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Pioneers, by definition, do not have the luxury of precedence. So in the earliest days of 3HO, the late 60’s and early 70’s of the last century, those of us who studied with YogiJi were featherless harbingers of an era and unwitting co-founders of a family that has not only grown through generations and spread across the globe, but has been woven into the fabric of the culture at large. But in those earliest days our history had yet to be written, and the things we were asked to do were done with no evidence of veracity, but were done purely on faith and the immediate experiences we had in yoga class. It is a wonder we had any faith left after the prior tolls extracted from our generation. But somewhere we found a deeper well of hope, pulled it up willingly and offered it freely, as though we had never been betrayed. Such is the relentless drive of the soul and the regenerative power of faith.

In the manner of our unfolding culture, there was no one who had gone before us to explain things, no one who had crawled through the tunnel or over the wall ahead of us, no one standing at the end of the obstacle course to assure that it could be survived. No one, that is, except our teacher who had already gone through it all, and whose commanding presence was testimony enough to his students. It was a time when we were still a small band of disparate gypsies with nothing left to lose, coming together to do yoga. 3HO was barely conceived; we had no established traditions, no existing culture with which to identify ourselves, no social standing. To the contrary, most everything we did separated us from our own history and society at large.

In hindsight, I might wonder why in the world I agreed to do so many of the endlessly radical things I was asked to do, and why in such faith I chose to do them. The answer is just that, faith. But not blind. Blind faith connotes a substitution for critical thinking or lack of intelligence. There was at play a force greater than mental acuity; there was intuition, there was heart. There was a slowly building trust born of personal experience, that each thing I was asked to do, as outlandish as my mind screamed that it was, once done not only quieted my mind but showed my spirit another plateau on which to soar.

So what were some of these outlandish things? Initially, the easy ones were getting up at 2:30 AM to do yoga, meditation and chanting. And how about that yoga? Not a walk in the park. The meditation and chanting were never anything but bliss for me, but holding my breath until I passed out, well, strange to say the least. Sometimes I hated the physical exertion of the yoga, except, of course, for corpse pose. Vegetarianism, not a problem, I was already a vegetarian. Wearing white, not a problem, I’d already been wearing white for a year before I met YogiJi. Walking barefoot in the morning dew, again, not a problem, I grew up at the beach and I came to YogiJi barefoot. He even gave me his giant pair of rubber flip flops to shuffle around in when I had to walk on the pavement or go to work at the Source Restaurant.

Just after Larry & Ganga's wedding in 1970 with plenty of singing and dancing in the desertNo, the first big one was the arranged marriage. Unheard of in those times, and mine, horror of horrors, was the first. People were outraged at the concept of it, let alone its execution. And I use that word purposely. Even Shakti was appalled. It may have been a part of Indian culture, but it sure as heck wasn’t a part of ours, and I can tell you just how it came about. It was the spring of 1970, about a year after I’d been living in Yogiji’s kitchen; when there was just Shakti, Premka and I with Yogiji and our roles were clearly defined. Shakti was the mother of his mission and future organization, Premka was his personal staff member, and I was his daughter. But once Pink Krishna and Susie joined our household it became a little estrogen laden and the herd had to be culled.

(The photo above is just after our wedding in 1970, with plenty of dancing and singing in the desert!)

We were robust and young and even though committed to our mission and to celibacy, the hormones did run, and soon there began to appear a series of young suitors at the kitchen door of the Phyllis house. So, in his infinite wisdom and to my great dismay Yogiji sat us all down one evening and asked who wanted to get married and who wanted to be on his staff, reminding us that whoever was on his staff would not have a householder’s life. I remember that Susie definitely wanted to get married and I believe Pink Krishna said the same thing. But when he asked me I could only weep saying I never wanted to get married, I just wanted to stay with him and remain his daughter. He replied, “Fathers don’t keep their daughters, they give them away.” The bitterest words I ever heard him say. I begged and I begged and I begged, but he would not relent. But the truth of the matter was my actions were not in total keeping with my words as much as I wanted them to be. I kept “falling in love,” as much as I tried not to and Yogiji announced that in his duty as my father, he must find an appropriate husband for me and arrange for my future. As a concession he said he would give me my pick of the suitors and began reciting a list of the most fitting men. After each one I replied an emphatic “No.” But when he got to Larry I hesitated for a split second and he said, “Done.”

As an aside, ironically, Larry (who later became Lehri Singh) and I both worked at the Source Restaurant and previously had a crush on each other, but as was in keeping with our commitment to the yoga, chose to transmute our attraction to devotion to God. Perhaps it was because of this that I hesitated in that pivotal moment and my destiny was sealed and the climate of our marriage was set.

Well, no sooner were Yogiji’s words spoken then I fell to pieces, literally. I went to the kitchen and collapsed in a sobbing heap of despair and at the same instant felt rise up out of me like a phoenix out of its ashes, a being so elegant and etheric I could only gasp in wonder. She was who I had always wanted to become. She was the ideal I’d always held but had no idea how to reach. In a moment I understood that it was my vast and tumultuous emotions that kept my spirit bound, and that by cracking this egg the freedom I so diligently sought could be found. Of course, there is a big difference between visionary insight and the process of living it in the day to day. It was against this vision that my emotions continually broke themselves like waves against the rocks throughout the ten years of my marriage.

Lehri & Ganga discuss marriage

Here, we were posing for a series of tantric pictures. Larry was counting off the rules he had for me to be a good wife, and I think my body language shows my response reflective the immortal words of Guru Liv Kaur of LA who added the fourth statement of the yogic wives’ three allowed responses to her husband: "You’re right, I’m sorry, it’s the Will of God, and I’m leaving."

Initially, when word spread of my arranged marriage, the men of the Juke Savages that I had come to Yogiji with the year before came down from San Francisco and said they would spirit me away in the night and protect me from Yogiji and the destiny he had designed for me. When I said I didn’t want to go with them, that I wanted to do what Yogiji said, they asked incredulously, “Then why are you crying?” I said because I couldn’t help it and just because I couldn’t show courage in the moment didn’t mean I wasn’t totally committed.

Sadly, I continued to cry everyday for the next three months until that first Solstice in 1970 when YogiJi conducted the first marriage ceremony in the dry arroyo of Robert Voissier’s land outside of Santa Fe. I cried during the ceremony and continued every night for the first year of my marriage, until my husband finally said, “Enough.” He was a man of few but eloquent words.

I can’t say that the marriage was ever fulfilling on an interpersonal level, but then that was never its true intention. Rather, it was a conscious commitment to Yogiji and his teachings and through our steadfast devotion to him, we did give birth to a gifted and amazing spiritual family through Ahimsa Ashram and its tributaries. The ten years from 1970-1980, when I was blessed to live there and share the leadership with my husband, were the crown of my youth, the exaltation my heart and magnified all the love I ever hoped to give or receive.

The music that was born there, beginning with chanting to Guru Ram Das every evening for 31 minutes, was transcendent and transformational. My heart and soul opened so fully through chanting that I feel woven forever with the music and those with whom I shared these musical meditations. I remember one prayer I made when I so sorrowfully agreed to marry and move to Washington, D.C. was that there be music, beautiful music and beautiful musicians to share my days. And indeed my prayers were answered. So many of our family’s great musicians passed through Ahimsa Ashram: Sat Peter Singh, Livtar Singh, Gurushabd Singh, Gurudass Singh, MataMandir Singh, GuruGanesha Singh, SadaSat Singh and Kaur, the Adi Shakti Choir, the Khalsa String Band, and many others who composed and channeled their sublime music into chants and songs which were the genesis of our musical legacy and continue to inspire to this day and beyond. (In speaking of divine music I feel compelled to acknowledge two great musicians from Tucson — Sat Nam Singh and Singh Kaur. They, as well, gave incalculable spiritual inspiration to this family through their celestial music.)

