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When Life Is A Lemon ... How To Make Meaning Of A Bowl Of Cliches

Convenor: I.J. SINGH





"It doesn't take long to learn that life is not a bed of roses.  In fact, it seldom is, and even then only apparently so. Or perhaps only to those who do not think and cannot feel.  Also roses don't come without thorns.  If life is a bowl of cherries they never come without pits ... How then to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...?  Walking along the mountaintop is easy and liberating, but the question is how best to navigate the connecting valleys of despair."

"What kind of attitude will carry us through the muck and suffering of life? Sikhs have a cliché for it - chardi kalaa ... The cliché is pithy, true and terse, its explanations verbose, rambling and incomplete."

I have taken these words out of an essay, "When Life Gives You a Lemon, Make Lemonade", from my book "Being & Becoming a Sikh."

As I think about it, my thoughts go to how the Japanese are dealing with a string of disasters that life has handed them - an earthquake of unmatched destructive force, a tsunami, and then a nuclear meltdown, following one another in quick succession, adding to the tragedy of each. 

We also remember the aftermath of 9/11 and of Katrina and our national response to them that left us groping and frustrated, even afraid.

Many people have endured horrendously shattering events - Jews and the Holocaust, the killings in Rwanda, genocidal and murderous frenzies against many people all over the world - acts of nature or of murderous power-driven despots.

Positive thinking and optimistic advice are easy and oh so necessary. Hope is an essential prerequisite to survival.

Between breast beating and stoicism, there must be a hopeful alternative that emerges out of reason and experience.

What then does it mean 'to make lemonade when life gives you a lemon'?  What does "chardi kalaa" mean to us today? How does it operate in our lives today?

Please share with us - by posting your comments below - how you are grappling with all that is going on around you.


[Convenor Ravinder Singh Taneja is away on vacation. Until his return, Dr. I.J. Singh will stand in his shoes.]

March 21, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 21, 2011, 10:03 PM.

We become too comfortable with life and have no interest in preparing for the next. The best way to adapt to change is to be willing to separate ourselves from falsehood. This will not happen overnight, we have to study Guru Granth Sahib. The more we learn and understand, the more we feel the conviction within for the need to embrace change. It needs a brave step to discard the non-virtuous traits inside us. Waheguru will fill this emptiness with His amrit, the benefits of Guru's wisdom. When we really enjoy the contemplation of Shabad Guru, and the more we appreciates Akal Purakh, the more attributes of God become part of us. God's traits are countless, at the same time He is beyond all traits.

2: H.S. Vachoa (U.S.A.), March 22, 2011, 6:28 PM.

Once we realize that we alone are responsible for ourselves, to shape ourselves and our lives, and no supernatural entity is going to be there to lead us by the hand through life, we will be able to make our chardi kalaa.

3: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), March 26, 2011, 9:40 PM.

Dr. I. J. Singh Ji, you wrote, "Positive thinking and optimistic advice are easy and oh so necessary. Hope is an essential prerequisite to survival." I agree. We are an action-oriented society, but, even though proper acts are essential, gurbani teaches us to be vision-oriented [GGS:610.1-6] because, gurbani says, inner connection with reality is more important than being preoccupied with the circumstances. We know that it is difficult to maintain positive thinking during a calamity. This is why we engage in daily practice, envisioning God's will in action, and thus, the resulting inner strength gives us a edge over our outer circumstances. All I know is that, according to gurbani, the circumstances can change in accordance with our inner vision [GGS:899.15] but the result is not always what we want. If we understood this, then whatever happens, good or bad, the tart lemon turns into a sweet orange of God's sweet will. If it did not, then there must be some deficiency in our vision. The term "chardi kalaa" is misinterpreted by most as 'positive thinking' but I believe that "chardi kalaa" means spiritual growth, a growth in our inner vision, everyday, as a result of Naam Simran. Without Naam there is no "chardi kalaa" in recognized gurmat.

4: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), March 27, 2011, 11:42 AM.

Thank you, Yuktanand ji, for your interesting comment. I see that we are action-oriented but to my mind good action emerges from, follows, and is determined by, vision; action that precedes vision is not likely to be that fruitful, desirable or wise. And for a Sikh grounded in gurbani, that's from where vision would emerge as would positive thinking and chardi kalaa. Positive thinking, too, does not arise in a vacuum but from an inner understanding of the self, in other words, from vision.

5: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Delhi, India), March 29, 2011, 1:03 AM.

"Teraa keeta meettha laagey/ har naam padaarath Nanak maangey" ... I don't think it can be said any better.

6: Paramjeet Singh Bagga (New Jersey, U.S.A.), April 02, 2011, 1:07 PM.

Dear Dr. I.J. Singh ji: Thanks for the article which makes us think of the reality. In my opinion, whether one defines life as a lemon or Waheguru's bakshish depends on how much role 'maya' plays in that individual's life. 'Maya' comes in many forms, including 'moh'. If one can 'tyaag' maya, then truly following "tera bhaana meettha laage ..." become possible.

7: Jamna Kaur (RichmondHill, Ontario, Canada), May 05, 2011, 8:35 PM.

Dr. I.J. Singh ji: You have raised a very important concept ... how one deals with the atrocities that take place within our lives, and around the world, on a daily basis. Personally, the term "chardi kalaa" functions as my umbrella in life, when it starts to rain and things become tough and unbearable to deal with. I am reminded that, as long as I remain optimistic and hopeful, that the rain/ negative events will ultimately come to an end, at which point a rainbow will also appear. It's the positivity and hope that carries me forward in tough times, with the knowledge that only God, and these two factors, can keep my ship afloat amidst life's ever-changing currents.

8: I.P.S. Ahuja (Canada), June 06, 2011, 5:55 PM.

Chardi Kalaa: It means, to me, positive energy. And it is positive energy that brings health, wealth and happiness.

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