It is said in India, if you have a shawl, you have shelter. That of course says more about India than it does about shawls. In my travels to India I can’t count the number of obviously poor or stricken people who wear some kind of humble cloth around their shoulders or neck or over their head. And how so many covered sleeping unfortunate figures are prostrate in doorways outside of temples or in a rumbling train. But this is the story of one shawl, mine.
I have, for the past thirty years sat beneath the same shawl. Oh, there have been brief dalliances in sadhana with other shawls, some pure white and light, others lighter than the proverbial feather, but always and often I come back to this one, now faded blue/grey shawl.
Oh, of course, if there is a more formal gurdwara than our post sadhana daily one, all my wife has to do is raise an eyebrow as I pick up my dowdy, faded shawl for me to switch to one more decorative and crisp– for being out in the sanghat on a Sunday or at a wedding.
But I must easily admit, I like the feel of the faded one, the way its soft often washed material rests upon and warms my neck. The way it’s generous expanse covers my hands held upon my knees (in Gyan Mudra during Morning Call) and slightly the ground or floor around me on my sheepskin (I can’t tell you how MANY sheepskins I have had, lost, worn out, or meditated into tatters! But the shawl remains like an old and true friend.)
I almost remember the exact place where we bought this shawl and three others just like it (One for me, one for Sat Inder K, one for the baby (Guru Shabd K and one spare) not born until five years later. It was at a rather large shop, hard by a Hindu temple, across a wide river (maybe the Ganges) somewhere in India during our 1980 Yatra to the Golden Temple. Anandpur Sahib and Hemkunt Sahib. (After breaking through the thin layer of October ice in the pool for a yogic dip, bordering the then incomplete Gurdwara, I found the water warm and healing. But stepping out of it my then-new shawl warmed me in the Himalayan and almost frigid air.)
Then the shawls were a bright, nearly sky blue, a color mine no longer is – now it’s more grey. But it has covered my back, to use a modern cliche, during countless solstices and sadhanas and White Tantric Courses. And that was its purpose. Rare is the Solstice Sadhana that I do not come wrapped in this shawl. (A friend once commented that he has found me there a number of times, identifying me by the shawl as non-descript as it is.)
Now, it seems all I have to do is wrap it around my shoulders and I feel as though I could sit for hours in meditation. Don’t get me wrong, I still fidget with my body and fight mightily with my mind; but the reality is that the shawl, this piece of tattered cloth still exacts a strong influence upon me. It truly is a part of my meditation. I have sat under it for countless hours thinking of so many other things. That must surely count for something in the Akashic records. While this one humble object purchased so long ago for very little money (a few hundred rupees for the four of them, I think) serves the absolute purpose of steadying my attention, keeping my spine covered and warm and perhaps a bit straighter, and therefore makes me a bit stiller, quieter, stronger and maybe even a bit holier.
It is not what determines how I do in sadhana. It doesn’t get me down there. It does not propel me into a cold shower or roll me out of a warm bed. It does escort me down the stairs and keeps away the early morning chill as I check the front porch and the parking lot next door. All of these things would be possible without the shawl. Guru Ram Das and Yogi Bhajan, and my wife, Sat Inder Kaur and even a healthy dose of my own determination accomplishes all of the above. But the shawl … without it I might be a little stiffer, a little colder and perhaps a little more hesitant. With it, I am there. And this I suppose is the reason I am so biased in favor of this humble shawl. It is now torn in one corner, all the little tassels on its edges have come undone, perhaps like some of my karma. I’ll remain with it meditating (I hope) and finally be shoved into the crematorium and we both will be ashes and smoke, uplifted, finished with our earthly duties and going on to meet my teacher, as he once promised me.
It was approximately 40 years ago, give or take a year, that I learned, much to my delight, about the practice of sadhana. I had been going to every Kundalini Yoga class at the ashram when I idly inquired about yoga practices outside of public classes. “Oh. sure,” someone said, “we get up every day around 3 AM and have a group practice called sadhana.” It was perfect. I had been an early riser my whole life and could think of nothing more inspiring than practicing yoga with the yogis who lived at the ashram, early in the morning (4 AM), everyday.
Since then, I can say that I have attended many, many more group sadhanas than I have missed. I have not been perfect by any means but it is a rare night when I go to sleep expecting to miss sadhana. I do awaken somedays, groggy, wondering if I will get up. On most, if I can scratch and claw my way to the bathroom, brush my teeth with potassium alum and clean my monkey glands (I love a good gag in the morning!) I will happily make an appearance before God and Guru in the sadhana room.
The next step of course is the one cool blessing of a cold shower. Without it, I would not find my way to morning sadhana. I could not imagine going to sadhana without a cold shower preceding it. That would be like showing up at my wedding ceremony with no bride! Impossible!
The only thing I treasure more than sadhana is the Kundalini Yoga which inhabits it. Every kriya, pranayam, meditation or posture that I practice is like uncovering a jewel in a basin of valueless rocks and gritty sand. They are not all easy to attain, a few are. But!They are perfect, as given by the Master and practiced with as much integrity that I can muster.