Friday, April 21, 2017

Authenticity

It’s Sikh heritage month and I saw a post on facebook about the story of our Minister of National Defense, Harjit Sajjan. When he was younger he was friends with a gangster and subsequently turned his life around, became baptized, joined the Vancouver Police department and then served in the Canadian Forces (1). It was inspiring to read about the work he has done. It also made me think about the image of perfection, and what we expect from other people. Maybe some people would label his past as a skeleton in his closet, but he is quite open about how it has actually shaped him. Without his background from when he was younger, maybe he would not be as passionate today about speaking to youth about staying away from gang life.

There’s a lot of effort that we spent towards building the perfect image and reputation. A large part of that goes into not appearing to have any difficulties and coasting easily through life. Somehow you have to be successful without the hardship. I think it is unrealistic for us to put people on pedestals and not expect them to make mistakes. It is unrealistic to expect people not to have weaknesses, and insecurities. It’s simply being human.

When we look past “perfect” and actually get to know people, their stories are amazing. I think in this sense of striving to look perfect, we lose real opportunities to connect with people and we lose authenticity. Yesterday I had this really great conversation with a pharmacist and we were talking about the culture of medicine. I’ve talked about medicine many times with colleagues but it usually ends up with people just piling on complaints and it’s a negative space. Instead, he listened, then asked questions and really tried to understand what it was like in my shoes, and shared his own experiences about his training. Instead of being a list of complaints, this was a meaningful conversation about how our experiences shape us, how we learn from what doesn’t work and how we change things for the future. I think the key to that whole conversation was that instead of pretending his job was perfect and he enjoyed every minute of his training, he was honest, and I did the same. We can accomplish something far more important when we actually just relate our experiences. After all, isolation and feeling like you are alone in your experiences is quite possibly one of the worst things we can do to a person and connection does the opposite of that. I think in general, the people in our life that don’t judge us when we are honest about our struggles and mistakes, and that support us in our growth and learning are the ones to keep close. In order to do that of course, we have to be willing to let go of our desired image. It’s different when you say “of course I understand Gurbani” and you don’t, versus saying “I have a hard time understanding Gurbani” and working on it together. I know I’d much rather be in the second situation of having that opportunity to work on it rather than just pretending but we have to be willing to actually be seen. I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone has the ability to learn to put themselves in your shoes, or relate, and some people simply don’t even care, but every once we meet someone who reminds us of how important it is to let go of showing people what we think we are supposed to be, and be willing to share and be seen for who we are. In each interaction we also have the opportunity to also sit as the listener, let go of judgement, and place ourselves in someone else's shoes and try to understand and relate our own experiences as well. 



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Practice Sitting, Practice Listening, Practice Living

When I went to the Gurdwara on Friday, my mind was full of thoughts. I have to admit I can sit for quite a while to listen to kirtan, or katha, but I usually have a harder time sitting to listen to the Akhand paath because my mind wanders too much. Aunty Ji was reading very clearly and slowly, in a loving soothing voice and I found myself just settling in over time. At first my mind was bouncing around, and I kept opening my eyes. I kept thinking about how I was wearing my pants from work, and how uncomfortable it was, but each time I closed my eyes again and just listened. Over and over, the mind bounced around but eventually, it stopped and I let go of the world and I absorbed. Surprisingly it didn’t take long to settle but when we are anxious it feels like forever. I think this is what holds us back so often- we invest a couple of minutes and if we can’t get our mind to calm down, we stop doing our Simran, stop listening to the Bani and give up. All it would have taken was a few more minutes maybe and we would have let go of our anxiety.

