I am a list person. A trait that is a direct byproduct of me also being a worry person. I still haven’t quite figured out if making lists helps ease my worries or if it further exacerbates them, but I am a list person nonetheless. So in the days (weeks, if I am being honest) leading up to Sidak, I made a list. I made 5 lists. Things to read, things to listen to, facts to know, things to pack, vocab to familiarize myself with. I wrote and rewrote these lists for weeks, never actually crossing anything off, and feeling more and more overwhelmed with each rewrite. I sat at the dinner table the night before my flight and my grandfather asked me how I was feeling. It would have been much easier (and would have resulted in a much quicker conversation) to lie and say “great!” but in the moments of careful deliberation leading up to my answer I knew that my true feelings were ones I had not been so great at hiding, and that my grandfather is definitely not oblivious.
So I took a deep breath in and on the exhale said, “I don’t know I just feel like I don’t know anything and I am so nervous that I am going to get there and everyone else will know what they are doing and I am going to be the one person who has no clue.”
Papa Ji laughed, probably at the fact that he knew the answer to his question before he asked it. He told me that it is better to go into a situation knowing that you don’t know much at all than it is to go in thinking you know everything already. It’s all about ego, he said. The people who think they know nothing are the most open to learning.
He recited a shayari by Allama Iqbal:
miTā de apnī hastī ko agar kuchh martaba chāhe
ki daana ḳhaak meñ mil kar gul-o-gulzār hotā hai
Which he roughly translated as:
If you wish to be exalted, annihilate the ego and surrender the self. Allow yourself to be razed to the ground until you are nothing. For it is from the seed which merges and mingles with the dirt that a garden blossoms.
His words and interpretation comforted me temporarily, but by morning I couldn’t really see how to apply them or take them to heart just yet. I didn’t realize how relevant they would soon become.
I got on the plane and I started my journey to Khalsa Centre at Miracle Valley.
What I Expected
I thought a lot on that plane ride about where I was coming from. I thought about how the largely white community I grew up in meant that I hated my brownness as a child, that having parents who grew up here during the Civil Rights Movement -- one in Kansas and Louisiana and one in rural Pennsylvania, meant that I wasn’t raised by Panjabi speakers or parents who felt very in touch with Panjabi culture, how I spent most of my childhood not really feeling like I was missing out even as I struggled to fit in with the other kids my age at Gurduara. It wasn’t until I got older that I regretted the circumstances of my upbringing -- and that regret wasn’t particularly directed at anyone, just at the timeline that my family happened to be on, and the ways it pushed on them and on their ability to hold onto their language and culture. By the time I got to college, I started feeling like I wanted to connect with my Sikhi, but also felt absolutely unqualified because of my lack of connection with my Panjabi-ness. Going to this place, with other Sikhs my age who most likely didn’t have the same circumstance of upbringing, was intimidating, to say the least.
I was so worried that the space I was walking into was one in which I would immediately feel unwelcome and underqualified. I thought the other Sidakers would be people who had it all figured out -- who were deeply religious and deeply in touch with the Divine, and who would look down on me.
What I found instead was a space filled with a diverse group of people, all with the same worry I had, and all were open to learning, to making mistakes, to encouraging one another. I found sangat like I had never found before -- only nonjudgmental and only loving towards one another, even when there were disagreements.
I found facilitators who were just as loving. They spent time with us and entertained our questions, engaged in discussion both inside the classroom and during breaks in the langar hall. They were knowledgeable and humble and careful in providing knowledge and an answer without allowing the presumption that it was the only answer. I found a divan space unlike any I had ever been in. It was comfortable and discussion-based, so we struggled through understanding and applying the hukamnama as a sangat every morning and evening, while also participating in the divan seva in ways that were new for many of us.
One thing that stuck with me as the second week went on was an interaction I had with one of the Sikhri staff members. I had usually been tactful in slowly arriving to the langar hall after classes so that I could avoid having to lead the ardas, but this time around I had not been slow enough. I was the first one there and was asked to start it, but I had never done it before and was so worried about even making an attempt. I mumbled something along the lines of, “But what if I mess it up?”
His words were: “It is okay to make mistakes and to learn from them. If there was ever a perfect place to make mistakes, it is at Sidak. We are here learning together.”
