Clocks

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once I dreamt that I met my Guru face to face

he walked over and hugged me
it was the kind of hug that old friends do
swaying
lasting for minutes
silently reminiscing of all the ups and downs we’ve been through
it was a warmth I had never felt before

i woke up
cold

bonds like that do not happen overnight
relationships that close and that powerful take time to build

i better hurry


Sikhi Is Dying In Punjab

IMG_0120On a Sunday night, we visited Gurdwara Shaheed Baba Deep Singh Ji in Ludhiana
It was not gurpurab, or any other special occasion
But in our hour there, the flow of sangat entering the darbar hall never stopped
An all-female jatha was leading the sangat in keertan
At one point, I looked around to see the sangat
All different kinds, all at different stages in their journey with the Guru
Half the sangat was engrossed in the keertan
While the other half had gutkae in their hand quietly finishing their paath
I started to think about the conversations my friends and I would have back in the States
About how Sikhi is dying in Punjab
But my thoughts were interrupted by the jatha asking the entire sangat to join in simran
As I closed my eyes and let the Guru take over
Shaheed Baba Deep Singh whispered in my ear and said
We’re going to be just fine…worry about yourself


Revolutions

HHE

If you know me well, you know I love hip hop.

Not sure whether it was the time period I was born or how it lined up perfectly with the heyday of hip hop music, but nevertheless, it was the soundtrack of my childhood.  And although much has changed since then, my affinity towards the genre has stayed consistent to this day.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Netflix notified me of a new documentary called “Hip Hop Evolution.”  Of course, I watched it that night.

I would often get in debates with other enthusiasts about rap legends and argue for hours over who the real pioneers of the movement were.  Was it the Sugarhill Gang?  Grandmaster Flash? Run DMC? Kurtis Blow? But after I watched the documentary, I learned the origins of hip hop came from somewhere else.  While most of America was obsessed with disco music, wearing fancy clothes in the hottest clubs, teenagers were going to parties held in rec rooms hosted by DJ Kool Herc on the West side of the Bronx.  Kool Herc refused to play records with the popular music of the time and instead went back to the roots of soul and funk.  And when songs would get to the breakdown, he would extend the break beat, sometimes playing two copies of the same record going back and forth to extend it, almost to the point where he was creating a new song.  Pair that with Coke La Rock who hyped the crowd with the mic, and lo and behold…a movement was born.

Where I had thought rap was born when Run DMC busted into the Top 40, it was actually a DJ and MC I never heard of going against the grain at house parties in the Bronx, with unique sounds and innovative techniques that would set the foundation for a revolution.

Revolutions are kind of like that.

Often times what makes the headlines or hits the history books are those prolific leaders and the milestone events, but that’s rarely where revolutions begin.  When I think of the Civil Rights movement, I think Dr King, Malcolm X, the March on Washington, and Selma.  But if you peel back the layers, I believe there would have been none of it had Rosa Parks not refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama or Ruby Bridges not gone to class that day to desegregate an all-white school in New Orleans.  In the larger scheme of things, these may not seem like momentous acts, but they were simple acts of courage that paved the way for the revolution to come

Even when I look at some of the most powerful moments in Sikh history –  Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib’s shaahedi, the first Parkash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji or the establishment of Khalsa Panth to name a few – I know all of this began with Guru Nanak Sahib refusing to wear a janeeoo, or having dialogue with the siddhs, or splashing water the other direction in Hardwar.  Simple acts of courage…this is how revolutions are born.

And the revolution within is no different.

One definition of a revolution, is “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something :  a change of paradigm.”  Personally, as I strive towards gurmat, I have no doubt it requires a revolution.  It requires a fundamental change in the way I look at the world.  To stop looking through my own lens, and to start looking at the world through a guru-centered lens.  It requires me to minimize the “I” and see Waheguru’s wonder in everything.  To live a “happy” life not through the standards of social norms, but based on Guru Sahib’s paradigm for living.

But like most revolutions, they do not happen overnight.  In fact, those revelations that happen quickly are often the first to fizzle out.  Revolutions are not born through grand gestures, they are seeds that are planted, and cultivated over time through simple acts of courage.  For a Sikh those simple acts can range from embracing the physical form, to following the discipline, or passing the most subtle of tests that I find myself running into so frequently.

It’s the decision I make to say something or not after I hear a misogynistic comment with friends.  Or the racist comment I hear people of color make.

Isn’t it enough to just walk away?  After all, I didn’t say it.

Or is that extra effort I could take to make sure a marginalized person is heard?
Or deciding whether or not to be an ally for someone in need, even if it puts myself at risk.  Or making the unpopular decision that I know is right, at the risk of losing friends.

It’s these small decisions when no one is looking that hangs my Sikhi in the balance.

Simple acts of courage.

