The Things We Wanted
When I turned 40 and none of the things I had planned for my life had happened, I let them all go and made a decision to enjoy my life, exactly as it was. And it worked. I loved my life, my job, my community. Life was good. Then, out of nowhere, the universe brought me my husband; and life got a little better. But it's funny what happens on the way to getting the things you wanted, you want more.
As a woman in my 30s and 40s, I had been very cautious about wanting things and focused my life on enjoying the things I already have: my home, animals, friends, work, music. But when you get something that you thought you'd never get--a marriage--you start thinking, well, maybe it's possible to have that other thing I gave up on so long ago--a baby. But you're cautious, you don't want to seem too eager; you can't let yourself want it openly because that invites some uncomfortable consequences: strangers giving you advice, friends wanting it more than you do, and worst of the worst, pity. So you appear ambivalent as a defense mechanism between yourself and your desire, your wanting it too badly.
And then months go by and you don't get pregnant. And you realize that because you're a woman in your 40s you probably can't get pregnant, not without a lot of help, which the aforementioned ambivalence doesn't allow you to seek. So here you are stuck in the middle of wanting and not wanting and not even knowing how to talk about it because it's just too sad. And while all this is going on in the background, the life you once loved begins to grow dull; all the things you loved and enjoyed pale in comparison to this thing you weren't even sure you wanted anymore until you realized you couldn't have it.
And in the center of it all is the reality that nothing happens outside of hukam. Last week I was reading in the Akhand Path (a continuous reading of the Siri Guru Granth which we do every week here at Hacienda de Guru Ram Das) and the hukam I received was the shabad, Jamee-a Poot Bhagat Govind Ka. This is the shabad that women recite up to their 120th day to ensure a saint comes into the world. When I received it I cried. At the time I thought, that's a strange reaction from someone who "wants a baby". And when I got my period again, I realized I was crying not because I might have been pregnant but because somewhere deep inside I knew it would never be true. This week's hukam, as I read from the Akhand Path, was about liberation, which has been my life's work. Over and over again the phrase "door of liberation" kept coming up and other passages described the pain of birth and death.
I write all this only to remind myself that sometimes the things we wanted need to be left behind so that we can receive the things we're destined for. The only true happiness comes from receiving the Name of God and chanting it. Well, I have received the name (that's a whole other story) and I know how blessed I am. I have a beautiful life, a beautiful husband, meaningful work and the resources to pursue my creativity, my music. I am the luckiest woman alive; I'll just never be a mother. And today that makes just a little sad.
Fair Fight II: Three Keys to Communication
Learning to communicate in a marriage is like learning a new language. At first you listen too hard and are exhausted all the time. Then you overcompensate and don't listen closely enough and become careless, or even give up. But you're in a marriage, so you can't give up for too long, or it's no longer a marriage. It's just roommates--or worse.
The first key is to remember--and trust--that the other person always wants what's best for you. Every fiber of my being rebels against this notion, but nevertheless, despite all my subconscious resistance, it is true. So when I communicate my boundaries I always frame them in a way that let's my husband know that I know he's trying to uplift me--it's just not working. Smile. But in acknowledging that I know his intentions are good, he can hear me. Otherwise, we just go 'round and 'round defending ourselves against each other--and that's not communication.
The second key is to always remember, "the other person is you." Everything that bugs you about what their doing, you have already done--a 100 times or more! And if you take the time to look for it in yourself, you'll find it; and you'll be able to relax. Why? Because we rationalize our behavior to make what we do and why we do it okay. Once you recognize you've done it, too, then it becomes "right", right? So when your partner does it, you can't get so bent out of shape. It's the nature of the mind; so use it to your benefit.
The third key is to know that it's not always about you. When my husband is quiet, I assume I've done something to irritate him. But for the past few days I've been dealing with some internal conflict that has very little, if anything, to do with him and everything to do with my own compulsive behaviors and my shame around that. I've been moody, shut-down, agitated and inexplicably sad--and there's nothing he can do. So the next time he's quiet, I'm going to try to remember that it may not be about me at all and just let him have his space.
