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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gudwara: A Day with Some Springfield Sikhs

A Gudwara in India.  (Retrieved from:
After slipping off my shoes at the door, my friend and I entered a spacious room where a man was singing Punjabi prayers into a microphone. We took our seats on the floor of the women’s side, adjusting our headscarves to keep them in place. This former church was now decorated in bright pink and gold material, a contrast to the blue stained-glass windows lining the walls. More men and women dressed in traditional Indian clothing filed in after us, bowing before the altar at the front before taking their seats.  The congregation continued singing as the priest closed the heavy book, and after wrapping it in many layers of white material, balanced it on his turban.  He arose from his seat on the small platform and came down the steps, crossing from one side of the room to the other, the worshippers bowing their heads as the book passed. After ceremoniously placing the book in its resting place, the priest passed out a sweet mashed-potato-like substance for each person to eat that had been an offering.
            This is a scene describing a Sikh prayer service, and although it is a dominant religion in parts of India, gudwaras, or temples, exist all over the world. One of these temples is right here in Springfield. 
My knowledge of Sikhism was very limited before I went to the service, so after looking it up, I discovered that there are approximately 20 million Sikhs worldwide, most of whom live in the Punjab province of India (“Sikhism at a Glance”, 2014). They follow the teachings of 10 Indian gurus who lived between 1469 and 1708, with the founding Guru being Guru Nanak of the 16th century. The teachings of these ten gurus, amongst others of different religions, are compiled in the Guru Granth Sahib, which is considered their Holy Book and the living and true Head of the Sikh religion.  It is filled with poetry, hymns, and prayers, laying the foundation for their belief in the True Guru (God), as well as the way to salvation and development of the soul.  The fifth guru, Guru Arjan, was the one who began the compilation of the Sikh hymns from gurus before him, and it was completed many years later in 1705.  
Many Sikhs have the view that which religion one belongs to is less important than living in a constant state of remembrance and reverence of God. The goal of a Sikh life is to live honorably and benevolently, and to break the cycle of life and rebirth, in order to merge with God (Sikhism, 2011). Sikhism says that this is possible by living an honest life, and in the process, drawing closer to God by his grace and by overcoming haumain, or, self-centered pride (“Beliefs”, 2014).

I have lived in Springfield for most of my life and never knew that this temple existed until about a month ago. I knew even less about the people that worship there.  Since then, I have learned that they are students and families who have chosen to call Springfield home for many different reasons, bringing to this city restaurants and other businesses, as well as a different culture and perspective that we can learn from.  They welcomed me into their community at the temple very graciously and hospitably, and how I hope that the Springfield community has done and will do the same for them. :)

“The Sikh Gurus”, “Philosophy”, “Sri Guru Granth Sahib”, “Other Religions”, “Gudwaras”. 2011.
Retrieved from:
“Sikhism at a Glance”, “Beliefs”. 2014. British Broadcasting Company.
            Retrieved from:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Success (In)Articulated

Alumni weekend has finished, and the past graduates are now making their way back home. They have returned to their current places of residence, no doubt with nostalgia filling their hearts as they reflect upon the past few months, years, or decades since they walked the line and received their diplomas. I’ve heard many discuss the differences between what they expected to come following graduation and what actually came, whether in their careers, families or both.  Some of the ones with exceptionally noteworthy achievements have received awards and applause, recognition of opportunities seized and choices well made. 

And now, we the current students are left to our mid-term responsibilities of studying, writing, drinking coffee, and more studying. We are left to our wonderings of how the future will actually turn out, which dreams will come to fruition in our own lives and which will remain for someone else to achieve. We wonder how our passions will take shape, and if the doors we hope will open will indeed be unlocked for us.  We hope the work we’re doing now is indeed equipping us for the work we hope to do then, and the people we are now will have the wisdom to become the people we want to be then. 

At least, that’s what alumni week has caused me to wonder. As I grow closer to graduation, I increasingly find myself scrambling for a goal, for motivation to finish well. That searching has lead me to reflect upon questions of what defines success. 

