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Sat Nirmal KaurEspanola, NM

August 19, 2011

Today is my 58th birthday. Honestly, the numbers are getting scary. 

 

I started writing this soon after the Siri Singh Sahib died. Finally, I have found the inspiration to complete and I am grateful for the opportunity to share this with everyone.

 

I remember very clearly the first time I saw the Siri Singh Sahib. His tratakam picture. I was 19, attending Brooklyn College sometime in early 1973. I remember walking into the student union building, turning a corner – and there was his picture on the bulletin board amongst all sorts of other photos, ads, notes to and from students. The photo scared me. I felt my heart jump and an almost audible gasp came out. I stared at it for awhile. Someone passed by and said “nice picture, huh?”  I said, “I don’t think I would describe this as actually ‘nice.’  Who is he?”  The student replied with his eyes at half-mast, “Hey, right-on, that’s my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan!”

 

I started asking around campus. Yogiji lived in Los Angeles and taught Kundalini Yoga. That’s all I had to hear. At that moment, I made the (secret) decision to move to Los Angeles after graduation and find Yogi Bhajan. What the heck is Kundalini Yoga? One student said, “Oh, you should go to the ashram in Los Angeles and learn ‘the grace of God mantra’.”  He wrote it down for me: "grace of God mantra."  The only word I really understood was ‘of’.  I carried that little piece of paper around for over a year.

 

I signed up for a Hatha Yoga class. The teacher was kind and sensitive. He taught us yoga postures (boring) and how to meditate (more boring). I asked him about Yogi Bhajan. He said “Yes, he teaches Kundalini Yoga. It’s dangerous.” That sealed the deal. I was very excited about my new and dangerous post-graduation plans. I knew that I wanted to meet Yogiji and find out what the big deal was. 

 

I kept staring at the Siri Singh Sahib’s tratakam picture whenever I was in the student union building. Little did I know – I was actually meditating. 

 

I continued Hatha Yoga classes and kept my plans to move to Los Angeles a secret as long as I could. It was fun. I felt like some comic book action hero about to obtain powerful and other-worldly abilities. It reminded me that as a child I had ambitions to be a spy - or if that didn’t work out, then a nightclub singer. (Note: I remember my parents being visibly upset about the ‘spy’ idea. Nightclub singer didn’t sound great to them either especially coming from an 8-year-old. But, in an effort to encourage the lesser of two evils, as they saw it, they bought me “Nightclub Barbie”.  I loved her!  She came with a black-sequined gown, long black gloves and a microphone).

 

My senior year at college came and went quickly. Graduation. Excitement and fear of the future. I announced my plans to move to Los Angeles, amongst loud and emotional protests from my family and friends. I left out the small detail about searching for Yogi Bhajan. I told everyone that I just had to get as far away from my hometown as possible. Something in me was screaming to escape. I felt that I would have no future unless I left my home. The departure date was August 26th, 1974. I had that date in my mind constantly – August 26th, August 26th, August 26th.  I found out later that I was chanting the Siri Singh Sahib’s birthdate.

 

I arrived in Los Angeles with $600 in my pocket and a backpack. I thought I had lots of money until I started looking for a place to live. I stayed with a friend (the only person I knew in Los Angeles) until I could find a job. She filled the house with smoke (both legal and illegal) and homemade granola. She knew Los Angeles well and helped me find the address of the ashram. I knew that my life was about to change in a big way. 

 

The 2nd day after arrival, I took 3 buses to Preuss Road. I handed my little piece of paper to the sevadar  He made a phone call and said “There is a student here asking to learn the grace of God mantra.”  He told me to make myself comfortable and wait inside. 

 

Wow. I had never been in any place like Guru Ram Das Ashram. So peaceful. And I think it was the cleanest place I’d ever seen. It smelled good. It was around 11am on a weekday and no one was in there. There were paintings of the 10 Gurus on the wood paneled walls. I didn’t know what I was looking at but I do remember the feeling that it all looked vaguely familiar. I was comfortable in this environment.

 

It seemed like I waited over an hour (my first experience with 3HO timing). Not a bad place to spend an hour or more – but I did start to wonder if they had forgotten about me.

