ਰਾਗੁ ਸੋਰਠਿ ਬਾਣੀ ਭਗਤ ਰਵਿਦਾਸ ਜੀਕੀ
ੴ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
ਜਬ ਹਮ ਹੋਤੇ ਤਬ ਤੂ ਨਾਹੀ ਅਬ ਤੂਹੀ ਮੈਨਾਹੀ ॥
ਅਨਲ ਅਗਮ ਜੈਸੇ ਲਹਰਿ ਮਇ ਓਦਧਿਜਲ ਕੇਵਲ ਜਲ ਮਾਂਹੀ ॥੧॥
ਮਾਧਵੇ ਕਿਆ ਕਹੀਐ ਭ੍ਰਮੁ ਐਸਾ ॥
ਜੈਸਾ ਮਾਨੀਐ ਹੋਇ ਨ ਤੈਸਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ॥
1 Reality realized by Eternal Perfection’s Grace!
When “I” was present, You were not; now only You, no “I.”
Like strong winds raise ocean waves; only water is within water. 1
O’ Master-Illusionist! What can I say this doubt is like?
It is not like what [we] think. Reflect
A ruler sleeping on the throne, dreams becoming a beggar.
Kingdom intact, [believes] lost, suffers pain; such is our state. 2
Like rope and snake parables; now some mystery is understood.
Like forgetting seeing numerous bracelets [gold is separated]; now I cannot utter utterance [of separation]. 3
One Owner is in all among many; enjoying in all hearts.
Ravidas says: [Master-Illusionist] is nearer than hands; whatever transpires, transpires naturally. 4
Transcreation: Inni Kaur
Sabad recitation: Amarjit Kaur
Sabad is Infinite; we are very finite. We always say that our understanding of a sabad at a moment was different yesterday and may evolve tomorrow, as we deepen our relationship with it.
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This past summer when I was co-facilitating the Sikhi 201 seminar at Sidak, I received a series of texts from my friend Doug, who had been trying to reach me to no avail due to the lack of cell service at the site. The texts came in all at once, in waves that crashed into the reality I was situated in — a foreshadowing of the emotional days to come. I remember skimming them while at lunch with the Sidakers, thinking they were nothing to be worried about, until I saw the words “brain” and “tumor.” He told me that his lymph cancer was back, that it had entered into his brain, that it was affecting his speech (which is how he caught it). I kept it together for the sake of the afternoon and the next morning, I called him.
He got on the phone and, although he had told me that his speech was affected, I was not prepared to hear him struggling to get his words out, slurring each one together in a string of a sentence, and the shock of the tangibility of his condition sent me sobbing. He was in the hospital, and he turned to his nurse to say, “she’s crying. I think that means she loves me,” which only made me cry more.
I spent most of the day trying to function, trying to do what was needed for my job, trying to ignore how sad and angry I was. I kept going to my room to let it out. I kept looking up at the sky wishing I could reach all the way up to whatever residual biblical idea of God “the Father” I had and punch Him in His face.
I felt my body turn into something I did not recognize, I felt my whole body spilling over with grief, and I did not know how to stop it. And I knew I could not tell anyone there or reveal that I was all full of salt water because I was supposed to be facilitating and I had to pretend that it did not feel like my insides were collapsing, like I was collapsing.
All I wanted to do was be where he was and hug him, I wanted to hug it right out of him, I kept thinking about how he was all alone. Doug is the person who is responsible for my getting through college, who took care of me as a friend and as a sort of school-dad. He made sure that even when I was sad, I was eating, that even when I wanted to isolate myself, I got up and got out of my room. He was my earth angel — still is. He is the human who has always made things matter in beautiful ways. He has always made the smallest things matter in such beautiful ways, and it felt like I did not know how to handle this very big thing. My heart felt like it was exploding. I wanted to scream and howl at anyone who would listen. I wanted to wail forever. I wanted to grab anyone by the shoulders and scream, “I am in pain. I am in so much pain and I cannot tell anyone for more than 2 seconds without losing it.” I did not know what to do with myself or how to be other than to wish that I was next to this person who means so much to me, sit with him and cry with him, be around while he held his grief. Instead, I was far away and all full of salt water.
One day, we took the Sikhi 201 class on a silent walk outside, recited Mul Mantar (Core-Verse) a few times, and sat around a table taking in the quiet morning. Finally, we posed this question: How do you connect with the Divine? As they went around sharing, I felt myself start to panic. Do I tell them what has been going on? Do I tell them that I am barely keeping it together? Do I share that I am scared and in pain, that my heart is hurting for my friend? Or do I tell them something along the lines of the usual: “I connect with the Divine by listening to Kirtan and being outside”?
