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Living Each Breath:
Letters From Espanola

EK ONG KAAR KAUR

 

 

 

The spectre of my own mortality has come to visit me lately. It has taken a polite, discreet stance in the corner, gently reminding me it is there.

No rush. No hurry. Nothing to be alarmed about.

But even though it watches me quietly, it has decided to make itself at home. Every day, lately, I feel the veil between the worlds. How thin it is. How irrevocable.

Time constantly seems to have two dimensions to it. It can move into the future. Or into nothing at all. It is a strange sensation to let go of tomorrow. To stop wanting, or hoping, or dreading.

All of my life, I have lived in the ‘today’ in pursuit of the future. Chasing the image of things that I thought would happen. That would give my life fulfillment and meaning. Instead, these days I am not thinking about tomorrow very much at all.

There is only today. What is in front of me? What calls to me? What does my intuition guide me to do? How can I help? Who can I help? What can I do in this moment that gives my life fulfillment and meaning?

If this were my last breath, my very last one, do I feel satisfied with the life I have lived? Could I go home graceful and victorious? And if tomorrow dawns, how much continuity do I need? Do I really have more castles in the air to build?

There is a saying when it comes to the breath. "I am a one-breath man." Or woman, as the case may be. It means this one breath is the only thing I can really count on. This breath is firm and real. None of us ever know whether or not the next breath will come.

Living breath to breath, remembering death. This spiritual practice has been talked about in many traditions. It is unnerving, but also freeing. It creates a feeling of being grounded in the now, relaxed and surrendered to what actually exists. Most of all, it opens up an inner space where there is no need to struggle.

Without a tomorrow, without a big plan for the future, there is only the next step.

Whatever it looks like.

Wherever it leads.

Trusting in Hukam.

The Guru often talks about being dead while alive. And sometimes I wonder if this is what it looks like. Not making plans. Not thinking about the future. Just living breath to breath, moment to moment, and allowing the Divine Plan to unfold. With no real attachments to what the Plan has in Mind. Or where It wants to take me next.

Junior and Senior years in high school, I had a group of wonderful friends. We met each other through drama and debate competitions. Even though we did not go to the same school, we hung out a lot on the weekends and during the summer. Not the cheerleader/football set. More like the chess matches, Monty Python and roller skating set.

I remember eating ice cream at Dairy Queen, laughing about anything. Deep philosophical conversations, because, at that age, you see what is wrong with the world and you know how to fix it.

The names and the faces of the people you grow up with stay with you your whole life. They are part of you, part of your foundation, part of your story. And even if you do not see each other for 20 years, the heart never forgets.

Last week, I found out one of "the gang" had passed away after a long illness. She was not much older than me. Married to another friend from that time. Children.

And it illustrated what this specter has been showing me all summer. Death comes in its own time, regardless of our hopes, intentions, or plans. To live a long life, a peaceful life, a prosperous life - those are blessings. Not
guarantees.

When we are young, the potential of the future stretches out vast, like the ocean's horizon. But as we grow older, time takes on a different quality. In every moment, two roads exist. One into the future. One into the Beyond.

This step I have. But the next step could be gone.

Living with grace.

Leaving with gratitude.

In the end, I think it really just comes down to this.

 

August 28, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, Connecticut, USA), August 28, 2013, 7:55 AM.

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a discourse from Gurdwara Manji Sahib. In the discourse, a story about Guru Nanak was mentioned. The story is long but the essence: Guru Sahib reveals to Mardana that "one is the owner of only a single breath. The one that one inhales! Exhaling is beyond our control." The thought, I only own the breath I inhale, has had a profound effect on my consciousness. I feel a shift in my thinking. Not sure where I am heading. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Consciousness uplifted. Beautiful way to start my morning!

2: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), August 28, 2013, 6:54 PM.

Very nicely written. When Guru Sahib says 'dead while alive', it refers to the annihilation of one's ego.

3: Hargurmit Singh (Delhi, India), August 29, 2013, 3:08 AM.

Guru Nanak's shabad in Raag Dhanasri [GGS:660] starts with the panktee, "ham aadhamee haa(n) eik dhamee muhalath muhath n jaanaa / naanak binavai thisai saraevahu jaa kae jeea paraanaa..." -- We are humans for as long as we have one "dam" (breath)and do not know when death will come. Guru Sahib then says that we should serve The One (Akal Purakh) who is the owner of the body and the breath. I have shared this shabad to illustrate that we are neither owners of our breaths nor our bodies. In particular, we have no control over the breath we inhale (that is going to come from Waheguru).

4: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), August 29, 2013, 5:06 AM.

We are born to die! Most people fear death, which is Truth and most people fear the Truth. Guru Nanak tells us that the whole purpose the earth was built by the Creator was to practice Truth, and those who can achieve this are always praised and exalted because it is so difficult when chasing after money which inflates the ego, which in turn makes you 'waste your breath'. The true breath of life is uttering praises of the Creator and its beautiful creation. That is why we utter 'Waheguru' with breathtaking awe when we see something beautiful or awesome like a galaxy or an orchid.

5: R.S Minhas (Millburn, New Jersey, USA), August 29, 2013, 8:24 AM.

What amazed me lately is the scientific/rational aspects of Guru Nanak's statement in understanding brain science. A portion of our brain is hardwired to worry, from reptilian times. Just like a reptilian lizard is constantly looking around the corner seeking opportunities or avoiding threats. This portion developed millions of years ago. Humans have a tendency to lead lives according to the hard wiring. For example, whenever a person has fear, anger, etc, it is this portion that becomes active. Applying brakes to this portion and slowing it down from taking over the system is essential for other portions responsible for arts, music, humanities, poetry, compassion, spirituality, rationality, etc. to fully develop. What better way to tame these lizard-like portions of our brains than to remind us of the importance and wonder of every breath. No thoughts of what is around the corner. I hope I can achieve that state, but I am disappointingly a whole lot away. I am told this shabad was composed when they were traveling through a jungle. Wow.

6: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 29, 2013, 9:41 PM.

This is not the first time. We have died before. "mMaran likhaa-ay mandal meh aa-ay" [GGS:1174.17] -- "Destined only to die, he comes in the world." We all want to go to heaven but no one wants to die. Gurban extols us, "Dying before we die." The smart aleck says, "I would not be caught dead doing that." There is no reprieve. Go we must. "chhin chhin a-odh bihaat hai footai ghat j-o-paanee" -- "Each and every moment the life is passing away, like water from a cracked pitcher". Our tenancy on this earth is fixed. Gurbani tells us to leave the earth better than we found it. "jeevat marai mar maran savaarai" -- "One who dies unto his false self and lives by his god-self, dies right. Even in his death is embellished.". Thank you, Ek Ong Kaar Kaur ji, for the profound thoughts. "kuli ganth utho likhia a-ia ram" [GGS:1110] - "The knot has been untied, rise up -- the order has come."

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Letters From Espanola"









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