Thursday, June 30, 2016

Painting


I painted this picture of two Kaurs doing gatka at the Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan. I compiled it using a combination of 4 different pictures. Definitely learned a lot about proportions considering some of the people in the background are abnormally big and small in comparison to each other (haha) but let's just assume the small ones are children :) 

Reminder about the gurmat camp for kids the week of the 11th at the gurdwara and the rainsbhai kirtan on the 16th.


Happiness

I had a friend who asked me last week “What is happiness?” Interesting question. I remember there was a doctor I worked with last year and each time I would ask a question he would come back to the basic definition first. I thought this was a brilliant way to discuss things, because in order to discuss more complicated topics you have to bring it back to the definition. So let me answer: happiness is an emotion. We all know what it feels like because we’ve all experienced it. Unfortunately the media tends to put us on an endless hunt to happiness, with millions of articles, millions of suggestions, ways to find this elusive, limited-supply happiness that we are all hungry for. But it’s not limited, its in endless supply because its inside you, it’s a feeling, and I’m going to talk about some of the beliefs that we have about this feeling.

“I don’t deserve happiness.”
People usually feel undeserving off happiness when they’ve done something that they feel is bad or wrong and in order to punish themselves they believe that they don’t deserve happiness anymore. I think the article “Do I Deserve to Be Happy?” (1) explains really well why this belief is not true and so I’m going to quote it here because if we can start to believe that even criminals and other people deserve it, then its easier to look at ourselves and say “obviously I deserve to be happy too.” In this article, the author says “No matter what you have done in the world, or think you have done, you deserve happiness…Happiness isn’t a reward for being nice – it’s a birthright” (1). He goes on to describe a scenario for us to understand why criminals deserve happiness: “Let’s say two twins commit a crime and are sentenced to jail. One goes to a standard jail and becomes unhappy. The other twin goes to a magical jail which helps her feel valued and connected, and happy. Which twin do you think is more likely to feel remorse, and upon leaving jail be less likely to commit another offence?...I suspect that a victim would feel far better about being a victim if the perpetrator emerged from jail happier, well adjusted and rehabilitated. At least then the crime would have some meaning” (1).  

“I need something be happy.”
It could be money, it could be other things. I think most people have explored this topic growing up, but I thought I’d mention it anyways. Money does help us- being in poverty puts us in a lot of situations that will create feelings of unhappiness, but as we all know money can only bring us so much. Plus, people can be happy despite not having money because happiness is a feeling.

“I am responsible for you being/not being happy.”
I’ll admit I have a really hard time with this one, but somewhere inside I know it’s not true that we are responsible for other people’s feelings. I do believe we are responsible for treating others with love, respect, compassion and kindness, and if we do not treat them in that way, then we are hurting other people and its up to us to do something about that. The article “Feelings and Responsibility” by Marina Michaels (2) describes it better than I could, so I’m going to quote here: “…we don’t have control over how another person thinks or over their emotions…If I choose to yell, it is indeed a choice. I know I have another choice. I know I am not doing the best I can. I know that I am responsible for the yelling. And if my friend bursts into tears, then I am equally responsible, not for the tears, but for making amends for my poor choice of action” (2). Taking responsibility for your own words and actions is the key here.

“I simply choose to be happy or not.”
Wow alright! This one is put out there all the time, and its really hurtful to a lot of people even though its meant to be motivational most of the time. But basically it’s the idea that you need to be opitimistic, see the positives, and if you aren’t happy you just aren’t trying hard enough.

Firstly, situations, words, actions, do affect our feelings, and happiness is a feeling. I think we ultimately can get to a state of being where we are no longer affected or are affected less by situations, however. There were many Sikhs before us that were able to achieve this state and make great sacrifices, by not being constantly dependent on situations. Their state of peace and contentment was based on their constant connection to God. I think for those of us who aren’t there yet though its dangerous for us to just pretend like situations don’t affect us if they do. Say someone says something really hurtful. I could just pretend that I’m unaffected, but be feeling a lot of pain inside and that pain stays there until I deal with it. That’s different than not feeling the pain at all, being in a constant peace and contentment. In my opinion it’s better to work through and experience your emotions, and then move your way towards happiness, than to suppress your negative emotions and continue to live in a constant state of internal anger or sadness.  