 

In walks Siri Ved Kaur. Need I say more? As tall as me, wearing the brightest, blindingly whitest clothes I’d ever seen and a perfect turban (70’s style – tall and skinny). Gulp. I was speechless (highly unusual). Do all Kundalini Yogis look like royalty of the universe?

 

She taught me the Grace of God mantra and meditation and she told me to do it for 40 days. She said, “Yogiji says that if you do this meditation for 40 days, your aura will be tipped with gold and silver.” What’s an aura? Who cares – I knew with absolute certainty that what she told me was the truth.

 

I was so excited when I left. My heart pounded all through the 3 bus rides back to where I was living at the time. I started the meditation the very next morning (in the bathroom with the shower running, so my friend couldn’t see me or hear me.)  I did all 40 days (mostly in the bathroom). The grace of God mantra and meditation saved my life. I’m sure it has saved many lives. What a gift to the world from the Siri Singh Sahib.

 

The following evening I attended my first Kundalini Yoga class and a few days later, I met the Siri Singh Sahib in person. Subjects for another writing……!

 

 

 

 

 

Sat Nam. It has been a really long time since I have posted here.  I hope you enjoy this post…. about discovering some "treasures" from Yogi Bhajan while cleaning out my file cabinet.   — SVK 


My husband and I are in escrow for a new home, and I’m getting in gear for the move at the end of this month. I thought the growing pile of papers on our various desks and dining table should find a home in our files, or be thrown out. So, today I have been in “organization” mode. I printed out new labels for all our files (switching from a numbered system to named folders), bought a few supplies at Office Depot, and have been on the floor the entire afternoon, sorting through everything. After more than five hours, I’m still not done, but have 3 bags full of shredded paper ready for recycling.

 

There’s some interesting stuff in those old files! I finally “let go” of my prior employer…. discarded the entire file. And, now that I’ve rolled over my profit sharing funds from that job into another account, I can let go of that too. Hallelujah! Life goes on.

 

Some things I don’t want to let go of. I have a fat file of graded essays from my seven-going-on-eight years of college (I’m finally a senior – in more ways than one – praise God). Of course, they’re all A’s. But that aside, I really enjoy reading these papers once in a while, including my professors’ comments. My favorites include a comparison of the female characters in Heart of Darkness and Frankenstein, titled “Women without a Voice – She talked as thirsty men drank,” and an analysis of the “hero” concept using characters in Beowulf (and no, Beowulf was not my hero). I reread these and a few others and my ego/self esteem felt nicely inflated. I also enjoy seeing how my writing has improved over the years.

 

Another folder has contents that will always remain close to my heart, stirring memories and bringing deeper reflection. These are letters the Siri Singh Sahib wrote to me, starting in the mid 80s (Sadly, all the letters he wrote to me and my children prior to then mysteriously disappeared at the time of my divorce). I didn’t keep copies of the letters I wrote to him, so it is interesting reading his words, not always sure what he was responding to. I read every single letter, sometimes laughing, sometimes wiping away a tear, but mostly simply welling up in my heart with love and gratitude for the blessing to sit at his feet, to serve him, and to receive his guidance. As someone reminded me today (after I posted a few quotes on an e-group) the letters he wrote were to teach us all, not only the person he was writing to.

 

Of the letters lost, there is one I especially remember. My eldest daughter, then age 4, had invited Yogiji to her 5th birthday party in June of 1979. He wrote a very sweet letter in reply, apologizing that he would not be able to make it to her party because he would be in Alaska teaching yoga to the Eskimos (I think he was teaching a White Tantric Yoga course in Anchorage). I am really sorry that this letter, and the many others I don’t remember at all, are gone forever.  Every few years, I search through my boxes of old notes , photos, Beads of Truth, etc., hoping to find the shoe box I kept them in. When we move at the end of this month, I will probably check these boxes one more time, and then finally let it go.

 

Here are excerpts from some of the letters I do have… in no particular order.

 

April 30, 1994:

                “We are crossing the ages. It is a very testing time. You don’t have to be in the wrong to be challenged, but you have to practice the technology to handle it. The greater the learning and development, the greater the test.”

