Five years ago, when I was entering medical school, I didn’t expect my life to change so dramatically. Being challenged to the maximum in my personal and professional life has taught me what my strengths and limitations are.
Of course, this work is the type that makes you grow up quickly because sometimes you are sitting with people in their worst moments of their lives. There is the process of adjusting to medical culture and travelling to different places. One of the most important things that physicians can lose over time is the caring. I had someone recently tell me how he started off caring so much and how over the years, he has become cynical. I always felt like there were certain people who were firm in their belief that this would happen to me too, that it was inevitable over time to burn out and stop caring. Yet I have met some people who are extremely happy, energetic, and compassion towards the end of their careers. One of my recent mentors made me realize that it is possible to work hard, see emotionally difficult cases and not take it home. I think it involves processing with what you see in some way (and setting up boundaries), and for me, I found that way through Gurbani. So I walk out of this degree with more love, more compassion, and more understanding for people’s journeys, while I’m in the process of learning how not to take it home with me (its slowly happening). It also involves not doing the job out of ego, understanding God's role in caring for His creation, and our role in our sewa. It's an important piece I will continue to work on.
Looking back, the most important growth has been outside of school. Even though I grew up reading Gurmukhi and knowing a bit about Sikhi, it was only recently that I came to understand the purpose of life, the rules of the game, about maya, about the importance of sangat, the meaning of Naam, and understanding Gurbani. I rediscovered the Gurdwara Sahib as a place for peace, inspiration, and comfort. I finally started prioritizing my relationship with Waheguru, my health, and my time with my family above everything else. Instead of living for a break, I learned how to make each day enjoyable. I realized that marks cannot define me. Even now as I prepare to enter residency, the advice I have gotten is “enjoy life now” because you won’t enjoy it later- you will be too busy during residency, too busy once you start working, too busy once you have children. As if to say that life will never be enjoyable again and vacation is the only break. It is these words that remind me of how far I have come in my own journey, because I used to share those beliefs too at some point, but I don’t anymore. I heard the same thing prior to medical school, then again before third year, and before fourth again, yet I managed to enjoy the things that I love. This is a game of the mind, and I will enjoy today but not because I’m stressed that I won’t have a chance to enjoy tomorrow but because each day is a gift and I know I’ll make it through anything and everything. Resilience is about living in Chardi Kala, and this is what our history has taught us- how to thrive no matter what, not to live in fear of what’s to come next. Our Sikhi teaches us that external stressors will always be there, and the 5 (kaam, krodh, lob, moh, hankaar) will be there trying to pull us back, but that our mind does not have to be stressed when it recognizes its internal home. Sachkhand is here, do we see it? Do we see God everywhere? This is what we should be telling others to strive for as well, rather than convincing people to be afraid of life.
Sikhi has taught me a lot about relationships as well. From our Gurbani and our history, I learned about compassion, forgiveness, conflict resolution, and love. I learned how to let go of the opinions of others and to understand that this is merely a reflection of their ability to see me and their own life story. Living on my own at the beginning of my degree taught me independence and that I can do well on my own, but also that I love spending time with my family. I’ve come to appreciate how much family means in our culture, and how special it is that we take care of each other from the elders to the youngest generation. Those who are close to us in our lives were put there having meditated together in our past lives, with the purpose to do Simran and become Jeevan Mukht together in this life. Praying together, doing Simran, volunteering together, and working together in our home helps us become closer as we walk the same path together. It is from this lens that I learned what an Anand Karaj means, what it means to put the relationship with Guru first, the meeting of two souls who travel together, and the marriage of the mind to Waheguru. We can all just simply move through the stages of life- we can go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, get older, etc. This is really just the body moving through these stages, but it is different to grow through life and learn as you go and to dig deep to make progress on the mind’s journey. All these stages can be filled with ego and we can lose our purpose despite having completed this “checklist” of life events.
Most of all I have changed the way I see myself. Growing up I think I kind of had different sections of my life- being Punjabi, being Sikh, being born in Canada, living in western culture. Now having met people who understand all those parts as one just let me be a complete whole instead of different parts. It allowed me to explore and understand my value systems. I don’t shy away from talking about how important my religion is to me- that I love to sing at temple, or what specific event I’m going to, or even explaining things in English about Sikhi. Given that it is core to who I am, I don’t think that part of myself should be hidden in conversations or left behind in my friendships. Now that its interlinked, it can never be apart again. I’m thankful for everyone who helped me along the way, but ultimately to God for all these blessings and gifts, all the lessons and the challenges that helped me move forward in my journey and discover this path.
I hope you get to use this time to reflect on your journey and share those lessons with others in your life so they can learn and grow as well. Explore, pray, reflect, and understand Gurbani because it helps us understand our journey. It helps us heal wounds and fill voids that we never knew existed. Finally, ask yourself: am I going through life or growing through life?