It is such a gift to have the opportunity to be able to sit and listen to Gurbani. There is the step that brings us to the Gurdwara, then to sit in the main Darbar so we can hear the Gurbani, then to actually not just hear but to listen. To listen the mind needs to focus. Then from listening comes understanding and incorporating into our lives. Although I am not yet at the stage where I can understand Gurbani without reading the translations, I am able to recognize shabads I usually sing and remember a little bit about the meanings when they are being read and I think the more we read and listen, the easier it gets. For example we memorize 6 pauri Anand Sahib just by hearing it every time before the Ardas. One of the doctors I worked with this week said “if you try, you have a 1 to 100% chance of succeeding. If you don’t try, you have a 0% chance of succeeding.” I thought that was a very powerful message for life- it’s always worth trying. I managed to sit for an hour and by the end I felt like this had been probably the most meaningful thing I’ve done this week and I felt blessed to have spent this weekend sitting in Sangat and remembering Waheguru. May Waheguru continue to bless us with these opportunities, and may we continue to practice, continue to try, and continue to make efforts to meet Waheguru. In all of our actions may we continually practice living by the principles of Sikhi. Just look at your own life and see how much practicing has brought you- where you are now versus where you were a few months or years ago. Just from listening to Gurbani we get thousands of benefits. Don't underestimate that power. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Happy Khalsa Da Sajna Divas/Vaisakhi 2017!

Happy Khalsa Da Sajna Divas/Vaisakhi!!!

picture from http://www.sikhismguide.org/vaisakhi.aspx

Today is the Anniversary of the Founding of the Khalsa. Congratulations to everyone and we hope that you enjoy the celebrations!

History from www.sikhiwiki.org

On Vaisakhi Day, March 30, 1699, hundreds of thousands of people gathered around his divine temporal seat at Anandpur Sahib.  The Guru addressed the congregants with a most stirring oration on his divine mission of restoring their faith and preserving the Sikh religion. After his inspirational discourse, he flashed his unsheathed sword and said that every great deed was preceded by an equally great sacrifice: Then calling out to the assembled crowd, 'My sword is hungry for a head', He demanded one head for oblation. After some trepidation one person offered himself for the Guru's 'great sacrifice'. The Guru took him inside a tent. A little later the Guru came out of the tent, his sword dripping with fresh blood only to ask for another head. One by one four more earnest devotees offered their heads. Every time the Guru took a person inside the tent, he came out with his sword dripping fresh blood.

Thinking their Guru had gone mad and afraid He would ask for more heads some of the congregation started to disperse when suddenly the Guru emerged with all five men dressed piously in white and in a new ceromony that changed the way that one became a Sikh the Guru now initiated the five into a new and unique order of Sikhs. The ceremony was called pahul, what Sikhs today know as the baptism ceremony or Amrit Shakna. Then the Guru asked the first five Khalsa Sikhs to baptise him, in the same manner. He then proclaimed that the Panj Pyare -- the Five Beloved Ones -- would be the embodiment of the Guru himself.

At the same time the Guru gave his new Khalsa a unique, indisputable, and distinct identity. The Guru gave the gift of bana, the distinctive Sikh clothing and headwear. He also offered five emblems of purity and courage. These symbols, worn by all baptised Sikhs of both sexes, are popularly known today as Five K's: kesh, unshorn hair; Kanga, the wooden comb; Karra, the iron (or steel) bracelet; Kirpan, the sword; and Kachera, the underwear. By being identifiable, no Sikh could never hide behind cowardice again.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Resisting the Stress

I post a lot about work life balance because it’s so important in being able to both work hard to earn a living (kirat karni) but also being able to find the time to Naam Jap and remember God throughout the day. I feel like even though I’ve been balancing pretty well the last few months, no matter what has been happening, this week was an exception. I found the external pressure from others to be rushing around just increased my stress excessively. Worst of all was the expectation that we don’t need to eat, sleep, or take breaks. Life is work, even if that means going home 4 hours late, and there’s nothing I can do about it. 

Halfway through the week I decided to do the little experiment and just see if this extra stress of running around really does make a difference at all. I was supposed to have a meeting, however no one showed up so I ate my lunch. Suddenly, my boss showed up to say the meeting was moved to another building and we all needed to hurry! The urgency in the tone is like always, multiple times a day- do it now, do it fast, be there or be dead. For some reason, in that moment, I had remembered something I had heard about speeding on the highway. There are studies that show that it doesn’t actually make a significant difference in how long your trip will be, despite what you might think. There are so many factors involved, that actually you are increasing your risk and not getting much benefit. I don’t know why, but I thought that it would really apply to my situation and I didn’t need to rush. I slowly picked up everything, drank some juice, started walking over. I knew there was no real sense of urgency, but rather just a perceived one. I even took the outdoor route to get to where I was going because it was such a nice day. Somehow, just as I show up to our meeting, I arrived at the exact same time as everyone else (!), but a lot less stressed, a lot less overwhelmed. I really have no idea how that worked, but instead of a knot in my stomach, there was a huge smile across my face.

