On the train from Connecticut to Massachusetts, I remember. A childhood growing up in the Northeast. Rows of houses remodeled again and again since Colonial Times. Trees lining the streets, marking the seasons with their distinct shades of dress. Sometimes green, sometimes orange, sometimes nothing at all.
That priceless timeâ€“ where it seemed, somehow, one could be 8 years old, or 10 years old, or 12 years old forever.
Looking out the window, breathing in the nostalgia, I watch my thoughts slip into another direction. Yes â€“ this is all familiar to me. Even after so many years living in the Southwest â€“ the Northeast still feels like home. But not everything is the same as I remember. And as the train keeps rolling, there are other scenes my eyes register, making it difficult for me to inhale deeply, to catch my breath.
Pieces of automobiles, plastic bottles, debris from houses scatter themselves around the trees. Like zombies â€“ the living dead â€“ they are no longer needed, no longer wanted but are incapable of truly decaying. The earth supports them and the trees look down â€“ waiting, waiting for Mother Nature to absorb them into the earth, into an organic, primal existence where they can be re-organized into new and luscious life. But the debris just sits there â€“ abandoned, mournful. Unable to surrender and rejoin the cycle of life. And the trees stand there watching, confused, wondering what to do with the extra weight on their roots.
It is my habit to look for messages in everything that surrounds me. And there, in the urban landscape, I find my lesson. What we create around us comes from within. Seeing the trees with their awkward and wasted compatriots, I can feel the nervous system inside myself. Inside of us all. And I make the connection.
There it is â€“ the undigested pain, the clumped anger, the insistent desires clinging haphazardly to my own neuro-transmitters â€“ an ecology of emotional garbage that does nothing and contributes nothing. Absorbing energy, prana, breath, life as it reminds me that itâ€™s there, and that it doesnâ€™t have a place to go.
Brain damage. On the most subtle level, we are all of us in some way brain damaged. We cannot handle our own sensitivity, so we numb it with alcohol or drugs, melodramatic relationships, too much sugar, too many fantasies from soap operas, movies, books, living vicariously through Reality TV. All because we canâ€™t handle the inner debris that has attached itself to our own memory, to our own awareness. That is damaging our roots â€“ the nerves in our bodies that create the subtle core of our consciousness. And in that brain damage, we are loosing. Loosing much more than this moment. We are loosing the future.
Our subconscious minds create around us that pattern of the internal pain. So even though every human rationally knows we cannot survive without water, the water around us is too polluted to drink. And though we know that the breath of life keeps us going every second, the air in some places has become too polluted to breath. And it doesnâ€™t have anything to do with government or business, commerce or globalization. It has to do with the inner sickness in me, the inner sickness in you and what that sickness creates together.
It begins, the Guru tells us, with the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. These elements give rise to the five poisons of lust, anger, greed, pride and attachment. And these are poisons â€“ why? Because they create an inner pollution. Bio-chemical junk in the ecology of the nervous system. They release hormones that dissolve brain tissue. Chemicals that interrupt and decay the delicate web of neuro-transmitters running through the spine, the brain and the body. These poisons sabotage our own sight. In the rush of feeling that anger causes, or lust, or greed, or pride, or attachment â€“ we loose sight of our own delicacy, of the delicacy of the other person. How sensitive we are. How easily hurt. How much we all long for love, affection and connection. That sensitivity, given to us as a gift so that we can perceive the Divine in everything, gets damaged. We become blind to so many things. And over time, like rivers and forests filled with debris, the inner-ecology of our own psyche becomes too polluted for our own Spirit to live. These poisons compromise our ability to think clearly, to see intuitively, to act with strength, power and excellence.
Riding on the train, I look at the garbage, and the beauty it diminishes. And I see myself. I see all of us â€“ our pain, our difficulties, our struggles to rise above these poisons and just simply live.
Bhareeai hath pair tan dayh paanee dhotai utras khay
Moot paleetee kapar ho-I day saaboon la-ee-ai oho dho-i
Bharee-ai mat paapaa kai sang oho dhopai naavai kai rang
When the hands, the feet,
The whole body
Washes it all away.
When clothes are
Stained with urine,
Soap and water
Removes the stain.
Our own psyches
Are polluted with the dirt
That comes from
The errors and pain
We inflict on others,
Only our True Selves
Can restore us
To our Original Color.