May 17, 2000:

                “Do not worry about others. Have a relationship between you and your mind. Let your mind be with God, and He will be with you. Do all your jobs perfectly.”

March 7, 1999:

                “Understand the strength of your own soul. Always be bountiful in helping others. Serve the Sangat, and God and Guru shall serve you.

               “Let the hand of Nanak protect you and the courage of Guru Gobind Singh give you victory. Spread the word of the Shabd Guru. It will give you ecstasy, consciousness, and love.

               “Be saintly, and help this planet earth grow into its dignity by your higher consciousness and grace. Go, grow and glow in love, protection, and prayer. Love you very much. Keep up, and inspire each other to rise in the Amrit Vela and meditate on the Guru. I send you my prayers and blessings.”

September 26, 1997:

                “Relax. Your children are fine. Let them be, and try not to judge. Do not try to control; it will only lead to frustration. Let the will of God prevail.

               “Competing and comparing lead only to confusion. Be kind to people. Watch what you say. Speak consciously.

               “Teach Gurbani Kirtan. Are you teaching Gurmukhi? Teach in your spare time, and spread the word of the Guru. Share your talents. I love you. My prayers and blessings are with you.”

May 15, 1995:

                “My prayers have been with you for a long time. I know that sometimes you feel that I have forgotten you, but this is your own insecurity. As a woman, if you can drop this insecurity, your life will change very fast. Insecurity is your worst enemy. The unfortunate part is that you do nothing to be insecure about; the whole situation is a non-reality. Please drop all this; it does not suit you. I love you more than you know. You are the best.

                “My deepest prayers and blessings are always with you. May Guru Ram Das bless you and guide you.”

April 10, 1007:

                “Do not worry. I am with you. We are very close, and you can see me any time. You are my daughter for many years.

                “You came to me to learn the word of the Shabd Guru. Now is the time for you to spread it around the world. Love you very much.”

March 20, 1997:

                “As you walk the path, know that God is your Guide and grace is your power. Walk on, and leave it to God and Guru. Give Him a chance.

                “Move on. Experience God and Guru in you. 1997 is a challenge. Whatever it brings, by Guru’s grace, go through it with honor, peace and dignity. My prayers and blessings are with you.”

August 15, 1994:

                “All that is important is that you continue to develop your subtle connection. When I leave this earthly body, the connection will become a pure channel. My son, your husband, must also do the same.”

February 13, 1995:

                “Sudarshan Chakra Kriya meditation is a way to create mental, physical and spiritual harmony within. Be at peace in your soul and your mind and pray to Guru Ram Das…”

April 22, 1994:

                “To fight me is to fight your destiny, and what benefit can be gained by fighting this destiny? You have to surrender to that destiny.”

March 7, 1994:

                “You are already a leader. All that you have to do is to be you.

                “You have the power of projection – the ability to penetrate and the power of prayer. Develop your neutral mind and nothing will stop you.”

November 14, 1989:

                “Happy birthday. My prayers and love are always with you, although physically I am not. Keep up, and remember who you are.”

November 29, 1988:

                “Continue to do your Sadhana and make your commitment unshakable, so that you might inspire others to greatness.”

June 5, 1988:

                “Don’t think I don’t know that you are working and striving to overcome the past. Keep up, and nothing shall touch you.”

December 2, 1987:

                “Problem is that we take everything as a fad. Marriage is a fad, children are a fad. The reality is that commitment means working out the details. The only problem is when you make the problem. Let it go by, and be graceful. Give him a stability and a confidence that you will come through no matter what.”

October 1, 1984 (this was during probably the worst time of my life):

                “Most of my inquiries are to read the aura and find out the truth the way God has blessed me to know that best, but that does not give you [deletion] the permission to sit and judge me. I don’t judge you.

                “…If you have patience and try to analyze your ownself in the spirituality you have learned from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib you will be surprised how wise you can act and can safely establish your identity as Siri Ved Kaur and nobody will ever stop you. You have no idea that you have to also establish your identity as a graceful mother. You are not successful about that at all. You have also to establish your identity as a noble woman. I am working hard and you do your homework.

