Friday, February 24, 2017

Shaheedi Saka Nankana Sahib

This weekend we remember the massacre the occurred at Nankana Sahib Feb 21, 1921. Here is the history (references provided at the bottom of this page):

Maharaja Ranjit Singh reconstructed Gurdwaras destroyed by Mughals, and gave the “Mahants” (caretakers of these Gurdwaras) property rights and land attached to the Gurdwaras. Original mahants were individuals who spread the message of Sikhi, but soon they were just corrupt individuals hungry for money generated at the Gurdwaras. At the same time, the British were afraid that if the Sikhs took control of the Gurdwaras this would further unify the Khalsa against them and cause a revolution.

Mahant Narayan Das was the caretaker of Gurdwara Nankana Sahib. He was corrupt, and allowed many bad things to happen at the Gurdwara Sahib including rapes. The Sikh congregation approached the mahant to change his ways in October 1920. He refused to change and instead turned against the Sikhs. His anti-sikh group was going to have a conference on Feb 20, 1921 in Lahore. On three different opportunities the Shiromani committee offered to meet the mahant to discuss the issues peacefully, however he never showed up. The Sikhs had a congregation on Feb 16 at Gurdwara Khara Sauda and made a decision to go in jathas to take over the Gurdwara peacefully on Feb 20 while the mahant was away. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar and Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali were to take their jathas. 

Meanwhile, the mahant cancelled his plans for the conference and hired 400 mercentaries and made plans to kill the Sikh leaders. He contacted the British Commissioner of Lahore and acquired firearms with the help of the government (this letter exists to this day). He furthered his plan by making holes in the walls for shooting at the Sikhs, strengthening the Gurdwara gate and he got paraffin.

On Feb 19, the parbandhak committee met and decided that the jathas should not go. Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabbar was present, and dispatched a sikh to send a message to Bhai Lachaman Singh Dharowali. Bhai Lachman Singh, still following the original plan, was waiting for Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber’s jatha. At that time Jaethedar Tehal Singh’s Jatha arrived and encouraged them to move forward. They did ardas and took a hukamnama. They left at 10 pm to reach the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib b amrit vela. More Sikhs joined for a total of 200. Although women and children were asked to go back, one child, Darbara Singh refused to leave because he was inspired by stories of shaheeds and he joined the Shaheedi Jatha.

Upon arrival at the railway crossing near Nankana Sahib, Chaudry Paul Singh Hyallpuri (another source lists that it was actually Bhai Waryam Singh) arrived to convey the decision of the Shiromani committee, however Jathedar Tehal Singh said that the ardas had already been done and the time had come for them to act. The jatha arrived at the Gurdwara and did Asa Di War. Then the mahant ordered his mercenaries to kill the Sikhs. The bullets fired hit the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and many Sikhs. The rest were slaughtered with saws and swords, and some were burned alive including the 9 year old Darbara Singh. Bhai Lachaman Singh was tied to a tree upside down and burnt alive.

News spread and Bhai Kartar Singh Jhabber arrived with 2200 men. Mr. Curry, Deputy Commissioner of Lahore, had his army surrounding the Gurdwara and warned Bhai Kartar Singh that they would shoot the Sikhs if they approached. Bhai Kartar Singh stated that they were not afraid of death, and in seeing this, Mr. Curry became worried and handed over the keys. The mahant and a select few of the mercentaries were sentenced to death (one source says that this didn’t happen and the mahant was given security).

This is the history of how the Shaheedi jatha of Sikhs, who went to peacefully take back Gurdwara Nanakana Sahib from the hands of the corrupt mahant, were massacred. We remember these Sikhs every day in our ardas. May we forever remember their sacrifice and bravery in standing up for what was right. 


