Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! In this coming year, may we all get closer to meeting God. May Waheguru bless us with Naam and Satsangat. May we do simran and put Guru Ji first. May we recognize God in all of the creation and each individual, and express gratitude for the thousands of gifts we receive daily. May we live with compassion, love, forgiveness and empathy, and learn to own and tell our stories. May we face every new challenge with courage. I pray that 2018 will be a year of peace, fulfillment, and growth.

I really liked's facebook post this morning: "This year lets make a commitment to Waheguru. The key to commitment is staying on the Path, it does not mean you have to transform into perfection this year. Let's just make this year better than last year!"

I am deeply appreciative for all of our readers. Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal!

Watch live New Year's Celebration from the UK Gurdwara on Sikh Channel via facebook: 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Foreboding Joy

When we experience a big disappointment or loss in life, something we were really excited about, sometimes we become afraid to be excited again. I experienced this recently, but it was so subtle it was hard for me to recognize. I merely realized I was mentally “preparing myself” and holding my breath in moments of joy, in case they didn’t work out or something went wrong. Yet the preparations don't really help. When something does go wrong, it still hurts. In Braving the Wilderness, Dr. BrenĂ© Brown writes, “Joy is probably the most vulnerable emotion we experience. We’re afraid that if we allow ourselves to feel it, we’ll get blindsided by disaster or disappointment… We try to beat vulnerability to the punch by imagining the worst or by feeling nothing in hopes that the other shoe won’t drop. I call it foreboding joy.”  

I didn’t realize that I was foreboding joy at first, but the day that winter holidays started, I noticed that I was scared to be excited about anything. I was scared to make plans, or to be happy about the time off. I thought about all the horrible things that had happened last December including (but not limited to) being very ill on antibiotics, having multiple family members hospitalized, losses, and a huge set of exams to study for. It was one of the worst months of my whole life. Combine this with the fact that back in September I had been really excited for my plans for the winter holidays, but since life circumstances changed, my plans changed. The end result was that day that the holidays started this year, I was holding my breath scared to feel joy, because I didn’t want to feel the pain of suddenly having it all taken away.

Dr. Brown writes in Daring Greatly about how foreboding joy comes from a culture of scarcity.  Brown writes, “Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem… Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.” She quotes Lynne Twist’s book The Soul of Money, “For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it… before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we got to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day… this internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.”

Lately Punjabi media has tried to highlight this issue of comparison fueling greed and jealousy. We often think about the comparison being physical objects, but it’s more than that. Someone came up to us once and told us how much their parents were comparing them to us, and how devastating it was to live under the pressure of not being good enough. I had no idea. From then on, the more I paid attention, the more I noticed that when someone did well in the Punjabi community, it broke friendships, it led to jealousy instead of happiness, and it led to resentment. I didn’t grow up like that, because my parents often talked about how everyone’s kids in the Punjabi community are like their own because we are all part of the same community. I think the reason people act that way is because of the feeling of scarcity. Especially since we are a minority community, maybe people feel like someone else’s success is at their expense; that there isn’t enough for everyone and if someone else makes it, they won’t. People doubt their own ability to be able to do it. I think it’s important to recognize because if we want to overcome it as a cultural community, then we need to know where it comes from and recognize that there IS enough. That there is enough joy in the world, enough success, enough love for all of us. It’s the doubt of maya in our minds, with the fuel from the fire of media selling us that we are “not enough” that makes it that much worse.

Getting back to my story, when I recognized it as foreboding joy, I started to use gratitude.  Brown writes, “There is one guarantee: if we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.” I didn’t use the kind of gratitude where you write in a journal each day about what you are grateful for, because that always had ended up with me writing the same things over and over without thinking. I already practiced gratitude in my Ardas. This time, I needed to add something. I practiced the kind of gratitude where, every time I felt vulnerable and I felt like I was holding back my excitement, I said a mental note of appreciation. Often I would say a prayer, Thank you Waheguru for this moment with my family, etc. BrenĂ© talks about having appreciation for the small, ordinary moments, and she gives the example: “A man in his early sixties told me, ‘I used to think the best way to go through life was to expect the worst. That way, if it happened, you were prepared, and if it didn’t happen, you were pleasantly surprised. Then, I was in a car accident and my wife was killed. Needless to say, expecting the worst didn’t prepare me at all. And worse, I still grieve those wonderful moments we shared and that I didn’t fully enjoy.” I started to really focus on moments like driving to the Gurdwara, watching a movie with my family, and eating dinner together. The other shoe never dropped. I got to actually enjoy my holidays and experience the joy of being with my family without that extra anxiety. One of the biggest moments of appreciation was recognizing that this year has given me a younger brother. Even though we aren’t related by blood, he’s just as protective and has taught me a lot. I was only able to appreciate and recognize the joyful connection, and trust deeper because I wasn’t holding my breath, worried about losing everything and everyone.

