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Finding Oneself

by I.J. SINGH

 

 

When I came to the United States during the heady ‘60’s the mantra was “finding oneself.”   

Young people routinely took a year or longer off between high school and college to travel all over the world - an odyssey and almost a pilgrimage to 'find' themselves.  Often, they buried themselves in a world of drugs and free love as if that would propel them on that inner journey to the core of the self.   

With such people, lost to the real world around them, my banter was sometimes humorous and sometimes thoughtless: “I didn’t know you were lost,” I would say, or "Have you looked at the Ten Most Wanted List in the local post office,” or sillier yet, “Is there a reward out on the missing 'you' yet?” 

In time I mended my ways and dropped the sarcasm.  Mercifully, many of them found themselves a year or two later, but some never did.  They were the inevitable casualties of their own inner spiritual turmoil. 

The divide between parents and children split many families and broke many hearts and homes. The civil rights struggle and the Vietnam War continued to add fuel to the fire. 

In its heyday, the movement attracted some of the brightest, most sensitive, young minds in droves. What exactly were these flower children looking for? 

A plethora of yoga experts, swamis, “spiritual masters” and life-coaches from India, and a few from Tibet and elsewhere, descended on America to ply the tricks of their trade and profit from a society trapped and torn in an exercise of self-exploration, self-doubt and self-abuse. From Rajneesh to Sri Chinmoy and the child Guru Maharaj, and from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to Sathya Sai Baba, countless pretenders of both genders rushed in to milk with both hands this society for fun and profit.

One can find the vestiges of their presence and of that time even today, fifty years later. 

The virtues of self-examination - a life examined - are self-evident. Socrates reputedly told us that a life unexamined and unexplored was not worth living. This is whence all progress flows.

The third Sikh Guru, Amardas, tersely posited the question in the Guru Granth [p 922]: “Ae sareera merya iss jugg meh aye ke kya tudh karam kamaya" - "What footprints will you leave behind in the sands of time?"

This is what finding oneself is all about? 

But it isn’t such an easy trek and it remains a lonely process. Ergo, in the 60’s, when a drop-out from society tried walking that path, he or she found the isolation eased by free love and mood altering drugs. Their highs were high and their lows were low. Some never emerged from the valley of despair. The likes of Timothy Leary, the erstwhile Harvard professor and the Guru of LSD, were the trail blazers. 

This is where teachers like Harbhajan Singh Yogi, even though they were not personally without fault, helped; they were able to wean many away from the world of drugs and towards a cleaner, productive existence. 

Sikhi, too, endorses the idea: “Tune in, turn on, drop out”, but not entirely and not in the form that the hippies of yesteryear discovered. Sikhi categorically rejects dropping out of society or going to the mountaintop to find the self or the God that’s within us all.

To drop out from a life of ego and lies is recommended instead. 

And Sikhi tells us to tune in to the inner high in the universal connectivity that defines us all by recognizing and nurturing the divine spark that is within us all - “Munn too jyot saroop hae apnaa mool pehchan” [Guru Amardas, GGS: 441].

Turn on to this high, says Sikhi, that is not drug-induced euphoria; it will remain higher than high and never leave you with the suicidal heartaches of the low that inevitably follow an externally drug-induced high. 

It doesn’t need a year of dropping out of the world to understand why and how to find oneself.

What then is the formula for finding a purposeful life? How does one go about building a life? 

Keep in mind that making a life is a very different kettle of fish from making a living. Here we are talking of the former. The latter demands training that can be gotten pretty much anywhere once you have decided on what skills you need to master for putting food on the table and other worldly needs. 

A purposeful and productive life - the search for the essential self - starts with looking at the world and within yourself, and then identifying a problem or involvement that excites you, that seems to grab you so that it won’t let you go. A matter that is bigger than your own needs that claims and demands your full attention and holds you passionately.

To find meaning in life, you have to look beyond your own needs and wants, and distinguish between the two.  That is how one finds meaning in life. When it happens, you have then found a purpose to your life that is bigger than the self and that can claim all that you can give, and more, of yourself. That’s when you have found yourself.  

