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Above: detail from a painting by Dosanko Debbie.


In Sickness & In Health





A couple of weeks ago, I came down with shingles.

What made it particularly more painful was the fact that mine was concentrated around my scalp and left eye. This caused terrible headaches and eye inflammation and the persistent pain made my life miserable.

I could not distract myself by reading, listening to music or watching TV, since these activities made my eye and head hurt even more. All I could do was to lie in bed all day, curtains drawn to avoid the glaring sunlight, trying to somehow fall asleep for a few minutes here and there.

But even sleep deserted me when I needed it the most.

During these painful moments, I had a lot time to think about random things while staring blankly into the darkness with my good eye. A lot of thoughts wandered around in my head.

I would like to share one of these with you, as I feel many of you must have had similar experiences during a debilitating injury or loss – when life seems to come to a standstill for a bit, quite different from the pace we are used to in our daily lives.

It leaves us confused and stranded, sometimes not knowing what to do or how to react. But more often than not, it leaves us with an invaluable experience and a whole new outlook about ourselves and life in general.

I have to start by mentioning the exemplary role my wife has played (and is still playing) in the recovery process. She has been with me each moment of my pain, every doctor visit I made, every pill I took, every morsel of food I swallowed. She was a constant companion to me and lent me an ear whenever I wanted to rant.

She got up earlier than me and slept later than me every day, making sure I took my medicines on time and I had everything I needed by my side throughout the day. She put her life on hold, to bring my life back on track.

Ours was a love-cum-arranged marriage and the initial attraction was largely superficial. But throughout this painful period, I have realized that irrespective of our differences, the inevitable occasional fights and quibbles, she is my soul mate … the closest I will ever get in my life.

But even with the constant attention and devotion, there were moments when I was on my own. 

One of the things I tried to do was to play gurbani and paatth on my iPad and try to immerse myself into it.

But, for some reason, it did not provide me solace this time around. Kirtan kept me satisfied a bit longer, but the effect would fade away soon too.

I then turned to some katha by one of my favorite katha-vaachaks, Bhai Sarabjit Singh Dhunda. He’s a relatively young preacher and has a very practical way of explaining bani with examples from day-to-day life.

Two things happened during this time.

The first was the realization as to why the initial attempt at listening to paatth wasn’t working for me -- I was merely trying to use paath as a distraction for my pain!

I try to do paatth from nitnem whenever I can and I have to admit I have been slacking off lately. But as soon as my affliction struck, I somehow expected the bani to miraculously heal me even if I was just listening to it online. I was being selfish about it right from the start – no wonder it did not yield any results.

Secondly, the katha and explanations about gurbani were working much better for me. I had started forgetting the pain while the videos were on. As soon as the videos stopped, the pain would resume.

I figured because I was listening raptly to the katha and was completely immersed in it, my brain was giving it enough attention to shield away my pain! The elucidation of the bani made sense to me, unlike the blank recitation I did when routinely doing or listening to paatth. An hour’s session explaining a few lines from the bani had given me so much peace, imagine if I had the understanding of all the paatth I was doing every day – I would be in eternal bliss!

Maybe that is why even a simple paatth keeps some people going during the toughest of times. They know and understand the meaning of every line they utter, it replays in their minds every time they recite it, filling it with the true meaning of the Guru’s words and elevates them to another plane altogether.

It is the power that let Guru Arjan sit on a hot plate and still maintain his composure. It is the power that bestowed a spirit of solace and acceptance to countless shaheeds thereafter, even though they were being tortured mercilessly. It is the power that kept Banda Singh Bahadar calm in the face of death, even as his son was murdered right in front of him.

It is also the power that makes you accept illness as a gift from Waheguru, the same way one accepts the good things in life. It makes you appreciate the verse “tera bhaana meettha laagey …” ("Sweet is Thy Will ...") and there are moments when you feel completely at peace with yourself.

These moments are, of course, fleeting for people like me, but I can imagine how they could be everlasting for those completely immersed in naam, both in word and action.

The lesson I took was to start my own quest towards understanding the bani more deeply from here on. To be able to have a basic interpretation of the verses I am reciting, so it plays in my head while I am reciting it.

To take it one step beyond and apply it in my daily life and activities and see where that takes me.

As my body heals and I regain my physical strength, I will try to balance it out with some spiritual growth too.

It is a work in progress.

August 28, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Aryeh Leib Lerner (Israel), August 28, 2014, 9:00 AM.

Beautifully expressed. Continuing the regimen when good health returns (may it soon!) is always the hardest part, but it lets us know, like nothing else, the depth of our commitment. And, if one doesn't succeed this time, simplify the goal, find a new strategy, and go for it again ... and again. As many times as it takes. Just. Keep. Going.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 28, 2014, 9:39 AM.

A friend of ours is right now admitted in the University Teaching Hospital here with a case of Shingles. The nurse at the front desk asked, "Where are your shingles?. Please go in that room and the nurse will take your blood samples." Once admitted to the doctor's office, the first thing he asked: "Where are your shingles?" Desperately, my friend replied: "I am sorry, I forgot the shingles in the house. I will phone my wife to bring them to you shortly."

3: Amarpal Singh (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), August 28, 2014, 11:55 AM.

Ajitpal ji, I sympathize with you, having seen my father suffer from the same agonizing and burning affliction. My grandmother passed away because of it.

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