Anytime two people are living under the same roof, there is going to be conflict. Sometimes they will be big and sometimes they will be trivial. It's not the end of the world. You will smile again, eventually. And you may even learn that you can live with things that were once intolerable, or not. Every person's lessons are unique. But until then, don't say or do anything you can't take back; put the shovel down and just wait. Learning a new language takes time and patience; and there's all the time in the world.
This morning I got "khalsa-ed", which is a way of saying to someone, "You're not doing it right; you're not Khalsa enough." Well, I've played that game before and I'm too old for it now. Self-righteousness is not attractive. I should know. Still, my reaction is to say, "Oh yeah? I'll show you not Khalsa!" and then proceed to do something stupid. Luckily, I'm conscious enough to not act from my subconscious reactions any more. But I spent many years doing just that and I know the consequences--even more pain, even more shame. And I'm too tired to go down that same route again. But I don't quite know how to respond either--to act consciously.
So, how do you learn to fight fair in a relationship? What's okay to say because it's your truth and what's just mean or shaming? And in the heat of battle, how do you discern the difference? And how do you come to trust the person enough to simply express how you feel--which is betrayed and hurt--instead of getting mad in order to mask your tears?
I don't have any answers; just a lot of questions and the fallback line given by the Master, Yogi Bhajan, "You're right, I'm sorry; it's God's will."
It tastes bitter right now; but hopefully the sweetness will come again.
Taylor Swift, Real Love and One Billion Rising
I'm a bit embarrassed to admit as a 43-year-old woman that I have been listening to Taylor Swift's new album, Red, for some weeks now. This is not an album review, so you won't get my breakdown of which songs are genius and which songs she's masking her true voice for the audience she used to have versus which songs are taking her into very real and new authentic ground. You can figure that out for yourself. But this is an essay about love. Taylor gets a lot of bad press because of her many failed relationships, but I don't think there's anything wrong with being young and in love--even if it's always with the wrong person--because that's essentially the story of my life. Some of the songs remind me so much of my own turmoil and emotion at that age that for a while there I was living those years all over again in my head (not recommended at my age!).
When I think back to those years I don't only remember the heartache. There were also some good times, some real intimacy and some beautiful moments; but that's the thing, they were just moments. And love isn't love unless it's forever. It has no beginning or end. It's timeless. And what I called love back then, well, it was by definition conditional, fleeting and consumed by need, jealousy and demands. These aren't the words one thinks of when considering love, but in our cultural notions of romantic love, they are almost always the hallmarks.
The love I dwell in now is so foreign to those notions, they aren't even remotely related; and yet we call it the same thing, love. It's normal, then, for there to be confusion about it all. Yet if we relate clearly and directly to love as an infinite flow, outside of time, then all these romantic ideals seem petty and small, which they are. When I gaze at my lover's face, I see the man, my husband, but I also see the Beloved, I see God in the light of his eyes, the quiet in his manner, and the steadiness in his projection. I see his patient, unflenching gaze and I sometimes want to turn away; but if I can stay still and simply receive it, I am the better for it. Because that is the gaze of the Beloved, the one who doesn't turn away, the one who is fearless in the face of all our insecurities, neuroses and self-loathing. The one who patiently declares our beauty and radiance--in every moment.
I don't know that Taylor Swift or all the other young women out there will have the blessing of dwelling in this kind of love, this living mirror of the infinite constantly reflecting the Self back onto the self, this simple delight in loving the other because they are of God. But that is my prayer, that on this day of One Billion Rising,
all the women around the world will come to know this love, real love. And that love, real love, may be a healing for themselves, their families and the world.
"Life is a flow of love, only your participation is requested." --Yogi Bhajan
40 Days After a Good Man Is Gone
In our practice we often talk about 40 day sadhanas. We begin them usually because we want to change something, break a habit or build a new one, let go of something, or cultivate something else. We have had our moment of surrender, or our moment of inspiration; and now we're ready. Ready for something new. But how does one become ready to no longer have a father? To be fatherless. Is it even possible? It's certainly not something we choose; but it happens to all of us at one point or another.
So I have completed my first 40-day sadhana of being without him. It has been a long journey to get here. He was ill so long that it had been years since he had been the man I remembered--the man who was my father. And yet, there he was, flesh and blood and bone and breath. Burning away all the dross of a life well-lived but now gone, too soon.