As for that etheric being that rose from my anguish in YogiJi’s kitchen, she was indeed prescient. Although there was never anything in my marriage that nurtured me emotionally (to the contrary it was a daily test of rejection), it was the harshness of that desert that caused me to reach into the higher octaves of love through the Nam that were my source and my sustenance.  And really, if I’d gotten all I needed in the marriage or in the world, would I have ever reached further? Probably not. And had I not reached further there would have been no miraculous spiritual journey and my soul would have been the one weeping instead of my emotions.

When I first came to Yogiji in the spring of 1969 he asked me what I wanted and I said, “God.” He said, “I can deliver you there if you promise to do whatever I tell you to do." He never told me my path would be easy, but he did promise to deliver me to the place I wanted and I experienced that bliss each time my kundalini rose. He showed me my spirit through the myriad tests he put me through, even though through each of them I railed. I wept copious tears and thought I would never survive, but somehow I did. I didn’t always excel in the execution of the challenges, but I did find a place of excellence within myself at the end of them. In counterpoint to all that I suffered, he showed me a way to illumine my soul through the soft, merciful, and liquid radiance of Guru Ram Das through chanting, and later through Gurbani kirtan.

Mine was not a journey that could be explained to anyone who wasn’t on the same path, and if they were, it needed no explaining. To me the spiritual path seemed an inverted reflection of the worldly path. What was true in this world was false in the spiritual. What fed the emotions would bleed the soul. What was courageous in the spiritual world was foolhardy in this one. It is said that it doesn’t count as courage if you aren’t afraid, and that was the whole point as his student; to be repeatedly challenged to overcome fear, limitation and to step into the unknown.

It was just all the more challenging because no one had done it before us at that point. He was not just our first yoga teacher, he was a Master, and we either did what he asked or we left. There was no negotiation. We either kept up during a kriya or we didn’t. But if we quit before the yoga set was finished, in class or in life, we never got the bliss that came at the end. We were asked time and again to jump off a cliff and had no idea if we would sprout wings or splat on the rocks below. It required that we live each day with unremitting courage and suspended disbelief. It was the only way to get through it. Everything was asked of us, yet everything was given in return. Why else would we have stayed?

So when you hear the old timers referring so nostalgically to the old days as if they hold some great significance, they do. That was the beginning, the foundation, and much important history has been written in these forty years and much more will be written in the future. It’s just that there is always a profound poignancy to a beginning, like being swept off your feet in love for the first time.  You never forget the first time. It informs how you live out the time which follows and how you look back upon it. At least that is the case for me.

 

 

A Place to Bow…

Who ever could have imagined the destiny of such a humble building? Comfortably squeezed between two duplexes, it had served as a colon hydrotherapy office for some years; now closed down. A storefront with a small residence behind, and an enclosed back yard with a garage on the back alley, its faded yellow entry faced a small park on the other side of the street. It seemed like it had some potential, was in a good location, and… it was for sale, and that’s how it got a place on Norm Cohen’s short list.

Norm was a commercial real estate broker in Los Angeles who in 1971, along with his wife Marci, had become acquainted with some of Yogiji’s students through their health food business, Sat Nam Products. Then he and Marci met Yogiji. As was his way, Yogiji saw the destiny of each piece of the puzzle of life, and within no time Norm and Marci were looking for a new location for Guru Ram Das Ashram (at that time located at the SW corner of Melrose and Robertson, in the remodeled garage of Jules Buccieri’s antique shop), which needed a permanent home. They showed this ex-colonic office to Yogiji a short while later.

Not long after that, Yogiji told a story how he was flying back to Los Angeles from his travels and, looking out the window of the plane as they approached the airport, he saw the part of town with the little yellow building on Preuss Road, and noticed that out of all other areas of the city covered with smog, this area was clear. And he knew this was the spot, this was the destiny, and the short list became one.

Shakti Parwha Kaur tells me Yogiji wouldn’t let her see the new ashram until much of the renovation and remodeling had been completed. But, she does know the story of how the building was purchased. Yogi Bhajan personally made the down payment from his own savings. There were enthusiastic promises by community “leaders” to each pay $10 a month toward the mortgage. The truth be told, the promises were kept for barely one month. I think all or most of those people are now long gone, but Guru had a plan, and Guru Ram Das Ashram was to be. Yogiji traveled, lectured, taught and continued to make the monthly payments until, after many years, he finally donated this precious property to Sikh Dharma.

Marci, however, was involved to a great degree in the interior design of the new building. Knowing that turquoise was Yogiji’s favorite color, she picked out a multi-toned turquoise shag rug for the front L-shaped “yoga” area that faced the street. Also, the dark brown wood paneling that covered all the walls and the raw silk curtains that hung in the front windows. The gold marbled mirror panels from the Melrose and Robertson ashram were moved to this new building and installed on the long south wall of the “L”. A small bathroom was built, with the entrance exactly opposite the entry doors. On the right of the bathroom were closets for storage.

Here I am, in the summer of 1972, headed home after a day of seva. Note the sign "Guru Ram Das Ashram" over the door. This is the sign from the original ashram on Melrose & Robertson; it’s now in archives.

In the three weeks preceding the move to the new ashram (which was approximately March of 1972), Diana Schnurr, an artist and avid member of our yoga community, completed 10 paintings at the Siri Singh Sahib’s request, one of each of the ten Sikh Gurus. Vibrant color flowed from her brush and these very first paintings of the Gurus by a western Sikh came to life. For the first ten years or so those paintings graced the long north wall of Guru Ram Das Ashram. They now hang at the Yoga West yoga center.

Since the primary use for the new ashram at the front of the building would be for yoga and meditation classes, we needed a reception and entry area. A dividing wall was put up, so as you entered the building on your immediate left would be shelves from floor to ceiling for shoes, bags, etc. That little entry area, as wide as the doors and as long as the shelves (about 6-7 feet) was covered with linoleum flooring. This created a nook on the other side of the dividing wall where we would place the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. This Guru’s nook would be separated from the rest of the room by a curtain.

About ten years later, we would move the bathroom over to the right allowing some expansion of the ashram interior and moving the entrance to the bathroom facing the far right wall. This was during a major remodeling in about 1985, when the dividing wall of shoe shelves was also removed. Also, blue marble donated by a student in Mexico was installed on the floor and part way up the walls, and the ashram was transformed into a full-time Gurdwara. The remodel was completed in 1986.

Back in 1972, there was a small window centered in the far east wall, where the teacher’s bench would go. The first teachers bench was designed and built by Sunshine Brass Beds (“the Factory”) headed up by Guru Singh.  Over the years we went through two teachers benches, the second more elaborate than the first. What vibration each must hold, the master sitting so many nights sharing his wisdom with we blessed ones who filled the room to sit at his feet. Adjacent to the teacher’s bench, a small triangular altar stood in the corner, with candles and incense, a painting of the Chakras with the Wheel of Life (which used to hang at the original GRDA on Melrose & Robertson) and some photos. Yogiji would always face the altar, bow his head with hands folded, and say a short prayer before he taught each class (and all the yoga teachers followed his example). When asked one day what he said in his prayer, he replied, “I’m saying, ‘I’m just a nut, Guru Ram Das, please teach this class for me!’” 

