Faith, Religion and Culture
I've been obsessed with the coverage of the election--to the point that I have no life outside of working and going home to catch up on what's happened. However, in the maze that is the CNN/MSNBC/Salon/Huffington coverage, I recently witnessed a clip of a 'pastor' opening up for McCain over the weekend. He was praying that 'God' would intervene; that in fact, 'god's reputation' was on the line and he had to show up and out do these other people's gods, and I quote, "like hindu, buddha, allah". Well, unfortunately only one of these is actually a named God, the other is an umbrella term for a religion that has a pantheon of gods and the other is the name of a great teacher who said that god was unnecessary to a mind that had reached equanimity and enlightenment.
It got me to thinking about my own ecumenical religious history: raised as a fundamentalist Christian, then went through a Native American phase, read Buddhist philosophy for many years, tried my hand at Sufism, and eventually landed here--a Sikh (which makes sense in the end, yes? Sikh is just another name for Seeker of Truth.).
But more than just reviewing my personal religious history, I began to reflect on the notion of devotion and the intellect and how it's played out in the two religions I'm most familiar with (outside my own sikhism): Christianity and Buddhism. Buddhism is often described as non-theistic. There really isn't a 'god' in this tradition; however, there is an aspect of faith that arises, but only after years of practice and disciplining the mind. That is, devotion is considered an advanced practice, only pursued after years of working with the mind and its thoughts. Once you've attained a certain discipline over the mind, THEN you pursue visualization practices that incorporate the gods and goddesses of the Buddhist pantheon. But more importantly, you cultivate a faith in yourself. Devotion is the end of the journey, not the beginning.
For my part, I always struggled with Christianity because it required an absolute measure of faith without having any disciplines or practices to cultivate said faith. I couldn't make the leap. Christianity demands absolute devotion from the beginning. There's very little real estate for doubt or questioning or room for points of view, especially in the twisted version of Christianity being pedaled today. No room for the intellect, for reason, for thoughtfully agreeing to disagree. Because of this, I always preferred the christian contemplative writers: Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis, Simone Weil, and others. They seemed to have navigated this notion of devotion as well as cultivated a practice, a discipline that brought them to the necessary faith as an end to their devotion--not the beginning.
The culture of Christianity today, especially as its represented by the Republican minority (silent majority is no longer your purview conservatives!), has become a twisted and perverted notion of what I know is true religion: devotion that expresses itself as compassion.
As for my religious identity today, it too requires a great deal of devotion, but that devotion is married to a practice that balances the body and the mind, calls for self-reflection and surrender, and devotes itself to principles of meditation, service, and right livelihood. Again, devotion as a bi-product of discipline.
Perhaps this is the key to maturity in one's faith: Devotion is the end-game not the beginning. Faith is acquired not manufactured. And Truth is practiced, in the beginning, in the middle and in the end.
Yes We Can!
A little election humour from a friend:
Five Things I Can Count On--and One Big Surprise
There are a few things I can count on in my life...and then there are the occasional surprises.
1. My father will always say, I love you, before we hang up the phone.
2. My mother will continue to find me alien and extreme--nothing like her (smile)--and do her best to love me anyway.
3. Here in New Mexico, it will always be cold by October and the sky will continue to take my breath away.
4. I will remember your birthday--sometimes.
5. I will always fall for the wrong guy.
But the big surprise is one I've prayed would happen for a very long time. My father, a confirmed, fiscally and morally conservative Republican, will be voting for Obama this year (if we can get him to the polls).
Oh! So here's the sixth thing I can always count on--miracles never cease!
A Bottomless Sadness
It's been an interesting couple of weeks--and the further I get away from this most recent 'ending' the sadder I become. They say time heals all wounds--so why is mine growing deeper with each passing day? My friend suggested that I'm not sad about this latest chapter, but instead the entire narrative. I'm grieving not this particular man, with his particular habits, which I particularly miss, but instead I'm grieving something greater. She suggested I simply dive in. Swim toward the bottomless sadness and come out the other side.
