Written in 2012 by SS Awtar Kaur Khalsa, San Francisco, CA, USA
I was a highly stressed teenager when I got my first chance to speak personally to Siri Singh Sahib Ji. I was ushered to his Solstice tent when I freaked out about my karma yoga assignment. I believed I “should” be willing and able to make the sacrifice to operate the showers during the frigid mountain dawn, but I was not. He was calm and attentive. I was desperate and tense. I felt guilty about not wanting to subject my anorexic body to an hour in a wet swimsuit, and I told him I felt guilty in general about not doing something important with my life.
“Be a teacher,” he said. “There’s nothing more important. I’ll put you on the stage tomorrow. You’ll be better than me.” “I don’t believe that” I retorted, carelessly deflecting his blessing and refusing the offer. His assignment to me was to stay in my tent for the next week—no sadhana, no dawn cold showers.
He told me to come down for some food and to bathe during the heat of the day, if I felt like it. In my agitated state of mind, I assumed he was using some kind of reverse psychology, punishing me, or just giving up on me. It did not occur to me (until much later) that self-care could prepare me for sacrifice better than guilt.
Pushing Past Boundaries
Twenty years later I sat in his yoga class on a summer evening. Siri Singh Sahib Ji was exhorting us to keep up, to push past perceived boundaries, to sacrifice – a typical theme for him. To me it all sounded very tiring and painful. I really wanted to know how it related to the spiritual bliss described in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.
It was such a burning desire that I went right to the microphone when he asked for questions. To my surprise he did not spar with me or issue some oblique response for me to meditate upon. He drew me out, “Ask more.” I admitted to feeling that there was not enough of me to rise to the demands of my life.
Then he began to speak in a tone that was entirely different from the Aquarian storm trooper mode. His voice was distorted due to damage from reflux. “My Guru knows when I haven’t been able to lie down all night.”
Even if he couldn’t do all that he wanted or expected of himself, he trusted that it would be enough in the eyes of God and Guru. He would still rest in that love, acceptance and support.
Others in the class later shared how important that conversation was for them. We saw that the polarity and complement to exertion and sacrifice is acceptance and surrender. It took many years for me to integrate the lesson that when I really can’t cope, I have to stop trying to cope.
I get into bed, get very still and stop striving, stop resisting my feelings. This “radical non-coping” becomes a deep meditative state. In a surprisingly short time, I emerge very much restored. What is the tipping point?
A Spirit of Obedience
Gurujohn Kaur brought up this dilemma—of when to push through, and when to relax—at another class. Siri Singh Sahib Ji responded with his own question: “How do you know when you have to go to the bathroom?” This analogy immediately releases me from taking myself too seriously.
It reminds me to check in with myself and take care of needs as soon as I reasonably can. There is no wisdom or virtue in holding out until the last possible minute to “let go.” There are things I shouldn’t attempt or expect myself to control.
The seed planted in that first meeting continues to grow. I take time for myself in a spirit of obedience to my teacher and my destiny. I find that the more I take it easy on myself, the more I accept what I can comfortably do, the more I can achieve for myself and give to others.
Siri Singh Sahib Ji portrays the paradox: You have to take time for yourself because you are supposed to contain everything and that’s very easy if you are very easy on yourself. Take it lightly and you will find the way.
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