                “I am around you all the time in my prayers and I am asking God to give you the wisdom to play your roles as parents. Hang on. Good time is around the corner.”

 

With Love, Light, and Infinite Gratitude,

Siri Ved Kaur

 

I invite True Tales readers to check out my new personal blog Breath by Breath in addition to True Tales. I hope you enjoy the writings on both blogs. As always, your comments and feedback are very much welcomed and appreciated!

With love and light to all,

Siri Ved Kaur

How I Became a Sikh

Guruka Singh KhalsaI guess you could "classify me" as an "old timer" in 3HO. I first began to discover who I really was in the 1960’s. Like most of my generation in the West, I grew up singing the anthems of our time; the anthems of a new awaking consciousness.We were “Uncle John’s Band” (to reference the old Grateful Dead song on "American Beauty.")  Everyone knew the words and everyone knew the tune. We all joined the dance together. We lived each day in ecstasy, love, and fearlessness. We lived each day in song and dance, sharing our new discoveries and serving each other in simple ways.

Some of us felt a calling. It began quietly amidst the Dionysian tumult of the sixties.  We felt a strong desire to meditate and go deep within; to fly as high as humanly possible. But we didn’t know how to meditate.  I remember simply sitting up straight, choosing my music carefully and closing my eyes. I would let the music take me on a journey. I think, perhaps many of us began to meditate in this way.

I was living in a house on Oregon Street just off Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, California.  We called it “Berserk-ly” at the time. We were a raggle-taggle bunch of gypsies who shared whatever we had and put whatever we didn’t need into the Free Box down on the corner behind our local natural foods store, Wholey Foods. If there was something we needed, a pair of shoes or a jacket, or even if we were just looking for something new and cool, we’d usually find it in the Free Box.

One day a young man moved into our house and I noticed that he would do something unusual when he woke up in the morning. He would sit down and begin breathing loudly and rhythmically while stretching his body into strange and beautiful positions. One day he noticed me watching him and asked me if I’d like to learn Kundalini Yoga.  “Sure!” was my immediate reply. I had found myself fascinated with his ability to concentrate and direct his attention inward. I started getting up every morning and practicing what I was learning.

It was the Spring of 1971 when I first met Yogi Bhajan at the Earth Rebirth Festival on Earth Day at UC Davis in Davis California. What I remember from that day was the sunrise snake dance led by Yogi Bhajan and Chief White Eagle, and the class that Yogi Ji held later on that day. I remember he didn’t talk much.  And he didn’t talk about himself at all.  He had us all closing our eyes, inhaling deep and chanting “Saaaaaaaaaaat Naaaaaaaaaaaam” over and over for 31 minutes until we all dissolved into a sea of bliss, riding the sound current out of our physical bodies until we all came to our senses.

It wasn’t the first time I had experienced the power of mantra.  Most of us had at least chanted “Aaaaauuuuummmmm” before, but it was the first time I had experienced the Guru’s Word and the sound of Sat Nam resounded deep in my soul and the longing to come home to the Guru’s feet awakened in my consciousness.

Later that summer, my wife-to-be and I traveled from Berserk-ly to New Mexico in our step van, which we had outfitted as a camper. I went to my first Kundalini Yoga class in a grassy park in May 1971 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the end of the class, the teacher guided us in a meditation with eyes closed.  In my meditation I saw two big golden doors opening.  I walked through them into a golden space filled with light, music, and deep love. A beautiful man with a long beard was sitting on a golden chair.  He smiled and motioned me to come forwards. He put his arms around me and I sat in his lap.  No words were spoken.  The only sound was this incredible celestial music. I felt the deep love, wisdom and complete acceptance of this soul who held me in his arms.  After the class was over, I went up to the teacher and I described exactly what I had seen in my meditation and asked him who this man in my meditation could be. He told me that I was describing Guru Ram Das, the 4th Guru of the Sikhs.  I had no idea who that was, or anything about Sikhi or Sikh history.  I didn’t even know what a Sikh was! All I knew was that I had met an incredible and deeply wise soul who loved me and was guiding me.

