Last month, a friend of mine asked me, “Why haven’t you written anything lately? You should write something. We miss your writing.”
I shrugged and said I would try. But the truth was – at that moment, and for the last many months, there hasn’t been much to write about. There hasn’t been anything that seemed worthwhile to say.
Then, a couple weeks ago, I got into a car accident. Nothing severe in the sense of hospitalization. Intense enough that I’m laying on my couch while my back recovers from the trauma. But something about the accident jolted me back to life. Back into my body. Back into my senses.
It’s been a little over a year since my father died. If that wasn’t enough, in the last 12 months, the legacy of the Siri Singh Sahib, Yogi Bhajan, has been plagued by lawsuits and counter-suits. In a very short period of time, I lost my father and I lost a lot of friendships. Disagreements over the lawsuit damaged relationships that I had cherished for years.
What I didn’t realize until the car accident was that the cumulative shock of all that loss happening in so short a time had overwhelmed my nervous system. I had been, on a certain level, “checked out” of my body for over a year. When my car got rear-ended, some primal, self-protective instinct woke-up. I realized I had a body of my own to take care of; a life of my own to connect with. It was time to make peace with the last 13 months and find a way to move on.
A few days before my father passed away, we were sitting together in the hospital. Him, my mother and myself. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer less then a month previously, and the doctors and nurses had been trying, in an indirect way, to help him and my mother come to terms with the fact that he was dying.
During one particular moment, he turned to me and, in a confused, exasperated voice, asked, “Bernadette, what happened?” There was a look of incredulity in his watery blue eyes. Like he was trying to comprehend how so much could go so wrong so quickly. I took his hand, and looked deeply into his eyes. Without any tears, I told him matter-of-factly, “It’s just what happens, Dad. It’s the way nature works. Everybody has to go sometime. It’s just your time to go.”
Telling my father that he was dying was the single hardest thing I have ever had to do. It wasn’t what I wanted to say, and it sure wasn’t what he wanted to hear. But it was the truth. The reality of having his daughter tell him that everything was NOT going to be OK – but that in fact he needed to get ready to die – was a shock. Yet, in an odd way, it helped him to accept it. It helped him make peace with it. At least, I’d like to think that it helped.
There’s hope. And then there’s reality. There’s the fact that as humans we don’t want change because the familiar gives us a sense of security. And then there’s the play of Creation where change is inevitable. Nothing can ever possibly stay the same, and how we face those changes define us. Security isn’t on dry land. It’s in learning to ride the incessant waves of time and space. To appreciate the past without being beholden to it. To love what has come before enough to let it go with grace when it’s time to move on.
For the last 13 months, while I have been “out of body,” I have also been doing a lot of studying of Sukhmani. There are many difficult teachings in Sukhmani that have completely turned my idea about spirituality upside down; shifted the sense I have of myself as a “spiritual” person (whatever that means). But it has begun to create a space of acceptance in my heart: the ability to accept myself, people and situations exactly as they are – on their own terms.
When I watched my father take his last breath, I had the blessing of seeing one of the great yogic teachings at work. The teachings say – in those last few seconds of life, it’s just between you and you. You evaluate your own life – how you did – in the light of your own higher consciousness. There is no “God” involved – there is nothing but your own self-assessment of your self.
I watched that moment unfold for my father. And in that moment – there wasn’t anyone else. Not his mother or his family. Not his boss or his friends or his children. Not his enemies. Not the priest. It was a totally secret self-evaluation. All of what he lived in his life – what he did, or didn’t do; what he said or failed to say; how he acted; what he meant – all of that was measured against his own soul. Whatever I might think about how my father lived his life, or however someone else might judge it didn’t matter. What I felt with my dad’s spirit is that he had won. Between him and himself, his actions measured up to his own inner guidance, to his own inner voice enough that this life was a victory.
What I’ve studied in Sukhmani this year gives me a much clearer context for that last moment, that last breath. And it basically comes down to this: Is God good? Or is God everything?
I was raised to believe God is good. And evil is something else. But in Sukhmani, Guru Arjan talks about the entire polarity of life, including what we would term “good” and bad”– and then he says – it all comes from the One. There is nothing and no one else but that One.
I was raised to believe that being spiritual meant being good. And that being bad took you away from the Creator. But in Sukhmani, Guru Arjan talks about flowing with what’s written for you; being with the hukam – with the flow of the Creator’s plan for you. And the simple fact is that hukam – the Divine Plan – contains good and bad both. Not just one or the other.
I was raised to believe that you had to stop other people from doing bad things. And that if enough people in the world stopped being bad, and everybody was good, then we’d all be happy. But Guru Arjan, as I understand him, talks about finding the essence of your own Divine Spirit, in your own heart and letting that give you happiness – no matter what is happening around you.
