Learning to find your way through life. Sometimes the past helps me, other times it seems to stand in the way. How to make sense of what you have learned and followed – often blindly. If what I learned taught me about respect then that is a good thing, yet I still have to be me. Maybe the act of covering one’s head while meditating teaches about going within. That can’t be all bad. But I’m still struggling along on my path towards freedom and wondering what it all means.
Neither heavenly nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal have we created thee, so that thou mightiest be free according to thy own will and honor, to be thy own creator and builder. To thee alone we gave growth and development depending on thy own free will. Thou bearest in thee the germs of a universal life.
Pico della Mirandola, Oratio de Hominis Dignitate
Is tradition something to participate in or do you have to live it, to become lost in it and have it be part of your every waking breath? Isn’t tradition there to guide you; a way to respect the past? What awaits you there deeply within its doors is not only remembrances that you wish you could change, but history and culture and a way to reach understanding.
Most of our traditions have their origins in the East or the Orient. Handed down through the centuries and encased in religious thought. For both men and women, covering their heads while entering a mosque, temple or gurdwara is mandatory. But only women cover their hair in the orthodox church of Russia or Greece as they once did in the Roman Catholic church. In times gone past and according to biblical reference, both men and women had to cover their hair when entering to pray in a synagogue.
When I recite Japji Sahib I cover my head. It becomes a sign of respect. It’s how I learned to do it. It may add to your meditative experience or it may not, but, in the end, you are participating in an age-old tradition.
To participate in these traditions gives a sense of continuity – someone did it just like this beforehand and you are continuing with the tradition. It is the continuation of our humanity. I understand the past in order to open the door to my future. They are steps in understanding that must be learned and studied.
I study them, question them, in the hopes of understanding their meaning for me. They must serve me for I don’t want to become a slave to something I don’t understand and have forgotten to ask the reason why something is the way it is.
Investigation into something can lead to greater knowledge. It usually does. Knowledge expands horizons and allows you to appreciate your origins. Mutual appreciation allows us to be able to talk with one another, and communication leads to greater understanding and a more expanded sense of the truth.
What I must guard against is accordance with tradition that doesn’t answer the questions of my life that I am currently struggling with. The word struggle implying a continuous effort to arrive at the door of deep understanding that reaches the very core of me.
I once was a Sikh and kept my hair (did not cut it) and wore a turban. This was prescribed to me if I was to be considered a true Sikh of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Then I cut my hair and took the turban off. There were other considerations like walking towards the future I saw for myself. I had to be true to an uncontrollable need to change who I was. I no longer believed in the image I saw when I looked in the mirror. Why was that? I don’t know. It just happened. There was no emotional crisis, it was existential in nature. So, I took that path. When you risk everything for your own understanding of who you are, the universe comes to your rescue. That has been my experience. As I once said, “You won’t fall and you won’t fail.” My students thought that with that one act of taking my turban off, I became more accessible to them. They felt closer to me. I didn’t realize that they might have felt an invisible barrier before; so now, if they felt closer to me, that was a good thing.
Tradition, in this case the Sikh tradition with its Gurus, Banis and belief that man can reach the God-head and become an enlightened being, did not leave me nor I it. Inner tradition, which is the richness of the Atma or soul, was planted long ago in me. That tree is still mighty and strong. What changed were my eyes and how I was looking at the world and wanted the world to look at me, and that was okay. I alone must make my way through life and the relationship between inner peace and the act of living is complex at best. We are all complex human beings trying to find the roads we should travel on. These roads should lead to greater mutual understanding and a more compassionate view of the world – of you and me.
Can I then hold on to tradition, participate in it, yet not having it occupy my every waking thought? Isn’t that the question we are all here to ask? We are believers wanting to believe in something that lifts us up from the ordinary in our daily lives, yet true belief can only come from the act of continuous introspection. It has to be renewed constantly since circumstances and parameters change all the time. Believe it or not; you are not the same person you were 10 years ago.
Perhaps, it is a question of freedom, that intangible goal that we are all trying to latch onto. Do I have the freedom to choose for myself in my life? Yes, of course, I must make the effort to do so. If not, who am I? If a gap should grow in my consciousness and peace and harmony has run away from me, do I have the freedom to go find what is essential to me and now lost? I must, for if not, what am I? If I don’t take the decisions I must for my life now, when will I?
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself only, what am I? If not now – when?
Talmudic Saying, Mishnah, Abot
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.” For the soul walks upon all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.
Khalil Gibran, Self-Knowledge
I will try to keep my ear turned close to the earth to hear her rumblings inside of me and her whispers of love as I look upward towards the sky. I have reached an age now and my learning is that I cannot stop to ask what has been the past for me, and what will be my tomorrows. Even though you look at me and might have an opinion of me, I am still a work in progress, capable of change and desirous of its fruits. For the spirit inside of me can only soar beyond the clouds, free and uninhibited, respecting all and part of all.