Transforming Tragedy to Triumph
When we face challenge and adversity in life, the natural tendency is to find safety. Yet life is a sequence of challenges, each with its own sequence of failures or successes, tragedies or triumphs. It is the challenge that makes us grow, not the result. This is an important concept to understand. Challenge comes to us in life to make us grow by producing some change in the psyche of the individual. Once the change has occurred, then the need for the challenge has passed, and the circumstances change.
When we fail to rise and meet the challenge, then we are admitting defeat before the engagement, and that brings unhappiness and depression. How we respond to challenge can make the difference between improving ourselves or living with our weaknesses and failures.
True defeat is the defeat of the heart. In fact, we have the expression to "take heart," since it is in the heart that the spirit of the individual resides. True victory then, is when the heart prevails and the spirit does not bend. When the heart prevails and the spirit rises, anyone can recover from any situation anytime, but it is a conscious choice to do so.
The capacity to recover from tragedy, disappointment, and loss is both a power and a gift which, when managed and controlled, can transform the pivotal events of our lives into something that is positive. If we accept that life is about growth - growth as an individual, growth as a spiritual being, and growth as the evolution toward wisdom – then the ability to transform tragedy to triumph is an essential component that drives our growth.
In my own experience perhaps the most pivotal episode of my life was the death of my daughter, Nav Jiwan Kaur, who died in 1981 at the age of seven and a half. As a young parent I could imagine no greater dread than the loss of a child, especially a child as bright and beautiful as she. Still that day came for us. It is not possible to describe the impact of that experience, yet in the solitary shock of that moment I saw clearly that I had two options: I could accept it as the will of God and make a quantum leap in my own consciousness, or I could fight it, resent it, and end up old, miserable, and dysfunctional.
Two things made that transition possible for me. They were the guidance of my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan, and the support of the community. These helped me in every way—inspired and uplifted me, gave me comfort and hope, and gave me the opportunity to pull the best out of myself. In fact, through that whole process I found many opportunities to comfort and elevate others who also mourned her loss and were trapped in that pain. It started though, with my Teacher who would not let me get depressed, would not allow me to be defeated by tragedy. He encouraged me to chant for her soul, to help her on her path home to God, and in that way I was able to transcend my own grief, so that my life changed. So committed was I to her making the transition, and so focused was I on succeeding, that depression and defeat could not get in.
Transformative Power of Sadhana
The will to overcome adversity has to be cultivated. We all want to live happily ever after, but the reality of day-to-day life can grind us down if we allow it to. I can recount many times in my own life when I simply gave in and allowed the circumstances to defeat me. I always hated that about myself, but had a hard time overcoming it. So, I asked Yogi Bhajan for a meditation that I could do for the 40 days prior to my birthday one year, something that would help me to develop the capacity to deal with adversity more effectively.
I expected that he would give me something to do for 31 minutes a day at the most. After all, I had Akal Security to deal with and was a very busy guy. What he gave me though, was a meditation to do for three hours a day! And after 40 days he told me to never stop. He gave me other meditations, and I practiced all of them faithfully. Still, I did not yet understand that I was giving defeat the license to drive my psyche. That was the change that I needed to make.
And ultimately things did change. Several years after beginning those meditations, I began to do Sat Kriya for two and a half hours a day. Yogi Bhajan had suggested it to me many times, but I always managed to avoid it. Finally, I got the inspiration to do it, and the experience was transformational. I started with an hour a day, and each week added half an hour until I was up to two and a half hours. Interestingly, it was not painful. After a short time I just got into a groove where the energy flowed, and I kept up. I did it for about six months, doing the two and a half hours each day in one sitting. Circumstances changed, and my presence changed.
Now, I have to maintain my sadhana, my daily spiritual practice, and I try not to let a day pass in which I don't do Sat Kriya. Yet, I am not suggesting that one needs to meditate for hours or do these long kriyas. But, since I am kind of a slow learner, it was the only thing that worked for me. Something in me opened up. The energy that I generated and exerted overcame the crush of defeat. Something changed in my psyche as well, and I chose to no longer give room to the effects of adversity.
The impact of adversity can be life altering. The death of a loved one, the loss of love such as divorce or the break-up of a relationship, lack of success or financial loss, or the impact of disaster are all too real and impact us often. And often, these things come without warning, so there is no real way to prepare for them. Yet, I have found that with a steady sadhana and consciously being aware of my tendency to give in to defeat, which I think is simply a way of viewing the circumstances of my life, I have been able to make my way through numerous disappointments and times of adversity.
