Since writing this post I’ve started a podcast, you can listen to the whole story above!
I get asked quite frequently my journey into Sikhi and I am always happy to share. However, I do a quick version on spin cycle and usually, it includes – Basics of Sikhi, Kundalini Yoga, Gurdwara, Kirtan, Japji Sahib. I miss out a whole bunch of things such as Kirtan and Langar benefiting my health. And how going to Gurdwara served me throughout everything that has come and gone from my life. I also may mistake dates when put on the spot such as the first Nagar Kirtan I ever went to was in November (Guru Nanak Dev Ji birthday) and second time was Vasaki Nagar Kirtan (formation of Khalsa).
This is just the beginning there is more I want to say though it will come up I’m sure in art or poetry I’m producing. This is lengthy but worth reading, especially if you’re in Reading, Slough, Southall areas as chances are we will probably meet sometime! I’m hoping and happy to do a video testimony of this too.
This is lengthy and includes lots of selfies – enjoy!
A new friend introduced me to Basics of Sikhi who sowed a seed…
I first heard any kind of Gurmukhi through Kundalini yoga I had started at home, I just used to do a simple Sat Nam mantra (Sat Kriya) each day and listen to Snatamn Kaur’s music. Some months after that I went to a Kundalini Festival and the funny thing is a person approached me, to drive to the venue, her and her friend and at first I thought ‘Hey cool, I have some people to go with, maybe we will get along?’ Then I found out I was driving to Windsor-Hounslow-Essex and I’d been driving only 6 months or so! Anyway I didn’t want to pass the opportunity though I was nervous about driving. It was on this drive that I met two people that are still friends now, one a Western Sikhi woman and the other Amrithari Sikh man (though I didn’t know that at the time) because I didn’t know anything about Sikhi. My new male friend was very serious but calm and guided me from Hounslow to Essex telling me ‘Send all your worries to Wahe Guru (I was familiar with the words from songs, so I took his advice), never mind these people on the roads, your here to drive too.’
While at the festival, we got there a day early to help set things up (now I know that as Seva) but at the time I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet people and get more of an experience as I had come alone. I unpacked inflatable mattresses and my friend blew them up, there were many! Then I helped chop vegetables to put in a big pot for a late but delicious dinner. It was in the dining hall I read about nutritious foods and values, even then I thought – ‘Wow these are the type of things I’d want a child of mine to adhere to’ (it was at a Sikh school).
The next morning I stood at the list of workshops and talks and was looking through what I wanted to do, what most stood out and felt right (that’s my general process at festivals when everything is included in price). My new male friend said ‘Ah…You should go to the talk Who is Guru Nanak?’ And I said ‘Really? Cos theres this Shakti Dance thing I might try and I don’t think I can do both..’ ‘Yeah…go to the talk, learn something’ he replied. I thought about it a bit but trusted my new friends words so carried on my day then waited outside (I know now to be a Darbar) thinking ‘Ok I’m here to learn!’ A few minutes into the talk my other friend walked in from the dance workshop, so I could have done both! Never mind.
Jagraj Singh sat at the front and gave a talk, now I can’t really remember what he said, except learning a little of how Guru Nanak came to say the Mool Mantar. But it wasn’t what he said it’s how he presented himself, he wasn’t selling anything, he wasn’t preaching anything. He was just real. He shared about Sikhi openly to anyone that wanted to know more. He seemed a little nervous as I think he was coming up against some friction from the group of women at the front possibly questioning why he was at a Kundalini festival or something. But he didn’t react, he just talked on calmly and strongly.
I picked up a 3 facts and 10 questions leaflet, as it interested me though I didn’t think much more about it. My friend bought a CD of Gurmuki and English translation of the Mool Manta that I played a few times on my computer at home.
I came with an interest to learn and love for Kirtan
I carried on life, doing yoga listening to Kirtan (though Snatamn Kaur and pop versions, traditional didn’t come till later). 90% of music I listened to was now Kirtan and I knew it was full of beauty, love, devotion without knowing all the words and my mind felt more at peace from it.
