Look in the Mirror

Look in the Mirror

I’m back home after over two weeks in British Columbia, Canada. It was a whirlwind of events. Almost two weeks participating in two different Sikh Camps. We taught a bunch of workshops with the kids and had a chance to make a lot of connections and friendships. Squeezed in between the two camps, myself and Guruka Singh were able to do quite a few radio and TV programs about SikhNet and living as a Sikh.

Overall being in the Vancouver/Surrey area helped me get a sense of the Sikh community outside of my little "Pind" of Espanola. I always find it interesting how different people’s beliefs and practices are in relation to being a Sikh. When I was at the camps and talked with so many of the youth it was apparent how, for so many youth, the Sikh lifestyle had become a kind of ritual that you were "supposed to follow". It was a "book" of rules that they learned from their parents and others, that had to be followed. Probably over the generations the deeper meaning and experience had been lost. Of course the kids were there at the camps in an effort to re-ignite the meaning and experience of being a Sikh.

My first year in Boarding School in GNFC school in Mussoorie IndiaIn my early years of boarding school in India (1980′s) Sikhi made a somewhat negative impression since it was forced on me and was very dry/intellectual without any heart. We had Gurdwara in the morning and evening. If you were late you were punished (often times harshly). It was a sort of ritual that had little meaning or experience. That coupled with the negative feelings of being forced to do something did not sit well. I always cringe when I travel and see adults trying to "force" kids to chant or do something. This always has the opposite effect and causes a negative impact rather than trying to uplift and inspire them to do things. Maybe they don’t know how to do this? It wasn’t until I was much older and had a chance to experience this lifestyle in a more balanced and open way that I really appreciated this path.

Yesterday me and my wife Arjan were sitting on our back porch enjoying the nice Saturday afternoon talking about spirituality and life in general. We were talking about being a Sikh and how that means different things to different people. We were wondering what makes some people stay on this path and other people drift away. We thought about what things in our lives kept us in this lifestyle while other friends of ours didn’t maintain this path.

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I always find it interesting that when some people hear about Sikhs in Espanola, New Mexico (or "Western Sikhs" in general) they think we are hardcore fanatic Sikhs. They assume everyone is Amritdhari (baptised) and must be hardcore, since in the wider circle of Sikhs many Amritdhari Sikhs are pretty hardcore and fanatic with their practices and beliefs. I often hear of Punjabi parents who try to dissuade their child from taking Amrit because of the fanatic stereotype that they have of Amritdhari Sikhs.  In reality I think that many of the Sikhs in our community (Espanola, etc) are pretty relaxed in regards to being a Sikh. It is not so much a book of rules, but a spiritual journey that is different for each person. There is a lot of openness in our community with people coming from so many different religious backgrounds and from so many different parts of the world.

I was just reading Fi’s blog post "Being a Simple Sikh" and I can totally relate to how she is feeling. Many Sikhs have extremely different views on Sikh practices. Often times when I travel I find that some Sikhs have very different views and practices than myself in living as a Sikh. They then impose those practices on me as if it were law and that doing it any other way would be just wrong. I may not agree with their way of practicing something but I respect how they learned it and what works for THEM. When Sikhs become so extreme in their views they can’t open themselves up to realizing that there are many ways. Each person is unique and so is their journey in this life. I often find that when people get so set in one way of doing things, that they become close-minded and lose the opportunity to learn anything new.  The side effect is that these hard black and white rules that they follow make it feel like a chore. Then when someone doesn’t follow it, they pick at them, criticize or try to find some fault. 

Do you ever find yourself looking at someone that you think/know is Amritdhari and try to see if they are wearing all their 5 Kakars? I don’t always wear my kirpan on a gatra (strap) and often times tuck a small kirpan in my turban. When I travel sometimes someone sees my kirpan out and the next day they don’t see it. I then hear from friends that the person was asking them where my kirpan was. It’s as if he was trying to find some fault in me. Why would he care if I wear my 5Ks or not?? It’s like an insecurity that people have. Like they are suffering by doing these practices and they have to find fault in someone else if they are not doing the same. Or if someone looks inspirational and bright their own insecurity tries to find some fault to bring that person down rather then sharing in the joy and brightness of that person.

I don’t live by the same black and white "rule book" and that many people do. I try to be real and do things that have meaning to me. I think of myself as a "Simple Sikh". I’m not very intellectual when it comes to Sikhi. My experience of Sikhi is very experiential and personal to me. It is not a list of things that I am supposed to do, but how I live my life every moment. It is my constant striving to be open to learn and see everyone and everything as God. Every day I try to devote as much time as I can to working on myself and connecting with my soul. If don’t do something I don’t guilt trip myself. I just keep on going and stay focused on my goal.