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Big Fat Ego

”Remembering the Lord’s Name, one is rid of ego and ignorance.” (Ang 1092)

We can all easily think of examples of people with big egos. Whenever I think of ego I tend to think of people who use their status and power to influence other people – “do you have any idea who I am?!!” You can spot it from a mile away- a person who judges, gossips, dictates what everyone else should do in their life but lives the opposite themselves, the one who walks by without a hello. I think it’s easy for us to see ego in other people and harder for us to understand that we are all diseased with ego. It’s important for all of us to recognize the disease of ego in ourselves, and understand that it causes our suffering. I know I had this moment when I was angry at one of my friends and I suddenly thought: why do I have so much ego that I can’t forgive? What if I was in their shoes? It helped me to realize that we can be so blind to our own ego, and that it is far more extensive than I previously thought.

I listened to some kathas about ego this week because I felt really drawn to the topic so I’m going to share what I learned. Ego is known as homai in Gurbani. It is talked about at length because it is what separates us from God. Ultimately, the cause of all of our dukh in life is ego. In the katha, they asked the sangat what they were afraid to lose. This was a big eye opening question for me because as he listed the examples I realized, yes I would be afraid to lose those things. Yes I'm afraid to lose social status. I didn’t think that mattered to me, but if all of a sudden I go to the Gurdwara and no one says hi to me and everyone is gossiping about me behind my back and I have a poor reputation, I would be upset. Even though I don’t like to think that I define myself by things like beauty, I do and I know that because if you took it all away tomorrow I would be in dukh. So I realized that even though I've been working on it, the identity I have of myself in my head is still very much focused on maya. We tend to make our identity dependent on things that are transient, and because we are so attached we become afraid to lose them: “In egotism, one is assailed by fear; he passes his life totally troubled by fear.” 

It is ego to think that we have anything at all. None of these things that we have in this world belong to us, and certainly none of these things will come with us when we die. Be honest with yourself- are you defining yourself by wealth, beauty, youth, social status, power, relationships? What are you afraid to lose? Unless your answer is Waheguru, you are in ego too. We should love Waheguru so much that the only thing we are afraid to lose is Waheguru and it drives us to meet Him. When we are afraid to lose other things we are lost in maya. Gurbani tells us the cure for ego is Naam. If we have Naam, we have no ego. If we have ego, our mind is not in Hukam and we do not have Naam. So since we have identified our ego, now we work on overcoming it. We work on reading Gurbani, doing sewa, doing simran, and living our life according to the Guru’s teachings. The more we work, the closer we get, but we have to put a sincere effort into it, and then our ego will be eradicated. 

“Where does ego come from? How can it be removed?
Ego is a result of the Hukam that people must walk according to their past actions
Ego is a chronic disease, but it contains its own cure as well.
Give us grace, that we can do the work of Guru’s Shabad
Nanak says, listen, people in the way, your suffering will depart.”

I highly recommend listening to the katha series on ego (videos 132-136, some of them are in two parts).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Circle of Support

It seems like lately I’ve had a lot of nights where I stayed up wondering how to “fix” tomorrow so that it would be a day to look forward to, an exciting day, and not just "another day." I was desperate for tomorrow to be different. I made a lot of changes, like going to the prayer room at the hospital first thing in the morning before I started work, and it certainly helped, but each night kind of just felt the same no matter what I did. I felt fully responsible for this emptiness and I didn't understand how to fix it. Then one night this week I was in the middle of a 31 hour shift and I was just ecstatic. It’s a feeling that I’ve missed so much. I started talking to one of my colleagues and it was clear that while he was barely keeping his eyes open, I had so much energy I was nearly bouncing off the walls. He asked me where this energy came from. A large part of it was certainly helping to deliver a baby for the first time- nothing can beat that excitement. The rest of it was the fact that I was happy that I was part of a team that treated me with respect and I felt like I belonged. I was able to function to maximum capacity instead of being in survival mode.