The walls still resonate with so many countless souls chanting, meditating, and praising the Name.

That small window behind the teacher’s bench was kept covered with a curtain. On the other side of the window, there would have been a small patio, but this was built into a storage shed-laundry room. From the cement floor to its metal roof, the shed was filled to the brim with cleaning, household, laundry and other supplies. One day, a devoted student who desperately wished to speak to Yogiji, would climb through that window as a way to reach him in “the back.” After that, the window was walled over and never opened or seen again.

The door to the kitchen would remain as Yogiji’s private entrance to the ashram from his living quarters in the back, and also for his staff to serve sweet and milky hot gunpowder tea and peeled almonds to sadhana goers every morning.  Yogiji, with care, made certain that a sword and picture of Baba Siri Chand were placed over that door for protection.

Here are Nirinjan K, pink Krishna K, and Gurumeet K enjoying some watermelon in the backyard of Guru Ram Das Ashram in 1974. The building in the background is the converted garage that was Yogiji’s meditation room-sleeping quarters.

The small living area in the back was designed with a living room facing the back yard (this is where Yogiji received guests, counseled students, and spent much of his time, sitting in his white recliner), a very small office-sleeping room (there was not room for a bed, just for one or two to curl up on sheepskins on the floor, so we cannot really call it a bedroom), a small tidy kitchen, and an even smaller bathroom. Yogiji’s quarters (a simple room without a bathroom, painted white, carpeted in white, with a long altar along one wall and little other furniture) would be built in the garage that abutted the back alley, about 15 yards or so from the main building. A cement walkway was put in, leading from his quarters to both entrances of the main house, at the kitchen door and the sliding glass doors to the living room. Regardless of the weather, when he needed to use the bathroom, that is the distance he walked. The backyard was turned into a rose garden, and would go through various transformations over the years.

When we first moved there, his personal staff was quite small, consisting of Shakti Parwha Kaur (who still had a small apartment in West Los Angeles, but would soon move to an apartment on Preuss Road), Sardarni Premka Kaur, Sat Simran Kaur, and black Krishna Kaur. I think that was it. Pink Krishna Kaur and I, both married, were considered household members. She primarily cleaned and ironed. I primarily cooked and helped with office tasks.

When we first opened Guru Ram Das Ashram on Preuss Road, it contained an Indian imports store (in the right front quadrant) where Toni Pond sold colorful saris, Punjabi suits, scarves, shawls and jewelry. After some months, she closed her shop and the 3HO offices took her place, with desks, chairs, typewriters and phones… The secretaries would stop their typing during yoga class but it was not  unusual for the phones to ring… the adjacent long back area with the marbled mirrors was where we had sadhana every  morning and yoga classes every day and night. Around 1976 Sikh Dharma would purchase a building on Robertson Blvd. (the Secretariat) for all of the Sikh Dharma and 3HO offices.

Guru Singh led sadhana every morning for the first four years. Sadhana started at 4:00 AM with one hour of yoga. Then we had one hour of meditation, and finally ended with one hour of kirtan. We knew very little Gurbani kirtan in those days, but we sat in a large circle and sang chants and English songs, with guitars, drums, whatever instruments we had. One young man even brought his dulcimer and harpsichord! The kirtan was the liveliest you could ever imagine, so spirited. Then, at the end, we would all stand, turn around and face the front of the ashram for Ardas. Opening the curtains to Siri Guru Granth Sahib, we stood in prayer and listened to the hukam for the day. It was not uncommon for Yogiji to come out from his meditation toward the end to sit with us, poke some fun, tell a story, play with a little one who had crawled into his lap, and share in the prashad, hot tea and peeled almonds served each day.

Within a short time of moving there, Yogiji’s family came and joined him (this included his wife Bibiji, his three children, and, later, his father, Papaji. The children stayed only for the summer and then went back to India for school). Sat Simran designed a sitting/sleeping space in the living room corner to make a cozier living space for them. Essentially, a queen-sized bed on an extra wide platform (underneath which was storage). The platform was wide enough to accommodate big square cushions around two of its sides. The mattress was covered in a lovely turquoise upholstery fabric and was accented with big purple and turquoise bolsters. The square cushions alternated lavender and turquoise (turquoise was a big color back then) brushed corduroy. This way Yogiji could comfortably sit there during the day and his family and guests sit around him. I remember him even having guests sit on the mattress with him. It was very cozy and simple. At night it was a bed for his family or staff members, and the cushions could also be used for sleeping on the floor. A few newcomers had joined Yogiji’s staff, including Gurumeet Kaur (then from San Rafael, and now of Espanola), and Nirinjan Kaur and Hari Har Kaur, both from Washington DC. At night, the laundry room, Nirinjan’s small office, and even the main ashram, were turned into sleeping quarters for staff members. And that’s how, somehow, everyone lived in this little ashram, except Shakti and Premka, who shared an apartment down the street. There was also Wha Wha the little West Highland White terrier and White Cat. So, just imagine this. I served in the kitchen all day and left every night at about 6 PM or so, and I never saw everyone sleeping… but it’s hard to imagine how they managed it. Within a very short time Guru Ram Das Estate was purchased a few blocks away, which allowed for more graceful living arrangements for everybody, and also a welcoming place for guests to stay.

With all the staff and family, there was also a constant stream of guests. Every day, when the Siri Singh Sahib was in town, there was someone new. He might invite over, on the spur of the moment, 10 or 15 people to share in a dish he had just made. Students and seekers had appointments for counseling throughout the day, and others would stop by simply to sit and offer their respect. Spiritual leaders that I remember coming to meet with him, included the Dalai Lama, Baba Ram Dass, Swami Satchitananda, and Swami Mishra… along with so many sants and sages… I walked in one day to serve Yogiji and Baba Ram Dass some tea, and there they both were, sitting up on the mattress with those big bolsters, laughing so hard I thought they both might roll off the platform! Lacking a dining room or table, we would spread a big Indian bedspread/tablecloth out on the living room floor or, if we needed to serve a lot of people, out in the main ashram

Now I will break off for two very short stories about Wha Wha and White Cat.

The Siri Singh Sahib told the story of how he was in London teaching yoga and was being driven through the city by Guru Dain Singh. Suddenly he called out, “Stop! Turn the car around and go back around the block!” He directed Guru Dain to a pet store they had just driven by. Guru Dain stopped the car in front of the store and the Siri Singh Sahib went in with one of his secretaries. He emerged a short while later with a tiny white ball of a dog, the light of whose little soul he had recognized in the window. He named him Wha Wha right on the spot and had him brought to Los Angeles. Such a cheerful, devoted and grateful little soul, you cannot believe. Perhaps you have heard the song he wrote called “Wha Wha Loves Me.” Now you know who it is about.