After India, I didn't believe I would ever find myself here again. I felt that the cloak of melancholia had been lifted for good. But that's just another false hope, another trick of the mind and its attachment to what it wants (happiness--which ironically enough is available--just not through attachment--sigh).
Actually I feel like I'm grieving for myself. For my continuing to pursue happiness outside myself, for my grasping at hope instead of allowing faith to take my hand and simply lead me, for believing--again.
I can't be too hard on myself--I follow my heart. But the consequences grow heavier as I grow older. And as I look to the coming days and weeks as fall becomes winter, it is only a metaphor for myself. But then, so too is spring--and spring comes--doesn't it? Smile.
My Republican Mama
There's a great line in this clip: Even my republican mama is going to vote for Obama. . . .I hope it's true of my republican mama, too.
Check this out (You'll have to cut and paste. I'm not technie enough to create a live link for you, sorry):
Prayers for my Father
Update on my Dad's health: many of you know that he broke his hip in early September. Well, that put him in a wheelchair much more than he has been in the past year. He developed pressure contusions and has now contracted a very dangerous form of staph. He is in a long-term care facility for the next month, taking IV antibiotics and allowing the wounds to heal.
Please send your prayers out to him and to my family. thank you and blessings,spkk
The Prayer of Peace
There are many things you can do when people ask you for prayers. Sopurkhs, the Anand Sahib, Shabd Hazaare, among many others. I've practice each one in different ways and for different reasons. But recently, there is a heaviness on my heart that the usual practices don't seem to alleviate. I asked a friend and mentor what she thought I should do and she suggested Sukhmani by Guru Arjan. It's a very long prayer--and my lack of discipline balked. Then I took a hukam--and opened to one of the Ashtapadis from Sukhmani. Then I took another hukam--and opened to the final Ashtapadi. So--third time is charm. I get the message.
Sukhmani is a prayer for peace, but it's also a prayer for deep, transformational healing and grace.
So I dedicate this prayer to my father's healing, to my beloved's healing, and to peace throughout the world as we approach election day.
The God Realm--a Poem
The God Realm
he sits and meditates
the world into existence
thought weaves his
world into being
--the yogi and the mountain
he loves the dancing ladies
the world an intoxicating
flow of stimulation
cessation and creation
existence and nonexistence
balanced on the top
of the world
--the razor's edge
he covers himself in ash
and runs through
his manhood stiff
with the excitement and fear
of destruction, desolation
The god realm
woos the wounded soul--
leave behind the small
pleasures of the human
life--the simplicity of
a shared gaze,
a secret smile,
a quiet whisper,
the lightest touch
in the middle of the night
when darkness has taken over
not just the skies
but the heart.
one who can relish these
simple, human things
holds the key
Maybe it's the rain and the sky here with the clouds heavy but light still surrounding them, in pink and blue relief; maybe it's the constant singing of gurbani; maybe it's just gurprasad (god's grace); maybe it's pure exhaustion; but the experience of being flooded by light and love--the nectar--is overwhelming me.
We complete the Guru Ram Das celebrations this evening with more kirtan and more food. The past couple of days have brought powerful visualizations to me during the meditations--almost as if I were seeing a movie in my head. They begin as prayers but then become something separate from me, from my intention. They form spontaneously, autonomously--and then I just continue to meditate on the image.
It feels as though I am being shown the possibilities of living consciously. That it is real; it's attainable.
I was telling a friend of the God-shaped hole. We spoke of all our attempts to fill the hole with love, with discipline, with drugs, anything really, but that's the point, yes? It's God-shaped. Nothing can fill it but God. But if we're lucky, we get to circle the abyss again and again and again and as we come closer to the edge--and peer fearlessly into the cold chasm--surprise, we see only our Self. And, hopefully, by the time we reach that edge, the face looking back at us has a wry grin, or at least a compassionate smile.