An important part of the story (as it will come up near the end) is that became ill over a year, my body started to shut down – I couldn’t swallow and not as in I had a sore throat but as if my muscles had forgotten how to swallow. This made me paranoid over eating as each mouthful was hard and I just had faith that I will swallow because I know how. I got tests done and nothing was physically wrong with me, then more health issues arrised. If not being able to swallow wasn’t annoying enough each time I ate I got crushing headaches and chest pain, sometimes just one or sometimes both. At first it was just after sugar then when I cut that out, it happened with everything. I lost my appetite and I thought it was just my bodies way of preparing me for a cold but it went on and on and on. I was in really great spirits though (now I can reference Chardi Kala), nothing could bring me down. Except nothing in my female body was working and I had lost a lot of weight, being only 8 stone and half at 5 foot 3 losing a stone is not some great crash diet. If I ate I got pain if I didn’t eat I got thinner, so third option: I forced myself to eat. After a scan revealed nothing was wrong with my insides and once again I was physically normal, it was suggested to me to eat a lot of junk food and put on weight that way. But that didn’t feel right, so I kept going about my days doing yoga in the morning, eating healthily, listening to Kirtan with the faith that eventually I would get an appetite, I would put on weight, I would have everything working properly so one day I could God willing bring a child into the world. Eating as a basic need to survive as a human was not fun but I kept faith that things would turn around.
Around this time I looked up to see if there was a Gurdwara nearby to hear Kirtan live, as I listened a lot on my phone and youtube, I knew hearing it live would be better and found there was one in Reading, near where I used to grow up. I followed them on Facebook and kept looking to see if there was anything happening there. At the time I lived in a different town 30 minutes away as I had moved out of home many years ago and I was aware that visiting that area would seem strange to people as it’s in an area outside of town, but anyway I kept looking. One day I saw that they were doing something called Simran followed by Kirtan. I was stunned, I kept thinking ‘Can I just turn up?’ But the more I thought about it I knew that if it really was a Sikh Gurdwara, they would allow me in, if they refused me I would accept that, though I was pretty sure those weren’t part of their values. I felt nervous about going and didn’t want to chicken out or make an excuse not to travel, so I wrote on a card ‘I am going to listen to Kirtan at the Gurdwara before my 27th birthday because I said I would’ and put it on the wall. My then boyfriend wasn’t really interested in my plan but that didn’t deter my spirit.
I remember this day as it was a day before my birthday (though I didn’t tell anyone there that), I went shopping with my mum and dad in Reading as I had got the train down and told them we would split for the evening and what I was going to do. They were surprised I was going to that area but figured it must be some yoga thing, I tried to explain ‘devotional singing’ then but I didn’t want to go into it then, the concept was learnt later on. Back then, looking at pictures of myself I am smiling happily but I look weak, frail, yellow almost. I often explain this next part when people ask me if my family are supportive of my path, as yes there are. That day my mum and dad offered to get the bus with me to show me where it was then they would get the bus back. I insisted that was unnecessary but they hadn’t seen me in a while and insisted. We got there early and as I wasn’t sure if there would be food (Langar was still a new concept) we walked down by the river and I forced down a tupperware pot of turmeric pasta and vegetables. They left to get the bus and I covered my head with my infinity scarf and opened the door saying – ‘Hi, I’m here for Simran, for Kirtan.’
The man sweeping was shocked and didn’t speak much English, he showed me to another man who has been at the Gurdwara (him and his lovely family) throughout my times there. He thankfully showed me around as it was my first time in a Gurdwara, explaining about covering your head, shoes off, wash hands and walk up the stairs. Then about how inside the next room was the Guru Granth Sahib, not a book but a living Guru. That made sense I thought but a lot of people I know wouldn’t understand that. A donation is given, even just pennies (I explained I had nothing to give, I had literally no change) and he said it was ok today as I didn’t know. He then explain we bow infront of the Guru and sit down. He told me about Prasad then too. That it was a blessed food made at morning prayer time made from flour, oil, sugar and that even a baby two days old can eat it. That man may have just saved my life I thought, if a baby can eat it…. finally something I can eat. I then sat in Simran (still a new concept, but it was blissful) and Kirtan too. I was shown down to the Lanagar hall afterwards and ate foods, it was chips and beans which confused me and I was still full from the pasta, still I didn’t want to refuse and I needed to put weight on.
At other times (and usually in Gurdwaras) there is the simple Langar foods of chickpeas, lentils, Rotis offered and so on. And the remarkable thing is that each time I ate Langar, I got no symptoms of pain during eating or after. And I felt full, I felt great and wondered, what is in those chickpeas? They might just heal me?!
Soon after heard about Nagar Kirtan for the first Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday from friends I had gone to the yoga festival with in the Summer and went along. Looking back I had had a rough year, I didn’t get out much, didn’t go and have fun, money was low and my then boyfriend had depression, again. So I seized the opportunity and got on a 40 minute train ride to Southall. I was told not to bring food with me (back then I took food out with me a lot as it’s expensive to buy places and I may get hungry, eventually). And after 5 minutes I could see why! The streets were lined with people in marques giving out food, giving out food – yes for free. I wrote more about it here as Nagar Kirtan also happens in April for Vaisakhi. I was beyond happy, trying foods for the first time in the streets of people where there was no trouble. I got home and realised that my mouth ached from smiling and it was the first time that year I felt happy, it was November.