Have hair, not have hair. Eat meat,be a vegetarian, look this way…or that way. Practice Sikhi this way or that way. We spend so much time arguing about what we believe is the "right way" and at the same time we divide each other according to those that have the same practice as we or not. The single largest problem I see is how we criticize, judge and fight with each other about the so called "right" way of living as a Sikh. Who are we to judge what is the right way? The experience of being a Sikh is very personal and between a Sikh and his Guru. Where is the compassion, love and support that we should be giving to others? When we say we give our head to the Guru, that really means we give our ego and personality. We should be acting from our heart and not our head. Rather then helping lift someone up in a positive way, we criticize and tear them down in our unconscious way of "sucking energy" from the person. It’s like the people in online discussion forums that post critical stuff to get attention and make themselves feel that they are doing something "good."

In my younger years I did some un-sikh like things and strayed off the path. This was something that I had to go through in order to learn the value of this path. It taught me many lessons and gave me a deep appreciation for this lifestyle. Sometimes we have to roll in the mud and feel miserable in order to be able to change our life. So how can we judge someone else who is rolling in the "mud?" Every experience we have is a potential lesson which can bring us closer to our own soul. Everyone is at a different stage of their spiritual journey and we don’t know how those experiences will change the person.

If I was just judged or pushed away during my low points then where would I be today? I would have probably stayed away from Sikhi. When Guru Nanak traveled thousands of miles he shared a message of oneness; that we are all on this path toward the same creator which lives in each of us and everywhere around us. We read the stories of the murderers, thieves and all kinds of "sinners" who Guru Nanak accepted and taught to live righteously. He didn’t condemn or judge anyone. He didn’t say "your religion is bad and you should follow my way."

While talking to my wife I was thinking about what factors made me want to live this lifestyle and what kept me on this path. Why did I live this path while other friends of mine chose to leave it? What made me stick to it? I found I couldn’t put it into words. It is a deep connection and sense of spirituality that keeps me connected. Part was being with the Sadh Sangat (other people who were on this spiritual path.) Religion is just something that connects and brings you back to your source (God in each of us). If you don’t feel that connection then it’s probably better to do something different.

I don’t relate to guilt or sin or rituals that only divide people. Every day is a moment to connect and relate to God in everything and everyone. This lifestyle is a technology, which, if you actually practice it will give you a certain result. We have tools to keep us in high spirits (chardikala) and help us stay connected. If I don’t do all my banis does that make me a bad Sikh? For me what counts is that I do things to go inside and connect with the God and my soul inside me. For me Sikhi isn’t about the things I’m "supposed to do" but the experience I actually have in relating to my soul and the souls of others around me. Living life is a fine art of balance!

When I was teaching the youth at camp I realized that most everyone had not been taught to meditate and how to go inside. We are taught to go to Gurdwara, do our nitnem, and sing along with shabads; but when do we go inside? There is a whole infinite world inside when we close our eyes. There are so many distractions outside and we are constantly being bombarded with stimuli. Often times in Gurdwara everyone is looking around watching people coming in and going out looking at what people are wearing. It is not normal to see much of the sangat with their eyes closed sitting up straight in meditation. We are not taught this. I like to sit right at the front of the Gurdwara right before Guruji and next to the musicians so that when my eyes are open I am not constantly being distracted by people around me and people coming in.

One of the things myself and Guruka worked on a lot at camp was teaching some very basic meditations to help the youth learn to go inside and have a different kind of experience. When you meditate you are not only cleaning out all the mental garbage that piles up every day but you increase your awareness and your intuition. That way you make good decisions and don’t need to think things out, you simply know what you should be doing. I’m sure you have had experiences where you go to pick up the phone and for some reason know who it is before they speak (and you didn’t look at the caller ID either!) We all have intuition but have not developed it through meditation.

At camp we started to teach meditation by practicing long deep breathing (Inhaling mentally chanting "Sat" and exhaling mentally chanting "Nam"). Slowly inhaling filling up your full lungs….holding the breath and then very slowly exhaling.  You could see in their faces and state of being how different they felt after just a few minutes. They were centered and calm. They had an experience. It was so simple. Yet I don’t think they had an experience like this of just breathing and going inside. Closing our eyes is not some false ritual of trying to look holy. Next time you are in Gurdwara try closing your eyes, sit with your spine straight and start breathing really long and deep. Hear the Gurbani resound in your body and feel it fill you up. See how you feel after doing this for a while.

Each of us must develop our own personal relationship with our soul and with our Guru. We need to move beyond the outward expectations and judgments of other people and focus on ourselves. The more we spend "looking in the mirror" and working on our self, the more reality and value you will get from this path. Stop doing things by rote and bring meaning and experience to everything that you do so it gives your life value and does not become a chore.