I missed his last breath because instead of getting out of bed that morning when I woke up, I turned and wrapped my arms around my husband. In that moment I chose life and in that same moment, he let go. I had wanted to be there with him; but instead life, in its relentless nature, called me to lay there and breathe with my arms around my lover, my friend, my beloved. I chose the future. Seconds later my sister knocked on the door and said that my father was gone.
The night before we had all gathered around his bed and sang songs and hymns and spiritual songs, as the scripture says. We sang so loud I thought he might let go in that moment just to get some peace and quiet. But instead he continue to breathe, a fluttering sound in his throat, the rise and fall of his ribs, the last moments of good man going, too soon gone.
My sister and I bathed him and dressed him. All the aversion I had experienced throughout his illness fell away (I'm not good at those things); and suddenly I was good at this. I could hold his hand, and sing to him and read scripture. I could sit in silence and just be. I could do this. The hardest part is the strange juxtaposition of life in the midst of death. They don't belong in the same room, but there they are, existing side by side. The kids talking about inane college football games as if they mattered, or people arguing over politics, or the in-law saying outrageous things at the dinner table, or better yet, the comedy team that was the men from the funeral home who came to pick up my father's body. They could have been called, Mr. Magoo's Circus of Strange and Mythical Men. And the smell. One of the funeral attendants was a heavy smoker and the smell of those stale cigarettes against his worsted wool suit was almost more than I could bear against the back drop of my father's skin and bones. Later, my sister and I just laughed and laughed because it was so absurd. Life going on in the face of our no longer having a father was, is, so absurd. And yet, it does.
A few days later we held his memorial. People from all parts of his life came to say what a difference he had made in their lives. People told stories, his son-in-law eulogized him more beautifully than any of us could imagine, and people remembered him above all else as their friend.
He was a good man. He was a great man. The last of his kind.
And now I will continue to mark 90 days, 120 days, 1000 days, but this is not a sadhana that ends. My father is gone. And the hole that is left inside me, my brother, my sister, my mother, my nieces and nephews, all who knew him, that hole is invisible; because if people could see it, it would make life impossible. Don't say anything, please, I plead to myself quietly. There are no words. My father is gone.
He was a good man. He was a great man. He was the last of his kind.
Feminism and the Face of Violence
Feminism and the Face of Violence
What happens to one woman happens to all the women of the
world. If you understand this consciousness, then you can begin to make things
© The Teachings of Yogi
Bhajan, July 9, 1979
In the wake of one woman’s death in a faraway place—that may
as well have been next door for all the fervor and clamor it generated here—and
the specter of violence against women every day in the United States, taking
Yogi Bhajan’s words to heart is a challenge to our social construct. What would
it mean “to begin to make things right”? There is no making things right for
the young woman on that bus in New Delhi. So we must ask ourselves, is there a
way to make things right for her classmates, her sisters, her mother, her
friends? Is there a way to create not just security but safety for women;
because it’s not safe to be a woman. And if you’re a woman, you know exactly
what I mean. You’ve lived with the insecurity: you’ve walked fast down a busy
street; you’ve crossed that same street, even when you didn’t need to, because
the streetlamp was out; you’ve turned and stared down the potential attacker,
only to realize it’s a pack of middle school boys or a homeless man down on his
luck; or maybe you’ve run away, only to fall down and feel humiliated and
exposed. These are parts of my own story, anyway. And every woman has her own.
When I was a young woman, “take back the night” was a social
movement to create safety and security for women, a movement that espoused the notion
that a woman had the right to move about the world without fear for her own
physical safety, a movement that questioned the norms which said that if you
were out late at night you were “asking for it”, a movement that demanded that
men be responsible not only for themselves but also for other men. Then the 80s
happened and slowly but surely women’s rights, so recently earned, were chipped
away one state or federal bill at a time, one crime at a time, one nasty slur
at a time. Women helped too. There was an intense backlash against feminism, so
much so that today, young women don’t relate to feminism at all. It’s just some
bra burning hippie thing that their great aunt participated in back in the day.
