Hello dear friends! What a strange, powerful and unexpected time of change and challenge we are all experiencing. I hope that this post finds you well and safe.
Can you believe I have been living in India for over 16 months? Time has flown. My one year anniversary of living here passed quietly and without mark in mid-December. Many students from all over the world have come and gone. My little niece, Mehtab is growing like a beautiful wild flower. She is learning to speak English and I am speaking more and more Punjabi. She and I are having some great conversations, ada Punjabi, ada English (half Punjabi, half English). I have learned more Shabads and Raags than I can count. I have seen many beautiful and many sad things. Life in all its amazing variety and color.
India is currently in a state of intense lockdown. Currently, there are no active forms of public transportation and all the shops are closed. It started on March 24, 2020. It was originally supposed to release on April 17th, but was extended. The latest news is that it will go until May 3rd. Luckily, part of Indian culture is that there are men with carts of vegetables and fruit that come around the neighborhood daily, so getting produce is easy. It took us a while to figure out how we would get other staples, like daal, ghee and soap. But now we have some connections and we will be okay if the lockdown continues.
I am supposed to leave India every 180 days as per the Visa requirement. I had to apply with Immigration for an extension, as my 180 days is up next week. There is currently no means of leaving the country – nor would I be allowed back in if I could leave.
In an effort to discover the application process, I was directed to the local courthouse where I sat in a tiny room that made me feel like I was in the sheriff’s station of an old western movie. The man typed up a paper on what looked like a vintage 1940’s typewriter. Overhead, a group portrait of saints from the Radha Swami tradition gazed down upon us. India is always interesting…
We have been utilizing some of the extra time at home to make comfort foods like homemade pizza, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, zucchini bread and moisturous lemon cake which we have been indulging in as well as sharing with Jasmeen and Ustad Ji’s families.
Yes, I said we! In late January, my good friend, Sangat Dhyan arrived in Amritsar to be my roommate. She was previously living at the 3ho, Baba Siri Chand Ashram in Millis, MA for the past four years. She has a deep love for Gurbani Kirtan and an amazing sense of humor. It has been fun to be studying, meditating, praying, singing and laughing together. It has also been a comfort to be together when there are tears. She has an amazing singing voice and an innate ability. I am really inspired by her and feel so blessed that she has come.
Honestly, the lockdown has effected me a lot less than most people. Over the past year, I got used to spending most of my time at home studying. I have learned a lot – but also have a long way to go. I am studying even harder, practicing longer and really digging deeply into the teachings I have received over the past year.
Lucky, my voice has changed and grown so that it can now support many hours of practicing each day. I still have to be mindful when I practice, listening and feeling carefully to make sure I am not slipping back into old habits that damage the voice. But so far, so good.
Normally, I practice with an app called iTabla Pro. It is an amazing app with electronic tanpura and tabla drums that you can adjust for each Shabads beat. It also has a swar mandal- sort of a harp like instrument, that you can set to the scale of the raag you are playing. I really love what technology allows you to have at your finger tips for enriching practice time without needing other live musicians – which isn’t always practical or possible.
However, I treasure the rare experience of being able to play with live tabla. Not too long ago, a Punjabi student of Ustad Ji’s happened to be present during our class. Ustad Ji asked me if I wanted to sing the most recent Shabad with the young man playing tabla. I said, sure! It is a good test for me to see how well I have learned the composition. But more so, there is something magical about live tabla. Playing with another musician allows you to really feel the power and beauty of the Shabad. The Shabad was played successfully and I felt Guru’s blessing at being able to have that experience without having rehearsed with the tabla player first. 😅God’s grace and all those hours of devoted practice.
I have been reflecting on my life and feeling tremendous gratitude for so many things. One thing is that I have been living in this foreign land for so many months, yet have never experienced any major illness here.
A while ago, during class one day, I started remembering in detail what it was like working at my full time office job in Utah and my daily routine there. It feels like that was a lifetime ago! I had been at that job for 11 years. I enjoyed my job and co-workers a lot. But I always had an uncomfortable, gnawing feeling inside me that there was something else important I really needed to do.
As I sat in class, singing along with Ustad Ji and the other students, I consciously realized that the discomfort and gnawing feeling is now completely gone. A longing of my soul has been deeply fulfilled by my experiences here. There really is nothing I would rather be doing in my life than studying this ancient system of Raag and sacred music and by Guru’s grace, it is my life right now. And, actually, I really love living in India. Experiencing immersion in another culture has been an amazing opportunity for growth and life experience.
But, I have also struggled with a lot of depression and sometimes feelings of hopelessness and despair over the past year. Recently I have been taking the opportunity to really feel and be aware of the intense emotional pain that is in me; being present to it and feeling it instead of denying or avoiding it. It has been difficult, but I can feel a shift coming by having the patience and courage to sit with it. Not judging or thinking about it, but just acknowledging it and truly feeling it. I am taking each day as it comes and have kept up with my Sadhana, the beautiful technologies of meditation and yoga that allow us to re-center and become sensitive, compassionate, aware human beings – instead of just human doings.
What are some of the best things about the past year? The independence and confidence I have grown by learning how to live in and navigate the culture and geography of another country. Having the opportunity to study with a master musician. Growing and expanding my abilities as a musician. Having the luxury of time at my disposal for practicing. Studying a new language. Making friends with both beautiful locals and other students traveling here from all corners of the globe. Spending time in silence with myself and learning to really listen to my soul. Having a lot of time for meditation.
Challenging things have been the sense of isolation I have experienced, both from being in a different culture away from all my friends and family as well as having to spend countless hours alone practicing and (for many months) the frustrations of living in a land where I couldn’t understand what people were saying or know enough of the language to communicate effectively with them. And of course, I also experience many continuing challenges with my musical studies.
All in all, it was a jam-packed, transformative year. Hopefully soon I will be able to share some music with you all.
Stay safe, listen to your soul, spread your wings and find the courage to do that thing that will make your soul fly. It might be tremendously difficult, but it will be worth it.
Next time, I will begin sharing about some adventures I had after returning to India last November…