Here is a new SikhNet audio story that Harijot Singh just finished making which I think is very much in line with what I have been thinking in this blog post. Have a listen to it below:

God In every Moment

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15 Responses to “Look in the Mirror”

  1. clouds says:

    i actually had a great experience doing meditation at the camp. and ya it feels different, as you said. i even try to do it at home and it actually brings inner peace and i don't feel as stressed as i used to before. thank you for teaching us.

  2. Lucky Singh says:

    breathing technique is great… you can also inhale "wahe" exhale "guru"…..just another certified technique, but you must have your eyes closed, and be focused not worrying about outside problems. Great Post Gurumustak

  3. malkit says:

    ….deep and inspiring words.

  4. Guru Karam Kaur says:

    Sat nam Gurumustak Singh,

    Wahe Guru, well said! I am reminded of Yogi Bhajan's comment that Sikhism is a dharma masquerading as a religion. Let us all remember that our time with the Guru can always be a meditation and it is that dharma that allows us to burn our karma.

  5. Amardeep Singh Sidhu says:

    l
    Look in the mirror , the way to move forward and be at ease with your self, the way to explore & find true meaning of SIKHI and being a SIKH., the Khalsa.

  6. Har Anand says:

    Thank you. Very interesting thoughts.

  7. skaur78 says:

    veerji Waheguru ji ka khalsa Waheguru ji ki Fateh,
    read your blog and do agree that every sikh is on different level and different way to interpret the sikhi life .I too myself have strayed off sikhi many a times but with GURU ji's blessing brought back.
    THose incidents proved that someone is there to check me out. And yes generally we are taught to go to gurdwara's ,do path like a parade or a ritual so we don't feel atttracted .IT is more like a militrant rule being forced.

    But veer ji when i realized what i am missing ,i felt emotionally attached to GURU ji and felt a connection .I met so many amritdhari's who were baptized when they were very young and those who were baptized when they understood the importance of GURU in life .THERE was huge difference in their thinking. again i do agree that this is not our business to find fault .GURU sahib knows everything about his Sikh and he will test us till we are 1000% perfect like BHAI MANJH ji.

    Now my doubts veerji , i am sorry if i am wrong , how come we Sikhs can do what ever is pleasing and easy. I myself am no perfect , i do lots of mistakes,sometimes i skip nitnem.BUT i won't tell other SIKH this weakness of mine so that he may think that she also is not doing so i also won't do it for today.THESE things are too personal between GURU and one's self. THESE things bring leniency in in SIKHs.

    I know you are true so u wrote that on your blog but what effect will your blog put on those who are not SIKHS . I often being asked this question "SHE is also amritdhari ,she is not wearing dastar , then why are you"??? it becomes difficult to make them understand . and i think these small things are breaking our unity.

    IN Sikhism only 100% is accepted that's why GURU SAHIB told us "REHAT PIYARI MUJHKO SIKH PYARA NAHI" nobody IS BAD SIKH but nobody is perfect also. Then how can imperfect people can change REHAT GURU Sahib ordered us to do.we have given him our mind and soul when we are baptized .we need to do what is being asked from us

    """"""The experience of being a Sikh is very personal and between a Sikh and his Guru. Where is the compassion, love and support that we should be giving to others?"""""

    HOW can sangat approve someone who feels that something not in sikhi is sikhi.SORRY veerji if i am being rude but this question is hovering around me since long back.
    LIKE i have seen many 3HO Sikhs with earrings and we are not supposed to pierce our body. LIKE u have added picture of SIKHS i suppose bhangra group.NOW many a times i feel that this is not us this is punjabi culture not sikhi again this is not my buisnees but it potrays different image of SIKHs.
    WE Should send one message of SIKHism loving the beautiful creation of GOD , being grateful to HIM.
    AGAIN i DO see many SIKH girls wearing bangles and doing fashion ,GURU sahib haven't objected to that but i do wonder why OUR GURU"S have stressed on simple living, why MAI BHAGO commented on 40 sikhs who returned from battle that "I am going in battle u wear these bangles like cowards".
    ITS sikhi And only sikhi which gave equal rights to women as men. they are princes then why TODAY GURu SAHIB's daughters are hell bent to prove that KARA (symbol of stength) can go along with bangles(symbol of weekness).THEY ARE kind of obsessed of showing their outer beauty with dastar and makeup,whereas IN SIKHI only inner beauty is valued.
    IN earlier days those women who were taken as slaves, were supposed to wear jewelry .
    Sikh girls only belong to ONE AKAAL PURAKH .SIKH GIRLS ARE ONLY SLAVE TO ONE AKAAL PURAKH
    A sikh who is SAINT-SOLDIER won't get time for bhangra . OUR soul should dance while meditating . I find absurd bowing down many times while doing JAAP SAHIB . wts the reason behind that…
    AS in Tva Prasad sawaiya ,last pauri "JIN prem kiyo tin he prabh payo" see no need of yoga .
    BABA FAREED , KABEER Ji did not follow yoga , why do western SIKHS feel need of yoga .I DO practice Yoga but i don't find any relation with sikhi.