White Cat was a big long-haired white cat. The Siri Singh Sahib had told us that White Cat was a saint who came back as a cat to once more have a chance to sit at Guru’s feet. White Cat knew he was a cat, and took full advantage of the privileges of being a cat; he knew he could get away with acting like one – he could do things we might get in trouble for doing as humans. For instance, he loved to hide in the rose bushes and pounce on Yogiji’s feet as he walked by, and he could jump up on Yogiji’s lap whenever he pleased, where he would surely be lovingly stroked. I noticed myself being a little jealous of White Cat over this. What I wouldn’t have done to be him! What he loved most though, was napping in the ashram. Without fail we would find him either sitting on the teacher’s bench or under the palki sahib during the Akhand Path. As he grew older, his health was failing, he could hardly see…. He disappeared for a few days. Then one morning his body was discovered, literally at the door of Guru Ram Das Ashram, where he had come to bow and give his last breath.

So this was Yogiji’s household, for a short while, and with grace and without complaint (at least, not that I ever heard) all shared the blessed space known as Guru Ram Das Ashram.

Over these last 36 years at Guru Ram Das Ashram, we have had over 1800 Akhand Paths, over 15,000 Gurdwara services, the Siri Singh Sahib taught hundreds of meditation classes, and thousands more Kundalini yoga classes have been taught, since it served as our yoga center for about ten years. Until we had our first yoga center in the mid 80s, we had sadhana there every single morning. Individuals have come every single day for prayer and solace. World leaders, spiritual leaders, sages, the simply curious, and humble seekers, have all come through these doors and felt the blessing and grace of Guru Ram Das.


Contribute to the building fund for Guru Ram Das Ashram in Los Angeles and help preserve this legacy by clicking here.

 

 

Sardar Singh Khalsa of Oslo, Norway passed into the light on December 1, 2007. His friend, Gurudass Singh, wrote this loving tribute to him a couple of days later. (If you have any photos of Sardar Singh please contact us. We would love to post them.)

I met Sardar Singh in Amsterdam in the summer of 1977. He was this jovial red-haired kid filled with enthusiasm and positivity (which he always kept). We had both just moved  from the US into the ashram and he soon became the buyer for the Golden Temple Emporium’s restaurant. He was given a van for his job, which he proceeded to slowly destroy by crashing it almost every other day until he had to change jobs or the ashram would lose its only means of transportation.

At the same time Seva Kaur also moved into the ashram. She was this bright eyed Australian girl who laughed and served without a thought for herself. Later that year I moved to Spain, but they remained in the ashram, getting engaged and married soon after and then moving to Australia.

We lost contact for a long time until they came back to Europe, moving to Oslo, now with a family of two (soon to be three) beautiful girls. But it didn’t take long for Sardar to become a leader in our European community. His positivity, selflesness and joyful disposition made him a top candidate to become the general coordinator for the Yoga Festival. He took on this challenge perhaps not knowing what he was getting into. but it soon became apparent that he was "the man for the job." Sardar turned the organization of the Yoga Festival into an invisible yet effective and well balanced team of people. Many attendants have commented over the years how smooth it runs and yet you don’t see who is doing it. He led with a kind hand and heart, listening to people, giving us the space to run our areas with freedom yet always being there when needed.

He had a lousy sense of humor. It took him sometimes a whole day to understand a joke. Once I found him laughing by himself at a joke I’d told him the day before. He knew half a dozen bad jokes which he told over and over again, laughing each time as if it was the first time he’d heard it.

Sardar was a wonderful father and family man. He loved Seva and the girls. They became for many of us an emblematic example of the love and unity of a family. His love allowed him to sacrifice for them, at times having his whole family away in India. His daughters were his pride and he treated them with respect and kindness. He love it when they poked fun at him and he wore his authority with humility and love. Our Ransabai kirtans will never be the same without their kirtan together.

Sardar…amigo…you are greatly missed. You have taught us all an enormous lesson about life and death. Your humble, yet positive approach to your illness, made it seem to many as if it was no big deal, yet you suffered it quietly, with faith and hope. When the time came you accepted your fate and all the years of love and devotion to the Guru carried you.

There will never be another Sardar…yet you will live with us forever. Every Yoga Festival will be a tribute to your efforts and vision. You will be honored by your daughters’ achievements and by Seva Kaur’s example of love and commitment.

On the Ransabhai kirtan night I will look for you. I will find you, sitting as you always did, with your head bowed, quietly, discreetly. Your voice will be heard as a whisper, singing along with the kirtan. When the time of the Ardas comes, you will stand by us. Your Wahe Guru will resound in our minds as a reminder of someone who lived life to the fullest, filled it with
devotion to God and gave love to everyone wherever he went.

We will always love and miss you….

 

A Year of Tales

OurTrueTales.com was born a year ago this month! We started off with great energy and excitement about how this blog would evolve. We’ve had over 20 contributors over the last year, who have written a total of nearly 60 stories/postings (this post that you are reading right now is number 60!). We have had "hits" from all corners of the world, including USA, Mexico, Brazil, India, Malaysia, France, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Pakistan, Italy, Spain, Singapore, Thailand, Canada, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, and many other countries…. Our True Tales has anywhere from 100 to 1000 or more visitors every day. Maybe they were searching for something else and just came upon us by googling, or they have followed links from Mr. SikhNet, SikhNet, or one of the 3HO or IKTYA sites, or like many, check in on a regular basis to see what’s new… but they stay for a few minutes or hours, read, and hopefully get enriched in some way.

If you want to be notified via email when there’s a new posting, just subscribe to TrueTales through Blogarithm (the link is at the top of the sidebar at the right). Also you can click on the RSS feed link (the little red & white radiating striped icons at the top right of the page) for easy access to see what’s new in terms of stories or comments (this you click on yourself to check, you won’t get emails).

If you’ve only read a story or two, we invite you to explore the "back pages" of this blog. The stories are rich with history, photos, transformation, humor, insight, and cherished memories of Siri Singh Sahib Ji and our journey on this path. I also encourage you to check out the "archives" box on the right side bar and click on a random month from the last year and discover some great tales! 

The first few months of this blog, Hari Bhajan Kaur and I were so excited to see more and more readers discovering it everyday. Sometimes we posted 2 or 3 stories in one week, just keeping the momentum going. Gradually more and more people started sending their stories in too. It’s so great!! Submissions of stories, short or long, and poems too, are still welcome and wanted…. HBK and I never wanted this to be a blog for only "our" stories. The wealth of all our memories, those little snippets that make life so textured and full, is what makes such a compilation so enriching.

So, please explore the blog, read…. if a story evokes a response or feeling in you, please share it as a comment to the story. Comments are just as fun and enlightening to read as the stories, and often add more details, different perspectives, or other insights.

OK, it’s late, I’m tired, and really should turn off the TV, close up my laptop, meditate and go to bed… so perhaps I will. Hopefully you will read this, turn off your TV, open up a Word document, and start writing.

with love, light & gratitude

Siri Ved Kaur

Through Time & Space

It was 1999. I was working as an Interior Designer in Los Angeles. This was a new field for me and this exciting and prestigious job came as the result of a prayer. I had completed a Sahaj Path for my work and was asked to join the staff of a well-known local interior designer. After a stretch of time the job, however, came to a close. I called the Siri Singh Sahib to let him know. He had always been involved in my life and my work and I thought it respectful to inform him of this change. I got a call back saying that I am to come to New Mexico, work for Kiit Marketing Office, doing design and marketing for our Dharmic products.  I was to receive a designated salary. Well, the salary he offered was less than half of what I had been earning at my entry-level position as an interior designer.  Hmmmm. I returned his call and said, “If he doubles the salary, I would consider it.” His response back to me was, “The money is your problem, not mine.” I sat with this prospect for a few days wondering what to do.  I was clear about how I felt.  I knew I was talented and dedicated.  I was sure I had earned respect in my field and I believed in downright fairness. I remembered the times in my life when I wasn’t appreciated and this thought bonded itself with the many times I had said Yes, when I really wanted to say No. I was forming a solid case on my behalf.