So in my prayers, lately, the Creator and I have been arguing like this.
“If You’re the Doer of Everything – then what does that mean? The prostitutes, the pornography, the murderers, the rapists , the wars, the torture – it’s all YOU?”
And the Creator, in His subtle way, responds by showing me that no matter what a human being is doing, or living, or choosing, the One Light lives in that person. And there is a purpose and a reason for whatever the experience is.
But I fight it. “If that Light is really in everyone, no matter what life they’re living, then what’s the point of all of this meditation and sadhana?”
Just to see it. That’s all. Not to judge it. If someone needs or asks for your help – do your best. But otherwise, it’s not your place to interfere or fix anything. There is a sovereign Divine Identity in every human being, guiding the process. That Identity has the right to exist.
For me, one of the most surprising and spiritually challenging passages in Sukhmani comes in the 21st Ashtapadi, 7th verse. There, Guru Arjan describes the process of the One Consciousness expanding Itself to create structure and form. And in that process of differentiation – some souls wished to have a heavenly experience, while others were more interested in the hellish experience. That is how the polarity of pain and happiness, honor and dishonor got created. Yet, Guru Arjan says, it all comes from the One – and at the end – it will all dissolve back into the One.
Still, it’s difficult to get my mind around this. The suffering and pain that happens in the world. “Seriously? This is planned? This is part of the play?”
And then Guru Nanak’s words come to mind. About how the human body is an incredibly precious incarnation, and even the worst pain and suffering imaginable is still a gift. It’s as if the Guru is saying that as long as you have a human form, no matter how terrible or difficult the circumstances, because the Light of Divinity lives in you – there is still something incredibly worthwhile and blessed in the experience. That even the worst imaginable human life is still precious. There’s something profoundly special about existence, about living. It’s something to worship and honor, no matter what.
There’s a fundamental change in perspective happening for me while I study Sukhmani. It’s about accepting the whole play of life. Realizing that I don’t have to divide myself into “good” Ek Ong Kaar and “bad” Ek Ong Kaar and try to have the good part of me conquer the bad part of me. I just have to flow with my own identity in its totality. In its authenticity. The Light of that One Creator lives in me every day – no matter what mistakes I make. No matter what choices.
And as I see it in myself, I can see it in others. Whether it’s the politicians on the television, or the people I talk to; whether it’s the war lords in Africa or the innocent children being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Every life, no matter how it unfolds, has that precious Divine Light at the heart of it. And every life is a unique expression of that soul, of the journey that spirit is taking through time and space.
It’s not my job to condemn anything. It is my job to be of service to those who ask for or need it. There’s a subtle but profound difference in seeing life that way. Rather than scanning my environment and making a huge list of what’s wrong in the world that needs to be righted – it’s about completely embracing everything I see as the play of Divine Light. Good and bad. Right and wrong. Peaceful and horrible. And then allowing myself to be of service wherever and whenever the Creator calls me to serve.
So the car accident becomes a blessing – because it’s bringing these thoughts back into my body in a way that I can express them. From this perspective, life feels more joyful and more relaxed. The unreal weight of responsibility, of trying to make myself and everything in my life “perfect” melts away in the realization that everything already is a perfect expression of hukam. Yes, there is pain, disease, illness, and difficulty. Even then, the Light still lives on. It doesn’t disappear or go out. Life is messy and difficult and amazing and wonderful and everything all at once. And the Divine Light is in the heart of it always.
My sense of what it means to be spiritual used to focus on the question: how can I become perfect and deserve that Love? But now it is starting to mean something very different. I’m not someone who always makes the right choices or knows the right things to say. I enjoy life, but I have my share of karma to work out. I love to write and study, but I get into arguments with the wrong people at the wrong time. I can love you one minute and be terrified of you the next. I can look back at my childhood and say – there were some really great things that happened there – and there was some things that have created some serious issues – thank God for therapy and for Kundalini Yoga.
Through Sukhmani, Guru Arjan is waking me up to the realization that this whole messy play of “me” is Divine. The One is at the heart of me no matter what is being expressed in the moment. It’s such a relief to know it. It’s such a relief to give myself that space, that freedom to go on a journey of life that has valleys and peaks. And how wonderful to be able to start respectfully giving that space to others, as well. Whether I agree with another person or not; whether I want to live that way or not; whether I am fighting with someone or not; I see that the One is in all of us – guiding our choices and our lives for a reason. Every one has the same right to their existence as I have to mine.
So today I am giving up. Surrendering the concept of spirituality that I have had for the last 20 years. And in this place of surrender, of knowing that my Dad hardly ever went to church , but still he won the game of his life; of knowing that the Divine One really does live in everyone (including me) – no matter what we experience or how we act;
In this place, I feel
With Divine Light and Divine Love.
Ek Ong Kaar Kaur