    NAAM SIMran and meditation is CRUX OF guru granth sahib ji, MAN IS AGAIN AND AGAIN ASKED TO BE WITH ONe THROUGH naam simran BUT nitnem is important.Guru Gobind Singh ji WAS ONE with god . does he need any FURTHER IMPROVEMENT?? . HE WAS NITNEMI ..HE HAD ALL FIVE KAKKARS WITH HIM THEN WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE WHETHER nitnem is important or not.

    ITS NOT TIME or technology or developng science with nuclear bombs which will drive SIKHI .GURU SAHIB Also knew that time will come when sikh will have kirpan and others with AK47
    but he still insisted us to wear all kakkars . we aren't supposed to ask him questions , we are supposed to follow.MAY BE its irrelavent but we are judged on hOW WE follow his commands..

    and one more thing veerji sangat is face of GURU SAHIB , if someone from sangat criticize me, or ask me question i do try to clear the misunderstanding . IF I am wrong plz explain

    BHUL CHUK MAAF
    GUR FATEH VEERJI

  8. Prithi Hardkaur says:

    I really enjoyed the openness of your blog post, Gurumustuk, and can relate to everything you have said in one way or another.

    I thought this was so well observed, and so true:

    "It’s like an insecurity that people have. Like they are suffering by doing these practices and they have to find fault in someone else if they are not doing the same. Or if someone looks inspirational and bright their own insecurity tries to find some fault to bring that person down rather then sharing in the joy and brightness of that person."

    At the Sikh Camp I was at recently I felt there was an undercurrent of trying to get people who cut their hair/ate meat etc to 'get onto the right path'- to stop doing those things and start doing the "right" things. I tend to think that people learn much more from being inspired by someone who radiates joy and love for what they do so when people asked me 'why do you keep your kes?" I tried to share something of what I FELT with them, instead of an opinion about why they SHOULD do it too. When they asked where they should start with making changes, I suggested that they forget about 'shoulds' and instead find something that inspires them about Sikhi and start doing that instead. I know from my own experience that when you try doing something you don't really 'feel', keeping up those changes will be hard, and a real chore. But when you've got inspiration and courage behind you, you have all the energy you need to fuel those changes and keep them up…in fact, it becomes effortless.

    "The single largest problem I see is how we criticize, judge and fight with each other about the so called "right" way of living as a Sikh. Who are we to judge what is the right way?…The experience of being a Sikh is very personal and between a Sikh and his Guru."

    When people tell me what I should do these days I never really voice disagreement unless they directly ask for my opinion on what they've said…most of the time I think they offer that kind of advice because as you say, it makes them feel they are "doing good". Although I would still listen to the opinions and viewpoints of those around me, I think it's very useful for me to have a cut-off point when I stop debating uncertainties and conclude that if it's not in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, it's not really that important!

  9. nathing more,,khalsa the power of world//

  10. ASHMIT SINGH SALUJA says:

    i Absolutely agree with you…. but we should also try to maintain our KHALSA roop as this is our identity …… SATNAM SRI WAHEGURU

  11. priyanka ahuja says:

    its really inspiring to stay to our roots and follow sikhism whole heartedly

  12. Good Fortunes says:

    I have always found that the people who are busy telling me how to live my life are the people who fall from the path because they can't control their own life. Sad really.

    I love Babaji, Siri Guru Granth Sahibji. The power and choice comes from within. I hate and fear the word "morality" because it is sanctioned from outside of me. I love the word integrity as it comes from my heart and soul.

    I try not to tell people how to live their lives. I live by example. It is hard to see those you love doing things that will make them ill, but I'm learning to zip my lip… (({ '~)

  13. sohan singh says:

    thanks for sharing yor experience & thoughts,amazing / wonderful

  14. Camper says:

    I had an amazing experience at the WCSYA Camp.
    Words cannot even explain how much your workshops have taught me, and helped me find myself as a person.
    I'm still struggling trying to break free from my old (not-so-good) habits, But the meditation you have taught are coming into great use in terms of dealing with stress and concentration.

    Thank you for sharing such an inspirational and motivational experience with us.