I encourage you to think about what kind of messages you tell yourself and society tells you about being enough. I shared my story so it could get you thinking about how foreboding joy can be subtle, and it’s important to recognize the feeling, then to express appreciation for the gift in the moment that we have. Really it seems like a small thing but it makes a big difference. Not only do we live more fulfilled lives, we have more resilience to deal with the losses, disappointments, and tragedies.

Brown, B. (2016). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Brown, B. (2017). Braving the wilderness: the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. Random House.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Mere Man Pardesi Ve, Pyare, Ao Ghare

Last night I was thinking about all the things that help our mind in it's journey to meet God. I decided to make a picture to put up in my room to remind myself of all these aspects of our journey. When we are struggling, it is easy to forget all the tools we are given. 

I have been reading the book Alap Ahar Sulap Si Nindra (in Punjabi) by Bhai Sewa Singh Ji Tarmala. In it he writes that even though we have eyes, we are blind to God; and having ears, we are deaf to God's voice. It is Kaal (the governor of Maya) that loots of of God's gifts. God speaks to us through Anhad Bani, but we don't hear it. We don't see God in this creation or within ourselves. We don't taste the Amrit Ras that God sends us as food for our mind. Instead, our mind becomes friends with it's thoughts, constantly lost in anxieties, worries, anger, lust, greed, pride, and attachment. He writes about how God tells us to come home (to the home of the mind, Nij Mahal, Thir Ghar, Sunn, etc.), but we forgot where the doors are (the Dasam Dwaar or 10th Gate of the mind). On Ang 70 of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, it says, "Mere Man Pardesi Ve, Pyare, Ao Ghare, O my dear beloved stranger mind, please come home!" 

We need to employ everything that God has given us in order to overcome the challenges of living in the rules of this game. His book even explained that there is a reason for Dhadi Vaaran, kirtan, etc. all having their own roles. He writes that when we go from our houses to sit in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, there are many thoughts that block our path. In order to stop those thoughts, the Dhadhi Jatha sings loudly, just like when we start to do simran we do it in what is called "Bakhri Bani"- meaning out loud, so that the thoughts can stop and we can focus. The idea is that by hearing the praises of God in loud voices, we will stop our thoughts. At this point our mind becomes in "Beear Ras." Then we listen to the singing of kirtan in order to bring our minds to another level of peace, "Shant Ras." When our minds come to peace, finally, we can sit and listen to katha. We hear about how to play this game of life and we get inspired to do it. 

We are blessed with many gifts, may we now make an effort to get to the home of our minds. It makes a huge difference just to make small changes in our lives. About a year ago, I changed my alarm on my iphone to Waheguru simran by Bhai Niranjan Singh Ji. Before this, the sound of my alarm clock would make have this awful reaction of dread and anxiety in the morning. When I wake up now, my first thought is now Waheguru; it is my reminder for my gift of life and breath for the day. What change will you make today?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Prakash Divas!

Today we celebrate the Prakash Divas of Guru Gobind Singh Ji! I will post more about this in January when we celebrate at the Gurdwara.