I think maybe because our society focuses so much on the need to be independent, and that a "strong" person does things on their own, that I started to tell myself that I shouldn’t need to rely on anyone. I thought that I could just keep praying and get some peace so my environment doesn’t bother me anymore, simple...Not that simple! You don't just do simran in one day and then suddenly the toxic work environment doesn't affect you. It takes patience and practice, and its a process that you need lots of support for. That’s the purpose of sangat, because as humans we all need connection, love, respect, and trust. Connecting is the process of having someone sit with you while you are processing what you are going through and just listening and offering to be there and pray with you and do simran with you. They are part of your healing. When I’m scared I like to hide in my turtle shell, but its when I need people the most and those who care will climb into the shell with you if you let them. It is scary to let yourself really be seen- for all the flaws, the emptiness, the hardship, and to reach out. Everyone likes to be in control, and when you step out for help you are trusting someone else with that. There have been times in my life when I simply said, I need you, but the words were so hard because I didn't want to need. I wanted to be able to do everything myself, and also because I was scared that the answer would be no. I learned that I can survive no matter what the answer is, and also that in order to get support and to trust someone you need to let go of the fear, the pride, and the control. Even when we go to Guru Ji, we need to give over our own mat and accept Gurmat.

I am still kind of making sense of all of this, but realizing that its increasingly important for me to just take in the opportunities and the times that I do get deep connections with people, even if those are one second of someone being able to just “see me” and appreciating it. In December I sang a poem about the Sahibzaade at the Gurdwara and a few days later an Uncle ji came up to me and he gave me this picture of the Sahibzaade. He told me that he felt I needed to have it. It touched my heart because it was an exchange of human understanding that he had “seen me” and understood. This moment is especially close to my heart now that Uncle Ji has passed. With all the deaths I have seen in the last two months it just continually reminds me that our time in this human form is limited. Whoever you have in your life that "sees you" and values you, no matter how long they are there, remember to love them fully and climb into that shell with them when they need it. Those moments are special and you'll never regret having reached out, having cared, having listened. Even one day of trust and respect and connection can mean the world of difference because it is universal to both want and need to be supported and feel understood. 

“God’s slaves are God’s saints and comrades, meeting with whom doubt is dispelled.” (Ang 1264)

P.S. Don’t forget about simran upstairs on Sundays at 1 pm!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dealing with Anger/Krodh

We often spend a lot of effort investing in physical/material goals- I want a house, this job, I want big muscles, etc. I think it’s good to have ideas of where you’d like to be (while being flexible with the idea that sometimes things don’t work as you want them to). Obviously we do need to have a job to make food to feed our families for example, and it helps to have a goal in order to get the education and training needed to get there. I think, though, that we focus so much on material goals that we forget about making spiritual ones. For example, people may hold a lavish wedding costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but perhaps the bride and groom don’t even understand what the laavan are, and what the Anand Karaj means. We’ve invested so much on the external that we don’t take out the time to discover what’s internal. In today’s topic I wanted to talk about anger and how we can focus on where we need to be as a “goal” for guiding how to respond.

Anger is universally experienced by everyone, and we tend to spread it to other people like wildfire. It can be triggered by things that are so simple like we’re angry we stepped in a puddle and ruined our clothes, or it can be more serious, like “I’m angry my spouse cheated on me.” I’ll give you a simple example from today. I just finished my four week rotation out of town and I was overjoyed to finally be coming home. An hour into my drive, in the katha I was listening to, they started to do simran. I joined in: “Waheguru, Waheguru, Waheguru…I forgot my stethoscope.” So I immediately think, oh no. In two hours I’m going to be sitting at this exact same spot, and still an hour away from home. How frustrating. My thoughts switched from simran to being angry in just a split second. I figured I was actually lucky that I didn’t drive all the way home before I realized, and that I listened to an extra two hours of katha instead of going home and just collapsing on my bed. It just goes to show you how our mood can change so quickly, how our thoughts are also drawn away quickly and how they can stay there if we let them. I could have spent the two hours angry about it, but instead I tried to just enjoy the katha. 