It was at Summer Solstice 1971, at the high mountain farm of Mike and Minka Cummings in Paonia, Colorado, that Guru Ram Das drew me closer to his bosom through the power of mantra.  We stood in line and chanted “Guru Guru Wahe Guru, Guru Ram Das Guru” till all sense of time dissolved. All I wanted to do was keep on chanting forever, merged completely in the ebb and fall of the plaintive melody that resounded in our bodies and filled our hearts and minds with devotion to the Guru.

It was at that Summer Solstice gathering that I was married. Yogi Bhajan married 23 couples on the beautiful morning of Summer Solstice Day. We did not yet understand the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. There were no four rounds of the Lavan.  We sat in meditation and Yogi Ji gave us our vows in the summer morning sunlight and we bowed to the Mother Earth to acknowledge our acceptance of those vows.

Early that morning, before the marriage ceremony began, a young yogi came up to me and suggested that I tie a turban for the wedding ceremony. “But I don’t know how” was my response.  “Oh, I’ll help you” he said.  And so it was that I tied my first turban.

The wedding ceremony went on for about three hours.  We chanted, sang and danced, and we partook of a beautiful cake that someone had made decorated with daisies, raisins and nuts.

At this point we simply wanted to be together.  We wanted to be with others who understood and experienced the joy of chanting the Naam. We wanted to live so that we could up-level each other in the midst of the turmoil of American society in the 70’s. We formed ashrams in many cities, we taught others how to calm, strengthen and awaken their bodies and meditate on Naam. Sangats  began to grow organically from the seeds of Naam that had been scattered far and wide in the fertile soil of the consciousness of the times.

Slowly, our own bards began to emerge and the sound of voices, guitars, flutes and drums created a new sound current filled with love for each other and for our Guru. We began to weave our own new anthems, and the chords that resonated within in us reached back through the coils of our genetic memory and awaked our souls to remember our former lives in the Guru’s Court.

Nukes were a constant presence in our consciousness in the 50’s, the 60’s and the 70’s, and all the tribes who were rediscovering their roots during that catalytic time devoted much of their energy to helping the world release its fear and reawaken its spirit. It was at the next Summer Solstice in 1972 in Mendocino, California, that Yogi Ji told us of a 72 hour meditation that the Tibetan monks, together with saints and sages all around the world were doing.  He asked us all to participate.  This was a worldwide meditation designed to help the earth pass through a critical transition period out of the consciousness of fear and paranoia into a New Age of fearlessness and the direct experience of the Truth within each one of us. We built a huge bonfire in the middle of an open field and began to sing.  Musicians joined in and we sang.  We sang continuously for 72 hours without a single break.  We sang the songs and mantras we knew and we invented new ones on the spot.  We played drums and guitars and clapped our hands together. Some folks napped for a while in the blissful sound current and then reawaked to begin singing again. Musicians came and went in shifts organically through the night and the sound current was unbroken. It was our first Ransabhi kirtan.

I first heard the Ardas  at that same 1972 Solstice celebration. We would sit in langar  lines in an open field and we would serve the meal. Tasty kitcheree - mung beans and rice cooked with onions, ginger and garlic masala , freshly cooked beets swimming in their bright red juices and a quarter of a head of iceberg lettuce.  One day, right before we began to eat, a young Sikh took the microphone and recited Ardas.  Waiting to eat after a long day of White Tantric yoga, I gazed hungrily into my red beet juice as he recited the deaths of the great martyrs in graphic detail, bodies sawed in half, blood pouring out on the ground.  It was quite an experience and I didn’t understand it at all. But the images lingered in my mind long after the meal was over.

It was in that Mendocino mountain field in 1972 that the flag of the Sikh Dharma in the West was raised for the first time. Many turned their backs and left, not wanting to be part of any “organized religion.” But the rest of us felt a resonance within our hearts and we knew that this was to be our path and our mission in this lifetime.

