Project Conversion

You cannot run from the universe and you cannot run from reality because according to Sikhi, God is the universe and reality. So why even try?


Now, I consult no more with my Ego,
For, the Guru has warned that egoism is fool-hardy,
And that the Ego remains homeless ever; it finds no Refuge.
So I am attuned to God, being Saved by the Guru.
(Bibhas Prabhati M. 5, Ashtapadis)

“And that the Ego remains homeless forever…” How often, when we purpose to do our own thing do we find ourselves alone? Too many times it is when we struggle alone and insist on doing so that we dig ourselves deeper into the darkness.

I should know better.

A little over a week ago, I made this post called “The Rebellion.” Here I talked about my experiences at the river and how, because of their nature, I feared going back. In my great wisdom and unyielding will, I declared independence from the universe and left the river Temple, deciding when I’d return on my own.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been so full of yourself.

How, after all this time, could I be so naive? Where did this sudden rise in ego come from? I think it was fear. Fear is a powerful illusion and often prompts us to go after the next illusion in line: control. I feared what was going on at the Temple–not because it was scary–but because what it meant for me personally. The implication was that I would have to lose myself and no longer be the same. Regardless of the amazing transformation waiting on the other side of “I accept”, I ran out of fear. By rebelling against the invitation, I created a false sense of control. “Ha!” I said, “As long as I’m on this side of the Temple, I don’t have to deal with this.”

“Everyone is engrossed in his own gain,
None sacrifices himself for the sake of others,
Nanak, do not contract company with such men,
Who think only of their own gains.”
Guru V, Gauri Rag

I thought the same thing when I was a kid. If I hid under my blanket, the monsters at night could not get me. Little do we realize that the “monsters” are simply manifestations of our own egos–our desperate need to control what we don’t understand.

So I drew that line in the sand. I started Project Conversion and it was going according to my plan. Accordingly, things started going strange almost immediately.

I instantly felt “disconnected.”

Once I said “Thanks but no thanks,” to the Temple, nothing was really the same. My prayers and the reading of the Japji Sahib felt stifled. I just wasn’t getting that warm, soft feeling with each word that I was before. Meditations were also cold. My mind would race about everything and I couldn’t relax. Even my wife noticed, though I never admitted it. Everything felt like a useless ritual–a big no-no in Sikhi.

Burnt be thos rituals and formalities,
Whereby I forget my Beloved Lord.
Man practices rituals in order to control his body,
Yet his mind wanders in all directions.”
(Guru III, Vadhans Rag)

Frustration set in.

How many faiths have we talked about thus far that describe in searing detail the agony of separation? Hell is not in some far off place or awaiting us after death…it’s your abandonment of reality. Every religion speaks of this. I’ve been hit really hard by some nasty circumstances and some odd convictions since my “declaration” over a week ago. They’ve come from a variety of places, including a weekly Bible study meeting, scripture reading, comments on the blog, interactions with the kids–even jogging is different.

Yesterday however, was the last straw. I got an email that bore a highly ambiguous meaning. At first glance it was one of those “This must be bad news,” type things. I was so wrapped up in fear and anxiety over the unknown meaning that I started CREATING a reality that didn’t exist. How often have you done this, where you instantly create the worst case scenario based on what you think might be going on?

I did this for nearly an hour, thinking about how I’d deal with this email. Forget the fact that I’d find out exactly what I needed the next day. I was busy trying to control this made-up world, built upon a scaffolding of anxiety.

I thought about Sikhi, about all the scripture I mentioned above and others about depending on God. Then I thought about all the other faiths, how each one points out the futility of worry, but this wasn’t good enough. I declared independence again. My ego had indeed become homeless, and there was no refuge.

So I went for a jog. This time I didn’t follow my normal route. I went farther and didn’t want to stop. I turned into an older neighborhood after about a mile and a half and, instead of turning back, I got the urge to keep going down this back street. It’s not a good part of town, but I at least had my kirpan on me, so after some hesitation, I went ahead.

There at the end of the street was an abandoned warehouse, probably something from the big tobacco days.

I started to jog by the old ruins, but then I glanced back, and like a tractor beam, I was lured in. Something told me to walk inside and as much as reason screamed “Turn back!”, I obeyed.

Broken glass, metal studs without walls, the roof caving in, pigeons fluttering in the bent rafters…I wondered why I was compelled to enter, but kept going. I found random items–things I didn’t expect in an abandoned warehouse–littered all over the floor. There was a sullied bouquet of plastic red roses. I found a pair of plaid shorts. There was an unopened utility bill. Trees growing up through the cracks in the cement floor. Burnt evidence of camp fires. Beer cans…

Eventually I came upon a loading dock next to the train tracks. I turned, looked out into the interior of the warehouse, and knew right then what was going on. “Fine,” I said, and sat down. I gave up–not that there was a fight against anything at all–but the struggle within to be separate from reality. There’s no telling how long I sat in meditation. Five minutes, maybe twenty, who knows, but when I opened my eyes, the anxiety was gone. An “echo” lingered in my thoughts, saying,

You think I’m confined to a spot on the river? Look at the items you found in this warehouse. They all represent someone looking for refuge. Your ego is now one of those items left behind. Go in peace.

Guru Nanak was right when he visited Mecca. His feet were pointed toward the Kabbah and a guard asked him why he disrespected the house of God by pointing his feet toward the Kabbah. Guru Nanak asked the guard to place his feet instead where God is not present. The guard realized his mistake.

Your life is the temple and you are the priest. Reality is here whether you accept it or not. Worry, fear, anxiety…all illusions of control. What can you let go of today? What is seperating you from union with reality?

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