Second, I read this really great article “I’m Sorry But You Can’t Just ‘Choose Happiness’ All the Time” by Jamie Varon (3), that explains why it isn’t just a choice to be happy and why telling people that just hurts them: “Many people are imbued with fear, toxic beliefs, past pain, and, while I believe there is a moment that you must choose to make your life better, you can’t just wake up every day and choose to be happy. You will be ignoring the fundamental growth that is necessary for a true happy existence” (3). Jamie Varon reminds us that rather than focusing on our emotions, we should work on our beliefs instead: “The choice is in choosing to change the BELIEF, not outright choosing the EMOTION. This is a seemingly small distinction, but an important one. Every day, you can choose to know yourself better and to untangle beliefs that are preventing you from peace, joy, happiness, and pure love… You cannot be expected to wake up every day and eschew away your very real beliefs, your very real emotional responses to those beliefs, and your very real resistances to examining those emotional responses to those beliefs and just… BE HAPPY. It’s delusional. It takes too much denial, the kind of denial that will surface one day in the future and wreck your life in a way that is not worth it for a fake sense of happiness” (3). 

So now that we have explored some beliefs around happiness I think I’ll summarize. Happiness is a feeling and therefore: we all deserve it, we aren’t responsible for other people’s happiness, and its better to focus on your belief systems than just choosing the emotion of happiness and denying your problems. I’ve definitely learned a lot simply exploring my belief systems about happiness itself, so I think it’s a useful thing to do. Good luck!

References:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Who Am I? (Again)

Who Am I? I’ve spent a long time asking myself this question. Searching for an answer, and sometimes I would find one and then a while later I would keep searching. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. My core values, beliefs and goals have been well-defined through years of volunteer work and self-reflection. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I think that people are usually looking for all of those when they are finding who they are. But I knew all of those and I still asked. When things weren’t going well, I would say “I’m not sure who I am.” But the same core-values were still there. Goals change sometimes, but most goals I think don’t really define us, they guide us.

In the end, I think I have been asking myself the wrong question. I am not looking for who I am. I know who I am. I am a Sikh, a woman, God’s child. Those things don’t change. When we go through things in life, there are two groups of people. One group tells you “don’t worry, despite this, you are the same person underneath. It hasn’t changed you or hurt you so deeply that you are damaged.” The other says “wow you’ve really changed as a result of this, you’ve worked hard and now you are way stronger than before this event happened.” And yet both sets of people are looking at you at the same time. How is it possible that one set says you are the same, and one says you are different? And both are trying to make you feel better? I ask myself if, given that I am continually reflecting and changing myself, I can be the same person day to day. Am I still the same person, is the answer to who am I still the same? I think it doesn’t matter. Both groups are right. There are things about ourselves that are set. We are born in certain circumstances, we have a soul, we have a body, this is us. Our core values, are us (because usually we don’t change those) and so when people say you are still the same underneath, they are saying you are the same beautiful soul you were before, and you still have the same underlying values. But when people are saying we’re different, we’re stronger, more resilient, we’ve grown and learned out of hardships, they are talking about the more outer layers of ourselves. We managed to maybe change some of our values and beliefs that are holding us back from being happier or more fulfilled, these are still more outer layers and they help us and make a tremendous difference in our lives. So I don’t know if I can say I’m the same person as yesterday or last year, or whatever- whether I’m continually changing, which I am, or whether I am the exact same person that I was growing up because I still have the same great qualities I did then. But it doesn’t matter, because ultimately I know I’m on a journey where I am continuing to grow while maintaining the values of Sikhi that I grew up with. I'm going to stop asking myself who I am constantly, and instead my questions are going to be what did I learn? what beliefs are helping me and what's holding me back and what can I do to make tomorrow better? Because i finally am satisfied with my answer to who I am. 


Friday, June 24, 2016

Emotional Pain- What Am I Supposed To Do About It?

No I'm not talking about the kind of emotional pain when someone tells you you have a long giraffe neck, you swing your hips too much when you walk, and your spoon-shaped nails look ugly (yes i've been told all these things and actually i think they're kind of hilarious and i laugh at them often!). I'm talking the type of deep emotional pain when you're really hurting from something someone did to you and you just can't get over it. We learn a lot about physical struggles in our life, but very little do people touch the topic of emotions, as if to say that we should naturally know the medicines to our emotional ailments, or they shouldn’t exist at all. Rather than explore the depths of our emotions and the thoughts behind them, a lot of us just cover them up and don’t deal with them. Boys are particular susceptible to this as society teaches men that to have emotions is weakness. Girls get taught they are overly-emotional because of their hormones and to have emotions is crazy. So here we are with all these ideas about emotions which don’t really help us because we are human and we all have feelings, which doesn’t say anything about our strength or mental status.