 

One summer I was in charge of the Kitchen at KWTC. It was the first week so we were really busy organizing the kitchen. One night, I finally had some free time so I walked down to Ladies Camp. It was around 11:00 at night and no one was around, so I went in to visit the Guru. Someone was reading from the Akhand Path. I sat down and enjoyed it for a while when all of a sudden the reader looked up at me and asked me if I wanted to read. I was shocked, and almost jumped over the Palki Sahib to keep the sound current going! When the hour was over, no one came to relieve me, nor for the second hour. Around 3:00 AM, someone came in for a visit so I got her to relieve me. I went over to Ram Das Kaur’s tent and asked her, "What’s going on?! How come I wasn’t relieved for so many hours?" Well…as it turns out, the Akhand Path hadn’t even started yet, since it was the very beginning of KWTC. We laughed so hard. I had read for more than four hours!

It was the spring of ’72.  I had just come from a yoga class in the park in Tucson, Arizona. Maha Deva Ashram always had a 5pm class in the park and after work it was so wonderful to just zone out and work out the day’s stress with a good yoga class.

I had just found out that I could be starting my own ashram, but I needed to be married in order to “balance the male and the female polarities.” I didn’t know much about polarities, but I did know I needed to marry someone!

So I asked an old friend of mine from high school, Rebecca (who had also become a Sikh). It was a difficult time for her, I remember, as for most of us; we were all going through our own types of “changes.” She turned me down… so I kept up and asked a few more women… turns out no one was interested!

Then Summer Solstice ’72 was here, and we all journeyed to northern California to Mendocino County. What a solstice that was… fire walkers, Sufis, Buddhists, yogis… you name it we had them here!

All of a sudden Jhot Niranjan Kaur gets my attention and I find out she would like to marry me! So we approach the tent with Yogiji within it… they let us in. I stumble with the question I wanted answered about getting married…and then suddenly Jhot and I were all smiles…Yogiji said something like “get married, you’re both glowing… go, go!” and we got out of there as soon as we could. A few days later we were married with about 25 other couples; the journey had just begun!

Back at the Ashram we were the only couple in the ashram so we got the tent. It was the only way we could maintain our privacy as a couple. But soon after moving into the tent… Sat Nam Singh told us that we were going to Nebraska!

I had to look on the map to find Nebraska – not knowing much about the Midwest with my being born and raised in Southern California.

By the end of the year I had located someone to move in with and basically they became our toe hold in Nebraska. So we moved at the end of a Tucson 120 degree summer to a Nebraskan 10 below winter. Were we in for a treat!

There have been a lot of adventures in Nebraska. One which stands out was the winter our ashram burnt down and we temporarily moved to Kansas City, Missouri. A few other noteworthy times were the births of our two daughters, Guru Mandir Kaur and Daya Estelle Kaur, the opening of the Golden Temple Restaurant 1 & 2, the visit of the Khalsa String Band (I missed because I was on lunch break at work….don’t ask), Children’s Yoga, Yoga in Mental Health Facilities, and Yoga as a college course… A lot happened to us as the journey continued….but I will wait to tell of those other times! Sat Nam Wahe Guru!

 

Tell us a tale of a day or a moment

when you fell apart, didn’t know what to do

when you crashed and burned or fell into torment

then felt the Grace of God come through

 

Or you can write a story about any old thought

something you lost, something you got

a opportunity you missed or a road that you walked

a lesson you learned that now can be taught

 

just through your words

heartfelt and true

we’ve done it here a few times

so can you.

 

xoxo

svk

 

Gurujodha and I have moved to Bakersfield, which is about 120 miles north of L.A. in California’s vast Central Valley. We’ve got a lovely condo in the southwest part of town and have been here now for exactly one month. I never in my life imagined or dreamed of living in Bakersfield. In fact, I remember first hearing about this city and wondering, why would anyone ever want to live there? It sounded terrible… oil wells, big agribusiness, a politically conservative majority, long very hot summers, far away from the ocean…

And look at me now, as happy as a clam and adjusting to my new life here. Who woulda thought….

We have been going to the Stine Gurdwara (Gurudwara Guru Angad Darbar) on Sunday mornings. I’ve enjoyed the kirtan (and tasty langar!) there, however there is always over an hour of katha right in the middle of the kirtan that is rather hard to sit through when I barely understand a word of it. So I’ve taken to doing pranayam during that time… inhale 16 strokes, hold 16 counts, exhale 16 strokes, hold 16 counts…. using Sa Ta Na Ma or Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru with the breath. That works for about 30 minutes. Today was the first day of Daylight Savings Time, so we timed our arrival to be 45 minutes before the katha started. Our plan was to meditate and enjoy the kirtan, and then once the katha started after a little while go out and have langar. However, I guess they decided not to switch to the new time until next week, because we got there and realized the katha had just started and we had missed the kirtan program entirely. Oh well, Wahe Guru.