I decided to get in my car, drive to New Mexico and negotiate my position. I loaded up my belongings and headed east on the 10 freeway. Once on the road, I began expressing to the Siri Singh Sahib, at the top of my lungs, a list of all he would be receiving upon my employment. “Art and design is my field,” I said emphatically. I told him of my training, my history and successes, my worth and value as a designer and my years of experience. “And, he couldn’t fool me; I was on to his Eastern method of negotiating.” Suddenly, a large heavy piece of metal about ten inches-square came flying through the sky toward my car. Time seemed to slow down as I watched this piece head straight for me. The freeway was crowded with drivers on all sides. My tape deck was playing Nirinjan’s, Ajai Alai and the melody seemed to punctuate the moment. I could see my hands grip the wheel and felt my seat belt tight across my chest. It landed smack in front of my face, shattering my windshield and leaving a broken pattern as big as a giant hubcap. Without my protective Toyota safety glass, I would surely have been killed. I was instantly silenced and pulled my car over to breathe, come back to reality and soothe my frazzled nerves. Since I was just a half an hour outside of L.A., I spent the next 13 hours driving like Jim Carrey in Pet Detective, stretching way over to look out of a clean windshield. I was contemplative and quiet for the rest of the trip. 

When I arrived in Espanola without an appointment, I was immediately welcomed into the Estate to see the Siri Singh Sahib. As I walked in, he raised his eyebrow, gave me that precious look and said, “Almost got ya, Seva”

The Sahaj Path I had completed, which I thought brought me my perfect dream job, was actually giving me a taste of what I did not want. My Dharmic job, which I did accept, was the true gift of this prayer. Not only did the Siri Singh Sahib know who I was and know my destiny, match my energy and intensity, uplift and inspire me even against my will, he could fluidly move through time and space to accomplish this.
 

Fire

I went to a cremation in India in the late 70’s for Jathedar Santokh Singh, who was a prominent Sikh leader from Delhi who had been murdered. No one knew who killed this man at that time and everyone was suspect. Everyone thought that the others were covering something and everyone was scared at what the implications of this killing would be – to the government and to the Sikhs. No one looked at anyone. It was tense. Politics and religion are not separate in India and this man was given what must have been a state funeral because it was in a public place.

I knew Indira Gandhi and was in India at the time as a representative of the Siri Singh Sahib, the head of the Sikh religion outside of India. I was escorted and arrived in a car, which was allowed to drive directly to where the cremation was to take place. I was led up some steep steps to a raised stone platform where the pyre was.

On the platform with me, were his wife, grown children and family members. There were an additional 30 dignitaries, politicians and friends on the platform. I was the only Western person present. It was the first cremation I’d attended. I was strapped to the moment with curiosity, but also with fear of not knowing what to expect and also not knowing how I was going to react. It was a January morning: cool, windy and damp. There were thousands of people wrapped in shawls, on the still dew laden grounds surrounding the platform. Everyone was standing. Everyone was waiting.

The body was on the stone on a palate, wrapped in white linen and now covered with wood (probably sandalwood) which was very precisely placed in horizontal and vertical ways, around the sides and on the top. It looked like a six foot by three foot pile of wood. I could sense the overwhelming emotion that was present on the platform and in the crowd.

I felt out of place among the politicians who were dressed in black woolen ashkands (Mandarin collared jackets) over white churidar pants. No one knew if the crowd would riot or not. The priest in his white dhoti (which is thin cloth wrapped about the lower half of the body and between the legs and drawn up across the chest) was walking around the wood pyre reciting a prayer as he put the ghee and sweet smelling/ herbs on the pyre. It was not a silent moment, but it was a solemn moment with what the din of 5000 people in silence is. Time seemed to be standing still. Ghee was placed on one piece of wood and it was lit and that flame was taken around the pyre to ignite the ghee on the rest of it.

As the fire turned to a blaze people on the dais and the crowd swooned with an intoxicated sound. Emotion was at a high pitch. The solemn moment turned to an emotional one. The reality that this was a rite of purification and release of the soul by fire, was a parallel reality to the sounds and feelings of the crowd. They didn’t riot, but as the flames went higher and could be seen by all they cheered religious slogans. Whoever I was with quickly took me down the steps through the crowds to my car and back to my hotel.

After that Sikhs in India began a distrust of Indira Gandhi’s ruling Congress party. It was the beginning of a hard time for them.

I continue to be in awe of fire. There is something about it that continues to mesmerize me when I am in front of it. Fire for its own sake. Fire of cremations, even the fire in the Western version in the stone vaults of modern day crematoriums, gives a peace to me when I see it. It represents the reality to me that we are nothing. It brings finality to the shell that is the body, and sets the soul free in the flight of its smoke.

 

[Last year Gurprasad Kaur visited Goindwal Sahib for the first time with six others: her husband Siri Shiva Singh, son Dev Amrit Singh, her brother Sat Purkha Singh, his wife Nav Jiwan Kaur, and their friends Hargobind Singh and Simran Kaur. This is her story of the steps, and the depths & heights to which they ultimately lead. — SVK]

 

“Beloved God bless us to keep up in this endeavor. Please give us the strength and courage to gracefully complete this meditation. And please bless Nav Jiwan Kaur with healing.”

The words of the Ardas brought peace and surrender to my apprehensive mind. It stilled the worrisome thoughts, which had begun to take over, after a gradual advent in the final hours before our arrival at Goindwal Sahib. Months of excited anticipation had given way to a cascade of fears and doubts. I had maintained absolute steadfastness in my birthday prayer to complete the steps at Goindwal, but with the growing realization of the magnitude of the undertaking, dread had started gnawing at me. Would I be able to chant Japji Sahib and dip 84 times, keeping up through the long and cold night and into the projected 17 hours that it would take?

Baoli Sahib (Gurdwara is adjacent)

7 pm. We were starting at night in order to coordinate all the various elements of our trip and make them fit. I was the last one in our group to arrive at the Baoli Sahib. In my flurry of last minute angst I was still unsure of what to bring with me, in the end grabbing everything; a blanket, a bunch of towels, a bathrobe, my Nitnem, as well as the laminated copy of Japji Sahib given to me by Hargobind’s mother, Amarjit Kaur. Our band of pilgrims had dispersed. I could hear the echo of voices from the men’s side, and wondered if Sat Purkha Singh, my husband and son had already begun their meditations. Nav Jiwan Kaur had also descended and only Simran Kaur and Hargobind remained at the top.

As we stood together for the Ardas and the remembrance of relying on God for everything flooded back into me, my certainty returned. No matter what happened, Guru would see us through this and whatever the experience was, it would be the right one. “Some people take 30 years to complete the steps,” Nav Jiwan had said.

“Well, I can’t imagine that would give you the same experience,” Sat Purkha and I had both intoned. “I really think you have to do it all at once to get the most benefit.”

“That sounds fanatic,” Nav Jiwan replied. “Let’s not talk about it.”

