Kids Corner

Images below: first from bottom - courtesy, Noel O. Pama, Sr. Second from bottom - courtesy, The Telegraph.


The World We Leave Behind



With the extensive daily media coverage of environmental issues, it is hard not to feel guilty about not doing my part. 

My solution has been simple: ignore it. I have convinced myself that these issues are not about me, my family, friends or communities. 

Don't get me wrong, I have fond memories of spending most of my childhood outdoors.  I'd play outside in my yard until it was too dark to see who I was throwing the ball to. I also camped at Lake Tahoe with my Girl Scout troop and family every summer until I was twelve.  And I often took drives to my father's orchards, just to stare at the blossoming trees. 

In my adult life, I have seen global warming, pollution, clean water shortages and the destruction of ecosystems as legitimate concerns, but my time is limited. So, back to "Plan A"  -  ignore it and take care of other commitments. 

With my luck, higher forces have been discussing me, and my dire need of an attitude adjustment.  In recent months, they have decided to send more audible messaging. 

A quiet whisper of a message came through the daily walks I take around Lake Temescal, as a new mom.  Each morning, I approach the lake with a new question about mothering, my marriage, or life balance.  The trees outlining the lake create a canopy under the sun, cooling the path. 

Breathing in the crisp morning air as I circle the lake helps me relax and set a thoughtful pace for the day.   Focusing on the sun's rays reflecting off the lake, or the family of ducks waddling into the water, eases my mind into a quieter, more creative place for life answers. 

The trees, the blackberry bushes, the wildlife, and the fishing docks, all create a tranquil setting for clarity in thought and a good dose of serenity. 

By the time I complete the fourth round, my tensions and tribulations have melted away, leaving me with relief and contentment: I can once again view my life from a balanced lens. 

Lake Temescal has become a close friend of mine. I'd be lost without her.  In addition to family members and friends, I attribute my family's well-being and happiness to this lake. This body of water nurtures me, so I can nurture others. 

Sadly, this did not move me to action, so a louder message came through a discussion with a young environmental activist. 

In our exchange, it was apparent how much we were gushing at the chance to find yet another connection between spirituality and nature. The connections were abundant, and our souls were expanding each moment we came up with a new link. 

When she pointed out the shabads the Gurus wrote, citing the forest and nature as a sanctuary for prayer and meditation, I had a hard time justifying my "look the other way" attitude. We concluded that maintaining and serving temple Earth was as important as serving in our own homes and gurdwaras.  

I did not anticipate this conversation staying with me for as long as it has. But this still wasn't enough. 

This message came down through my father, and wasn't so much in what he says, but how he lives.  His attachments to local landscapes runs deep in his bloodline, a generation of families who have sustained themselves on their farms in Gurdaspur, India.  

When my father remembers stories about his childhood, the landscapes always make their way into his fond memories:  sleeping on top of the harvested wheat piles or enjoying a ride on his brother's shoulders across irrigated crops, are all part of who he is. 

In the same way, my daily walks, hikes, and eagerness to be in natural landscapes, has become part of who I am. 

When my father arrived in America, he was a physician by trade, but pursued a lifetime passion of cultivating various crops for harvest in Northern California.  Growing up, we enjoyed prunes, peaches and walnuts at a time when "organic" just meant picking the fruit off the tree.  Today, in his retirement, he nurtures the vegetable garden and fruit trees in his backyard. 

This past summer, we enjoyed "organic" peaches, pluots, figs and tomatoes.  Every morning, he walks out to his garden and surveys the chili peppers and eggplants, or checks on the persimmons.  He pulls weeds, prunes branches, and picks ripe fruit for the family. 

When I asked him why he spends so much time there, with his fruits and vegetables, he stated that it calms him, slows his heartbeat down, just lets him be.  Pathetically, even this wasn't enough to move me into action.   

The final whammy came with having a child that will outlive me, and who has made me feel personally responsible for the world I leave behind.  Am I going to leave behind a world full of air that pollutes children's lungs, a world that once had rainforests to walk through but no more, a world that has declared clean water a scarce resource?

The culmination of these cosmic messages and examining my own habits makes me shudder.  I know how much I waste in the way of napkins and paper towels on a daily basis, how careless I am about my water use, and how many extraneous trips we take in our car.  I am single-handedly setting a destructive example for my child. 

An example that tells her it's okay to abuse the Earth, it's okay to waste resources, and it's okay to not take responsibility for the environment because it can take care of itself.  

The realization of our personal lifestyle habits has been depressing, yet it created an opening for a new type of consciousness emerging.  These wasteful and environmentally disrespectful habits were cultivated over a lifetime, so changing them will take quite a while. 

We have started with buying canvas bags for grocery and market shopping.  So far, we have only had a twenty percent  success rate with remembering to take them with us to the store, but we have to just keep at it; maybe nailing them to the door that leads to the garage will help. 

