awe, humility, hope and a few other things I might notice

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Longing to belong

Baba Prem Singh Ji, Anandpur Sahib, founder Dera Moyian di Mandi (dead men’s market, referring to our Maya world)
I used to think that choosing a monastic life was a way that people like me might escape not only from the world, but also from the pain of love, its loss or its absence. I thought that a commitment could be made, a discipline adopted, or a code agreed to that could fulfill the needs of our heart and provide ample solace because it would organize humanity’s chaos. Since I am a person who wants very little from the world and often as not want to recoil from what many call freedoms but I consider to be confinements I have felt the paradoxical need for some extremes in my life. I wanted to separate from Maya (illusion) and find truth and simplicity. I wanted to surrender to something larger than myself because it seemed only reasonable to observe that this world was crazy. I dreamed about living like the early New England colonists, but my parent’s and aunts quickly disregarded me for being overly romantic about dirt floors and naïve about living without penicillin. My personality could not accept any of the more common extremes like anorexia, drugs, suicide or even living in a cave, because, if for no other reason, they were ends rather than journeys. Also, I was never able to commit to those outermost extremes. I can’t even maintain a fast for more than a few hours. However, I did draw up plans for fasts in my mind and that’s exactly where they stayed, as psychological malnourishment. Then a path chose me by showing me, through the experience of yoga, that renunciation was a tool but without awareness it was an avoidance.

I began to understand my hunger. Through meditation and prayer my hunger grew and it expanded into emptiness and reached towards nothingness. The emptiness obliterated my collected emotional scars and made ridiculous and futile my attempts at deprivation. In the emptiness I realized that all I had was profound longing. That longing was a divine gift and for that gift I felt tremendous gratitude. I began to thrive on the source of that longing; it was love.

It has since become clear to me that not only as an ascetic, a nun, or priest of any persuasion, but as a simple adherent you cannot truly adopt a religious life, a spiritual life, unless you embrace love as a way of life. Disciplines, articles of faith and codes of conduct are guides. A very wise friend told me they are only signposts, don’t confuse the signs with your destination or you may never arrive. In Sikhism and I believe at the core of any faith, when we surrender to God we surrender to our profound longing; we surrender to love in all its wild abundance, its simplicity and its chaos.

With dedication to Baba Diaal Singh Ji, Anandpur Sahib, Dera Moyian di Mandi, who left his body 2/2013.

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The only swear words I ever heard my grandparents utter were the whispered particulars for the name of their adopted cat “Dee Gee”, my aunt’s cat that inexplicably preferred to live at their house instead of hers. Only somehow “DG” got reversed to “GD” by my grandfather.


I don’t know what DG’s name had meant before he became the bane of my grandparent’s meditative and previously cat free existence but perhaps it had something to do with the fact that DG was the only male among my aunt’s clan. My aunt was a collector of cats, mostly strays or kittens begotten before the vet could safely spay their mothers. She even sewed entire families of cats as beloved cotton calicos and ginghams with felt noses and soft wire whiskers. I think her all time record was 8 cats at once and that was when she lived in a farm house on 20 acres of land. Winter, “Winny”, was the sweetest, mittens was the warmest, not because her name implied a relationship to outerwear but because she slept within centimeters of the wood stove, but DG was a hunter and a sweetheart, the best God Damned all around cat I knew. Maybe that’s what they meant. It was hard to say whether my grandfather’s prickly salt and pepper haired chin dipped inwards for emphasis or for expletive.

Upon further reflection, I may have heard my aunt refer to him as “Damned Good cat”, hence the acronym DG fit more properly with both his personality and the service he unwittingly performed for her in finding another residence.

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post Wisconsin

I want to tell the story of a woman who was dramatically changed by the attack on the Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Wisconsin this past August. I would like to write the story of an everyday sort of heroine, a woman who ardently worked towards something important after the attack. I know that at first she would follow the news, in shock like many others, deeply saddened in a way that she did not expect. She would publicly contribute kind words of solidarity to the Oak Creek community and maybe travel there to help. She wrote and spoke to her family and shared some of her grief. She sank into her husband’s arms at night and they spoke in soft tones of their pain that once again Sikhs had been targeted.

In the days that followed she sharpened all the kirpans in their home although many could not hold an edge. She reflected on a friend who is a knife maker who complained about the quality of kirpans most Sikhs carry. She was dismayed that the attacker at Oak Creek was not impeded by a kirpan. She speculated that not even the president of the Gurdwara Sahib had a kirpan that he felt would be effective and instead took a knife from the kitchen to try to fend off the attacker. Due to the president’s courage, strength and persistence he did slow down the assailant, but maybe it would have been different.

She wrote to her Sikh friends to encourage them to read the Siri Guru Granth Sahib ji, their sacred text and living Guru, to read it together in what is called a Sahej Path in an act of prayer, unity and hope and to offer solace to herself and her community. She enrolled in a self-defense course. She worked with others in her community to develop a knife skills class and lobbied to find an instructor of Gatka, Sikh martial arts. She attended services at her local Gurdwara Sahib and joined an interfaith group to share life experiences and shared love of a universal God with people of many other faiths. She volunteered where there were needs both inside and outside of her Sikh community. She contacted her local news stations and government officials to increase awareness about Sikhism. She actively campaigned for gun control. She did all these things and she was changed, strengthened, more prepared, and so was her community. The very definition of what was her community expanded.

I wish I knew that woman. I would like to be that woman. I envy her strength and her ability to take action. I know there are many men and women out there that have done these simple yet great acts with spirit and fortitude that I admire. As for myself, I feel disconnected from my base Sikh community by geographical distance and from a local community by a psychological distance, but that is more excuse than reality. I did do some of the things imagined here, but I don’t feel changed and I will never feel that it is enough. I still feel mournful. My grief is combined with sadness about Sandy Hook, about rapes and the status of women in India, about stories that I cannot write about, not yet. For myself, isolated as I am from a Sikh community, I feel my best option is to write. However, I have to find a way to layer the fiction and craft in my attempt at writing those stories. I have to explore more of this imaginary woman.

As I write, I realize something has changed, but not in a way that I had expected. What has changed is that finally I am writing and writing publicly. I am not so bold as to call it courage but certainly it is hard for me and has taken me a long, long time to be willing to allow others to read my expressions, my attempts.

A wise friend once told me that among women our gift is sharing our vulnerability to help others; it conquers fear and makes us more free, more open to new possibilities. Perhaps I will never be the passionate heroine, boldly fighting injustice, but I am more open to the possibility of re-defining what is my community and the possibility that through this we all can be strengthened.

Resource highlights stories of real life courage

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Sometimes the tea is forgiving

Sometimes the tea is forgiving
I left it on the stove too long for some casual affair,
examining the weather from the large window or
putting away a blanket from my morning nap,
a minor loss of consciousness.

Sometimes the tea is forgiving and
does not burn my tongue
does not turn bitter from its patient but too long waiting,
still can taste sweet or rich at least
for enduring time.