Next week we will try another of the five gurdwaras here that are a result of the huge Punjabi population (no wonder, it is so much like the Punjab here… largely flat, farming-agribusiness, climate… we even have the dense tule fog in the winter months).

I was just noodling around on Facebook watching a couple of Ravi Kaur’s bhangra videos, for Dharma Kaur’s wedding shower and then her wedding to Meher Singh today in Espanola. Seeing everyone together, laughing, in cherdi kala, plus thinking of my friends and the wonderful GRDA sangat in L.A…. makes me really feel the longing for the upliftment that comes being with community…

That said though, I truly feel I belong where I am and have been brought here by Guru’s Grace alone. It’s so weird. I mean, it’s so weird to be in Bakersfield and to feel happy just seeing our home, or the big wide streets where the tallest building is rarely over 3-4 stories, the great little coffee shop by the office where I work… I don’t know, this is hard to describe, but I feel like my soul knows it’s supposed to be here and is totally stoked about that, and is happy just breathing the air, meeting new people, going to the grocery store, going to work…. It’s so dumb, I know, but it’s true.

I was in L.A. this past Friday for a few hours picking up Gurujodha from LAX, home from a short trip to India. But those few hours I had before I met him, I went to the 3rd Street Promenade to return some shoes and hooked up with my daughter Avtar at the new Whole Foods in Venice for dinner. I love L.A. and I figure as long as I can come to L.A. once or twice a month, go shopping and go out to eat (Bakersfield is great but is lacking some of my favorite stores and great little restaurants are not in abundance… although Whole Foods is not a great little restaurant, the new Venice store is humongous and has a gigantic array of salad and prepared food bars), and see friends and family (Avi) that is enough for me, for  now. Anyway, so I was at the shoe store on the Promenade and when the sales clerk asked me about my address and I told him I had just moved to Bakersfield he said, "Why would you want to live there?! It’s so hot, and there’s nothing to do there!" I just smiled and said, "I love Bakersfield." And his last comment reminds me of very recent advice from my dear friend Satsimran who said to me, "Don’t limit yourself, but don’t just do, do, do….I say be, be, be and see what happens…" So yes, dear Clarks Shoe Store Salesclerk, there’s nothing to do in Bakersfield, but a lot to be.

 

 

 

 

 

For a few years, from 1971 to 1974, I had the blessing to serve as Yogiji’s personal cook at Guru Ram Das Ashram in Los Angeles. This is a short story of an encounter with him one morning while preparing his breakfast.

Reaching blindly into the lower right drawer of the refrigerator, my hand seeks a few oranges to make Yogiji’s morning juice. One of my fingers easily presses into an unexpected fuzzy, soft spot. “O God, Ewwwww!” Pulling the drawer all the way out, I see the culprit: a Valencia orange with a moldy patch. I pluck it from the others to quickly discard it.

Yogiji happens to be passing through the kitchen and notes both my grimace and the orange soon to meet its fate in the garbage bin. He says, “There is nothing wrong with this orange. Give me a knife.” I quickly locate a sharp paring knife and hand it to Yogiji. Holding the orange in his left hand, as though it were something precious, he deftly trims away the bad spot. I marvel at his precision and grace in accomplishing what to many would be a mindless task. Even so, I wonder why he is making all this effort to save a moldy orange, when we have so many good ones in the fridge.

Within a few moments he completes his surgery on the lucky fruit and states with satisfaction, “It is perfect!” He continues to peel the remaining orange, breaks it into wedges, and serves each of us a piece (a few of his staff members have gathered in the kitchen to see what he is up to), popping the last into his own mouth. “Greeaat!”  says the Yogi, and we agree. The orange, that I had been so quick to judge as rotten, had a special sweetness and destiny, recognized only by the master.

 

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.

 

 

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