Am I successful if I have a high-level position and have a lot of influence in a large company? Am I successful if I get my own company off the ground and support myself? Am I successful if I simply serve others and make their lives better? In that case, am I successful if I serve a lot of people or serve a few people really well? What if serving others well means my career seems to fail in the process?  Am I more successful if my career takes off or if my relationships flourish? Is it possible to do both? Am I successful if I have a family and live a simple life with enough food on the table, or would I be missing something? Am I successful if I just do what I like to do and am passionate about? Do I really need to be a world changer or is it okay to make a deep impact on the community around me for good? Does farther reach really indicate a more impactful life? 

And so the questions continue, and my end career goal is left unarticulated. 

I really don’t have a conclusion for today’s post. My mind continues to wonder what defines true success. 

And so I turn it back to you, dear reader: What defines success in your own life? What goals are you aiming towards that help determine what you focus on? 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Birds of a Feather (Should Find New Friends)

We’ve all had that moment. 

A friend invites you to hang out with people you’ve never met before, and it soon becomes apparent that they do not see the world like you do.  You crack a joke that’s not appreciated and then voice an opinion too quickly, soon feeling the tension rise and the emotions stir as buttons are irrevocably pressed and judgments are hastily made. Of course people remain cordial, faces frozen with pained smiles, all hoping to avoid appearing hostile. Eventually, you decide to just nod and smile, in a silent effort to just blend in, before making a speedy exit when socially appropriate.

Hmm…Uncomfortable indeed. 

I squirm a little bit as I recall moments like the one above, when I was surrounded by people who were simply different from me. Many of these moments occurred overseas, such as the time when my sister and I met a woman in Egypt, and were then shown up the steps to an apartment building where a bride and bridesmaids we did not know were anxiously preparing for a wedding many hours later. We sat on a bed amidst the scene across from a frail grandmother, silent due to the lack of a shared language, drinking tea and eventually saying our “ma’salama”s as we headed home. 

In other countries, despite my efforts to be aware, I’m sure I’m generally oblivious to subtle cultural cues and traditions, and often, the hosts will extend grace. I’ve found, however, that the most painfully awkward moments can occur on my own home turf. On this home turf that is the Midwest, and in my native language of English, I can understand not only the words, but the perceived connotations and nuance of what people are saying, and what they actually mean. I can decode their body language, further adding to what their words do or do not communicate. This is a beautiful thing when I am having a heart-to-heart with a trusted and close friend, but it can become problematic when I am among people who don’t share a similar worldview as me. 

In the past year, I’ve missed out on a lot because my comfort zone persuaded me to live out the cliche saying, “Birds of a feather flock together”. That changed, though, when I began to discover the benefits of flocking with a different crew of birds:

DISCUSSION: Discussions do not take place when everyone agrees on an issue.  When dialogue is able to occur in a gracious manner, every side is able to grow and further discover why they believe what they believe (and if they truly believe it at all). You may still disagree at the end of the conversation, but you have both grown your knowledge about the opposing (or simply different) view. 

EXPANDED WORLDVIEW: As you live life with people of different backgrounds and values, you can begin to see the world from their perspective.  This can be exemplified through watching a movie with people and then asking each person what they took away from it.  Hearing what is important to others can help shed light on previously unknown issues, as well as on areas that could use improvement or reevaluation in your own life. 

VARIETY OF EXPERIENCE: Hanging out with people who are different from you can open up your life to a lot of new hobbies, cultures, outings, and adventures.  Some examples from my own life include a sword fighting challenge, medieval reenactment festival, an indie concert with Jamaicans and huge dinosaur sculptures, a yoga class with elderly ladies, cave explorations on grueling hikes…If you are seeking to make a living in art, writing, or other areas that require creativity, a variety of experience gives you more to pull from in terms of things to look to for inspiration.  It is stretching to try new things and take risks, but if you are okay with potentially failing, you may be able to make some very valuable friendships and memories, as well as learn to love some things you never thought you could.

We’ve all been in situations where we feel like the odd-man-out; it is an inevitable part of life.  However, if you become comfortable with being uncomfortable, you can really help to train yourself for more growth in discussions, an expanded worldview, and a greater variety of experience. Birds of a feather do often flock together, but with those kind of benefits, it is easy to see that those birds should definitely find new friends.