84 Steps to Liberation

Cold and smooth, the white marble steps beneath my feet descended into the timeless domain. Deep stillness immediately enveloped me, punctuated by resonating devotion rising from the depths and vibrating off the walls. Down, down, down I dropped, growing ever closer to the center of the Universe, to God’s heartbeat. “I’m here, I’m really here,” was all that kept circulating in my consciousness. “Oh God, thank you for getting me here.”

My hands shaking, I hung up all my paraphernalia, took the laminated copy and slowly walked down the last 10 steps. As I stood in ankle-deep water, about to begin my first Japji, panic struck again. “I’ve got to use my own Nitnem. I know it will get wet but the print is large and I want the English translation too. It is my rock.” After rushing back up to get it, the three of us, Nav Jiwan Kaur, Simran Kaur and I, stood together on Step 1 and began Japji.

“How fast can you read Japji?” Simran had asked me earlier. “Well, it is really hard for me to do it in under 12 minutes…I just jumble all the words up.” I had replied. “But I’ll see if I can do it in less. And should we be chanting out loud or silently? I know you can do it faster if it’s silent, but I connect more if I can hear what I’m saying. As I began my first recitation, exhilaration and anticipation coursed through me at the same time that I could feel the weight returning to my shoulders. Oh my God, am I really going to be saying this 83 more times?

I had a list of people for whom I wanted to dedicate a step, and I tried to summon a prayer to begin that process, but it was all that I could do to keep my focus on what I was doing and not flip out into negativity or fear again. This is hard, I thought. This is really going to be hard. I’ll start praying for others after I get into my rhythm, after I get my own bearings. I could hear Nav Jiwan and Simran chanting faster than I was…I was already falling behind.

The first dip was a bit of a shock. The water wasn’t that cold, but it was so wet that the cold night air turned it icy. Dripping water, I went for the towel that I had hung up at the bottom and then put on my terrycloth bathrobe. There, that would dry me off and keep me warm. It wasn’t until much later that I noticed that the Punjabi women who were reciting were not drying off after each dip, but sat down on their step, soaking wet and shivering.

By the fourth or fifth step or so, my two comrades had passed me and we were all on different steps. I was still not over the shock of dipping. I would warm up as I was chanting, but that would all end with my next dip. Shaking from the cold, it would take me half of Japji to generate enough heat to stop, and then I would start to dread coming to the end and returning to the water. And besides the cold, I was really getting into the bliss of chanting Japji Sahib. I just wanted to chant and chant and never stop. It was feeding my soul and pulling me into a very elevated space where God was holding me. I could feel my heart opening up in gratitude for this opportunity and gift to be imbibing the Name at such a visceral level. A taste of heaven and I felt myself leaving my body behind, expanding, soaring. Please don’t let it end, God, please don’t let it end. And then all of a sudden, I was plunged back into the physical plane with such a jolt that heaven evaporated and I was dealing with the agony of the body and all my limitations. Just a microcosm of life, I mused, just life intensified.

Step 22. My bathrobe was soaking wet, as were all my towels and my blanket. I could now not control my shaking, almost convulsively, from the cold. Time had completely disappeared; it could be any hour of the day or night. I reckoned that it was sometime in the amrit vela…it just had that feeling. I had to go to the bathroom and I truly wanted relief from the cold. My dripping bathrobe around me, I climbed, or rather hobbled up the stairs, feeling as though I were passing from a womb experience into a strange world, only this time the womb was freezing cold. The world was foreign and remote, but it could take care of a bodily need that the womb could not. I entered the nivas and found my husband and son asleep. They had done 11 mul mantras on each step and had made it to step 39, before retiring at midnight, I found out later. The 39 Steps, that’s a famous movie I told Dev Amrit. My husband woke to find me bent over and shaking like a leaf. He urged me to get into bed and I didn’t wait to be invited twice. I climbed into bed next to Siri Shiva, hungrily searching for warmth. I really only intended to thaw out briefly but found myself seduced by the relief of just being able to relax my tense muscles, which I’d held in a defensive position against the cold…It was 3 am, he told me. Maybe just an hour or two, I’ve already broken the continuity. It’s OK, it’s OK I told myself, drifting off into another zone, not quite sleep, but something close to it. I kept shivering, and the hours passed and I was still unable to get completely warm. I found myself deciding to wait till the morning and some sunlight before my return.

View from Goindwal Sahib

Some time later, Sat Purkha Singh came into the Nivas saying he was done; he couldn’t do it anymore. He was completely cooked, although more accurately the term would be completely frozen. I could understand, I muttered, noting the irony that the two who had insisted on doing it all at once, were going down in icicles (frozen flames!) while Nav Jiwan was going the distance. I had watched her face as she passed me, climbing up, gradually putting more and more distance between her step and mine, and I had noted the determination and the strength of character that were deeply etched there. If anyone can do it, she will, I thought. She absolutely will.

8am I am finally back on step 22, where I left off. But it was a false start. Having replaced my soaking bathing suit for kacheras, it wasn’t long before they were as soaking as everything else I had. The shaking had returned and my resistance was low. Siri Shiva Singh called from the top and bade me come up. There’s langar, he said. Nice hot langar. It might be just what you need. My dear husband, I thought. Always taking care of me. The only problem was that now all the clothes I had brought were soaking wet. Bundled up in the one remaining dry blanket, savoring the hot langar, I hatched a plan. I would dry myself in the sun. I would walk in the sun and chant and my clothes would dry. I would say all the prayers for all the people for whom I had originally intended. And so began my two hour walk outside the nivas. Finding a thin patch of sunlight, which later grew into a huge chunk, I walked back and forth, praying fervently for those I had put on my list and for others I hadn’t. I prayed for myself, I prayed for strength and fortitude. It was a time of grace. An island of repose in a tumultuous sea. Some warmth returned to my limbs and my clothes got almost dry. I would return to the steps and I would finish.

I couldn’t believe how close to the top Nav Jiwan was, somewhere in the high sixties, and Simran not far behind. Wow, I thought, different realities. They had kept going through the long cold night and they were still going. I was truly humbled by their endurance. “I know it looks close but I still have at least 3 more hours,” Nav Jiwan told me. Three hours, that’s nothing when you’re looking at a minimum of 11 more hours. But of course if you’ve been going 14 hours straight already, then it’s an eternity.

“You really don’t have to dip all the way,” Simran told me. “ I muscle tested myself and got that I would get the same benefit by just doing a sprinkle instead of a full dip.”

“I’m there,” I said. No more purist here.”

Step thirty-something. The daytime energy was very different than the night. It was loud and crowded. Heavy traffic on the road to salvation. Lots of families with children and grandmothers. All shapes and sizes. Mounds of flesh and sweaty bodies. Sometimes the line to dip was formidable. But I had found my groove. Determination flowed into me. This, the third time, I would do it. Nothing would stop me from finishing, not cold, fatigue, hunger or bodily functions. I was in it, God willing, and by Guru’s grace, till completion or death, whichever came first.

And so the hours passed and one step melted into the next. The forties gave way to the fifties. My descent to dip was growing longer and longer. Nav Jiwan came to say goodbye after her three hours had slipped away. She had not left the Baoli from the time she entered it 17 hours earlier. Not to eat, not to go to the bathroom. She had done the whole meditation without a single break, dipping all the way each time. What steel lay beneath that mild-mannered exterior? I marveled, absolutely awe-struck. How can God not hear her prayer? She retired to do her hour of bound lotus, I found out later, falling asleep in that position.