(Japji Sahib, Pauree 19 â€“ Guru Nanak Dev Ji)
For the last several weeks, I have been meditating on how to finish this vignette. And these lines from Guru Nanak keep running through my mind. There is dirt. Itâ€™s part of life. Dirty socks, dirty shirts, dirty overalls from working in the garden. Thereâ€™s something that happens just because we are alive. We live, we act and from those actions, we sweat. We take in food and it goes through us. It happens â€“ itâ€™s natural. In our sensitivity, we feel that clean clothes allow us to live today in a fresh way. Clean homes and work spaces give our minds a sense of ease. Itâ€™s hard-wired into the human psyche that the process of living creates a by-product we call dirt. Well â€“ what is it, really? That dirt? That garbage? Itâ€™s the remains of what we did yesterday that have no place in our tomorrow. We want each day to have its own chance at success. So we find ways to clean up before we start again. To look neat, to dress nicely, to wash our bodies, to have organized and pleasing spaces. Itâ€™s a sign of being human.
The same thing happens with the mind. We interact with each other. We communicate. We do things together. And we learn through experience how to handle the extraordinarily complex dance of mutuality in relationships. Sometimes, the experience comes at a price. We hurt someone, someone hurts us â€“ and the memory of that creates a pain inside. A pain so powerful it reminds us, â€œDonâ€™t do that again.â€ And sometimes we can get lost in that pain.
Paap. The word in Gurmukhi is â€œPaap.â€ â€œSinâ€ is a mistranslation, really. Sin is something you do against God, that blackens the soul. But in Gurmukhi, the Inner Being is always there, always Pure. Your Inner Self is always innocent and always light. It’s the mind that gets clouded with these painful memories – memories that are the natural result of our human experience. The five poisons that are the shadow of the five elements. The pain, the poisons, the memories cause us to forget who we are. Cause us to forget how to be our selves, our genuine selves, on the earth.
We know the physical dirt is there â€“ the normal wear and tear of daily living. And we clean it up because itâ€™s outside of us. But sometimes we forget that the mental dirt is there, as well. Day after day. The accumulated memory of what went wrong and what almost went right. How well we behaved. How much we missed the mark. The mental dirt needs to be cleansed, too. So that we can start each day fresh, anew.
Jinee naam dhiaaiaa gaay masakat ghaal
Naanak tay much ujakay kaytee chhutee naal.
In the core
Of their being
Who earn themselves
Through their hard work â€“
Their faces are radiant and beautiful
And so very many who are connected with them
Are liberated, too.
(Japji Sahib, Shalok, by Guru Nanak)
Meditation, Guru Nanak tells us, is hard work. Meditation doesnâ€™t mean ignoring life, or becoming spaced out. Meditation is the process of going inside and consciously cleaning out the accumulated mental dirt that’s part of life. We go inside and face it – the pain, the shame, the guilt, the anger, the confusion. And then, finding the sacred waters inside of ourselves we clean it up. (Japji Sahib, Pauree 21). We allow the Love within us to heal it. To shift it. To re-align those neuro-patterns. And in this way, we learn to consciously rise above the challenges and the karmas, and let our originality prevail. Thereâ€™s grace there. Forgiveness. Peace. Whatever you want to call it. But technically, it is a process through which our breath and our inner being create the biochemical medicine that washes away the damage and pain to the nervous system caused by the normal wear and tear of earthly life.
This is one thing that the Guru has helped me understand more and more the older I get. I used to have a fantasy that somehow, someday, there would come a moment when the pain would never happen again. Or the poisons would be totally gone. But I realize what a joke that is. Life is experience. And experience has everything in it. Good and bad. Grace and insult. Victory and falling on your butt. Thereâ€™s no one side for the pendulum to swing without it eventually swinging to the other side. Experience is all that we have â€“ and experience includes everything. The day the poisons go away is the day that the body dies.
But what is possible is to develop some kind of discipline. In the Amrit Veyla, in the still hours before sunrise, to consciously face ourselves, our own memory, our own assessment of how we have lived in the last 24 hours or 24 lifetimes. Itâ€™s not pleasant. Itâ€™s not fun. We get to see how ugly we are, how mean, how petty, unpleasant and damaged. But at least we have a chance to say â€“ here is the garbage of my own mind. Let me take out the trash so that what is pure in me, Divine in me, true in me has a chance to prevail. By Godâ€™s grace, let me face my tomorrow with a clean slate.
That is meditation. Itâ€™s hard work. But those who do the work, whose Light within shines, the Guru tells us their presence becomes a power to serve and elevate others.
There is so much trash in the world. Under the trees. On the sides of the streets. In the rivers and streams. And we turn a blind eye to it, we pretend not to see it â€“ because what is to be done? But there is so much garbage, inside, as well. And that, at least, we have a chance to heal. We have a chance.
May you be blessed to find the dirt within you, and use the tools that the Guru has given, to clear it out, clean it up and give yourself a chance to live a new tomorrow.
Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh
With Divine Light and Love,
Ek Ong Kaar Kaur