Anger can obviously be toxic to our health. Most of us have experienced physical symptoms at some point from our anger. When I was little I used to spend a lot of time angry because I thought that somehow this would show the other person how much their action had hurt me, but really all it did was continually hurt me. I’d be the one crying and with a headache and stomach ache, and the other person would still have no idea what was going on due to my lack of communication. People aren’t mind-readers and destroying your own health certainly doesn’t do anything to resolve the situation. We certainly solve problems better when two people can sit with satogun thoughts (compassion, contentment, understanding, tolerance, etc.) and communicate our issues. I know a big problem for me has been a fear of hurting the other person’s feelings, particularly if I really care about a person. I used to avoid talking about topics that were bothering me just because I didn’t want to hurt feelings and then they would build up until I was so angry it just spilled out. I think being able to discuss calmly in a satogun state and talking allows us to know that we can share things without worrying about being offensive. It allows us to build honesty/authenticity and say what’s on our mind and that’s a lot healthier. I remember one katha on where they describe an example where someone drives by and throws a rock at you, and you are angry so now you get repeatedly angry whenever someone drives by, or you see a rock, etc. Yes it was a hurtful thing for them to have thrown a rock at you, but the point is that you are the one now unfortunately wasting away all your time, breath, and brain space, being angry about this incident instead of enjoying your life. So it really is important to understand how being excessively angry harms our health and uses up our precious breaths.

As you know, anger is one of the 5 dhoots- lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride. Because of this, people think anger is evil and we should just avoid being angry. It’s used as a justification to suppress it/ “get over it”/ not deal with it. In truth, the 5 really can’t be suppressed though. It’s important to remind ourselves that the 5 dhoots aren’t evil, and they can actually be useful in this life; it’s just that we need to make sure our anger doesn’t take control of our mind. For most people it does- our anger makes us say and do things we didn’t want to and it lingers on and on, so that we waste our time away from God. Our goal is really to be at an avastha (spiritual level) where we are absorbed in Naam, let go of our ego, and at a stage where it doesn’t matter if you are praised or insulted, you are just as content. I posted a lot about this topic in my post about compassion and forgiveness as well, and I think that we need to take from the example of the Guru Ji’s who were verbally and physically attacked, and yet they didn’t react in anger. They didn’t create hatred against groups of people. They did emphasis the importance of standing up for the rights of others, for example, so it doesn’t mean we should just sit still and do nothing. Reaction is certainly difference than response. Response can be silence, conversation, action, etc. and we have a responsibility to stand up for ourselves and defend others too. That’s when we can do things like use that energy to rally together and fight for or create change in a positive way. Guruka Singh from Sikhnet has a video where he talks about how we these 5 are natural energies and we have to learn to face them and understand how they are part of us. I agree and I think it’s important then to have this framework of where we are headed and what’s our definition of normal, or what we see “everyone else doing” versus what we are taught in Gurbani. Since I started implementing changes to what I thought was an ideal goal for handling situations in which I’m angry, I stopped sustaining my anger. I realized that I cannot send an energy of anger and love at the same time, and I much prefer to care and love and hopefully work to resolve the issue than sustain a grudge. I know that I need to continue to work on it though. It’s just important to continually remember what we are striving for in this life, spiritually. That is what we take with us after this body is gone. Instead of fueling our anger, put that energy into fueling our love for God by investing in learning Gurbani, doing sewa, and Naam Japna.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Embarrassed to Ask