When it was finally my turn, I opened up and felt myself processing my emotions in real-time, instead of monologuing with an end in sight — a point I had set out to make. I told them that I was in pain, that I was barely keeping it together, that I kept going to my room when I had a free minute or two to cry and scream and shake my fists at the Divine. I was angry at the Divine, I was so angry and so sad and I realized that it was in this desperation that the proverbial veil of separation or any perceived distance between me and That from which I came had turned to dust. All of the time that I spend feeling far away or worrying about feeling far away or trying to think myself into connection is one thing, but this — this visceral anger and grief and sadness — this meant that I had reached into a nearness that I knew was there but rarely felt. It meant that I grabbed the Divine by the metaphorical collar, and pulled Them in close till we were nose to nose, till They could feel my tears, till They could feel how I was shaking with sorrow, and say how dare you how dare you how could you do this to another person who does not deserve it how could you do this to another person I love.
It was then that I felt a closeness that I have only felt in grief and in pain, in moments when my desperation for connection, even if it is just so I can get someone on the other line to scream at, outweighs my trepidations or insecurities about even admitting to seeking connection. The last line from Bhagat Ravidas played on repeat in my head:
Ravidas says: [Master-Illusionist] is nearer than hands; whatever transpires, transpires naturally.
Guru Nanak Sahib in Pauri 12 of Asa Ki Var writes that suffering from painful spiritual ailments can become the cure for the ailments themselves. Suffering becomes the cure, and happiness (or comfort) becomes a disease. When we are comfortable or when we have been swallowed by our sense-indulgences, there is no Longing for connection with the Divine. But when we are in pain — when we are really suffering — we turn inwards, we reflect, and we are lifted out of our comfort and into introspection. It felt crazy to say this to the Sidakers, that I feel close to the Divine in those moments, that the past week of being in pain and grieving was the closest I had felt to the Divine in a long time. And given how many people invoked the Command (hukam) and how all things happen for a reason, I wondered if they felt that I was being a brat, rejecting the Divine Command and asking for something else, something better.
During the discussion one day at Sidak, we posed the question, “What ails you?” Someone raised their hand and said, “Anytime I get upset or sad, I remember the struggles that Guru Gobind Singh went through, the sacrifices he made, how he lost his sons and his mom, and I think, if Guru Gobind Singh could do all of that, then I should stop complaining and feeling bad.” I tried not to physically recoil at the response. I understand the intention and the sentiment behind this train of thought. I also think it is dangerous and dismissive.
I think things are more complicated than experiencing something that genuinely pains us, and dismissing our pain with a comparison with the suffering of the Gurus, or of Sikhs in history. I do not think it is productive to compare suffering. I think things are more complicated than experiencing pain and then saying: ”It is all part of the Will, I have to accept it!”
I do not think that sitting in our pain — refusing to set a timer to let us know when we need to be “over it,” allowing ourselves space to go through the spectrum of our emotional responses — somehow means we are rejecting the Command or disappointing those who came before us and experienced horrific things.
I do not think there is anything wrong with anger or frustration at the Big What, I do not think there is anything wrong with sitting in our pain for as long as we need to, or being angry and sad and going through waves of those emotions even long after we thought those feelings were gone.
Honoring human emotions, and the way that healing is never in a straight line, is healthy and important, and it is what has gotten me through a whole lot of grieving in this life. There are lessons to be learned in the pain, in the grief, and in the suffering — even if the lessons come slow and excruciating.
I was talking to my friend Paige, who works as a pediatric oncology nurse, and she said something I have since been thinking a lot about. She said grief takes practice. That most of the time, we talk ourselves out of grieving the way we need to, because we think that is not the way one should grieve. We make arbitrary rules about what is acceptable when dealing with suffering, and we tell ourselves that if someone else is suffering, it is our job to say something to make it better instead of sitting in the reality that nothing we say can make it better. And I worry that jumping straight to saying things like “it is all part of the Command” without going through the very necessary human process of sitting in our emotions and walking with our grief is only a superficial resolution.
That statement that Bhagat Ravidas concludes with, that understanding of the Vastness that Guru Nanak Sahib speaks about, that is not a thing that can be said and then understood. It is a feeling that comes after the pain becomes the cure. I have felt that happen. Years later, yes — but I have felt it happen. I also know that even then, the next time pain comes around, just like another wave, it seems that the process must happen all over again. But I do think it gets shorter and shorter with each time we practice.
Going through the painful process of journeying to that realization can take days or weeks or months or years. When I was 12 and 14 and 15, my emotions incapacitated me. My grief swallowed me whole for years and years. I retreated into myself and it was hard and lonely and horrible for a really long time. But I do not believe that the 12 or 14 or 15-year-old versions of me were grieving in the “wrong” way, even if it took time and looked sloppy or clumsy to outside observers. All of those versions of me were grieving in the way we needed to in that specific time, in that specific context, with that specific understanding. We were in pain, and we honored it, wave after wave.