One way to look at life is that at birth we inherit this world as it is - the good, the bad and the ugly, including its transformative marvel of technology. This, our inheritance, is a debt that we take on at birth. The only way to pay it off is to leave the world a little better.  

What I give you here is not the commonly accepted definition of spirituality. In my view, spirituality is not confined merely to the pursuit of grace, faith and prayer but is also found in the most mundane of activities, be it manufacturing widgets or a round of golf. Whenever one can transcend the self with a focused mind at peace (in sehaj), the task at hand becomes a spiritual experience. That’s when I, me and mine disappear to seamlessly blend with the task at hand. This then becomes living a life totally in the present or in hukam as we define it. 

Kabir reminds us [GGS:1060-61]: As long as one remains fixated on me and mine, nothing gets accomplished; it is only when our vision shifts away from the self that great goals are possible (jub lug meri meri karae/ tub lug kaaj ek nahi sarae/ jub meri meri mitt jaaye/ tub prabh kaaj savarae aaye).   

One cannot find the self without getting out of the self and moving the focus away from the self. 

Aap gavaye seva karay ta kichh payay maan, says Guru Nanak [GGS:474]. To this process of losing and finding the self we need to add another essential dimension, that of joy. Guru Arjan [GGS:522] advises us to live so that our liberation lies amidst the joy of living (hasani▫ā kelani▫ā painani▫ā kāvani▫ā vice hovai muka). 

That rounds off the idea of living life fully. 

And then it is no longer about you or I. 

To find oneself, one has to lose the self in something bigger than the self. And have fun while doing so. 

 

ijsingh99@gmail.com 

June 27, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Devinder Singh (India), June 27, 2011, 3:11 AM.

Guru Granth [p 922]: "ae sareera merya iss jugg meh aye ke kya tudh karam kamaya" - May I offer a different translation? "Let us work as we pray, for indeed work is the body's best prayer to the Divine". The idea conveyed by 'footprints in the sands of time' is suggestive of the ego in work done.

2: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, CT, U.S.A.), June 27, 2011, 5:08 AM.

Inder, this is just brilliant - thank you for it. What a thought-provoking Monday morning read. Yes! Finding oneself is a lonely process but, may I add, a beautiful one. To live or merely exist - the choice is ours.

3: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 27, 2011, 6:35 AM.

Each human being has positive and negative traits. To enhance your positive traits, join the sadh sangat, engross yourself in shabad gurbani, and be in good company. Sangat of the bad will build on your negative traits and prove destructive. Guru Nanak said: "chang-aa-ee-aa buri-aa-ee-aa vaachai dharam hadoor".

4: Kirpal Singh (Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S.A.), June 27, 2011, 9:23 AM.

What a beautiful article and full of excellent advice.

5: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 27, 2011, 9:45 AM.

Devinder, I am totally with you that honest work is the best prayer and I have explored that elsewhere. But I hope that "footprints in the sands of time" here do not suggest or promote ego. One needs to keep in mind that losing the self is being recommended as a prerequisite to finding the self. That's an argument against ego - so difficult to expunge. The theme here is losing the self in a cause bigger than the self, and becoming one with good work. You know well that myriad citations from Guru Granth ask us to be responsible for what we do - "aapay beej aapae hee khahu" - and many other similar lines. The good deeds in life - prayer, service and productive accomplishments (minus the ego) - become your legacy and they are then your footprints that you leave in the sands of time.

6: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 27, 2011, 10:42 AM.

Devinder Singh ji, it seems to me that the drift of the article is to lose a life of ego - not sure what you are suggesting. My personal search turned up a surprise: there really was no self!

7: M. Kaur V (New York, U.S.A.), June 27, 2011, 11:37 AM.

Reading this was an "ah-ha" moment. Your take on spiritual matters is refreshingly lucid and engaging. As always, Dr.Singh, thank you.

8: Nav Kaur (Australia), June 29, 2011, 4:03 PM.

So beautifully written. I love the 'down to earth' approach of applying Gurus' values and teachings in every aspect of our lives. Articles written in such humility are always a pleasant read! Thank you.

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