Having been born into a Sikh family I think that a lot of things have sort of become a routine and I find myself on “automatic mode.” A few years ago I remember one of my friends asked me to take her to the Gurdwara. I was nervous because I knew she was going to ask me questions about what was going on and why, and I was afraid I wouldn’t know the answers despite the fact that I had been coming to the Gurdwara since I was born! I was scared also that she’d ask me to translate what Gyani Ji was saying, after I either didn’t understand or wasn’t paying attention (which usually happens when you don’t understand). I ended up doing quite a bit of homework beforehand, and it was a great learning experience for both of us.  I didn’t remember this until this week, when I realized again the importance of going back to the basics.
This week when I was listening to kathas I realized that there is a lot of basic terminology in Gurbani that I don’t fully understand. It feels kind of embarrassing to now be asking these questions, after so many years of both hearing them and saying them. For example, understanding what Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh means. What does meeting God mean? What is the mind? How were we created? What is maya?  What is the meaning of sakhat? Manmukh? Gurmukh? I’ll tell you, in all honesty, I still don’t know the full answers to all of those questions, and I only started learning the deeper answers in this last year. I may have been doing kirtan and reading Gurmukhi since I was a little kid, but I still have a lot of learning to do. I think it just points out that it’s never too late. I remember one Gyani Ji telling me how he didn’t ever go to school and didn’t know the alphabet, and people told him he wouldn’t amount to anything. He started on this path and he is now not only able to read the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, but also teach others the meaning behind it and do kathas. We shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask questions. If we don’t ask or seek out the knowledge, we won’t find the answers and we will continue to pretend to know instead of actually gaining real knowledge. We shouldn’t let our ego and pride get in the way of our learning.

I think not understanding what’s happening at the Gurdwara is one of the big reasons why people of my generation don’t attend. I have been attending the Gurdwara my whole life and as I mentioned earlier, a lot of it was my parent’s example and inspiration. There were a couple of years of university, though, where I felt like well I’m busy and I don’t understand the katha anyways, so I didn’t make it a priority to go each week. I kind of started to lose interest. The reason I went back wasn't that I suddenly had more time- actually I had less time because I sometimes had to work at the hospital on weekends, and I had more to study. The reason I went was because one of my friends kind of made me feel guilty about not going as much, and said that I should set an example for other people, so we both agreed to start going more often. After attending more, I learned more, and the more I learned, the more I understood and I made it a priority. So it’s nice to encourage others to go too. I probably wouldn’t be this passionate about Sikhi if I hadn’t gone back because someone encouraged me. Now I'm excited to go and the learning never stopped. This last Sunday I was sitting in the Gurdwara and just had this amazing realization that we sit together each week, for years, and pray together. Some of us, young and old, have been praying together for our whole lives, and perhaps we don’t know each other or we otherwise would not know each other outside of the Gurdwara. God puts us all together based on our past associations (having spent time in meditation of God together in our past lives) and gives us the opportunity to spend the most powerful, deep and meaningful moments together in the sangat. I just found it really heartwarming to realize that we are all learning together and working towards reaching God together.

So I’m going to share with you what I learned about Naam and Gurmantra. “Waheguru” is our Gurmantra. It is a tool given to us by the panj pyare, for us to reach God. Gurmantra is also referred to as Gurshabad in Gurbani. Naam is often translated as “Name of God” in English translations, but rally refers to the sound of God’s voice from which all of creation was created. This sound cannot be described. Naam is referred to by many names in the Gurbani as well including Shabad Guru, Shabad, or Ong (in Ik Ong Kaar). It comes in multiple forms- we can experience it as a sound (anhad shabad), taste (amrit ras), and jot (light). When Gurbani refers to Hukam (translated in English translations as God’s will/command), it means Naam. When we have Naam, we are in Hukam and without it, we are not in Hukam. Naam can only be found within ourselves. We stop using our physical senses, close the 9 doors of the body, and shut off our thoughts through simran (repeating the Gurmantra) to experience it. Learning also comes through practical experience and we also must simultaneously do the simran in order to understand what cannot be explained with words. 

There continues to be simran upstairs (not in the main hall) at the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara at 1 pm on Sundays.  Feel free to join us! 