I dealt with some really big stuff in my life last year and for the first time I realized that I don’t really have emotional skills so I’m going to share what I have learned since then. Sometimes we get upset at someone for not being able to tell us what they need. But really there are several steps before that: they need to be able to accept their feelings, understand what emotion it is, and why they are feeling that. If they simply cannot figure out what they are feeling, they cannot be expected to communicate that! A lot of us don’t practice identifying feelings- “I’m hurt, I’m sad, I’m scared”, etc. We simply have learned to skip over these emotions and avoid them as long as possible. Then to figure out why, its like peeling back the layers of an onion. Usually its not what someone said or did that bothers us, but the way our brain interprets that as a message about ourselves. “He ignored me when he walked by, therefore he hates me and I must have done something wrong.” These automatic negative thoughts come from our past experiences and beliefs about ourselves. In order to understand why someone’s behavior or action bothers us, we really need to look deep inside ourselves. It can take a long time to get to it, but the more you practice, the faster it gets.

Going back to my story. I hit rock bottom, and I was an emotional disaster in anyone’s eyes. Not only could I not figure out underlying reasons why, I wasn’t even able to figure out what it was that I was feeling. So when someone would ask me to communicate that I had no idea how. My communication was non-functional because I couldn’t figure out what I was feeling. It was chaos. Worse, my body was slowly deteriorating as punishment, which is what happens in many situations with severe emotional pain- grief, depression, anxiety, heartache, etc. Anyone who has been through grief knows what its like for our bodies- as soon as you wake up, the pain hits you like a wave. Our body responds by disrupting sleep patterns, appetite, pain, concentration, energy, etc. So not only is your mind in chaos, but now maybe you can’t sleep at all and as a result you can’t think, and your stomach hurts from the hunger but you can’t manage to eat, and you are exhausted. This is when I learned that managing emotional pain starts with taking care of your body. Emotional pain can create physical pain like muscle pains, headaches, etc. and it can help to address that pain (baths, heating pad, medicines). Think about your very basic needs. Am I thirsty right now? Am I hungry right now? All other things may be too hard, but just focus on those.

Just being an emotional person doesn’t give you skills. This was a big realization for me. Just because I am able to express my feelings freely, doesn’t mean that I have the skills to deal with them. So here I was in this chaos, and I had to learn. I spent a long time just fighting my feelings. Fighting the feelings of sadness. Fighting the anxiety. Fighting the fact that something wasn’t right. My brain kept telling me- you don’t have time to feel, to fall apart, life is moving forward so you better just ignore it and keep going. Keep going until one day it crumbles apart and you can’t hold it together. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to feel. Allow your children to feel. Allow them to be sad when they are sad and be there for them. Same goes for friends. When we don’t allow ourselves to go through the feelings, we avoid them, and then it gets worse. You, man or woman, are allowed to feel because feeling is a reaction, and no one gets to say your feelings are wrong. The chaos phase can last a while but you can’t rush it. 

This is where I talk about relaxation and stress coping techniques. Unfortunately I didn’t learn these before I started dealing with real issues! The only stress techniques I ever really learned growing up were “take a deep breath”. There are a few categories of relaxation techniques in my mind. External techniques are useful for when you really need to just do something else for a while to get your mind off your pain. I know I just talked about accepting your pain, but sometimes its also important to take a break away from it and just be okay for a while. Being in constant chaos is hard on us, and I found some activities to be particularly helpful for me to just focus on something else for a while. This list is usually your list of hobbies. For me it was things like puzzles, crochet, coloring, painting, drawing, baking, dance, watching movies, etc. Don’t fill up all your time with these, but do use them as needed to take a break. Exercise is its own category. It is amazing and helps to elevate the mood.

Internal techniques are ones that you need some level of concentration or even just an ability to relax for: breathing techniques, 5,4,3,2,1 (5 things you hear, see and feel, then 4 things you hear, see and feel, etc.), meditation, 5 finger exercise (think of a time something funny happened to you, something happy, when you accomplished something, when you felt connected), progressive muscle relaxation, chunk the day (you decide a period of time you think you can handle. You do an activity for that and then reassess, which makes the day more manageable and less overwhelming), listening to music or a guided meditation, etc. Breathing techniques vary but I’ve found breathe in 4 (push your belly out), out 7 (pull your belly IN!) to be a good one for myself. Be creative and think of your own activities- personally I have found writing in washable marker on my arm the people and things that are important to me, or simply “Waheguru”, when I am having a tough time reminds me to keep going. Many people have books of positive things people have said to them, or a list of positive affirmations like “I am a warrior, I am a champion, I am resilient, etc.”