We have also become mindful of shutting the running water off when we brush our teeth, and buying aluminum water bottles that we can refill on a daily basis.  My husband reminds me to turn the lights off whenever I leave a room, and I haven't attempted this yet. But I learned about using cloth napkins at each meal so as not to waste paper products, which leads to cutting down more trees. 

In addition, we have to stay mindful and updated on how to keep improving our habits, so we can push out our wasteful ways and usher in a conservation mindset.  

Our family cannot change the world, but we can change the worlds we inhabit in our home, school and workplaces.  We can act on the reverence we feel for our Earth.  We can respect and care for it as much as we do our own flesh-and-blood mothers. 

At this point, we are hardly environmentalists, but we are trying.  And I hope when I'm older, peering out through my bifocals as we stroll through a dew-touched rainforest, asking my grandchildren to repeat what they have said to me five times over, I will feel at peace about having done my part to preserve the world I will leave behind.  

Conversation about this article

1: Jessi Kaur (California, U.S.A.), September 16, 2007, 9:09 PM.

Meeta, your self-reflections have held up a mirror for the rest of us. Thanks for an honest piece. I can never forget the first few pictures taken of our planet from outer space. It looks like a beautiful Christmas ornament. Except it breathes and throbs. Our Gurus called it the great Mother Earth (mata dharat mahat). The onus is indeed on us to maintain its pristine beauty and sanctity.

2: Brijinder Kaur Khurana (New Delhi, India), September 17, 2007, 1:24 AM.

Meeta, thank you for showing us a mirror. Consciously or sub-consciously, we do the same mistakes daily and are contributing to the desecration of nature. Thanks again for showing us a path.

3: Prabhu Singh Khalsa (Española, New Mexico, U.S.A.), September 17, 2007, 2:34 PM.

I'm encouraged to know of other Sikh environmentalists. Maybe we could start an e-mail list. That would be really cool. My brother is my hero in terms of the environment and he's always teaching me knew things and helping me to create new habits.

4: Bandana Kaur (Chappaqua, New York, U.S.A.), September 17, 2007, 10:34 PM.

Meeta, a beautifully written piece! Your reflections are going to prompt people to think in new, beautiful ways about their connection to the natural world. A good friend of mine once said: "The earth is the greatest manifestation of God that we know of and still people don't respect it." And, if we think about it, how wonderfully true this is! The Gurus were so sublimely aware of the nuances of the natural world, recognizing God in every plant, every flower, every insect. Sikhism is such a deeply ecological faith - there's no other way to express the nature of our all-encompassing faith. I think what this truly means is that we have a responsibility to follow this respect for Creation in our every-day actions. When we nourish the planet with respect, it too will nourish us. But when we disrespect it, it too will reflect this back to us in the form of disease, hunger and poverty - and, worst of all, a severed connection to our place in the cosmos. I think that your piece will encourage people to rediscover that connection. And, once that connection is there, and we are nourished by it, we will equally feel a desire to nourish, love, and care for this planet that was gifted to us.

5: Tejwant (U.S.A.), September 18, 2007, 1:44 PM.

A nice self- reflection. Now, how this reflection can become our second nature in our everyday life demands a collective effort of our Sikh conscience. First and foremost, we should remind ourselves as often as possible that for a Sikh, a mere responsibility or obligation is not an accomplishment; hence, self back-patting is a no, no. Perhaps that is the reason we do not applaud after Kirtan or Katha because Sikhi is all about the message, not about the messenger. And the message needs no applause, even though the messenger hungers for thunderous clapping. We can recycle as much as we want to, as individuals. But if we keep on eating our four-course langars in the plastic plates in our gurdwaras, then all effort is futile and borders on hypocrisy, to say the least. The best part of Sikhi is that it is the sangat that makes the gurdwara, not the other way around, as in dogmatic places of worship. So, through our collective efforts, we should demand our gurdwara committees to use bio-degradable plates and cups, if the use of steel utensils (the best choice) is impractical. All of us should bring our own cloth napkins from home rather than using the paper napkins in the gurdwara. If we did a survey on the use of napkins in our place of worship, we would discover that each of us uses at least 10 napkins per visit, from wiping our hands after karah parshad, through the jalebi syrup offered as refreshment, till the dessert after the Langar. Bringing our own cloth napkins would help curtail the cutting of more trees and we can bring the dirty ones home and throw them in the washing machine with other laundry. No detergent is wasted, nor is water. All gurdwaras should have classes about looking after the environment that our Sikhi demands from us. All gurdwaras should arrange neighborhood cleaning/tree planting in different vicinities of the cities. This would have a multifold effect. This will help expose Sikhi to those whose ignorance sees us as some kind of turban-wearing Taliban Muslims rather that God-loving people. This will also show them that Sikh values are inclusive of all and, eventually, we will be able to join hands with people from other religions in a collective way to save our earth, which belongs to all, regardless of hue, creed or faith.

Comment on "The World We Leave Behind"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.