Sunday, July 28, 2019

How Writing Saved My Sikhi

March 2017. That was when I wrote my first journal entry. I don’t remember where the idea of keeping a journal came from, but if I hadn’t done that, not only would I not be the blogger I am today, I would also not be the Sikh I am today. But it was exciting to think of the prospect of it being filled over time with all sorts of things. What exactly? There were no limits. 

In it, I could write my dreams. My dream to one day be a granthi and to help run a Sikh learning center here in North America (particularly for Sikh converts). My dream to have a mini-jhatka farm one day, where Sikhs (vegetarian or not) could purchase ethically raised or grown food. My dream to have a graduate from UT and have a career somehow revolving around Sikhi. I personally believe that one day, these dreams will become reality, but that’s not the only stuff I include in my journal. In my journal, you can find poetry, pictures, rants, newspaper clips, important events, and random stuff printed from the internet. You can say, it’s sort of like a scrapbook (except better). Who knew that this would eventually end up saving my Sikhi. 

Let’s rewind back to earlier this year. Maybe even to as far back as last fall. I was tired of Sikhs looking down on each other (inwardly, outwardly, or both). I was tired of Sikhs looking down on each other because some Sikhs do this, while others do that. Because some Sikhs practice this while others practice that. Because some Sikhs eat this while others don’t eat that. Because some Sikhs end their Mool Mantar at Gur Prasad, while others end it at Nanak Hosee Bhi Sach. Sadh Sangat ji, where is the Ek, the Oneness, in all of this? I have Sikh friends from all up and down the spectrum. And though I might disagree with them on some issues or concepts, they are still my brother/sister at the end of the day. As far as I’m concerned, as long as you are following YOUR interpretation of Gurbani to the best of your ability, you are a Gursikh. 

This all became overwhelming for me. I wanted to walk away from being Amritdhari, walk away from being a Singhni, and walk away from being Sikh altogether. Many do. That’s when I decided to take refuge in my journal. I had just finished my initial journal and was about to start in the new journal that my friend Manjit had given me for my birthday. While I wrote, my clarity of thought became better and I began to establish my own identity/idea of what being a Sikh meant and more. Writing gave me an outlet to talk about my frustrations. Whether it was about religion and my family, religion and university life, religion and my race, my Sangat, the online Sangat, etc., I could tell my journal(s) without being judged.

Eventually, with the help of 2-3 people, my journal, and the Guru, I bounced back. I decided that what I believed in is what I believed in. And if anyone had a problem with it, they could walk themselves out of my life. No longer would I be feeding into the divisions within the Sikh community, but keeping focused on the seva that I was meant to do. 

In conclusion, I say this. Writing can be healing. For people like me, we write better than we speak. And like I stated earlier, a journal can’t judge you or even tell your secrets. So are you frustrated? Write! Are you happy? Write! Are you sad? Write! Are you unmotivated? Write! Do you feel like someone might have licked the bucket of ice cream that you had just purchased from the store? First, report this to the proper authorities. But then, write! You just don’t know what might come out of it as a result. 

Authors Note: Yes, that is my dog. Yes, that is a Pug. And no, she was not supposed to be in the picture 😂. Also, check out our latest project Sevadars are welcome.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

How do you practice? (Toronto Singh's Camp, Final)

"I have been searching for the Saints; I have seen so many Holy and Spiritual people
The Hermits, Sannyaasees, ascetics, penitents, fanatics, and Pandits all speak sweetly

I wandered around lost for a year, but no one touched my soul.
I listened to preachers and teachers, but I could not be happy with their lifestyles.

Those who have abandoned the Lord's name, and become attached to duality - why
should I speak in praise of them?

So speaks Bhikhaa:  The lord has let me to meet the Guru.  As you keep me. I remain:  
As you protect me, I survive." SGGS

I know this may be hard to believe but until I went to camp I had never stepped foot in a Darbar Sahib.  No Gurdwara near me and no other Sikhs in my area made my Sikh practice very personal.

I often thought to myself that I was doing it wrong or I was missing a message somewhere.  The one thing I did have was a couple of years of studying without the weight of religious politics and million different points of view.  It allowed me to find my feet and foundation before setting off into the world.
The first night of camp everyone was busy getting the Darbar Sahib put together, you could see the care and intent in everyone's eyes as they were working.  When it was finished...I mean it was beautiful!  Guru was coming and I was clueless as to what to do, how to act..It was complete sensory overload.  The kind you see in the movies where time slows down and vision gets fuzzy.  I vaguely remember being present for Guru's arrival.