Bhul chuk maaf karni

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Superstitions and Empty Rituals

I know a lot of people who are superstitious, follow rituals and black magic. It’s everything from donating specific items during the new moon, to wearing special bracelets, having pandits tell horoscopes, to a story I heard about half a pomegranate being buried in the soil of a plant at the Gurdwara! Unfortunately a lot of us have forgotten what Guru Nanak Dev Ji has taught us. In the search for easy solutions to get what we desire, we blindly follow what people tell us to do instead of Gurmat. In the Guru Granth Sahib Ji it is written, “The mind is diseased with doubt, superstition and duality” (p. 416).

There are many sakhis about these topics, for example, the well-known Sakhi about the Hindus throwing water towards the sun to reach their dead ancestors. I’m going to share the Sakhi about the Janeau here. A janeau is a thread that’s tied around the neck of a Hindu boy. Without this thread, the boy is considered of the lowest caste and is not allowed to read holy texts. Thus it divides people into castes. Brahmins wear cotton jeneau, kshatriyas wear hemp and vaisya wear wool. It allows one of these castes to get an education and marriage. It is also worn for protection against gods/goddesses. At the age of 9, Guru Nanak Dev Ji was at an age to have this janeau tied. When the ritual was started, he asked the priest why this was performed and the priest explained. Guru Nanak further asked why women were not allowed to get the janeau, and the priest explained that women are only allowed to get a janeau through marriage, and a husband wears it for her. He insisted that these were all the rules according to the scriptures and that Guru Ji was committing a great sin by questioning the holy books. To this Guru Ji replied that it is important to use our intellect to question what is written in order to gain an understanding of the religious texts or we will not learn. Guru Ji pointed out that the janeau is discriminatory and we should not divide people among castes. He also pointed out that such a physical thread cannot help us achieve our purpose:
“Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist. This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me. It does not break, it cannot be soiled by filth, it cannot be burnt, or lost. 
Blessed are those mortal beings, O Nanak, who wear such a thread around their necks. You buy the thread for a few shells, and seated in your enclosure, you put it on. Whispering instructions into others' ears, the Brahmin becomes a guru. 
But he dies, and the sacred thread falls away, and the soul departs without it. 
He commits thousands of robberies, thousands of acts of adultery, thousands of falsehoods and thousands of abuses. 
He practices thousands of deceptions and secret deeds, night and day, against his fellow beings. The thread is spun from cotton, and the Brahmin comes and twists it. The goat is killed, cooked and eaten, and everyone then says, ‘Put on the sacred thread’. When it wears out, it is thrown away, and another one is put on. O Nanak, the thread would not break, if it had any real strength. Believing in the Name, honor is obtained. The Lord's Praise is the true sacred thread. 
Such a sacred thread is worn in the Court of the Lord; it shall never break.
There is no sacred thread for gender, and no thread for woman.
The man's beard is spat upon daily. There is no sacred thread for the feet, and no thread for the hands; 
no thread for the tongue, and no thread for the eyes. The Brahmin himself goes to the world hereafter without a sacred thread. Twisting the threads, he puts them on others. He takes payment for performing marriages; reading their horoscopes, he shows them the way. Hear, and see, O people, this wondrous thing. He is mentally blind, and yet his name is wisdom.” Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 471 (translation on

This is a well-known sakhi but I feel that a lot of people don’t actually incorporate what it teaches us. We listen and nod and continue to look for people to give us what we want, and tell us what to do. Yet we read in Japji Sahib daily, that God is the only giver. Sometimes people even take it one step further and say if they read a certain number of prayers in this timeframe, they will get what they want. The ironic thing is that instead of reading quickly for the sake of reading, if we sit down and understand the Gurbani, it tells us everything we need! We would stop searching elsewhere. Let’s remember to be patient, follow Gurmat, and put in the effort towards our life purpose instead of blindly following superstitions and rituals. 