I often read these “good parenting” articles, that tell me I should stop asking my kids “how their day was” and ask them something different:
“What did you do that was compassionate today?”
“What did you do that was courageous or brave today?”

I’ve started doing this.
And also requested they ask me the same.
It is a daily measure that tests whether I am really part of the movement or just watching it pass by.

As I take a stock of where I am and how far I need to go to join Guru Nanak’s revolution, I am often disheartened.

But my Guru, in his impeccable timing, reminds me to worry not…for Spring has come.

Shabad 1 Shabad 3


Glory Days

the-khalsa-serving-langar-in-jungles-in-18th-century-v2When I was assigned to teach a history class at a Sikh youth camp this Summer, I was nervous.

For years, I’ve been trying to focus on learning and teaching gurmat, so the idea of going back to memorizing names and dates was intimidating.  But after dusting off a few books and re-learning about our 18th century heroes – Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Taru Singh, and so many more…I was captivated.  And although part of me re-read history with the same excitement and curiosity as a child, another part of me read it through the lens of our current day challenges.

As far back as I can remember, I would teach Sikh history with an immense sense of pride…perhaps even with a touch of entitlement. I would speak about how honor and valor were traits we inherited directly from our Guru and all of the shaheeds that followed.  I would speak of the lineage of bravery and courage that we came from, where our ancestors stood up to the most heinous of oppressors. I spoke about Sikh history as though heroism ran through our blood.  As though by growing up in a Sikh family, we’ve inherited a trait of fearlessness that somehow made us more special.

These days…I’m not so sure. Reflecting on the Khalsa of the 18th century has given me pause.

From living day to day with a price on your head, from surviving life in the jungles with nothing, to sleeping on horseback – all while fighting tyranny and remaining in a state of chardi kalaa…it’s overwhelming. After the vada ghalugara, where historians quote one-third to nearly half of the Sikh population was completely wiped out, it would only be a matter of months before the Khalsa would capture Sirhind, then Amritsar, and ultimately Lahore, all while carrying out campaigns to free thousands of men & women from slavery.  Even in our most difficult of times with the most limited of resources, we were defending the defenseless. I am fascinated by their resilience.

If we look at the lives and sacrifices of Bhai Taru Singh, Baba Deep Singh, Mai Bhago, and so many others, it is clear to me – they earned their right to be in the pages of Sikh history.
They earned their right to be displayed on the walls of our gurdwaras and homes of Sikhs all over the world for centuries.
They earned the right to have their lives memorialized in bedtime stories for every Sikh child.
They earned it.

I, however, have earned nothing.

I believe that our shaheeds did not give their lives so hundreds of years later we could bask in their glory, instead, they gave their lives so we can create our own glory…today.

And today, when I read sad and depressing news, I often think, ”What would the Khalsa do?”  I don’t know for sure…but history tells me they would be at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline
History tells me they would be on the ground in Aleppo
History tells me they would be aiding refugees stranded across Europe.
History tells me they would be arm in arm with #BlackLivesMatter protestors throughout the US
…and so many more struggles, the worst of them, which will never make international headlines. If there’s one thing I’m convinced of, it’s that the world needs the Khalsa now more than ever.

When teaching Sikh history, I focus heavily on the time Sikhs organized themselves in misls, made tough decisions and resolved conflict through Sarbat Khalsa.  And how the commitment to Guru Granth & Guru Panth moved us forward as a nation.  This is a time where we seemed invincible.  I often refer to it as the “glory days.”

But I wonder, how long will I have to keep bringing up slides of 18th century Sikhs to talk about how spirited we were?

A hundred years from now, I hope my great-great-grand children are not pointing at those same slides that I do today.  Instead, I want them to talk about the early 21st century Sikhs and how they transformed the panth.  I want them to say…

They were the generation that wiped out drugs in Punjab
They were the generation who stood side by side with minority communities in protest all throughout the US
They were the ones who freed all the Sikh Political prisoners
They were the ones who showed up first when natural disaster struck
They were the generation that ended farmer suicides
They were the generation who opened their homes to refugees when the rest of the world turned them away
They were the generation that re-instituted the Sarbat Khalsa
They were the generation that made gender equality in Sikhi more than a principle, but a practice, the way Guru Sahib intended
They were the ones who put the architects of the 1984 pogroms in jail
They were the ones who ended the global water crisis
They were the ones who ended the ban on women doing keertan and seva at Darbar Sahib
They were the generation that reminded us…that we were sovereign
…those first few decades of the 21st century were an inflection point for the Sikh qaum, and the Sikhs of that generation answered the call.  Those were the glory days.