Happy Prakash Divas!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Gift of Belonging

Belonging is an important issue for all of us. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about this topic in detail until last week. I grew up as one of the only visible minorities in my class (and elementary school), and I didn’t really have Punjabi friends outside of school either. I was in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes until Grade 4, and because I mostly spoke Punjabi I remember I didn’t really understand what was going on in school in the early grades. I guess I had forgotten this part of my story because elementary school feels like so long ago, but two of my friends were talking lately about how these experiences affect our sense of belonging. I had often felt like there were two parts of me; one that my friends didn’t understand because they included cultural and religious topics that they didn’t relate to. I remember people trying to fit me into boxes. At the Gurdwara I was “shy and modest”; in my friends group I was “pretty”; and then in late high school I fit into the “smart” box. I just felt different, and I had different beliefs and values as a Canadian-born Sikh. At that time I wasn’t able to recognize that it was because I had different values, or because of my different experiences; I simply felt that I wasn’t comfortable and that no one box allowed me to just be ME.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I couldn’t talk about what it is like to be a female minority. I think there are many reasons. One of them is that I felt like I didn't want to take away from my appreciation for the life I have been given, because I'm proud to be both a woman and a Sikh (now I recognize that I can be appreciative and still talk about struggles). Another reason was that I wasn’t able to put my experiences into words, and I felt alone in what I was experiencing. No one had ever told me “me too”; that I wasn’t alone in what I experienced as either as a female, or as a minority. I didn't have those conversations. It is only in the last two years that I got to explore that. I heard that “me too”, and I realized I wasn’t alone. I finally got the chance to have the rare Punjabi friends to laugh about shared experiences, explore religious topics, share parts of me that I had never talked about with my other friends, and learn more about myself. It was nice to not have to explain what family means, what the Gurdwara means, the search for Anand, because on top of a shared language was a shared value system. It is the combination of these experiences and my spiritual journey that allowed me to put my halves together and feel whole for the first time in my life. For the first time, I belonged and that meant the world to me. I thought I would be uncomfortable forever, but it turns out the discomfort was from trying to fit into something that I wasn’t. 

Brene Brown writes in the Gifts of Imperfection, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” She writes, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” It is hard to be yourself when we are surrounded by so many messages that we need to fit in, from TV to social media and the people we know. She writes, “From gangs to gossiping, we’ll do what it takes to fit in if we believe it will meet our need for belonging. But it doesn’t. We can only belong when we offer our most authentic selves and when we’re embraced for who we are.” It’s not an easy process and it can hurt at times, but it is even more work to live a life of pretending.

I think the process of belonging is deeply spiritual. It involves developing self-love in a way that we recognize God within ourselves, and have compassion for our mistakes and our development. In that process, we figure out who we are, we figure out our values, and we find our home within ourselves. When we are connected to the One Truth, we are authentic and true to ourselves in every situation. 

Brown, Brene. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreHazelden Publishing, 2010.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Creativity and Connection to God

Our Guru Jis were very creative. The entire Guru Granth Sahib is written as poetry. They designed cities, built the Baoli Sahib and Gurdwaras. They sang kirtan, designed and played instruments like the Taus and Saranda. Our history also includes gatka and swordsmanship. In India, traditionally, people would weave manjas and carpets, sew clothing, and do embroidery. There are many other examples of practicing creativity today such as cooking, painting, photography, woodworking, gardening, writing, and storytelling.

Creativity is an important part of our connection to God. Brene Brown says in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, “Most of us who are searching for spiritual connection spend too much time looking up at the sky and wondering why God lives so far away. God lives within us, not above us. Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God.” Similarly, Sant Singh Ji Maskeen wrote in his book, Laavan, “It is only the Divine knowledge- if one attains it- such a person becomes complete in every aspect of life. Numerous types of arts take birth in his or her heart, arts like painting, sculpture, music, poetry, etc. and what not. Because God is the centre of all art… When someone gets attached to the ‘Sarabkla’-God of all arts and attains ‘HIS’ knowledge, then such a person is also filled with manifold knowledge of arts. They automatically take birth in his or her heart…Guru Nanak Dev Ji never learnt music from anybody and yet would sing the suitable Rag and Ragnii of the appropriate time.” Now that I understand the connection between spirituality and creativity, I understand my creative explosion over the last two years, making crochet dresses, paintings, clay projects, and writing. It came from that same energy that drives my spiritual connection. 

When we understand from a spiritual perspective, we can see that this creativity exists in all of us. Brene Brown writes, ”‘I’m not very creative’ doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.” She goes on to say that her research revealed the following: “As it turns out, it’s not merely benign or ‘too bad’ if we don’t use the gifts that we’ve been given; we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear and even grief.” I know when I don’t express my creativity, I feel restless, anxious, and empty. It reminds me of the importance of creation. 