The sabad I am reminded of is one which the inimitable Inni Kaur transcreates and explores in the Sikhri podcast, Sabad of the Week:
ਬਸੰਤੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੩ ॥
ਬਸੰਤੁ ਚੜਿਆ ਫੂਲੀ ਬਨਰਾਇ ॥
ਏਹਿ ਜੀਅ ਜੰਤ ਫੂਲਹਿ ਹਰਿ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਇ॥੧॥
ਇਨ ਬਿਧਿ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਹਰਿਆ ਹੋਇ ॥
ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪੈ ਦਿਨੁ ਰਾਤੀ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਢੈ ਧੋਇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ॥
ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਬਾਣੀ ਸਬਦੁ ਸੁਣਾਏ ॥
ਇਹੁ ਜਗੁ ਹਰਿਆ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਭਾਏ ॥੨॥
ਫਲ ਫੂਲ ਲਾਗੇ ਜਾਂ ਆਪੇ ਲਾਏ ॥
ਮੂਲਿ ਲਗੈ ਤਾਂ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਪਾਏ ॥੩॥
ਆਪਿ ਬਸੰਤੁ ਜਗਤੁ ਸਭੁ ਵਾੜੀ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਪੂਰੈ ਭਾਗਿ ਭਗਤਿ ਨਿਰਾਲੀ ॥੪॥੫॥੧੭॥
Spring arrives, flora blooms.
Consciousness connects with All-Pervasive, this fauna blooms. 1.
In this way, this mind becomes green:
Uttering All-Pervasive, All-Pervasive’s Nam day and night,
Becomes Guru-oriented, washes and removes ego. 1. Reflect.
Listens to Eternal-Guru’s Teaching and Sabad,
Loves Eternal-Guru, this world becomes green. 2.
Fruits and flowers grow, when You make them grow.
Eternal-Guru discovered, then connected with the Origin. 3.
You are the Spring, the whole world is the garden.
Nanak: Unique devotion is the complete fortune.
Guru Amardas Sahib in Rag Basant | Guru Granth Sahib 1176
I have thought about this sabad a lot since leaving Sidak, and about the similar message it has to that Allama Iqbal shayari. If we think of ourselves as seeds, mingling with the dirt in order to prepare to blossom, we must also remember that the only way to blossom when spring arrives is to prepare ourselves for the spring -- and not just by mingling with dirt. But also by getting through long droughts (or time periods of feeling far away from the Divine), and long winters (feeling numb to the Divine). By surviving the rainy season, knowing that the only way we won’t be washed away is if we have become firmly rooted in the soil, and so, taking the time to grow those roots, deep and strong into the earth, waiting to drink the rain and push against the dirt when it comes time to emerge. I think this is a lesson all of the Sidakers quickly learned simply from opening up to one another. We are all tiny little seeds just doing our very best to get to the blooming.
Room to Grow
And for every single person who attended, there have been moments or long stretches of time in which Vahiguru feels far away, despite us all knowing that feeling is one rooted in the illusion of separation. I was privileged to speak with so many of my fellow Sikhi 201 classmates and facilitators about this feeling. About how there is value in this feeling, because even though we know the Divine is there, right in the homes we have made in our hearts, every person feels lost some days, and far away some days, and underqualified a lot of the time. But that is all a part of this journey through changing seasons. Because without the feeling of longing that comes after separation, there would be no euphoric union. We all talked about wanting to feel the Divine, maybe even to hear the Divine. I have spent so much of my time as a young adult wanting this and being frustrated, thinking maybe my ears are too small for such a sound, and that maybe even if I tried emptying myself of the noise that exists in my own being and sat in silence, listening extra carefully, I would still hear nothing. And that feeling is so frustrating and discouraging, especially when you are young and you are walking in this world with the assumption that everyone older than you has it all figured out. When you look at older members of our community and you assume they must not know this feeling you are feeling, that they must have just gotten it right from the beginning. One of the most valuable things I learned at Sidak was that everyone goes through this, and that we should not be afraid to struggle, or afraid to feel far away and to sit in that feeling, or afraid to yearn for connection. Vahiguru is compassionate yes, but from talking to my classmates I found that most of the time (especially when we are going through periods of separation) we are a lot harder on ourselves than Vahiguru is.
Back to the World
The last week of Sidak, there were forest fires near us and the air was smokey and the mountains looked like how water looks like on paper, or how the paper looks when it is cut out, or how shadows look without mountains. And someone kept saying that the smoke made the sky look like Delhi at night or like Amritsar in the morning and I kept thinking about how fitting it was, as we left that dream of a place where we tried to navigate being diaspora kids in this world, taking back our institutions and getting closer to an understanding of how we are all connected through Ik Oankar, all as we got ready to re-enter our larger communities.
This sangat taught me that it is okay to give ourselves room to grow and make mistakes and learn. Because if we do not give ourselves that room -- if we are not patient with ourselves in the same way a gardener must be with every seed, then this whole journey feels a lot less like a journey and a lot more like one giant test at the door to our destination. We have to give ourselves room to take steps -- steps of all sizes, steps not in a straight line, sometimes even steps back. What is a journey if it is only a single step to the destination? I think a lot of us found that things feel much less overwhelming when we give ourselves that space.
Because of the sangat I found at Sidak, I took away invaluable lessons, and went home feeling okay about beginning to make the effort to grow my roots, to mingle with the dirt, and to push myself up above ground when the time comes. I haven’t begun the blooming yet, but I think I finally feel comfortable in the soil and all that it offers, okay with the darkness, and eager to feel the rain, eager to see the sunlight and the sky above me one day.