When I shared these thoughts with my class and asked, “what it’s going to take for us to be the generation that turned things around?“…a hand went up, and the answer was “We need to educate!” And for the first time ever, I said that answer was wrong.  Truth is…it’s going to take more than education.  It is going to take more than awareness.  For Sikhs to rise to the challenges that stand before us, both as a qaum and to solve broader problems in the world…we need ideas, we need creativity, we need action, we need grit, and most of all…we need to hold one another accountable.  We may not have inherited courage and bravery from our heroes and sheroes of the past, but our Gurus and champions of Sikh history surely set an example. They have cleared a path for us…now all we need to do is walk it.


Tryouts

soccer-ball-at-sunset

A few weeks back, we took our daughter to a tryout for the “travel” team.

For those unfamiliar with the hierarchy in youth soccer, there is a “recreational” league open to everyone, where she typically plays.  Then a more competitive “select” team you have to try out for.  Then there’s “travel”…or what I like to refer to as “the elite.”

Just watching the other girls warmup as we arrived, I knew my daughter felt intimidated.  And I was having one of those moments, that many parents can relate to, where I showed a big smile on my face but in the back of my head was wondering…did I do the right thing?  Was it a smart idea to bring her to a tryout two levels in advance of where she normally plays?  But after a quick pep talk, she reluctantly made her way to the field.

The tryout was rough.  These girls were clearly on another level.   They were much faster, more skilled, and she could barely keep up.  My heart would wrench when the ball would hit her in the face or the stomach, or when she would stumble and fall.

The other girls weren’t particularly nice to her either.  They didn’t say much to her, no encouragement, no high-fives, no helping her up when she fell.  On the sideline I eagerly watched, cheered her on, and had her water ready for her when she needed a break.  At the first break, she was visibly upset at me for bringing her there.  I thought she was ready to leave, and honestly, so was I.  But she went back on the field.  She struggled some more and her abilities were pushed to the limit.  But toward the end of the tryout…something happened.

She was keeping up with the other girls.  She was gelling with the other players.  She was kicking harder, passing better, and most importantly, playing with more confidence.  She was challenged, pushed out of her comfort zone, but motivated to play at a higher level.  Over the course of those 90 minutes, while playing with the best…they made her better.

As I sat their watching, I started wondering about the role that sangat plays in our lives. What does Guru Sahib mean when he refers to the  “Saadh Sangat”, or those Waheguru-connected souls.  I always thought my sangat were the people who lived their Sikhi like me, who had similar views, similar aspirations, who applauded me when I showed strength, and ran to my defense in times of weakness.

But maybe I had it all wrong.

Perhaps the sangat I need are those who challenge me, who push me out of my comfort zone, who motivate me to live at a higher level…and make me better.

I wonder that in my fear of being “judged”, I have avoided bringing that sangat in my life.  But what I’ve since learned is that it’s my own haumai (ego) that decides what is truly “judgement” and what is “tough love” from my sangat, who are only trying to bring me closer to the Guru.

A coach of mine once said “The company you keep will bring you up or they will bring you down…there’s nothing in between.  Because even if they keep you where you are, you’re not growing.”

So it begs the question…is my sangat truly bringing me closer to the guru?  And would I be receptive to “tough love” from my sangat without fear of being “judged?”

And am I being the right kind of sangat to those around me?  Or do I avoid the tough conversations in fear of not sounding “judgy?”

Guru Sahib is clear in the role that sangat plays in our life, so what is preventing me from fully realizing it?

As for the tryout, I’m not sure if my daughter will make the travel team, thats not up for me to decide.  But as parents, we felt it was important she go to the tryout.  At a minimum, she now knows where the bar is set, she knows what she has to do to make it there.  And as for me, I will eagerly watch, cheer her on, and have her water ready for her when she needs a break.


What’s On Your Playlist?

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A few days ago, I came across a shabad that gave me pause.  Guru Arjan Patshah shares in his experience:

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In the simplest of translations, Guru Sahib says, “Many will follow Him…but few will connect.”

I immediately had this image of the hundreds of thousands of Sikhs I’ve seen at nagar kirtans, the throngs of Sikhs elbowing their way in to the Harmandir Sahib, and all the Sikhs past and present who have bowed before the Guru, all displaying so many external forms of respect.

Amongst all of them…few will truly meet Him.

It is not because the Divine is elusive; it’s because of the wall we create that separates ourselves from Him.  For me, it’s a wall constructed of kaam, krodh, lobh, moh, and ahankar.  Despite my efforts to chip away at it, I sometimes wonder if I will ever be one of the lucky ones…or will I just be a follower?

But with every challenge Guru Sahib puts before us, he gives us the tools to overcome it, he says:

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In discussing this shabad with the family, I very matter-of-factly explained to the kids that it is through naam simran and reflection that brings us closer to Waheguru.  Our 7 year old was skeptical, she asked, how does reciting Waheguru’s name bring you closer to Him?  It occurred to me that I sometimes give these knee-jerk responses without truly understanding what it means myself.  Perhaps it’s been hard-wired in to my brain to a point where I regurgitate what I’ve been taught without even thinking about it anymore.  Luckily, children see right through that 🙂  So I needed to give a better explanation….and needed to reflect on it more.

