We started this advice column as a space to hear and attempt to answer questions that our readers may be struggling with. While this column mostly focuses on dating, love, and sex, we will take a crack at answering any Sikhi related questions! These are all tough topics to handle alone and not all of us have friends or family to turn to for advice. We hope this advice column can begin to fill this gap!
I’m a 15 year old and I’m in my “feels”, so this will be a bit informal. I need advice about something very important. I live in the South of the U.S. and that’s hard. I’ve been through many mental illnesses and I face them everyday; I have had a rough journey that has made me stronger and more mature so, I am thankful for that. I lost my faith in Waheguru Ji for a year and over this past summer, I regained my faith, for which I am very thankful for. All of my friends are Christian. They go on retreats and field trips every weekend, and they have a youth group at their church. Recently they went to a pumpkin patch which seemed fun. They have all of these ways to connect to the Divine and community. I want that connection. I need it. Battling with mental illnesses is hard and I need my connection with the Divine to be strong. It’s there, but I feel it slipping at times. It took a long time for me to get my faith back, and I don’t want to lose it again. I want to go to the retreats my friends go to and have small group meetings like them. Knowing the Indian community, it’s hard for me start something like this on my own. There aren’t many Sikh kids (literally only 2 including me) who are interested, but they can’t commit fully and also it’s hard to create that during high school. So what do I do?
Dear Kaur Eyez,
You are an incredibly strong young woman. We love that you are in your “feels”. Own it. It sounds like you’ve been through some ups and downs. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your journey with us.
First, some overall thoughts. We are not sure what made you lose your faith in Waheguru and regain it, but we hope you are able to find more peace in whatever part of your journey you are in. One of the Kaurs on our team, we will call her Learner Kaur, remembers going through a couple years in her life when she didn’t believe in any Divine. “I felt like a fraud going to Gurdwara and doing normal Sikh things,” says Learner Kaur. “It’s completely normal to question things, to feel like your faith is slipping away, and come to new understandings of yourself and your relationship with Sikhi. I like to think that is what the Guru wants from us–to slip and fall and learn and grow. I am not sure if this is relevant to what you are asking, but nowadays, I think of Sikhi as more of a way of life. Instead of focusing on believing (‘I believe in Waheguru’ or ‘I don’t believe in Waheguru’), I now try to live life and see how Gurbani/the Guru/Waheguru can help me make sense of some of what I’m struggling through.”
Now, you mentioned your struggles with mental health. There’s this line from Rehraas Sahib that says “Dhukh Dhaaroo Sukh Rog Bhaeiaa Jaa Sukh Thaam N Hoee.” The beginning part of this lines talks about how pain and suffering are like medicine. For Learner Kaur, this shabad reminds her to embrace her mental health issues, rather than fighting them. “I’m someone who experiences chronic anxiety,” she says. “I’m not sure what your mental health issues are like, but sometimes lines from Gurbani help me feel like the struggle I’m going through has meaning. Reading gurbani (with the translations) or singing kirtan helps me feel a little better. The phone app GurbaniMC is a great place to listen to kirtan and iGurbani is a great app to look up specific shabads.”
At the same time, not everyone is ready to connect to their Sikhi in this way. It’s ok if you’re not. When it comes to mental health, it’s normal and healthy to try a variety of different things (Sikh and non-Sikh specific) to figure out what works for you. If you’d like to talk to another Sikh person about some of your options, the Sikh Family Center message line is a great resource. You can leave them a message, and someone from their message line will get back to you in a couple of days.
And now, the crux of what you asked about: community. You have such wonderful ideas on how to create the community and world you want. We hope that you get to do them all eventually! It also sounds like you have a lot of energy in you to do some great seva (selfless service). We wonder if you could channel that energy into coming up with a service project that benefits the community at large, rather than just focusing on the Sikh or Indian community (especially since the other Sikhs in your school may not have the time to commit). We totally understand that craving for sangat (community). The great thing is that we can find sangat (they don’t have to be Sikh!) in so many ways. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Here are some ideas:
1. Create or join a non-religious seva group. Some schools or towns have things like Key Club (a student-led organization whose goal is to encourage leadership through serving others) or Honors Societies.
2. Volunteer somewhere that helps you feel like you are serving Waheguru’s creation and connecting with other like minded youth who care about making the world a better place, like food pantries, health clinics, and animal shelters. Idealist.org is also a great resource.
3. We are not sure where in the South you are, but Tennessee has a Sikh youth camp next June and Houston has a Sikh youth camp coming up in December. Camp Sikh Virsa in Chicago is having a camp even sooner–over Thanksgiving Break–if you can’t wait! They also have a teen retreat in February. We aren’t sure if those are options, but they might be a great way to connect to other Sikh youth.
4. Start a WhatsApp group with your Sikh friends who you may not see everyday. You can use the space to ask for support or have discussions around Sikh topics. Learner Kaur personally has one with a few groups of friends and she finds it really helpful to feel connected, even though many of her friends are across the country.
5. If you want to learn more about Sikhi in general, the Sikh Research Institute has some pretty dope content you could check out. They have some webinars and videos that might be a great way to start discussions with family and friends. We know it’s not the same thing as a retreat or small group, but it might be a cool way of staying connected with your Sikhi.
Another Kaur in our team, we will call her, Searching Kaur, experienced something similar to you. “When I was in high school, I was the only Sikh and one of three Indians in a school of 2,000. Most kids were in a Christian youth group and would pray by the flag before school, have bible study after school, and do fun projects or go on trips on the weekends. I felt like I wanted to be a part of it too,” she said. “I didn’t see a problem with it because we all worshiped the same Divine. Going to their meetings I realized a couple of things. Christian ideas started creeping into my psyche and influencing the way I lived my life as a Sikh. Though we all worshiped the same Divine, our world views were different. They believed in Heaven and Hell, that God is masculine, in original sin, etc. Some things they believed are contradictory to Sikhi. The truth is, at that age, I didn’t know much about what Sikhs did and did not believe so I didn’t know what parts of the Christian conversations I should adopt or not. If you need sangat, hanging out with the Christian youth group could be an option. However, as they discuss tenements of the Christian faith, it might be a good practice to ask yourself, ‘What is the Sikh stance on this conversation?’ and look it up when you get home if you don’t know.”
The following questions might be a good way to check in with yourself no matter who you choose to hang out with: Is the sangat you are surrounding yourself leading you closer to the Divine or away from the Divine? Are they helping you learn about Sikhi (if that’s your goal)? Are all of your goals and intentions aligned? How are they similar or different? As a young person who is still forming her world views and opinions, it’s important to be exposed to many ideas but also to be grounded in something you can trust to be true, like Gurbani/Sikhi.
You are a thoughtful individual who is well on her journey to living a self-reflective and meaningful life. Thank you for writing in.
Wishing you all the best,
Some Sikhs with Some Thoughts
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Your questions will be answered by a team of Sikh women who, together, have been involved with gender violence prevention efforts, researched South Asian honor culture, and are deeply engaged with their local Sikh sangats. They have degrees in law, education, computer science, ethnic studies, political science and more. Every two weeks we will respond to one of your questions publicly. We all come with our own diverse, and sometimes conflicting experiences, and will attempt to reflect these thoughts in our response. It should be noted that none of us are experts in your experience. We hope you take our advice with a grain of salt and forgive us for any part of your experience that we may have misinterpreted. Individuals of all genders are encouraged to submit questions! This is not a female-specific advice column by any means.
Photo by William Stitt
The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. This column, its authors, Kaur Life, Kaur Life’s affiliates, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.