Saturday, January 21, 2017


The highlight of my week was getting to listen to hours of katha while I was driving. In one of the kathas I heard (akath kathas from, Simar Singh explains that if you forget to do your simran, instead of feeling guilty just say okay now I remember, and do it. This was a light-bulb moment for me because I’ve been struggling a lot with that lately and it’s been getting in the way of being able to do more simran. I find in the winter, the work days feel like they last forever. By the time I go to bed, I usually start to feel bad about how little I got done outside of work. I find myself wasting quite a bit of time thinking about what I should have been doing (for example thinking about how I should have woken up earlier to do prayers), instead of actually just spending the time I do have in the evening. After I absorbed what he said, I decided to implement it. So yesterday every time I was at work and I remembered to do my simran, instead of feeling bad about not having done more, I just remembered God in that moment. At lunch time, I told myself it’s okay if my thoughts don’t stop entirely but I’m going to try to reduce them at least. I sat alone and closed my eyes, and I started doing simran out loud. I found myself so relaxed that I almost fell asleep! Every time I lost focus, I didn’t feel bad about it or keep dwelling on it, I just simply refocused on remembering again. I found it really helped me in maximizing the time I have.

Often times we are too hard on ourselves and we expect too much from ourselves right away. I’ve often heard people being self-critical about their lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride, to the point that all they can think about is the past. They feel so bad about themselves that they aren’t able to use THIS moment. That’s why I think it’s important to remind ourselves just not to be so self-critical, and to remember that you are learning and it’s okay!!! If we constantly feel bad about simply having thoughts then we won’t be able to move into actually using the present moment to practice simran and learn from Gurbani. We’ll be miserable. Simar pointed out in another katha that it takes practice to sit for long periods, to keep your eyes closed, to keep your attention on your voice. It doesn’t come right away. So just keep practicing a little bit each day and be kind to yourself (and understanding of other people’s life journeys too of course).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Pressure to Fit In

I’ve spent the week living with complete strangers in the middle of nowhere. It was a very new experience for me, but it gave me lots of time to listen to kathas and do some reflections (especially thinking about how much I love Prince George!). I decided to write about my struggle with finding my place in medical school.

When I first got into medicine, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I was confident that I was going into the right career, but I didn’t feel that I was on the same page as the other students. Many were true type A personalities, and the expectation was that I had the same mindset as them. I’d never been in school with so many competitive people. All top students crammed into one class. They were quick to deny their competitiveness and jealousy, because they knew these were perceived as bad qualities, but the reality was different. I was afraid I would be perceived as the weak link and get stepped on. In small group discussions where we were supposed to talk about our feelings and our lives, I’d often feel like an outsider. It was as if everything I said was getting misinterpreted. People struggled to relate to the most simple things like family being very important to me, and missing them because they had moved away. I couldn’t understand why people were unable to see me as I am, and what I was doing wrong. Since I was living alone and didn’t have any time for friends outside medicine, I was pretty isolated. The only people that would see me in the day were people that didn’t understand who I am, and what I’m about.

When I started working in the hospital as part of my training, it felt more and more like I was being forced into a box that I simply didn’t fit into. For example, my life is not just about work. I know I won’t reach God living at my job 24/7. Of course I knew I would have to make sacrifices for my training, and I was willing to do that because the certainty I was in the right career deepend with each patient interaction. What I didn’t realize was that this was a LIFE-LONG expectation that I put my work before anything else; that for the rest of my life I’m supposed to put my loved ones and my spiritual life behind my job. This is what everyone else had done and was what I was supposed to do too. Frequently, I was told that whatever I was required to do was in my best interest even if it was harmful to me. I was told that going to work while I was sick was necessary because it was all for MY benefit. I remember in particular one night staying up to study until 2 am and showing up at work 7 am. I was told that I am not making an effort in my studying and I am not working hard enough. Here I was, having given up basic necessities like sleep and health, and I was told I was lazy. I was stuck in an environment where people not only didn’t see me for who I am but didn’t value me. The more I worked, the more I realized that who I am conflicts with who I am training to be. I wanted to be a well-balanced, compassionate, caring doctor who takes the time to listen. My training valued emotional detachment, fast work and ego. Each day felt like a rejection of me, and I started to think that maybe I don’t belong.