But Guru Nanak Sahib does not dwell on the pain. In that same Pauri of Asa Ki Var, Guru Nanak Sahib focuses on the Infinite, on the Vastness of the Divine. Even our pain must be located in the context of the Infinite Mystery. Even if it takes time, our pain cannot be the biggest thing in the room forever. Guru Nanak Sahib encourages a shift in perspective, a conscious contextualizing and a zooming out, situating all of us not within our suffering, but within all of creation as a whole, within the Vastness of the Divine. Guru Nanak Sahib, much like Bhagat Ravidas in this sabad, talks about the unfathomable mysteries of Divine, emphasizing that the Divine continues to do whatever must be done in accordance with the Will. Whatever transpires, transpires naturally. Whatever will be, will be.
Bhagat Ravidas focuses on the illusion of all of this existing, of not always understanding, of this vast play that we are a part of. There is an acceptance of our utter human-ness, the small lenses through which we see and experience the world. Pauri 3 of Asa Ki Var emphasizes that in this Vastness, there is awe in even the things we interpret as “bad.” There is awe in destruction and decay, in the slow withering away. This is the grand illusion, the mystery we are meant to realize. The last line from Bhagat Ravidas still plays on repeat in my head most days:
Ravidas says: [Master-Illusionist] is nearer than hands; whatever transpires, transpires naturally.
I had felt that closeness to the Divine in my grief, but the second part, really feeling and accepting the second part, being able to crane my neck up at the blue vault and say — I am in pain but I am so small, I am in pain but You are so amazing, I am in pain and I do not understand You — I knew, would take more time.
When I got back home, this sabad was the hukam at Gurduara. I tried to take from it what I needed, and although it made me feel a bit better, I still felt sad in a way that felt all knotted up in my heart. I had lunch with Doug. We cried in public. We laughed real loud, and we cried again. I told him later that although I had plenty of experience with grief, this felt different, because the person I was hurting for was sitting across from me, and the grief I was holding was a weird and constant carrying-it-in-my-pocket kind of grief, but I was also experiencing overwhelming love and gratitude for his presence in my life. I told him that I feel my emotions constantly going back and forth between the two — big waves of immense love and gratitude for the time we have and the friendship we have — that flow right back into this immense sorrow, and it is just back and forth between those two waves. Grief changes into love and back again and back again, wave upon wave in this seamless dance. Doug said to me, “It’s all the same ocean, J!” And I thought of Bhagat Ravidas again.
Like strong winds raise ocean waves; only water is within water.
It is all the same ocean. It is all just water in water. “If you did not have love,” Doug said, “you would not have grief. Grief is the price of love. Try to accept that you will have intense grief in your life, but with the recognition that it is because you are capable of intense love. And this will help you wait and wade through the grief. You just have to get used to these inseparable tides.” I wondered if he had been reading Bhagat Ravidas.
I thought a lot about the previous experiences with death and dying and grief and suffering that I had in my back pocket, the things that have helped me practice for moments like these.
I thought about what I would tell my 12 and 14 and 15-year-old selves in preparation for the deep pain that would arrive at their doors. And I thought if I could bottle up all of that practice, I could tell those same things to present-me as I learn to practice again.
It will get easier, even if for a long time, it is really hard. Do not let your grief be invisible. Let the people who love you carry some of it, take a little bit off your back each day. Hold the people you love real close. Hold their suffering in your hands. Leave nothing unsaid, even if it is just the thousandth “I love you.” You will find comfort in sweet minutiae. You will carry your grief in your pocket. You will wish for bigger pockets. Grief is the price of Love. But it is worth it. Love never dies.
When people ask me what it is like to know Doug at a time like this, loving the person that he is and also grieving in advance on some level (though I try not to spend too much time doing that), I tell them that it is like what Professor Puran Singh says about walking with people for a moment. That I am glad that I am walking with him for this moment. That it is a beautiful blessing to walk through a horrible thing with someone you love very much, to be able to look over as you walk through grief (and joy) together, and know that even though you are both feeling different things and seeing a bit of a different version of the thing you are walking through, knowing that the person next to you has made a horrible thing beautiful in ways that are hard to explain. Knowing that the person next to you will pause and eventually open his mouth to speak in poems about these waves of emotion and all of the things they have been thinking, all of the revelations and epiphanies they have had.
This version of me, this 25-year-old version of me, this puzzle piece of a person who is no stranger to grief and death and to practicing, has been lucky, I think, to walk with an earth angel who I love very much through all of this learning, to sit with him and cry with him. Some rare nights, I will admit, I still feel my pain envelop me, and I let myself feel angry or sad. But most nights, I go outside, sit in the front yard, look up at the moon and past it into the Big What, and I whisper, I am in pain but I am so small, I am in pain and I do not understand You, I am in pain but You are something magnificent. Whatever will be, will be.
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Jasleen Kaur is a lover of poetry and the power of words, of everything outside (especially birds), and of the study of religion. She serves as a researcher at SikhRI.