I continued to go back to the Gurdwara in Reading, even though I wasn’t sure why as logically it didn’t make sense as most people just spoke Punjabi or at least Punjabi over English, there was no one my age either much younger or much older, I didn’t talk to anyone and didn’t really do anything there. Though I just felt something different there and sometimes when the man who showed me around, led Simran he spoke a few words from the Hukumnama in English!
I’d often be shopping in town on a Saturday, contemplating whether to go the extra journey to the Gurdwara to end my day or go home, I thought about the Hukunamas that were read and how that each time they were translated, they had a direct link with whatever was going on in my life and no one in the room knew anything about me! Also, I thought about Prasad, it was the only place I could eat it. Plus other times the answer just appeared in front of me, like the time a taxi almost backed into me – GO!
Overall, in summary, I went to Gurdwara and read Hukams and home throughout everything; when I was going through a relationship that wasn’t wholly serving me, (it was in truth a cohesive controlling relationship that I had become complacent in), when my health was at it’s worst, when I ended the relationship, I was heartbroken though grateful to begin again. When I moved back home, while a friend was dying and after they passed, when my heath got better and my life happier. Of course I go to the Gurdwara now still, the Guru’s door is always open, I go to sit, do Simran, listen to Kirtan and Katha.
How I came to learn Japji Sahib
In January 2017 I started my Kundalini yoga training with Sahej, Kundalini Yoga is the yoga of awareness and is composed of Kriyas (exercises), meditations and mudras (hand positions). It is completely separate from Sikhi however, Sikh Dharma is included in its spiritual teachings and Gurbani spoken and sung in Kirtan. Since I’ve been doing yoga since I was a teenager, I finally signed up as a teacher, something I visualised doing for a long time.
At a Kundalini yoga Sadhana, before any morning practice begins, the Japji Sahib is read out, I’d heard this previously but it was in my training that we really learnt it and I was given my first copy. We first spoke it in English then in Gurmuki. I spent a month reading it around in English at home (which takes 30-50 mins) then moved onto reciting the Gurmuki (takes 20-30 mins). I moved onto Gurmuki as it’s quicker and seemed more beneficial, the sounds of the words are beautiful and as I was learning a new language, it helped me have a one point focus on the words.
I remember one time I was at a bus stop after Simran with an older man who I often saw there then got the same bus as me back, he spoke with a thick Punjabi accent but we would talk. I shyly mentioned I do Japji Sahib at home most mornings, but since I didn’t know anyone back then around me that did the same, I felt alone in that, silly almost. The man was surprised! He told me – That’s good, reading the Japji will change your life! Really? I thought, at the bus stop on a dark cold evening in Reading. Maybe it just will. I haven’t seen that man since but he gave me some encouragement to keep going. It has and continues to do so!
Another time while out and about that is good to mention here, is that I didn’t know I could say Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa Wahe Guru Ji Ki Fateh outside of a Gurdwara until a man said it to me on the street! In that moment it was if I was teleported to inside a Gurdwara, the Guru’s words were right there but I was on the street. I was amazed and use Wahe Guru internally and out loud often since that day.
I carried on going to my yoga training (it finishes after 9 months of writing this today!) And I carried on learning from Basics of Sikhi videos. In April there was a break from Yoga and I was able to go to Vaisakhi three times and have three totally different experiences. I have never enjoyed April as much before, remembering the formation of the Khalsa and Sikh religion. Soon after I started doing the Why Guru? Course online, I would have gone to one in person though I couldn’t do it around work. So I would spend an hour here and there learning Sikh history from Basics of Sikhi and I still am as there are 13 units and I am on number 8 learning about the Raags.
How it came to be that I wear a Dastar
Each morning I read Japji Sahib at home I made sure to cover my head, usually with a scarf I had wrapped round a few times, a bonnet or loose scarf. I’d do this as that is what you would do in a Gurdwara, out of care and respect of the Guru’s words and set dispaline, focus. After reading aloud I would take it off and go and get more ready for work until I noticed a sadness each time I did. I wanted to keep it on, to be in the presence I was in while reading Gurmuki and to live the words in life as the whole of me. I started wearing my hair up a lot at work and would cover it with a wide headband, it came close. Though it wasn’t till I left that job that I started wearing one properly, outside of work I wore a makeshift scarf turban (was useful though not great for my hair) then I didn’t wear one at work due to people’s opinions and politics.