What are some of the reasons we don’t engage in creativity? Brene talks about shaming, comparison, self-doubt, and wanting to be “cool” as potential barriers to creativity. She explains how many people experience “creativity scars” in their schooling; experiences that shamed them around their creativity and caused them to stop creating. I shared in one of my recent posts about my own experiences in school around art and singing. I think things would have been very different had I not had so much love for creativity in my home, which allowed me to continue to nurture it. It emphasizes how important it is for us to encourage budding creativity in children, and how to not criticize and compare their artwork. These are gifts from God and expressions of our soul. 

I think those types of shame experiences, along with comparison, make us doubt whether we really have any talent or creativity within us. Why don’t we sing along at the Gurdwara or learn how to do kirtan? Most of us feel shy, nervous about what others will think of our singing, afraid to misspeak, and we doubt ourselves. Yet it is when we sing and participate that the Gurdwara becomes a place for us to recharge because we feel like a part of the sangat and we start to connect to each other and to God. I like that one of the plaques at the Gurdwara says that singing kirtan is about devotion of the heart, not musical talent. Brene writes, “if developing and sharing our gifts is how we honor spirit and connect with God, self-doubt is letting our fear undermine our faith.” This is such a powerful statement. I’ve talked many times about the doubt that maya puts in us. We get anxious, worried, and form a big wall between God and us. It’s hard to see sometimes how maya can pervade so many aspects of our lives, affecting us all the way down to the level of doubting our creativity. When we overcome maya we overcome that doubt, we connect with God, recognize and use all of our gifts. Guru Ji has given us many methods of overcoming that doubt in order to connect. 

Another barrier to expressing ourselves is that whole idea of “being cool” that we pick up sometime in our teens. Being “cool” is the opposite of expressing our talents; it means fitting in, getting rid of the parts of yourself that don’t fit, rather than belonging as who you are. She writes, “I learned how much I’ve missed while pretending to be cool. I realized that one of the reasons I’m afraid to try new things (like yoga or the hip-hop exercise class at my gym) is my fear of being perceived as goofy and awkward…When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt, and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves.” It is an easy decision when we realize how much we sacrifice by not using our creativity, by pretending to be cool, and for the sake of fitting in. We sacrifice meaning in our lives, we sacrifice true belonging, we sacrifice a deeper connection to God, and we sacrifice who we are. 

Spend some time today thinking about the ways you are incorporating creativity into your life. What holds you back from embracing those activities? Have you silenced your creativity? The unique mix of what we are good at and enjoy are very individual and cannot be compared. Let us all take steps to make creativity part of our life as part of our connection to Waheguru.

Brown, Brene. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreHazelden Publishing, 2010.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Alchemist and Sikhism

Now that it’s the holidays, I read “The Alchemist" and it turns out it has a lot to do with Sikhi. It was also one of those books I had bought a long time ago at the suggestion of a friend and forgot to read. I am glad that I read it now because I was able to make a lot of connections to my journey and to Sikhi. For anyone who hasn’t read it, it is a spiritual book about a shepherd who travels to Egypt to seek out his “Personal Legend”. Just a spoiler alert because I’m going to have to talk about the story to relate it to Sikhi (but I still don’t think it’ll ruin the book if you haven’t read it because there’s a lot more in the story).  

To start the journey, the boy had to give up his comfortable life to take a risk and try something new. This required him to have faith. When he makes that decision to walk on his path, he is given some advice. The first piece of advice is that he has to follow omens. I initially had thought that omens were about superstition, about forecasting the future. In Gurbani it tells us to stay away from superstitions because they lead to duality. What omens meant in this book was actually about keeping one’s eyes opens to the signs that God is everywhere as our helper. It meant recognizing the Divine “God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you”(1).