The fear of looking is soooo real. When I was younger, I recall writing a letter that described my emotional state as sitting on a boil, a cauldron, a boiling, stuttering, sputtering stew. I wanted to write it down so that I would remember it someday. Recently, someone described their mental state as sitting on the top of an active volcano--and I remembered my letter to myself, years ago. Last night's meditation transformed this particular image for me and showed me the creativity that lies within the passion of the volcano, the boiling stew. As I meditated with Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur, I visualized my friend sitting atop the live volcano and I began to pray that the nectar of God's Name, God's Mercy, and God's Grace, rain down, pour over him. This was just a simple prayer for grace, for mercy, for being covered.
Rain poured and poured and poured until the volcano cooled enough to form land, a nectar tank formed in the crater, and the land blossomed and bloomed with every green thing--like a Maurice Sendak illustration--meanwhile the yogi simply meditated.
I realized that my own transformation from the boiling cauldron to the calm lake (okay so I'm pushing the metaphor for those of you who know me) had come with years of mistakes and suffering; but more often than not, from simple and pure-hearted surrender. Surrender to what was beyond the fear. Surrender to my highest identity. Surrender--even when you don't have the courage to look. Just jumping and trusting Infinity to carry you.
The boiling cauldron doesn't go away; the volcano remains awake; but with enough grace (and enough cool rain) like everything it evolves, it transmutes, and becomes the fire of creativity, the passion of just causes, the heat that purifies the mind, and the flame of Love for the Divine.
May you burn
burn so brightly
that your presence
lights the darkest
corners of the mind
May you burn
burn with a flame
of truth that allows
May you burn
with a love
for the Self
so strong, it requires
May you burn
The Swan--a Poem
by Sat Purkh Kaur Khalsa
The soul--the swan--
that white bird of purity
that crosses the ocean
to merge with the Ma
and experience the Maya
its boy-ness or
The soul--the swan--
that seed born from
the fruit of many trees
lifetimes and lifetimes
water, fire, earth and sky
to be known
and to know
and be loved
The soul--the swan--
of the two becoming
one--a living being
of all things
into one singular
--a child is born
My friend is celebrating her 120 days very soon and to welcome the soul, I wrote this poem. God bless all the saints born into this Aquarian Age.
Doing Things Differently
Well, the cynic in me wants to say, "see, it doesn't matter what I do, the outcome is still the same!" But I know it's not true. This time I did everything differently--and yes, the outcome is the same. I still have a broken heart; but I'm not broken because of it.
I loved as honestly as I'm capable of loving. I was open, fair, kind, and generous. I learned a lot about myself. And I maintained my Self: my self-respect, my self-love, my integrity, my devotion, everything. And I got to see what remains of my neurosis, my self-interest, my fear and I got to elevate myself--through consciousness--to a place of conscious loving, conscious living, and devoted surrender.
And it's making a huge difference! Because even though the outcome is all too familiar, (I know my way around a broken heart--lots of practice--smile) my response is very different. I feel alive, vibrant, and awake to the possibilities. I feel covered by God's Grace--whatever the outcome.
I feel in love--with life.
So--here's to doing things differently.
May you try something new
in the face of all your fears
May you act in ways that
support your highest good
even when every cell and nerve
in your body wants to cling
to what's known
May you believe, truly,
that you can create a different
tomorrow by what you do today
May you be free from yesterday
to act authentically today
And may you have the courage
to call upon guru's grace
Open and Shut--a poem
his hands, like the sea anemone
nimble, graceful, movement
his laughter, like the sound
of the ocean at low tide
his voice, high and resonate
like the call of the conch
his depth, deeper than
the sea's coldest reaches
his spirit, like the siren
calls to you and then vanishes--away
his heart, a mussel
open and shut
open and shut
lessons on love
Time and space cannot play any part
between two loving hearts. We have no obligation to
anybody, we owe nobody anything. We have an
obligation to ourselves to love ourselves. If we love
somebody and our heart is open, then let it be open.