It wasn’t till I left that job that I started wearing one in 100% aspects of life. I went to two job interviews, with my hair up only and didn’t get them. Frustrated though feeling it was a blessing too, I started doing Japji Sahib again at home more regularly and a few days before decided to cover my hair completely for a third interview. It felt like a massive risk, the third interview and I’m going to go all in and wear a turban/scarf? Nirbau Nirvair I thought, no fear no hate, became two words I live by. Everything went well as I got the job! In gratitude and amazement, I’m thankful I took the step as I could read Gurbani everyday, develop my Sikhi and outer identity too.
It was while at a Sikhi camp (Khalsa Camp) that I really learnt how to tie and wear a Dastar (another word/style of turban). As a Bhenji (Sister) kindly told me a Gursikh had seen me and wanted to share I wore my ‘bun’ too far back. This was true as the material pulled my hair back, I thanked her (and fretted a little, though my Amrthari roomies were chilled) and a day later there was Turban tieing each afternoon, I went along to watch someone do it for me then learnt how to do it myself. My friend at the very beginning told me from the start – learn how to tie your own turban, so I wanted to see that through. I didn’t get it perfect the first time and there are many ways to do it! At first they were very big and wide then someone else would come along and make them small, neat and sitting perfectly. It was funny and frustrating. But after practice I can do them myself well, mostly well. It’s all learning.
I wear a Dastar because I wear one at the start of my day whether it be reading Sikh prayers, doing Simran or reading the daily Hukunama, basically whatever I have time to do that morning. I want to go out as the whole of me, live the best I can in line with the Gurus teachings, be connected to Waheguru, wear it as a uniform with no fear or hate to anyone, if anything to educate. Wearing one I feel centered, focused, balanced, I feel happiest.
How I came to learn Jaap Sahib and where I’m at now
By chance, or as I’m getting used to hearing/saying Guru’s Kirpa, on the 6th day of Amrit Vela in Divan I heard Jaap Sahib. How did it get to the 6th day when it was said each of the 5 days previous? By the 6th day, I was sleep deprived but full of joy of the experience I was having, I got up the earliest I did all week and went to Divan early. Each day the only Bani I knew well enough to speak was the Japji Sahib, the others I read the Gurmuki and English translations on the screen and followed along, same as with Kirtan. However this last day a Bharji (brother) I had spoken with the day before on a costal walk was reading aloud and did Jaap Sahib. Immediately I heard how beautiful it was and was instantly full of happiness and wonder! It was very different, it had a beat. Wow! Waheguru! I left saying ‘That second Bani was beautiful, I could hear every word, it was amazing’ my Amrhtari roomies filled me in, it was Jaap Sahib. I spoke to the Bharji later that day and he told me of the version from Prof. Satnam Singh, I could do it at home??!! Waheguru!
Later that day as we were leaving camp, I went back inside to get some extra food and a Bhenji asked for help with her luggage and there on the side was a set of books I hadn’t seen the other times – a red book called Nitnem. I picked it up as I thought it may be useful and later on I realised it totally was, all I needed to carry on doing Bani’s at home.
Where I am now in life, I’ve come to the end of my Yoga teacher training but the beginning of something. The whole experience has served me well from connecting to people, learning Jap Ji, integrating yogic ways into life, 40 day practices and learning who and what are teachers are. It has been life changing and I’m continuing to teach at home but my next goal is to expand, offer yoga classes to more people.
I’ve got my health, happiness and finances back to how they were previous to how they were at the beginning of this journey! I can make art again too!
I continue to go to Gurdwaras, the one nearby and 3 others I visit too. I’ve started going to English Kathas and Q+A which are wonderful to learn new things, pick up on some more Gurbani, it inspires me in some way whether it be creatively or to live better. And in the Q+A we can chat openly! I continue to learn from Basics of Sikhi and will have finished the Why Guru course soon. I’ve recently kept my Kesh. All of it. That’s a big step for a Western woman. I’ve been doing a bit of Seva here and there. I have enough money to visit Harminder Sahib, the Golden Temple next year and Amrit?..Sometime soon.
*2020 -Some time has passed since I shared this story and I haven’t been to Harminder Sahib yet, though I was blessed with Amrit in 2018. I continued to develop my Sikhi, going to camps, learning Banis and I got married and had a baby successfully in 2018/2019. The journey continues, we are all students!