Two hours later Simran finished triumphantly and I was left alone with the hordes and two other faithful pilgrims also doing the recitations, one close to the top and the other close to the bottom. Our bond grew over the course of the next 6 hours. I shared the joy of the first one to finish and empathized with the one behind me. It was from the latter that I learned the proper way to dip. She was fully clothed and she went in all the way and dripped her way back to the next step. A tiny young woman, her thin frame shook as she recited Japji, soundlessly.

And there was another one of my faux pas. I had kept up a quite audible recitation from the beginning, which in the night hadn’t seemed to matter with the reduced traffic and others employing the same method of staying awake. But I hadn’t reduced my volume with the daylight multitudes and I was severely admonished by the sevadar to chant silently. It was amazing how I understood the streams of Punjabi that came my way. Another time it was that I shouldn’t leave my Nitnem on the step, even though it was wrapped in my shawl, but I should wedge it in the banister. And my third scolding came because of my lack of modesty in wearing kacheras to the upper steps where I was visible to someone who might be passing by. By that time I was so oblivious that I hardly knew what I was doing. I dutifully put on my one polyester dress, in a last-ditch attempt to repel the water.

I had now moved into a different realm. Now it was no longer me moving my aching body or directing my numb lips to chant. It was God. God was directing everything. I was His and I surrendered to His Might and His Will, because it was only that which would allow me to finish. Certainly there was nothing that I could do anymore, except just be there. I was God’s marionette. He was doing it all. I felt pain and I felt exhaustion but I didn’t relate to it anymore. I just kept going.

Step sixty-something, chanting on and on until the evening shadows grew long once again and my husband came to check on me. He and Dev Amrit had finished hours before. And Sat Purkha was almost finished. He had returned to the steps before I; he had quit again and resumed once more. What a saga. And now he was approaching the last few steps. I would be at least 3 more hours I told him, remembering how long it had taken Nav Jiwan from the same spot. I had been the last to arrive and would be the last to leave. I was the one for whom everyone else had to wait, and wait and wait.

I don’t remember much about those last 3 hours except that I clung to Japji like it was my life preserver on an endless churning ocean. Towards the end, it got harder and harder to pronounce all the words and my vision was starting to blur. Grateful once again that I had my own Nitnem with me, I turned to the English transliteration. I had thoroughly exhausted any facility I had in reading Gurmukhi. My Nitnem was now swollen with water-logged pages. I’m so glad, I thought. I will literally be taking some of Goindwal Sahib home with me.

Step 84 As I stood on that last and final step, and looked down, a million thoughts and images and nothing at all, came rushing in, both at the same time. Completely full, completely empty, ecstatic and desolated, exhilarated and exhausted. It’s all God… it’s all God. I slowly and deliberately walked down 84 steps, savoring each one, to take my final dip. When I go there, I plunged myself all the way in, releasing 8.4 million lifetimes of karma, liberating the generations behind and the ones to come. It was an awesome purge and it felt so good. Water, I finally understood the significance of water to the Sikh. The nectar tank at the Harimander Sahib and at every gurdwara, the river where Guru Nanak spent 3 days and emerged chanting the Mul Mantra; water was the genesis and the final destination, healing, cleansing, liberating. Water poured off me at each of the 84 steps all the way back up. I nodded goodbye to the lone, remaining devotee and made my way back to the Nivas.

I am filled with the deepest gratitude to the Siri Singh Sahib ji, who recognized the longing for exaltation of the soul in each one of us and who led us to the promised land. My heart belongs to Guru Amar Das ji, who built Goindwal Sahib and the 84 steps as a symbol of undying love for the Infinite and a profound tool of transformation and liberation of the human spirit. And all my respect, admiration and affection is for fellow travelers on this path, who, if only just once, reach for the heights in whatever way, small or large, to touch the beauty and majesty of their own soul.

When I moved into the Olive Branch Ashram, I had been to only a few weeks of yoga classes and to a "feast" at Guru Ram Das Ashram in West Hollywood. I had leaped in, without really knowing what I was headed for, knowing somehow this was right for me. To read the prelude to this story, see My First Morning Sadhana. …On an ending note, I can say "the food got better."

 

The Olive Branch Ashram
West Hollywood, CA – March 1, 1971

It’s my first day at the Olive Branch ashram. After an amazing morning sadhana I am looking forward to breakfast. We all gather at the big low table in the dining room (this is also my “bedroom”; I sleep on the floor in a corner) and Diana starts introducing me to everyone. There’s Dale Sklar, who looks a few years younger than me with a knot of beautiful thick brown hair on top of his head, Peggy and her husband Michael, Janet, Hari Arti, her little sister, Craig, and a few others. Except for Dale, they all seem so much older than me and I am a little intimidated; half of them are even married.

Janet has set the table with mismatched ceramic dishes and proudly brings out the breakfast she has made for us all. After a long bus ride last night, getting lost, getting to bed quite late, and rising early for sadhana… I am hoping for pancakes, or fruit salad, or granola…. I look at the plate and see several long yellow log-shaped things and have no idea what they are. Cookie dough? But, Janet announces, “Hey, I made some cornbread for everyone. It’s really good.” No one else seems to notice that this does not look like cornbread at all. Janet serves a plate for me and I look down and it is just a glob of what looks like corn mush maybe with some onions or peppers or something in it.

I take a bite and wonder if she realizes that she forgot to bake it. It has a sweet grittiness to it that I do not find pleasant.

As it turns out, Janet is experimenting with a raw food diet and I am eating raw corn bread.

What have I gotten myself into? What am I doing here? These people are crazy to eat like this! I keep taking bites until I am done. I join everyone else in telling Janet how good it is, asking how she made it (she mixed it up yesterday afternoon and let it soak all night and then formed it into “loaves” this morning).

Evidently, Janet is on kitchen duty all day, since it turns out she is making dinner too. But the dinner sounds like it will be pretty good. She said she is making carrot salad… and cornbread.

The evening comes and we sit down again at the table, and together chant “Saaaaat Nam” to bless the meal. Then, Janet serves up the meal she’s prepared. The carrot salad is at least 50 percent raw onions, and the rest carrots, some honey, raisins and lemon juice or something. I can hardly even eat it. Each bite and my eyes fill with tears and I feel like I am going to wretch. All around the table, people are saying, “Janet, this is soooo good! This is amazing! The onions are great!” and so on and so on. How can they eat this? Again, these people are all crazy to like this food. Or, actually, they have been doing yoga a lot longer than me and maybe I will start liking this kind of food too. I don’t know. I don’t know if I made a mistake moving into this ashram with people I don’t even know or know anything about at all. But I have no place else to go. Maybe the food will be better tomorrow!

For three years, 2002, 2003 & 2004 I participated, taught and was resident Life Coach at the Khalsa Women’s Training Camps at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The setting against the magnificent cliffs and rock formations, under a sky that never failed, day or night, to entrance the spirit–well, it was a place that always rocked my spiritual socks! My husband, Hari Bhajan Singh, has his birthday in September, so in 2004 I decided to write him a letter every day from camp as a way of appreciating him and connecting in that way that only the written word can do. I have printed three of those letters below.

I’d also like to express my appreciation for the dedication and pure love that Sumpuran Kaur and Ravi Kaur gave to these camps and to the women who came there looking for a way to increase the light in their lives. The fun, the beauty, the transformation that took place in those few precious days changed us all in ways that will last a lifetime.

