Friday, December 16, 2016

Celebrating the Journey

It’s almost the end of December so I’m going to reflect on some of what I’ve learned over this year.

I shared a lot on the blog about emotions and stress management this year. I think as a society, we can do a better job of accepting emotions as a normal occurrence instead of as a weakness. A particularly supportive moment for me was when a male colleague said, “Society makes such a big deal out of emotions. You have permission to cry. Crying is ok, I mean haven’t you seen other people cry?” It took away the feeling of being afraid of looking like I can’t handle it- like I’m weak or fragile, and just normalized my experience so I didn’t have to hide it or be ashamed of it. I think it was particular influential that this came from someone who, as a male, was raised to believe that emotions are weakness, and yet has chosen not to perpetuate that belief. I have tried to share most of the emotional coping skills and stress management skills I’ve learned because these are universally important for everyone. We all experience events in our lives that will emotionally challenge and drain us, and the more resilient we are, the easier it is to move through the emotions without letting them harm us. One of the skills I want to highlight is sharing your story, despite the fact that it takes a lot of trust when we are vulnerable. I think the depth of human connection that results when one person shares part of their life, and the other learns how to respond to that suffering with empathy and compassion is unparalleled. Yes, it’s a risk and if it doesn’t go well, the pain itself is also unparalleled, but that’s the point of vulnerability.  

Stress really comes down to perceiving that you are not able to meet the demands placed upon you. I often have wondered where the line is- how much stress can a person handle and what determines that? On one hand we have evidence that people can handle whatever is thrown at them and not give up no matter what- we see this in our Sikh history over and over. On the other hand, I’ve heard people say all the time “there’s only so much a person can handle. Everyone has a limit.” I’ve experienced reaching my limit and needing to take a break from a situation to regroup, but I’ve also experienced being able to plough through a situation and overcome it, and I wonder what the difference is sometimes. I am still working on an answer for myself, but as of writing this post I think it comes down to skills. Maybe there isn’t a true limit to what a person can handle, the limit depends on what kind of skills you learned. In skills I’m actually including spirituality. We are all capable of getting to a spiritual state where pain and pleasure are irrelevant, where our minds are at peace despite the external situation. I think most of us are just at varying degrees of reaching that so while we are bombarded with external situations we aren’t at that spiritual state to be able to allow us to get through it. That’s where the emotional coping skills come in and allow us to get through it. 

Over this year I realized I took things that I’ve known in theory for a long time and I put them into practice for the first time. For example, I knew that Sikhism is important to me, and my health should me more important than my schooling, but I was never able to actually put those priorities in the right order in my life despite what I wanted. I think the thing that changed this the most was sitting in sangat with Gurmukhs who had met God and actually learning that the purpose in our life is to meet God and how that is achieved. It started to make a lot more sense to me than it did when I was younger. This really just awakened me to make some changes in my life like going to the Gurdwara more often, doing simran as much as possible, etc. Through this my understanding has grown and my priorities have shifted. I realized that my education is not about accomplishments and achievements but about sewa, that people’s life and death is not in my hands but God’s. I learned to let go of my attachments and dreams and hand them to God. I learned that you aren’t responsible for other people’s happiness (This was news to me, because I’ve spent my whole life thinking it was my job to please other people and be responsible for keeping them happy. Talk about stress!) You could sacrifice everything and still someone’s happiness could be unchanged, because it’s not up to you. Realizing that everyone is taken care of by God, and that everyone has the ability to have their own relationship with God to create that happiness and contentment for themselves has helped me to understand that more. All these experiences and changes in my thinking have been integral to learning how to move towards a more peaceful and balanced life.

I used to have these rigid goals and ideas for myself and my future, and I realized quite some time ago that those aren’t going to work for me. I thought maybe if I let them go I would be doing something wrong because people say you shouldn’t compromise your goals for anything. Well I changed my goals because I changed what I value. I changed what I value because I continued to grow and learn. I encourage you to continue to grow and learn as well because it’s never too late. If you’d like, feel free to comment on what you’ve learned this year.

P.S. Now that it’s finally the holidays I’m hoping my sore throat goes away now so I can upload some kirtan videos!

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