I was in chaos for a long time, but when I moved past that I was in a space to start to think about what the issues are that are leading to your feelings. There’s a few different ways to do this. Talking to a friend, (or professional), or someone you are close to and trust. Isolation hurts us, because no one shares the burden of our pains, no one is there to make you remember that the thoughts swirling inside your head may not be accurate, no one knows we are in trouble so we sink further as we try to pretend to be fine in our homes, at our work, etc. Of course, when we are in emotional pain, we are vulnerable, and you have to be careful who you share with. Some of my issues I realized were best shared with friends that were not in my peer group, but rather those much older than me who had some life experience and perspective. Talking helps us normalize our experiences and realize we aren’t alone, and it can help us reframe our experiences with an outside perspective. Of course you can just think about it. I’ve found that my brain doesn’t think very linearly so I can’t manage my thoughts if I don’t write, so I journal. Writing letters to people (that you don’t send), art, poetry, etc. are great ways to express your feelings in a different form as you process them and dig deep to figure out where they come from.

Lastly, you can work to communicate those thoughts and feelings (and make apologies as necessary) and working towards a solution (if relevant). This is a skill and takes some practice. I used to avoid those words "i need to talk to you", "i have something important to tell you." Now, i can say them a little easier (although i still have a lump in my throat and i get anxious), but it gets easier. Silence speaks louder than words. Sadly, if you don't communicate what you feel, it leaves the other person ultimately guessing and assuming (usually bad things about themselves). So it's important that you do take out the time to share how you are feeling. We can't take away the pain from what we said or did. But if we are willing to have honest conversations about what's going on, we are able to make repairs and move on. 


In the end, I learned a ton of skills that allowed me to keep moving forward. As the skills grow, you become faster at processing. You don’t lose those skills! Worse things have happened to me in the time since, and I have retained my skills for managing my emotions, so I’m never going to be in that same place I was again, never going to be at square one with no emotional skills. Rather now, I am continuing to build my skills. Good luck to everyone on their journey to building skills to manage emotions. It can be really hard but its never too late to start. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Guru Arjan Dev Ji Shaheedi

Guru Arjan Dev Ji, our fifth Guru, is known for starting the construction of Harmandir Sahib, starting the compilation of scriptures into one book (now Guru Granth Sahib Ji), and being the first Sikh martyr (1). In memory of Guru Ji’s shaheedi (June 16, 1606), I have written about his martyrdom (2).  


source: 
Prince Khusrau had been captured fighting Emperor Jahangir to the throne, however he managed to escape and received aid from Guru Ji (3). This enraged emperor Jahangir who won the throne and was intimidated by the political threat from the growing numbers of Sikhs (3). There were many individuals who were against the Guru and added to Jahangir’s hatred, fueling him to order Guru Ji to accept Islam or face execution by torture (3). Guru Ji was arrested and tortured for 6 days (2). He was made to sit in a cauldron of boiling water with hot sand pouring on his head, and then later, made to sit on a hot plate with hot sand being poured over him (2). Despite the blistering of his skin and physical torture, Guru Ji remained calm and recited gurbani (2). Guru Ji spoke the words “Whatever you ordain appears sweet. I supplicate for the gift of name” (3). Mian Mir, the muslim sufi saint that laid the foundational stone of Harimandir Sahib, tried to intervene, however Guru Ji told him that this is the will of God (2). Sikhiwiki.org describes this exchange
“Guru Sahib said, ‘All is happening in accordance with the will of Waheguru. Men who stand for Truth have to suffer often. Their sufferings give strength to the cause of Truth. Go, brother. Pray for me. Pray for the success of my cause. Pray for victory to truth.’
Mian Mir asked, ‘Why are you enduring suffering at the hands of these vile sinners when I possess superpowers?’
The Guru replied, ‘I bear all this torture to set an example to the Teachers of the True Name, that they may not lose patience or rail against God in affliction. The true test of faith is in the hour of misery. Without examples to guide them, ordinary people's minds would tremble in the midst of suffering’” (2)

Guru Ji was taken to the cold River Ravi as it was thought this would bring further torture, however he never emerged from the river (2). Although Jahangir believed that this would put an end to the political threat that the Sikhs posed, he could not have been more wrong because it solidified the resolve of the Sikhs to be saint soldiers under the guidance of Guru Hargobind Sahib, son of Guru Arjan Dev Ji (2,3)