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Losing Faith . And Getting Back In The Game




Jun 1, 2004
Losing Faith ... And Getting Back In The Game

It's easy to have faith when life is going well, but not always so easy when every reference point you previously used to orientate yourself has slipped away.

I have just passed through one of these phases.

I'm not quite sure when it started but I remember waking up one day at University and realising I just couldn't feel God any more. It wasn't as if I suddenly stopped ‘believing' or went through a ‘crisis of faith' because God is always there as an undercurrent, but I felt distant; unable to feel the source of my previous courage, peace, contentment and love.

At first I tried to ignore it and convinced myself that as soon as my last essays were in, I'd devote time to pursue it, but the more time went on, the bigger the hole in my life became, and the more fearful I became of facing up to it. Then I struggled with feelings of unworthiness and entered a self-perpetuating cycle. I felt unworthy to resume my sadhana and I'd wake up every morning between 5.30 and 6.00 am, lying awake in the dark, trying to summon the courage to push through and get up.

Without feeling any connection to the bani I was reciting, it all felt pointless, and even my experience of simran changed, feeling as if I was calling to God again and again, trying to locate Him in some forgotten and neglected part of my soul. Simultaneously I became deeply troubled by the thought that, because so much of my spiritual journey into Sikhi had been shared with someone else my experience had been vicarious, and they had been the source of all my ‘spiritual' feeling- which was now revealed for what it really was: an illusion.

Many dark thoughts proceeded from here. I felt fraudulent and hypocritical to be keeping the roop, and the inner courage and contentment that had led me to that point shrivelled up so my outer appearance felt like an artifice with no internal gumption to stop the foundations from crumbling.

I questioned everything - why did I continue to keep my kes when I didn't feel like a Sikh, a spiritual student, any more? I wasn't even sure I wanted to be one. And as soon as I started looking at the world around me and identifying increasingly with other girls, I was fed a steady diet of vanity, materialism and over-emphasis of the physical; those accepted ‘norms' of the West that industries have turned into desirable goals and aspirations.

It was a fearful, empty place.

However, it is true that the only constant in life is change, and my own remedy came piece by piece.

First was the realisation that when something is changing in life, whatever is happening, will do so regardless of our perceived participation in willing it not to happen. Everything in life - chances, opportunities, events and nasty suprises are all one-way doors. Once something has happened, it can't un-happen, though often we feel we would simply not cope were we to accept it.

We all know it intellectually, and especially when it is happening to someone else, but when it is our loss, our disappointment, our rage, our grief, our despair or our sadness, we desperately want to undo what has happened and redirect the future. And often we do - in our heads. We hold imaginary conversations for hours, re-working scenarios, disputes, accidents or inevitabilities. Or we play the ‘if only' game, reinforcing feelings of regret or blame.

I have found the way out of these spirals is to accept what you are feeling at any one particular moment rather than to try and rush towards a resolution or prematurely conclude you're ok with something. When I haven't been in the right frame of mind for doing my paatth or when I have felt fear or despair, I have sat down and done a simple breathing meditation. The trick is to acknowledge the feeling on the in breath and then feel compassion for it on the outbreath, holding that emotion as a mother holds her child: breathing in, I know I am afraid. Breathing out, I hold my fear.

It sounds trivial, but I can vouch for the fact that it takes a great deal of disipline to sit down to meditate with feelings of rage and think to yourself: breathing in, I know I am angry ... breathing out, I hold my anger ...

The thing that has undoubtedly helped me the most through this time of uncertainty, however, is finding some saadh sangat. I once heard someone say that sangat is important because sometimes we hit a stumbling block and, in his words, "don't know where we are with God"- we're looking for a sign that we are on the right track and nothing is directly forthcoming. Then perhaps we turn to our Guru and take a hukamnama, but we are unsure which way to take it, or what it means at all.

Your saadh sangat, however, is a part of God; a source of guidance and support who can reflect back to you ‘where you are', just by virtue of being another human being.

Everyone has heard the expression "Life is a game", and on reflection I think this metaphor serves as a good illustration. A chess piece on its own doesn't really have much meaning outside of the context of the game - it needs the chess board for it to become functional, and furthermore, additional pieces for interactions to occur and the game (with all its excitement, anticipation, disappointments and losses) to truly begin.

In a similar way, Waheguru gives us a worldly home and whatever particular role is written in our destiny, but also important are the other players on the board; our interactions with whom indicate our strengths and weaknesses, our successes, and what we have yet to achieve. Just as in chess, some people are ‘adversaries' in the sense that they yearn for and aspire to different things than ourselves, but interactions with others are advantageous and help us place ourselves in the greater scheme of life in a way that supports our spiritual growth.

After having experienced such a spiritual ‘low', I was shocked at how a single day spent in the company of someone I shall forever count as part of my saadh sangat changed everything.

There is a simple but deep recognition when you're around these type of people that the energy behind their smile, guidance or simple touch of the hand comes from beyond this world and in that moment exists only to shine through in an act of seva.

Having been through this extreme spiritual low and then hoiked out of it again (thanks Waheguru, you always seem to bail me out!) I am beginning to understand more and more why sangat is repeatedly emphasised as that which we should make our home, and which saves us from scepticism and doubt.

It is so important.

naanak sikh dhaee man preetham saadhhasa(n)g bhram jaalae

'Nanak gives this advice: O beloved mind, in the Company of the Holy, burn away your doubts.'

January 13, 2011

[Courtesy: Sikh and You Shall Find]


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