If you walk into our village, which is a house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the first thing you might notice is the sea of shoes by the front door. Then you would probably notice the noise. You would hear the sound of drumming from the living room on your left and the voices of children playing, shouting and running up and down the stairs. You would hear the voices of the bibis chatting in the kitchen and you would smell the aroma of roasted garlic, onions and spices escaping from the pots on the stove. There may be teenagers and computers on the couch or some concerned Sikhs deep in conversation at the table, focused on the welfare of the Sikh panth, considering measures that will help.
Then you may notice the sound of voices singing and if you follow the music down the stairs you will find yourself in a room filled with men and women, Punjabis, Europeans, Americans and Canadians, young and old, singing along with tanpura, taus, pakhawaj and rabab. Electric cables are everywhere and a photo would make a good advertisement for Apple because nearly everyone is using an iPod or laptop to record the day’s singing class and the sound of tanpura is resonating from an app on several iPads and iPhones. In the front of the class there is a whiteboard charting the notation for the vocal exercise in practice. Bhai Baldeep Singh sits at the front of the room singing along or offering instruction. Sometimes the music stops and the teacher begins a new series of exercises, or talks on a relevant topic, often accompanied by plenty of laughter. When the singing shifts to the singing of shabds the little sangat really comes alive. Learning from the repertoire of an oral tradition that extends from the Guru times, the students drink the bani nectar.
Our little village may look confusing to newcomers who are perhaps accustomed to a different kind of classroom setting in a different kind of school. This kind of learning happens in the context of living an ancient tradition. This kind of sangat is not without its challenges. When the sangat meets, all the hearts come with intention and focus to connect with something divine. But along with a purity of heart, human travelers carry the ego baggage wherever they go. Sometimes the stories we’ve been telling ourselves get challenged when we meet up with those who see differently. Even in sangat colliding egos can feel painful. Sangat is like a pool where you can see your reflection. If you look inside and see a mess it might look like the water needs cleaning. Or is it just a reflection? Doing the inner work clears the water.
We’re a village of nomads and in the past decade-and-a-half many wonderful families have allowed us to set up our camp in their homes from coast to coast in North America, and earlier this year in India. It’s an unusually generous household that welcomes dozens of strangers to fill their home for nearly two weeks with activity and sound from pre-dawn to late night. We are grateful to be welcomed by our Albuquerque hosts. And if you should ever want to come to this village, we will welcome you with open arms.
Photos by Sadhu Kaur (Maria Fiuzza)