And that is where the projection of the mind makes all the difference. Positive projection doesn't necessarily mean that difficult or disappointing circumstances won't present themselves. These things will come as part of the ongoing flow of life. There has never been a mind more positive than that of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru. The circumstances he faced were horrific, yet he had the capacity to penetrate through those circumstances by the projection of his mind. And so have we. We just have to choose to use it.
And this, I think, is the key. All of these emotions are around us and in us all the time; the capacity to be as elevated as one can be or as base as one can be is always there. It is a matter of what we give space to. If I give space to my defeat, it will settle in and become cozy. Like a deadbeat tenant, defeat won't move out on its own, so it has to be evicted. If it is occupying the space, then there is no room for contentment. However, if I evict the defeat and let my victory prevail … well, you see where this is going.
Victory over the mind is the challenge. The flow of the mind is like that of water. It will settle in the low points first, then spread to any area where there is no levee to hold it back. And then our minds end up like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But if I can control the flow of my mind, I know that my ability to prevail in any situation cannot be compromised. Then, the adversity can bring personal growth and transformation and elevation to the spirit.
I am convinced that victory over the mind starts with sadhana, a strong daily devotional practice. That is where the energy to prevail is generated. I have personally found Sat Kriya to be essential for my own survival, and I recommend it for anyone. It is also important to socialize and be with people at times when you are down. I will never forget how the community gave me the strength to get through the death of Nav Jiwan Kaur, and I will be forever grateful.
The victorious warrior is one who faces every situation, every challenge, and every enemy with the mental projection and commitment of heart that he will be victorious and the enemy will be overcome; that whatever the odds or circumstances, he will rise to the occasion and do his best. Then, he leaves the results up to God.
In the military, soldiers are trained to respond to an ambush by attacking it: to return fire immediately, take cover and assess the ambush, then attack, and fight through. Life is the same way. When you are attacked by time and space, respond immediately.
In truth we have no control over the outcome of things. We only have control over ourselves and how we respond to the circumstances we face. If I can control my fear, my self-doubt, my tendency to shy away from what I should do, then what power is there that can defeat me? I have already won. When challenges come, a superior person will respond rather than react. The greatest chance to succeed is when you act to meet the challenge.
Challenge as Blessing
As spiritual beings, we are growth-oriented, which means that the circumstances of life will change and how we respond to those circumstances will change. I don't mean to imply that one can't grow spiritually without disaster and tragedy, but I do believe that we cannot grow without being challenged. Challenges come in various forms, but they will always come. We will be challenged by time, by circumstances, by our own frustrations and limitations, and if we are truly blessed, by our Teacher. I am fortunate enough to have been a student of a great master, Yogi Bhajan, who out of his love for me and his deep desire for me to excel, challenged and tested me repeatedly.
I am grateful for those challenges because they have helped me to face the constantly changing and challenging circumstances of my own life. There has been no area of my life that has not pushed me one way, pulled me the other, and many, many times over caused me to stumble and fall. I think that it was at those times, when I was down, depressed, and defeated, that I grew the most. The reason, I believe, is because when the pressure of time and space is on top of us, we have to exert a force that is not only equal to that pressure but greater than it, so that we can get through and past the situation. By doing that, we change the paradigm, and the need for the test then passes. As Yogi Bhajan taught in his Five Sutras of the Aquarian Age: When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off.
Heroes are those who, before ever engaging an enemy or placing themselves in the face of danger, first overcome their basic human drive to protect themselves in order to fight rather than to flee. It is the first step to victory, the first step to success, and the first step to getting oneself out of trouble. Therein lay the true acts of courage; not with the deed itself but with the conscious effort to attempt the deed. It is in the attempt to master the thing that we gain control of ourselves, then our environments. The other achievements are secondary.
Positive projection is penetrating through the situation, both within and without. We project within to touch our regal nature, our courage and essence, and then we project out, through the situation, so that we maintain our perspective without losing our way. That is what positive thinking is all about. My identity is to be content. My identity is to maintain my stability and dignity no matter what the circumstances are around me. My identity is to prevail with my divinity at all times. And that, I believe, is what constitutes victory.
Gurutej Singh Khalsa is the Founder of Akal Security, Inc.
His moving historical novel, Rajni, will be published in 2010. His collection of poetry, Children of the Cusp, is available through Amazon.com or through Gurutej directly.