I went back to my room and changed clothes if I remember correctly after Guru's arrival.  Somewhere along the line I ended up back at Darbar Sahib and there was this beautiful music playing, washed my feet and hands and walked into the Darbar...I was stuck...couldn't move hardly.  I had watched live feeds on the internet and thought for sure I knew how to act but in the presence of Guru I couldn't remember how to Matha Tteykna.  I knew I was supposed to, honestly did but I was at a total loss.  I walked a little further and Mandeep was standing there.  I looked at him and remember asking him what to do...I heard him say approach and then give me some hand gestures and I walked forward to the Guru, I was intimidated and at peace all at the same time.  I performed a Matha Tteykna dn took a seat in the back of the Darbar Sahib.  What an awesome experience.

You can listen to all of the Kirtan all you want on the internet but it will never hold a candle to being in Darbar and feeling it in person.  Yes I said feeling it, not listening to it.  I lisgtened to it on the computer semi regularly before camp but the first time I experienced it in person it was life changing.  That's not an exaggeration, to hear the music and the extraordinary voices being performed with such conviction was an experience I'll never forget and hope I'll be able to find it again.  I was standing outside the Langar Hall one morning and the kitchen window was open...Kirtan was playing in the kitchen and all I could think was how beautiful is that!  These men are doing Sewa and listening to Kirtan...what a blessing.

Speaking of Sewa, I'm not sure what my expectations were or what anyone else's expectations were of me.  What I did learn was Sewa in a lot more than just volunteering.  I have volunteered all of my life and there is always some sort of self satisfaction but when I was with the Singh's it was completely different experience.  It wasn't abut  me at all, it wasn't work at all, it just wsa.

I say all of this to say...I found my faith and started building a new practice based on what I knew and what I learned.  Individual faith is an evolutionary process and in my experience will change and develop over time.  What my practice was before camp is not my practice now and my practice now won't be what my practice will be a year from now.  As we learn we grow and friends...I have grown.

No one could put Humpty Dumpty together again (Toronto Singhs Camp 2019 #2)

There are a lot of things that people don't know about me, I tend to be a pretty private person and keep my feelings to myself.  This blog has been a huge departure from that frame of living.  So I suppose I'll let y'all in on some personal secrets.

Before I left for Singh's Camp I was pretty broken emotionally and spiritually.  I had spend several months burnt out completely.  Concentrating on work, on my children, my responsibilities at home and to my wife were impossible.  Writing blog posts helped some, my poor wife was at a loss for how to help me.  I've said it before, sometimes we can't see the forest through the trees.  I was not even seeing the trees anymore...I was way deep in the weeds and there wasn't any forest.

So I pack my bags and get on an airplane and head to Singh's Camp with the hope that I could find some answers, find myself and maybe...just maybe put a couple of pieces back in their place.  So I let the safety of my bubble here in the USA and headed for Canada.  I was solo, unarmed physically and emotionally in a place I literally didn't know anyone except through a couple of social media posts and a hand full of direct messages from Jaspaul Singh.  (I think I've seen this movie before LOL)

The  morning after my arrival I wake up and for for my morning walk in Brampton outside of my hotel.  I spoke to Harjaap Singh via text and we discuss when he's going to pick me up and I make sure I'm ready to go; he picks me up at the hotel and off we go!  I was a foreigner in many more ways than one and an unknown quantity for everyone at the camp.

I get to camp and try to help where I can but honestly had no idea what was going on or what I was doing.  I spent that night unable to sleep well trying to make sure I wake up for Amrit Vela (3 am) so I can participate fully as I can (didn't make it) and by mid day was completely dehydrated and an anxious mess.  Mandeep Singh sees me in the Langar Hall and I discover just how observant he is.  He says I get it, you're instinct has kicked in.  You're sitting with your back to the wall marking the exits and watching everyone but at some point you have to engage with people.  That actually put me at ease...crazy right!?!?  I'm not sure how he feels but that statement and several conversations  later I felt like I had made a lifelong friend.  Sometimes our connections don't require explanation.

When I woke up after my second night it was like the darkness had lifted, I was able to talk with the Singh's there and to my surprise over the next couple of days they had started approaching me.  If I wasn't shocked enough they started asking me questions too.  How does this happen because in my world it's not normal.   Jaspal (who boldly claims he spells his name correctly)  offers me a bunk in his room because he has air conditioning.  Harjaap who takes me to get a cup of coffee and clear my head.  Amitoj who takes the time and has the patience to speak with me about Simran.  Bhai Manvir Singh for just giving me a hug on the first night I was there.

To every other Singh that was there that I have failed to mention I am grateful for your kindness and patience.  Thank you for helping to put me back together again...even though you didn't know that's what your were doing.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

I was sitting next to Joe on a plane the other daaayyy (Toronto Singh's Camp 2019 #1)

The titles has nothing to do with this post but I promised a poor soul named Joe that Listened to me drone on for 2 1/2 hours on my flight home from camp.  Joe was with his wife traveling to see his mother in California...sometimes I talk too much LOL.

