milk bottle on one’s head (7 minutes, 47 seconds).
  • Toting a nine-pound brick in one hand for 85.05 miles in thirty-one hours.
  • Slicing twenty-seven apples in the air with a samurai sword in 60 seconds.

Ashrita Furman, 57, has set more Guinness world records than anyone––ever.  And not just the most, but the most by tsunamic proportions.  He’s at three hundred sixty-seven and counting.  Number two on the list has set 31.  Number three 16.

The joke is that the only record Guinness feels certain Furman will never own is oldest living female.  But here’s why Ashrita Furman is worth our reflection––his link to everyday life, if you will.

Furman doesn’t give a hoot about the achievements themselves.  His website will even give you tips on how to break them.  For him, being engaged in what’s known as Guinnessport (the undertaking of challenges designed to get a person into an addition of Guinness World Records) is an exercise in spiritual development.  Specifically, extreme physical pursuits as a means of transcending the self.

For us that may be a mouthful, but for him it’s just his expression of something we all have in common––a desire to understand the meaning of life.

“Transcending the self” can, and does, mean a lot of different things, but among them, I’d say, is living beyond the ego’s definitions of what’s real, and thus what’s possible.  This includes our capacity for joy, forgiveness and embracing the reality that, basically, we really don’t know squat about almost everything.

What Ashrita Furman represents in his own wild way is the universe’s continual reminder that every definition of who we are, of what’s going on, of reality, is incomplete––that our potential for self-discovery is, very likely, immeasurable.

He also reminds us what hard work it is to be an awake human being.  Just about every Guinness record is very difficult to set.  Focus, endurance, perseverance, conditioning and the ability to move through enormous pain go with the territory.

But there’s nothing unique about it, as I’m sure Furman would acknowledge.

The rest of us may not be able to jump underwater on a pogo stick in the Amazon for three hours and forty minutes, but we recognize that what it takes to do so is no more than what it takes to meet each moment of our day with love.


For a video version of this essay, click here.

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