I have said it many times, but stress comes down to perceived demands and our abilities to meet them. In some environments, others can constantly try to fuel anxieties, make things time sensitive when they aren’t, and just push us into an unhealthy mode of living. The truth is when there is less stress, we have better communication with our teams, we do a better quality job, we are healthier physically and mentally. I know some days no matter how much I did or how fast I did it, the work just piled up more and more, and the quality deteriorated. It makes a huge difference to our health to be able to take a real lunch break verus scarfing down a sandwich while you work. I guess I really just learned that I need to focus on myself and not what other people are pushing me to focus on. I may be restricted in what I have control over in my environment, but I do get to control what I think and how I manage my day even if its in small ways.

The thing that really held me this week was being able to recharge at the Gurdwara on Sunday before this all started. I do notice that it’s harder to do Simran now. I wondered how, after all this practice, it could be this hard now. I think that as the sleep deprivation and physical pain of being constantly tense kicks in, I find it increasingly harder to sit in one spot, focus, keep my thoughts on track. That’s why I think its really important for us to sit in Sangat and do Simran together. It helps us keep on track and the benefit is a thousand fold more than just doing it on your own. Not only is this important in building so-called “resilience” but it’s simply the whole purpose of our existence in this world. We are meant to meet God and we should spend as much time as possible, as much effort as possible doing it, even when it is hard. While it is hard to be consistent in a new routine, like doing simran daily or reading Nitnem in the morning, if we keep practicing, then it will become a source of stability and strength. 

I think in each experience there is something to learn. I definitely learned more strategies about stress management, and how to take care of myself this week. I would encourage you to think about what you learned this week and share those strategies with other people in your life.

Don't forget Simran at the Gurdwara upstairs 1-2 pm every Sunday! 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Ardas

Ardas is the prayer/address to God that we can do any time, but is typically done after reciting our daily Banis, after a service at the Gurdwara, important events, and before and after completing something important in our lives. The Ardas can be done in Sangat or as an individual, it can be done out loud, or silently. The Ardas is included in gutkas but is not a part of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. We have added onto it over the years in memory of significant parts of our history.  In western culture we often talk about the importance of remembering the past so that it is not repeated in the future, which is why we have days like remembrance day. In our daily Ardas we remember all the sacrifices that Sikhs made before us to get to where we are today. Most importantly, we remember God, who created us, and re-center on the purpose of our lives. Towards the end of the Ardas is where you say what specifically you are doing the Ardas for. Then, as Gyani Ji pointed out at the Gurdwara a few weeks ago, we say a prayer for the well-being for everyone in the world. I would encourage everyone, next time we stand in Ardas to pay attention closely to what is being said. I didn’t understand parts of the Ardas until this year when I began to understand the historical events like Saka Nankana Sahib which led us to where we are today. Here is an English translation of the Ardas:

Ardas
One universal creator God; Victory belongs to the Wondrous Destroyer of darkness. May the might of the All-powerful help! Ode to his might by the 10th Lord (Guru Gobind Singh).

Having first thought of the almighty’s prowess, let us think of Guru Nanak. Then of Guru Angad, Amar Das and Ram Das- may they be our rescuers! Remember then, Guru Arjan, Hargobind and Sri Har Rai. Meditate then on revered Sri Harkrishan remembering whom all the suffering vanishes.Think then of Guru Tegh Bahadur, remembrance of whom brings all nine treasures*. He comes to rescue everywhere. Then of the tenth Lord, revered Guru Gobind Singh Ji! Who comes to the rescue everywhere. The embodiment of the light of all ten sovereign lordships, the Guru Granth- think of its reading and teachings, and say ‘Vahiguru (Wondrous Destroyer of darkness)’!