The title of this post would have been something like "Embracing our differences".  I just spent a week with a bunch of Singh's from all over, different backgrounds, cultures and nations.  It was one of the most beautiful thing's I've ever experienced.  A group of men with so much passion for their faith and each other.

I know for a fact we had Canadians, Americans, Brits and Punjabi's there.  Within that there were AKJ, Nihang, Thaksali's and for all I know there were more.  There were some Singh's there I would refer to as Ultra orthodox, Orthodox, non conformists, Singh's searching for their faith and one convert with an anxiety disorder.  There were teachers, bankers, entrepreneurs, soldiers, civil servants as well as little Singh's as young as four years old with their fathers.

Diversity comes in so many ways, shapes and sizes.  We take for granted all of the rich diversity we have in our own Panth.  I have the misfortune of reading so much hate and discontent on social media from within Sikhi itself yet I spent five days with this amazing group of men and discover it is possible it is possible to put aside our differences and worship together in peace and harmony.  To sing Kirtan, do ardas, perform Sewa and just play.  We can find peace together as a Panth that is whole if we would just embrace our differences instead of insisting that everyone else is just wrong.

We are a faith that will not stand for forced conversion yet people within our own Panth insist that their way is correct and demand that everyone else do it their way.  That is a form of at least coerced if not forced conversion.  The Mughuls insisted that everyone do it their way and only their way is right...Sikhs shed blood to make sure that didn't happen yet we fight among ourselves saying the same thing that the Mughuls did and the Hindu's are doing now in India.

We are Sikh's, we are defenders, feeders of the hungry and compassionate above all things.  I have seen a united Panth and it is strong and passionate.  I will forever strive to see a united Panth that is whole and undivided despite our differences.

It can be done..I have seen it...I have experienced it and WE need it.

Monday, July 8, 2019

A Lone Non-Punjabi Sikh in the Heart of the Bible Belt

What it’s like to practice Sikhi in the heart of the Bible Belt

Honestly, this is my very first blog post ever…so if it seems scattered forgive me.  I suppose I will start with telling you my story.

My name is Brian, I live in Biloxi Mississippi which by the very nature of it’s geographical location seems like a strange place to be from and talk about Sikhism.  Wait!…It gets stranger, I’m a middle aged man of German descent raised in the Lutheran tradition so there ya have another anomaly  in the matrix, A Lutheran in the deep south.  “So what you’re saying is you’re a middle aged white guy of European descent who somewhere along the line decided all on your own that you’re a Sikh?”  Yep
So I guess you’re asking yourself at this point “How the heck did that happen?”  Well honestly it’s a long story but not a difficult one to understand.  I spent 25 years in the US Military, Active duty, National Guard and Reserve.  I’m third generation military and my son was the fourth so I guess you could say it’s the family business to some degree.  I was raised a military brat, my father retired from the military when I was 15 years old and we settled in Biloxi MS so that’s where the story will begin.

When I was Active Duty I was stationed in the Washington DC area and when I got off of active duty I worked in very large Emergency room at a not so prestigious teaching hospital in the area.  That was literally my first contact with anyone of the Sikh faith and didn’t know it.  A large contingent of our residents were Sikhs that had done medical school in India.  Some wore turbans, some didn’t but the majority of them had the last name of Singh.  Fast forward 20 years or so and here I am in the middle of (for several years) a crisis of faith,  I’m speaking to a friend of mine named James about this crisis and he says to me “Who are the nicest people you’ve ever met? “ (speaking about a faith based group).  I paused and thought about it…the Sikhs I met at the hospital two decades prior.  He said look at what they believe and why they believe it, you may find some answers.  James took his own life several months later after losing his battle with PTSD.  So that’s what I did and a couple of years later here I am…talking to you.

So back to the title “A Lone Non-Punjabi Sikh in the heart of the Bible Belt”,  I live in a county that has over 300 churches of close to just as many denominations and not a single Gurdwara.  There are two Vietnamese Buddhist Temples and a Synagogue.  So needless to say with just those figures alone I’m outnumbered and unsupported locally LOL.  I think there may be one Punjabi family on the coast that owns a liquor store outside of the Air Force base here, at least I have seen a gentleman with a Dastaar going in and out of said store frequently so I’m going to assume he owns it.  That being said I have relied on my internet skills (insert smirk) to reach out and learn as much as I can.  It’s not easy to make Punjabi Sikh friends, I can only speculate as to why but a white guy from the south asking if he is welcome at your Gurdwara didn’t have a positive result when I contacted the closest one to me (it’s an hour from me) and the next closest one to me is three hours away.  Now I’m whining and you don’t want to hear any of that.

I am starting this blog in the hopes that this will help me stay on my path and maybe…just maybe someone will actually read it and reach out.  In the meantime I’ll keep watching my videos, reading my Nitnem and studying the Gurbani the best I can.