Another image came to mind.

I thought about a time on vacation once when I plugged in my earphones, kicked-off my playlist and went for a run.  It was new territory for me, so I tried not to stray too far, but at one point the path split and I had to make a decision which way to go.

I believe many of us hit that proverbial “fork in the road” in our lives too, where we have a choice to follow the guru’s path or our own.  And although it may seem obvious, sometimes the guru’s path is uphill and the weather looks bleak.  And our own path is a downhill coast and can appear much more scenic.  Some of us reach this crossroads at a major turning point in our life, while others face it several times a day.  But the question is, when you hit that fork in the road on your own personal run, what’s on your playlist?

What are you listening to?
What soundtrack is going on in your mind?

Is it filled with doubts, fears, worries, greed, and anger?
Are there tracks of jealousy, one-upmanship, revenge, or ego?

Or does it sound like this…Waheguru, Waheguru, Waheguru, Waheguru…

Does your playlist encapsulate virtues of the Divine?
Do your tracks inspire you to embrace qualities that are pleasing to Him:

Compassion
Discipline
Humility
Courage
Justice
Waheguru, Waheguru, Waheguru…

There are no guarantees that the soundtrack itself will ensure I take the right path, but it sure does increase my odds 🙂

So I’m putting my faith in simran
And my ardaas is that the simran becomes more than just tracks on a playlist and keeps playing in my head, long after I remove my earphones
I pray that it no longer becomes a recitation
But instead a state of mind
A state of being
Carrying me across
Leading me to Him


Living Sikhi Judgment-Free

gavel
 I’ve heard it dozens of times in gurmat camps and retreats…

“This is a judgment free discussion”
“Sikhs aren’t supposed to judge”
“…but that would be judgmental”
“Don’t judge me!”

There’s something intriguing about this approach to gurmat-related dialogue.  I don’t remember hearing it as much 20 years ago in the same forums.  Back then I recall intense discussions about the daunting task of living the disciplined life of a Gursikh. Where now, the narrative is more “confident” and with an attitude I summarize as “I am happy with the Sikh that I am…and you have no right to tell me otherwise.”

It’s refreshing to see young Sikhs so comfortable with the skin that they’re in and recognizing that the path of a Sikh is a journey…but I also feel there’s something missing.

There’s a deeply personal element of Sikhi where we individually connect with the Divine, improve our discipline, and battle the five vices that challenge us each day.  But there is a also a public element of Sikh life.  As I see it, our kakkars are not mere symbols, they are a reflection of the principles we hold internally….and we wear them proudly for the world to see.  My kakkars are a declaration of what I believe in, without even having to utter a word.  It represents the high standard that I need to hold myself to, and what my fellow Sikhs need to hold me accountable to as well.

Wait…”fellow Sikhs to hold me accountable??”  Wouldn’t that be judgmental?

After college I had the opportunity to live close to friends I had met over the years at gurmat retreats.  We were like-minded and I truly felt I was with “my sangat” when I was around them.  Besides the typical hangouts, we would often engage in discourse on baani, history, and panthic affairs.  We grew so close that we became familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses as we journeyed on the Guru’s path.  And at times, we would challenge each other on our weaknesses and push one another.  For me, sometimes it felt encouraging, but mostly it felt uncomfortable and well…”judge-y.”  And although I was defensive a lot, I also reflected a ton.  Many years have passed since then, but I can honestly say that it was during that period of my life where I grew the most as a Sikh.  And now on days when I feel stagnant and complacent with my Sikhi, those are the days I miss “my sangat” the most.  What I learned is that the problem with judgment isn’t always the person delivering it, but the ego of the one who is receiving it.  Of course, we all want those “cheerleading” friends who encourage us unconditionally and validate the path that we’re on…but that’s not what Sikhi is about.  It’s about transitioning off “my” path and merging on to the Guru’s.  This is not always easy, and sometimes we need a push.

So it begs the question, by trying so hard to make Sikhi so judgment-free, what “lessons” are we trading off?  What “teachable moments” are we missing?

I’m not suggesting we go and put our friends on blast through social media, I’m suggesting we take a look at the sangat around us, and ask ourselves, what am I doing to push the people around me?  What am I doing to help them on the Guru’s path?  And am I willing to embrace the honest feedback my sangat provides me, and take it constructively?

Perhaps our gurmat camps and retreats can put less focus on being “judgment-free”, and more focus on constructive ways to lift one another.  Mentoring, coaching, and feedforward exercises might be a better use of time.

To me, this is not judgment, it’s about being in a sangat.  Because if your sangat is not inspiring you and moving you toward the guru…then what is it doing?