The second piece of advice was “Don’t forget that everything you deal with is one thing and nothing else” (1). It comes back to my recent posts about our connection- that we are all connected by God. Gurbani says “O Nanak, know this well: the True One Himself is All” and “there is only the One, the Giver of all souls. May I never forget Him!.” I think it is easy to forget, in ego, that we are all one. In the book it says “The world is only the visible aspect of God” (1). Again, in Gurbani we know there are both Nirankaar (formless) and Akar (formed) forms of God, and so this quote refers to Akar, the God in each of us. This was really a major part of the book, and I found myself repeating “everything is written by one hand” to myself all weekend. It ties into the concept of sanjog- our destiny to meet people that we were previously associated with in other lives. When the main character falls in love with a girl he says “I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you” (1). When he has to leave her to go find his personal legend, she says “If I am really a part of your dream, you’ll come back one day” (1).” She doesn't make him stay because it is important for him to complete his journey to find God within himself, yet she waits for him to return. After all, we are in each other’s lives because of God, and everything is written by one Hand. Sometimes in life, our stories separate for a while. We walk different ways so that we can discover our own personal legends because God deemed that it was necessary for us to have that growth and perspective on our own. Then sometimes God writes that we will meet again and connect again in a way that would not otherwise have been possible without that growth, because God lives in all of our hearts. This really resonated with me. There is no coincidence, that everything is DIVINE, both the meeting and the separations (as hard as those are). 

The third piece of advice was that he not give up his personal legend: “before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way…[so we can] master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream” (1). He is also told “You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense” (1). As he travels he experiences hardships and finds himself lonely, sad and ashamed. It was very relatable because we have all experienced those dips in our lives. Yet the persistence of achieving our personal story (reaching God) is a stronger drive and we overcome those like he did. Not giving up is really written into our history as Sikhs, time and time again. 

Near the end of the story, the boy is required to turn into the wind to save his life. Obviously the author had to have been very spiritual to have written it the way he did. The boy realizes that the power to change to the wind is not under his control, but rather God, “[O]nly the hand could perform miracles, or transform the sea into a desert… or a man into the wind” (1). So he speaks to the desert, the wind, and the sun, and then he “reached through to the Soul of the World, and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God. And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul. And that he, a boy, could perform miracles” (1).  This reminded me of when Guru Nanak went into the river to bathe and disappeared for three days. The elements of his body immersed back into God and he spent those days with God, then returned out of the river saying “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim.” There is also a sakhi about Baba Ram Rai, son of Guru Har Rai (brother of Guru Harkrishan). He was sent to Delhi to speak to Aurangzeb and there, Aurangzeb requested that he show miracles. His father had warned him not to do this, because miracles are delivered out of need and it is up to God to deliver the miracle (2). In ego, Baba Ram Rai showed miracles to impress Aurangzeb and the Guru then gave the Guruship to Guru Harkrishan Ji (2). Miracles are mentioned in Gurbani (ridhis, sidhis) because one needs to overcome trying to just achieve those for ego, in order to get to God. I was really impressed that this was part of the book because it really spoke to how God himself is the one who changed him to the wind and he couldn't have done it himself.

Obviously alchemy is an important theme in the book, and there is mention of the “Philosopher’s stone” several times. I was interested because the Hukamnama I got yesterday also mentioned the Philosopher’s stone! So I read Guruka Singh’s explanation: “Alchemy was a secret language in the Western culture of the middle Ages used by adepts to describe spiritual transformation. It concealed its teachings under the guise of what we now know as ‘chemistry’. The Philosopher's Stone was a stone that when touched to a base metal such as iron or lead, transformed the metal into pure gold! Of course there is no such stone, but the lay people who were not initiated into the spiritual mysteries of alchemy chased after the stone in their greed, never understanding that it was a metaphor for the transformation of consciousness” (3). In Gurbani, the word paras is translated as Philosopher’s stone, and he explains that this is actually about the inner transformation that happens when a person experiences Naam (3). He states “The Guru, therefore, is the Philosopher's Stone. His touch transforms us into gold. Our base worldly consciousness is transformed into golden shining consciousness”(3). In Gurbani it says,The Guru is the philosopher’s stone and we are like iron; by meeting him, we are transformed to (pure and valuable, likened to) gold (Ang 1114) and “O Lord, please bless me with the Touch of the Guru, the Philosopher's Stone. I was unworthy, utterly useless, rusty slag; meeting with the True Guru, I was transformed by the Philosopher's Stone.” (Ang 1324) Thus, paras in Gurbani is about the power of the Guru to transform our mind.

I was really moved by this book, by how much it both related to Sikhi and to my life! Even jus the main pieces of advice given to the boy were really useful for our lives. 

1 Coelho, P. and Clarke, A. (2015). The alchemist. San Francisco: HarperOne.