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something happened when i was ten. i don’t remember what exactly, which probably doesn’t make for a very interesting beginning. but i do remember thinking, ‘remember that everything was different from this point forward. and remember that you were ten.’

i remember an experience of immense largeness and of seeing myself amidst that largeness. i felt distant from everything, and a calmness inside. all around was the colour grey. like a light sheet over a window, with the sun coming through in a diffused sort of way.

when i was 12, i became a born-again christian. it seems inevitable, looking back now. i was attending a two-week christian camp where my grandmother was the nurse. i loved my grandmother, and i remember yearning to participate in the excitement that everyone seemed to be feeling.

when i got home, i informed my mother that i now had ‘two birthdays.’ she hit the roof. nothing makes my mother’s blood boil more easily then evangelism, especially when her daughter is the target (even if carried out by her own mother, and even if it seems to be a likely outcome following participation in such a camp).

i remember (i cringe to share this now, even here in relative anonymity :)) having fantasies about forming a christian rock band with my best friend in school. it would be called ”eternity’ and we would sing the praises of our lord…

once i reached high school, christianity had faded from my life. it wasn’t until grade twelve, that i began to earnestly explore again…

on the first day of my religious studies class that year the teacher gave us each a slip of paper. they were photocopies from a book called, “365 Tao.” each included an excerpt from the tao te ching, followed by an interpretation.

here is the entry that i received:

ADORATION

Images on the altar,
Or imagined within:
We pray to them,
But do they answer?

The wise tell us how important adoration is. So we kneel before altars, give offerings, and make sacrifices. In our meditations, we are taught to see gods within ourselves and to make supplications to receive power and knowledge. This we do with great sincerity, until the masters say that there are no gods. Then we are confused.

The statue on the altar is mere wood and gold leaf, but our need to be reverent is real. The god within may be nothing but visualization, but our need for concentration is real. The attributes of heaven are utopian conjectures, but the essence of these parables is real. The gods, then, represent certain philosophies and extraordinary facets of the human mind. When we devote ourselves to gods, we establish communion with these deeper aspects.

The thought that we are worshiping symbolism may make us uncomfortable. We are educated to accept only the tangible, the scientific, and the material. We doubt the efficacy of adoring the merely symbolic, and we are confused when such reverence brings about genuine personal transformation. But worship does affect our feelings and thoughts. When the wise say that there are no gods, they mean that the key to understanding all things is within ourselves. External worship is merely a means to point within to the true source of salvation.

i was so blown away! here was something that articulated some of the discomforts that i had been feeling about religious practice. i immediately went on the internet, and found a translation of the tao te ching (please see the translation by mitchell – it’s my favorite:http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/taote-v3.html). it was my first experience of reading a sacred text that had the power to initiate what i can only refer to as a state of beingness. and it has never failed to transport me in this way, all these years since…

investigating taoism lead me to zen buddhism, which can bring a similar irreverence for the trappings of religious manifestation (i.e. ritual, costume, teachers, even so-called ‘religious attainment’). in fact, i knew i had arrived home when i read the following saying: ‘if you see the buddha on the street, kill him.’ this breaking down of everything we think we know about anything, even the things which are supposed to be the most sacred, really appealed to me. i also appreciated that it offered a clear path of practice. this spiritual tradition would travel with me for the next ten years.

fast forward to this year. to this past february. it was a dark time. lots of shelling of my insides, no crying, but only because everything was tucked in so tight. i remember sitting in my room. listening to…snatam kaur. i wish i can remember what song did it, what moment in her verse broke everything open. but it doesn’t matter. what matters is that it happened – that my heart broke open. i knew i had to figure out where these words came from. i had been listening to her for a while, but somehow i never knew what tradition she sang from, what language she was speaking!!! it’s a terrible and common side-effect of western culture, where people’s traditions are fragmented from their wholeness, and made available through purchase, without needing to know or to pay homage to the communities that grow and sustain particular forms of music, particular lines of poetry, particular ways of seeing/experiencing the Divine…

and so, I discovered Sikhism. and I began reading, and reading, and reading more. i felt like i had all of these little check marks go off in me: gender equality (check). none high or low (check). no sin, only greater or less separation from God (check). God in everyone, and all things (check). a committed, daily practice required (check). serving others is a religious requirement (check). don’t forget to sing (check). check your ego at the door (check). there was only a small problem, i didn’t believe in God…

but i didn’t let that stop me!! i decided to practice the prayers for a month. no harm. just to see…what would happen. looking back now, it seemed so automatic somehow. at the time i didn’t know anything about the sacredness of the bani in it’s physical form. again i was coming from a tradition that held irreverence as a spiritual practice!!! so not knowing, i printed the prayers from the internet, and that first night, nestled in my parent’s pull out couch, with a length of cloth over my head, i read kirtan sohila in low tones by the night light. when i lay down, a warm wave washed over me, and i went to sleep.

here is an (edited) excerpt that I’ve posted on another blog about my experience at the time:

as i began to explore more, i also began to feel cautious. i thought to myself – i don’t want to be a religious tourist, i don’t want to just take pieces from many traditions as it suits me, to be a part of the ‘culture vulturing’ that can so easily emerge in (white) new age spirituality…after a month, i thought – let me do this for a year…if after a year i still am committed, i would allow myself to ‘come out of the closet’ as a sikh :) ….now it’s four months later and i can feel myself slowly beginning to surrender into God more and more. it’s becoming less about my ‘plans,’ or finding intricate ways for me to protect myself, and more about letting go of control all together.

the question of whether God exists has begun to fade in the face of my daily experience of Voice and Beingness. right now, through Sikhi, i am blessed with a regular experience of Divinity that threads through my days. do i believe in God? well…i believe in All-That-Is, and to have the chance to pour devotion into and throughout my daily experiences for That is an honour i feel so blessed to have right now.

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