September 13, 2004

This morning a million stars greeted me as I went out the door at 4 a.m. A shooting star lanced the sky and sadhana began with the sweet sounds of Jap-Ji. My body is sore from a day of hiking and yoga. I am sleepy as I write this even though I took a two hour nap after sadhana. It feels good to be a little shaky in the knees, to know the heat outside my cozy room beats down on the dusty road. Yesterday it thundered and rained briefly right after our return from Castle Rock. A “walk” Ravi had said, but mostly uphill. God was merciful and sent clouds to cover us and a few raindrops to cool our sweating bodies. The theme of the camp is “challenge” and already it is bearing fruit.

I finished reading the book, Awareness that I told you about. I want to start reading it again and maybe a third time. Every word in it rings true to me and I so want to be free, to be aware—but deMello says even wanting is attachment, and I know it to be true. He talks about how brief life is, how it is only a flash and we spend it worrying and trying to control things and wanting always to be accepted and approved of by people. He says the only way to truly love is to not care about anyone—a strange paradox, but it makes sense. If we are always trying to curry favor or have set up a system to tell us who is “with” us and who is “against” us then we do not love. It has become a bargain, as the Siri Singh Sahib always tells us. We have to know our happiness does not depend on anybody or anything and that it comes from awareness—being in love with life, unconditionally.

After a hike. Everyone but me. I’m taking the picture.

The incredible vista! That’s Sumpuran Kaur shouting out.

September 14, 2004

This place has its way with you. The cliffs, the wind, the way the sun and clouds play throughout the day. I saw a doe and two fawns this evening walking back from the Siri Singh Sahib’s lecture (a video from Women’s Camp, 1987). They so peacefully and daintily strolled through the mown alfalfa field. A beautiful song bird showed up outside the window this morning while I was leading the workshop with the women and word has it that last night raccoons made it into the room we’re using for all our classes. They ate some plums and used the toilets for their drinking hole (their little muddy footprints on the toilet seat). There are rosy apples hanging from the trees along the roadway and a donkey named Jackson who lives alone in a field who greets us and looks for treats when we pass by. Every day the aspen grove turns more golden.

I walked the labyrinth this evening after dinner and before the video. There was not another soul around (well, one that I could see) and I remembered when we walked the labyrinth at Sycamore Hot Springs and how lovely that was. I wrote a poem afterwards that is still rough, but it’s for you.

 

GHOST RANCH, NEW MEXICO

Turn and slowly hinge into the evening sun, west to face
the ochre cliffs etched by wind and spectral memory,

crunching pebbles underfoot, chards of pinion, the zigzag
tread of boot and sandal. I walk the coils of your mind,

want to arrive at the center, crave completion, bear
an offering of blue and yellow flowers, a jagged stone

bound in string to lay at the sage-strewn altar. Returning,
I pivot again and again into a land where you and I

form a labyrinth—a place to depart from, a place to circle back.

 

September 15, 2004

I walked the high swaying bridge today on the ropes course. I went second so I could get it over with. Remember when we did it a few years ago and I was so afraid? I was worried that my legs would give out like they did then, when I climbed the rope ladder, but I did it. I climbed up the pole then walked across the bridge. I also belayed for the other women. We had a great day and I thought how proud you would have been of me—funny how it’s important for you to be proud of me for being more athletic. I think the jungle swinging in Costa Rica was also a big factor in my ability to trust I would make it.

I feel so alive and aware. Being with these wonderful women has been uplifting in so many ways. This group is small, but very committed. There are two women from Germany that I like very much and hope to see when we travel there again. I can see that if I was in a more “outdoorsy” community I would probably get out and exercise more.

I’ll be back in L.A. in two days, away from the Milky Way and shooting stars, the donkey, deer and silence. I’ll be back to you, the pups and our home. Tonight we sat around a campfire roasting marshmallows and making s’mores. We told ghost stories, laughed, got smoke in our eyes. I will be sad to leave, but when the women are gone and the energy no longer here it will not be the same. It is a transient moment, one to cherish, just as they all are.

 

  This is the suspension bridge. It’s not me up there, but I did do it!

Climbing up the pole and jumping for the trapeze. This one I did not do.

Ravi Kaur–with the greatest of ease. 

 

Belaying. Putting your life in the hands of your sisters was a powerful lesson in trust. And doing it for others was a responsibility we all wanted to partake of.

 

The triumphant gather at the base of "the wall." Proof that I was there (I did climb this monster), second from the right in the back row. It was a great day!

[Ganga submitted this story as a comment to the "My First Trip to India" story by Karta Purkh Singh. Enjoy!  — svk]

Oh I love the pictures of Hemkunt Sahib. Thank you. It’s so true that a picture is worth a thousand words! The photos brought back such vivid memories of my three trips to Hemkunt Sahib in the 1970’s.
 
The yatra really began with the harrowing bus ride from Rishikesh where I feverently and white-knuckle prayed to God all the way as the top heavy bus careened up the narrow, windy, rock slide strewn road with hundreds maybe thousands of feet sheer drop off the side with no guard rail. Whew!
 
Then the little outpost gurdwaras where all the pilgrims slept in some freezing cold dark room on cement floors, side by side like little sardines, and the early morning call of hot tea brought around in buckets by the sevadars wearing just kurtas and kucheras, their twig like brown legs darting about in deceptive strength and endurance. And all of us hale and hearty American yogis, so full of our pride and superiority, shivering in down jackets, failing after the first few steps, loading up our over abundance of "gear" on the tiny little sherpas (I was embarassed even then) and, speaking for myself, whimpering all the way. Shown up by so many devout Indian Sikhs years older than we were scrambling up the mountain in their sandals and shawls, chattering and chanting all the way.
 
It was only the first trip that I "hiked" the whole way, aided by my dear friend Ram Das Kaur (Rami from Tucson now) and those last thousand steps to the very top when the sevadars from the little  Gurdwara there came scrambling down like a mountain goats and helped me up every step saying "Wahe Guru" and infusing me with a strength that was far beyond my ability or desire to even move my limbs. Ah, the unbridled zest of the sevadar.
 
Between the exhaustion and the extreme altitude changes I was out of my mind most of the way. The lake at the top felt beyond freezing to me, but I thought if I didn’t take a dip I’d regret it always, aside from which Ram Das Kaur pretty much pushed me in. Bless her heart. My next two trips were on donkey back, one time carrying Guruperkarma’s baby because she was so deathly ill, and the last time just riding because I could and knew I would never make it on my own. I feel sorry, even now, for those little Indian burros with the big sad eyes and mangy fur, hauling hundreds of pounds up and down the mountain, their little hooves slipping on the sharp rocks. In India, and with these little burros especially,  the concept of reincarnation was made tangible by the sadness and resignation that eminated from these little burdened creatures and drove home the point of how blessed we are to be in human form. If only I remembered that more often. But that is the beauty of India, God is visible and in the senses everywhere from the fruit in the market to the burros on the mountain; from the echo of kirtan across misty sarovars, to the steaming hot prasad dripping down your hands; in the fabulous blend of spices in the food to the exotic embroidery of  ragas in the air. India certainly was for me a divine and sublime experience nearly every time, punctuated of course by many maddening, frustrating and pushing beyond capacity moments. It’s all really a kundalini yoga class or white tantric yoga course, isn’t it?

 


[If any readers have pics from a Hemkunt Sahib yatra, please contact Siri Ved Kaur so we can include photos with this story.]

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