I started spending a significant portion of time in my training trying to shake people’s false images of who I am and who I am assumed to be. I tried to prove myself. I tried to show I wasn’t sheltered, reserved, just a pretty face. It seemed that no matter what I did, people still came in saying things like “your English is pretty good, where are you from.” (This individual, who had literally just met me said my parents must be dictators and when I would be married I would be a slave to my husband’s parents because that’s just how it is). I tried to fight the assumptions and stereotypes, the racism, the sexism, but I got tired of the constant battle. It drove me crazy to feel like the only person who saw the injustices I saw when a doctor didn’t think that mental illness existed, or thought that certain groups of people in society don’t deserve the care that others do. I started to feel like I was wrong about everything. Wrong for refusing to become a robotic workaholic, wrong for caring too much. It seemed like I simply saw the world wrong, like I was walking around in a blue shirt but everyone was saying it was red. Too many times I got sucked into the trap of doubting myself and focusing on what others thought of me.

I’ve realized that when we focus on proving things to other people- even if it’s your boss, it makes your life about other people. This applies even to when you are trying to “prove them wrong.” This is my example of when that went wrong for me. I spent a long time considering a particular specialty and a few months ago I realized my heart lies in family medicine. I couldn’t admit it though. I had been told by so many times that as a woman, I MUST become a family doctor, not a specialist. It made me angry, and I wanted to prove them wrong and show them that as a female minority, yes I can successfully do whatever I want and be a specialist. You can’t stop me. But I didn’t want to do a specialty anymore. If I ruined my own life trying to prove other people wrong, I would be miserable forever for nothing. It’s not my lens that needs to be changed, it’s theirs and its not my responsibility to fix it! When other people don’t recognize you for who you are, when they don’t acknowledge your story, when they twist your story, at the end of the day it isn’t you. It took me a really long time to be able to understand this properly and realize that if they aren’t able to listen and relate, it’s because they are lacking the skills to be able to do that, not because there is something wrong with me.

So what did I take away from my experiences? Keep fighting and don’t give up. Find people who support you in achieving that. It has taken me a really long time to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay if I don’t share the same ideals as my colleagues and if I don’t fit into the culture of medicine. I don’t value the same things they do, and I don’t like the culture of medicine. I want to work to change that. At the end of the day I’m trying to re-focus on my own story, and not veer into the wrong direction because everyone else is telling me to. It is extremely difficult to resist that pressure just like it’s hard for a person whose friends and family all drink alcohol, not to take a drink. Environment influences us strongly, so if you are being told you are something you aren’t, its hard not to believe it. What’s really helped me the most has just been finding the right sangat. That in itself was hard and it took two years. The first time I met someone who just “got me” it was really comforting. I felt so blessed. I didn’t have to keep explaining myself and what I’ve been through. I was believed. Getting through this has been about finding people who remind me what real compassion and empathy means, and what it means to be a Sikh. People who share my values, and remind me what’s right and wrong. It's a rare couple of people who have been able to play this role in my life, the type of people who can take my anxiety and stress about what other people have said about me and remind me how to re-channel my energy. In Gurbani it says “If you wish to swim across the water, then consult those who know how to swim.” I just think to myself, are the people that are telling me to stop caring so much, that I don’t belong in medicine, people who know how to swim? Do I desire to be like them? No. I don’t need someone who is drowning to teach me how to swim. So it’s really helped me to have people reminding me of what’s real and important in life, and how not to lose the qualities that make me who I am under the pressure of my environment. We've all experienced pressure to change ourselves, and it can be really hard to resist. Next time I get caught up in the cascade of thoughts trying to prove myself, I’m going to use the tools I have in my toolbox to remind myself of what’s true and what is false: simran, Gurbani, and Sangat with people who are on that path.