“Wham! Bam! Pow! Cartoons,..” Exhibition
I was about to examine a longtime patient when he looked me in the eye and said, “My wife and I saw the CNN episode. I now know who you are, and it has completely opened up my mind.” This stopped me dead in my tracks; I knew he was talking about CNN’s groundbreaking Sikh episode that had just aired.
As a primary care physician for the last 18 years, it is my job to get to know my patients as I care for them. However, this was one of the first times somebody had ever walked into my office excited to share what they had learned about my faith. Usually people ask me about my turban and beard, and know very little. This moment had changed his views on who I am, and the conversation turned into an in-depth discussion about Sikhism.
Like you, when my family watched CNN’s United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell, we celebrated the Sikh story of resilience in America and marveled at how the episode represented our religion and community. When we turned our television off that Sunday night, even my young daughters instantly understood that this moment represented dramatic progress.
It turns out that what happened in my doctor’s office in Mission Viejo, California had also happened to others. Over the last two weeks, I have spoken to other Sikh friends that had similar moving experiences at work and within their communities. There has been an exciting pattern of everyday Americans stopping by to say hello and share what they had learned as they watched the episode.
I am so proud of the Sikh Coalition’s team for their incredible work on this project. When this opportunity materialized, the Sikh Coalition spent months planning and worked with producers, W. Kamau Bell and several community members on every single detail of the project.
The result is that hundreds of thousands of Americans spent a full hour learning about our community while millions more will watch re-airs, DVR the episode or catch video clips on social media, YouTube or Hulu.
We know that this television episode has already reached Americans nationwide, but the impact from this educational moment has only just begun.
We all must support this institution so that more high-impact moments like this continue. I hope you will join me in giving today. This work is making an enormous difference, and we must each individually support it. (Donate here)
Primary Care Physician
Mission Viejo, California
It has been a rough weekend. I have spent the past days tormented while my ego wrestled with itself, turning my emotions black and blue. Sometimes I dread time off from work because I know that is time for me to confront the darkness that is hiding inside this mostly peaceful mind.
I have some very uncomfortable thoughts I have to share with you today. I say I have to do it because that’s the way it is for me. When this struggle entered my mind as one I would likely have to relate at one time, a watermelon that had been sitting quietly for a day fell off the refrigerator onto the floor. Subtle signs can be rationalized. Watermelons taking flight are now a little harder for me to ignore. I have to warn you this is a candid piece about hair and gender and defining one’s identity.
Hair is a huge part of Sikhi and for women, in the U.S. at least, this is a sensitive topic. There is this idea that women should not have facial hair like mustaches or beards. I have searched books and the internet for any advice from Sikh women who have struggled with hair growth on their face but have only found writing from those blessed souls who either totally accept their hair or those who have removed it, even if it meant breaking their Amrit vows. You see, hair has become a mental torment for me during the last year. I am one of those women who grow a lot of hair, most perplexingly on my chin. I know this is very common, despite the appearance of women on the street or lack of medical evidence to support it. For one thing, women talk about removing facial hair and there are tons of cosmetic products designed specifically for this purpose. I have also worked in women’s health for several years and now find myself in an endocrinology practice, both places where women express a lot of anguish about what they deem excessive hair growth. There are definite hormonal conditions that affect hair and also genetic predispositions to this but what is unclear to me is whether more women are now growing hair in what is termed “male patterns,” or whether I have just become more aware of it. What first made it undesirable and why do we believe it is a disorder?
The technology of hair I have learned from the yogic perspective is gender specific. Men grow a beard on their chin to protect their moon center, women don’t need it. So are even the yogis telling me I am abnormal? Mostly I find them not speaking to this topic as it affects women at all. I tried every rationalization I could to justify removing my own facial hair, searched endlessly for support and even found some that was reasonable from a scientific standpoint. It was still not sitting right with me.
Then I tried to convince myself that it might be some evolutionary development in response to environmental stresses. If we haven’t always had it, maybe we now do need this hair on our faces. Whatever the case, I still was not buying it. I utterly despised everything about those hairs. When I finally accepted that it was time to ask for Amrit the Guru kept showing me women and girls from all walks of life with hair on their face. Each one I saw made me recognize that I did not see the hair as detracting from the beauty of their presence. It did not mar their grace or affect whether or not they had a mate.
Despite this understanding, I have struggled. I have cried to the Guru and prayed to have the hair taken away. Even a miracle wasn’t too far-fetched for this mind to entertain. I knew that by taking Amrit and marrying the Guru I would gain the strength to at least face this mental challenge. There is no way I could dishonor the vows to my Guru or the trust of the Panj Piare.
More realistically, I am just too stubborn to lose this conflict. Even after receiving the Guru’s Amrit, I found I have continued to waste time and energy resisting the idea of hair on my face, so much so, that it has made me angry. I realize that my concern has been so superficial and vain, so controlled by society’s false image and that I felt completely weak. I have great pride in my physical and mental strength and those stupid little hairs were bringing me to my knees.
So why are they so disconcerting? Do they make me less of a woman? What does that even mean? We know from psychology that there is more diversity within the gender spectrum than between the genders. In medicine, it is the rare case that follows the textbook and normal is a range. Women come in many uniquely beautiful forms with a variety of gifts, aptitudes and strengths. I am finding that these happily curling hairs, oblivious to my despair, are forcing me to confront the very essence of not just what it means to be a woman or a Sikh, but what it means to be me.
I am living in South Dakota, the middle of rural America, where I don’t expect to see another Sikh. This is Lakota country, beautiful, vast and sometimes rough. There is a spiritual tradition in the Native American Lakota culture called a vision quest, and it is still practiced here. I have been to some of the sacred sites and sometimes think that just such a quest is part of the reason that I am here as the lone Sikh. Days like the past few are exhausting but having only myself to contend with makes painful growth a possibility.
Today after a hukam and a hug from Guru Amar Das, I strolled in a sunny park slowly walking my way back to a state of peace. Sitting on a tree stump beside a large shallow pond, I received a poke in the side from a Lakota toddler who wanted to show me the sticks he’d collected. He didn’t find me the least bit odd. This hair has been just another tool the Guru has presented me to separate myself from illusion and grow closer to the Infinite. Pride changed to devotion, stubbornness to resolve. Tonight the Guru and I stayed up late sharing a juicy, ripe watermelon and having a laugh at my expense. I cannot promise this fight is over, but at least for tonight the soul has won.
You can read Part 2 of this story at: How My Hairs are Teaching Me – Part 2