This closing and opening of the heart is a bargain and a
business. It won't work. --Yogi Bhajan
I'm watching my mind and my heart open and close like a going out of business sale on Labor Day Weekend. My entire life I have bartered my way through relationships. It's always been an exchange, just not of money. It's always been a war of wills--my own versus the one I supposedly loved, which of course isn't love at all.
I'm learning where it comes from: a deep sense of not deserving to be nurtured; to be loved freely. So the exchange started early. And the false independence started before I knew who 'I' was. But where it's going?
In my better moments, I remember my infinity and I remember my beloved, the sweetness, the quiet moments, and the laughter that we share--and I remain steady; I connect beyond the time and space and feel 'us'. In my weaker moments, I doubt and question and lose my transcendence of time and space and instead simply say to myself, "where did he go?"
My heart opened one morning during Gurdwara. I looked up and said to myself, uh-oh. I felt it--as my gaze rested on his face, his clear, meditative brow--my heart opened up. So today I practice staying open. Open mind. Open heart. No more basement sales. No more chips on the table (or the shoulder). Just practice. Practice loving--loving myself, loving the beloved.
Open mind. Open heart.
Open Sea. . .Infinity
God is NOT Republican
--or Democrat. Nevertheless, I am so sick of the Republican Party and their constituents claiming sole ownership of morals and values, when it simply isn't true.
In the past 8 years, they have raped our constitution, our legal system, and continue to take money hand over fist from oil, pharmaceuticals, you name it, instead of providing alternative fuels and energy in the wake of global warming, instead of providing health care in the wake of a population that is either over 55 or under 15--and then lying about their record to a public that never questions anything.
They get to claim the God Card because they don't believe in homosexuality and they are 'pro-life' which simply means they would deny rights to a person who's already here over a possibility. Well, I'm sick of it. Just because I don't want to deny human beings their right to be, to work, and to love because of who they're doing it with doesn't make me immoral! Just because I don't think it's any of my business what a woman does with her own body, doesn't make me the devil! I'm outraged!
In fact, I believe my God demands that people have the right to make their own choices, I believe that my God allows people to define themselves, and their own lives--right or wrong. In truth, God is the doer of everything, so who are we to question.
I believe that because of my religion, it is our duty as a people, a social entity (a government) to take care of other people, to feed them, to not steal from them by bankrupting social security, to provide health care for all--deserving or not, to give people a living wage for work provided, a decent education and an opportunity regardless of race, class, or religion.
I get really tired of 'their' side always getting to claim the 'god' card. I believe in god as strongly as any republican--and I actually believe I live the principals of Christ more than any Republican politician I've ever known-- ever heard the phrase, "don't cast the first stone"?
Tolerance and Spiritual Practice
Spirituality without tolerance is like milk with
potassium cyanide. Touch it on the tongue and you
will be dead on the spot. --Yogi Bhajan, circa 1981
In these days and times, it is said that fanaticism will be the contrast to the expansiveness coming into consciousness, coming into being. Let me be clear, I'm not the most tolerant person in the world. I'm easily agitated, often annoyed, and in general, fairly aloof, which as a package doesn't look like the picture of equanimity and grace--tolerance. But at the core of my being, I believe everyone has a right to exist. Even me. And the fanaticism that I see growing with each passing day--in every walk of faith--makes me nauseated. We are all guilty of it--Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, even Buddhists are getting in on it!--because we're all so terribly afraid.
What would it look like to just take a deep breath and see the other person as you? What would the world look like? How would I see myself in the mirror? The word that comes to mind is relief.
Yogi Bhajan used to say that the only difference between him and us was that he accepted himself totally, without any reservations. That kind of radical acceptance requires a lot of tolerance, a lot of patience, and a relationship to the infinite.
May we all aspire to that kind of acceptance, the radical notion that I'm okay. You're okay. (yes, I said it--ick!). But it's really the bottom line of spiritual practice. Can I be kind and tolerant to you, even when we disagree?