The Five Beloved Ones [These are our Panj Pyare Bhai Daya Singh Ji, Bhai Dharam Singh Ji, Bhai Himmat Singh Ji, Bhai Mohkam Singh Ji, and Bhai Sahib Singh Ji. For more information see our post from Vaisakhi last year], Four Sons of the Tenth Guru [the Sahibzaade], Forty Liberated Ones [see the post below about Mai Bhago], determined ones, constant repeaters of the Divine Name, those given to sincere devotion, those who repeated the Nam, shared their fare with others, ran free kitchen, wielded the sword, overlooked faults and shortcomings- meditating on the achievement of such dear and truthful ones, say O Khalsa, ‘Vahiguru (Wondrous Destroyer of darkness)’!

The male and female members of the Khalsa who laid down their lives in the cause of dharma (religion and righteousness), got their bodies dismembered bit by bit, got their skulls sawn off, got mounted on spiked wheels, got their bodies sawn, made sacrifices in the service of the shrines (Gurdwaras), did not betray their faith, sustained their adherence to the Sikh faith with sacred unshorn hair uptill their last breath, mediate on their achievement and say, O’ Khalsa, ‘Vahiguru (Wondrous Destroyer of darkness)’!

Thinking of the 5 thrones (seats of religious authority) [this refers to the 5 Takhts: Akal Takht Sahib, Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib, Takht Sri Damdama Sahib, Takht Sri Patna Sahib, and Takht Sri Hazur Sahib] and all Gurdwara, say, ‘Vahiguru Wondrous destroyer of darkness)’!

Now it is the prayer of the whole Khalsa. May the conscience of the whole Khasla, remembers Vahiguru, Vahiguru, Vahiguru and in  consequence of such remembrance may total well-being be bestowed. Wherever there are communities of the Khalsa may there be divine protection and grace. The prevalence of the basic needs and of the holy sword, protection of the tradition of grace, victory of the panth, the protection of the holy sword, the rise of the Khalsa, say ‘Vahiguru (Wondrous destroyer of darkness)’!

Unto the Sikhs the gift of the Sikh faith, the gift of the untrimmed hair, the gift of the discipline of their faith, the gift of sense of wisdom. The gift of trust, the gift of confidence and above all the gift of meditation of the Divine Bath in Sri Amritsar (holy tank at Amritsar) [this refers to the Amrit produced in the mind when we reach God and not physical location], many hymns-singing missionary parties, the flags, the mansions, abide from age to age; may righteousness reign supreme, say ‘Vahiguru (wondrous Destroyer of darkness)’!!!

May the Sikhs be imbued with humility and high wisdom, may Vahiguru guard its understanding! O’ Immortal Being, eternal helper of His Panth, benevolent Lord! Bestow on the Khalsa the beneficence of unobstructed visit to and free management of Nankana sahib and other shrines and places of the Guru from which the panth has been separated [this is in memory of Saka Nankana Sahib. See my recent post for more history]. O’ Lord, the honour of the humble, the strength of the weak, aid unto those who have none to rely on, True Father, Wondrous Destroyer of darkness! We humbly render to you…… Pardon any impermissible additions, omissions, errors, mistakes. Fulfill the purposes of all. Grant us the association of those dear ones on meeting whom one is reminded of your Name. O Nanak may the Nam (holy) be ever in ascendance! In His will may the good of all prevail.
This translation has been slightly modified from the second reference below.

*Nau Nidh means 9 Treasures of Wealth.
Traditional thought in India used to be that there was 9 worldy treasures: Padam Nidhi (attainment of children, precious metals, etc.), Mahaan Padam (precious jewels), Sankh (delicious things to eat), Makar (training to rule over others), Kachhap (clothes, food), Kund (trading gold), Neel (trading in precious stones), Mukhand (mastery of fine arts/music), Kharab (all kinds of riches). The 9 spiritual treasures which are referred to in Gurbani, however, are Bharosa (faith), Leenta (absolute absorption in God), Santokh (contentment), detachment, Hukam (accepting God’s Will), Sehaj (equilibrium of the mind), Anand (permanent bliss), Vismaad (ecstacy), Nadar (awakened soul considers God as primary reason of attainments and his own efforts mean nothing).

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