They have no connection to the fundamentals of the movement or to the
experiences of women that led to that movement.
Today we watch Mad Men from the comfort of our living rooms
while our husbands do the dishes and we forget the humiliation, the
exploitation and the imbalance of power that women had to endure—only 40 years
ago! In one generation we have forgotten. And those who forget are doomed to
relive it . . . So to New Delhi, the New Old World, where commerce and
education and expansion—life itself—abounds. It’s booming—and women are
beginning to take advantage of this golden opportunity to break away from the
social constructs of their traditional culture and make a life for themselves.
And what does the dominant culture do in the face of change, especially change
that threatens their own privilege—it attacks. It does everything it can
possibly do to crush the life out of those who would seek that change. What
else can explain such gross violence, such viciousness? And such deafening
silence by those standing by, witnessing it?
Feminism is the not-so-radical idea that what is best for a woman
is best for everyone. Because feminism recognizes the fundamental vulnerability
of being in woman’s body, while at the same time it recognizes the fundamental
power that comes from the identity of a woman—creative, sacred, invincible! It
is her vulnerability that must be acknowledged—and protected; it is her power that
must be respected—and honored. These larger social issues seem to transcend the
personal, the intimate, the here and now. And yet, a woman who was brutally
attacked, raped and eventually died from the injuries of her attackers, her
story, affects us all as women. So what can we do “to begin to make things
right”? Are we powerless in the face of such profligate violence? That’s what
they want us to believe. Every time a woman is senselessly attacked, raped,
beaten or abused, it’s another notch in the belt of the oppressor. It’s another
mark in the arcline of the shared consciousness that is womankind.
Our work must begin here at home, in our own lives. It seems
small but the moment we reject the world’s idea of who we should be and instead
simply be ourselves—unafraid—that is a victory. The moment we refuse to believe
the lie that we’re not good enough, the moment we reject the notion that we
aren’t capable enough, the moment we laugh at the thought that we deserve less
instead of much, much more, the moment we take a good long look in the mirror
and decide to like what we see, bumps and all—that is a victory. And in our
victory we cannot forget to bring our brothers along with us, for this heinous
crime harms them too. We as brothers and sisters must stand together and know
that what is best for woman is best for everyone—and that is true feminism. The
Aquarian Age will be manifest when the woman is honored, when the goddess is
once again seated on her thrown in the center of all the lively things, when
the good in everything is praised.
We begin to make things right again when we stand as women,
unafraid, undaunted, and unbound. We begin to make things right again when we
become women, once again.
Once during the day you should be alone with you. Talk with yourself; understand yourself. Tell yourself your weaknesses, problems and shortcomings and discuss them within you. Then ask for the answers. There is no better way for a woman to develop herself than to analyze herself, put it before herself and ask herself for the answers. There is no better friend, wise person or real thing to ask other than yourself.
© The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan, June 29, 1988
This past week has been an exercise in fear and frustration. I have been wound up like a top and spinning out of control. Initially I wanted to believe that it was my husband's fault. "He's judging me," "he's controlling," "we always listen to his music," "he never lets me drive," etc. But when I took a moment to reflect and talk to myself and ask myself for the answers, it came as clearly as a bell: I feel powerless. And then I had to laugh out loud. I was blaming my husband for my own feelings of powerlessness, when powerlessness in my life has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the outside environments. I'm a recovered addict and alcoholic; I know all about powerlessness, but still, it sneaks in sideways sometimes: through food, or too much tv, or just feeling stretched by too much going on. And all of these "adaptive behaviors" (smile) are simply my stress personality at work.
But when I take the time to be conscious--to be consciously conscious of my consciousness--then I break the repeated patterns in my stress personality and I have an opportunity for true insight. And often I laugh. I heard the other day that fear and laughter can't reside in the same place. If you're laughing, you can't be afraid. So here's to those moments of being able to laugh at myself; they are humbling, but they are also the greatest cure to what ails me--me!
In recovery we have what's called the 10th step, a daily inventory, which is essentially what Yogi Bhajan is describing above. Take a moment to reflect and look deeply at yourself--though it might be scary, you'll often find there's an answer already there--and if you're lucky you'll get to laugh!