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Blessed Is The Dirt

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Blessed Is The Dirt

By Ek Ong Kaar Kaur

Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - 11:01 AM EST

Musings on Marble Floors

It’s become part of my routine sadhana, now. Washing the marble floors on Sunday mornings at the Hacienda de Guru Ram Das ashram, Espanola, in the state of New Mexico, USA. The highlight of my week, I call it. The funny thing is – each time I go, there’s another lesson to learn – another message from the Guru revealed through the ordinary, the mundane.

A few Sundays ago, for instance, a woman arrived at our Gurdwara at 3 am. She wore a pink top, black flare pants and a stylish pink scarf tied around her head. For anonymity’s sake, I’ll call her Marge.

Marge had come to Santa Fe for one of those long spiritual weekends this part of the country is famous for. New Mexico doesn’t have much industry. But it has a breath-taking beauty and quiet wisdom that makes it a land of deep spiritual connection and profound healing. Marge had heard about our “temple” during her spiritual workshop. “Two different people told me about it,” she said. “They told me about how you wash the floors early in the morning. So I thought I’d come.”

And this is what happens:

She has a nice smile and willing hands. We give her a hug, welcome her and after reciting Japji (during which she sits and quietly listens), we hand her the vacuum cleaner and she starts with the rugs.

The morning seva goes by slowly. Some of the regular sevadars are out of town this week, so we are, all of us, taking extra time to learn to perform a task we’ve never done before. In the months since I’ve started coming to this beautiful morning seva, I have learned a tremendous amount about how to take care of the Gurdwara and the Guru: how to dress the Manji Sahib with Roomalas; the proper way to put the Guru in Sukhasan; how to treat the swords with respect. Washing the floors is the play around which an entire schooling happens. There’s so much wisdom about how to care for and protect the Guru captured in the simplest acts. And that wisdom is handed down practically, simply and lovingly by the head sevadars who have waited their whole life to be able to do this. Especially the women – Sikhs of the Guru – who have visited the Golden Temple, but never had the opportunity to serve the Guru this way.

After Marge vacuums the rugs, she helps dust the marble floors. A dozen of us with feather brooms brush the dirt towards the center, and as the dust pile gathers, the head sevadar brings out a box of small plastic baggies. We count the number of people and gather the dust into an equal number of baggies, handing them out to everyone.

I bring a little baggie with a little bit of dust over to Marge. “This is for you to take home if you like.” She looks at the gift skeptically, then looks back at me. Resisting a smile, she struggles between laughing and being polite. The way a visitor to a foreign country is polite when offered something unusual.

“Is there some…significance to this…that I would want to take it with me?” she asks with a slight anthropologist’s tone to her voice. Doing her best to understand the customs of the natives.

It’s an odd moment. She and I are from similar backgrounds. We’ve grown up in the same country. And by her looks, I would say we’re about the same age. But standing there in my turban, no make-up, wearing a very nice dress that’s about to get soaked from washing the floors, holding a little bag in my hand with…well…let’s face it…a spoonful of dirt in it…all of a sudden, she and I are standing on two different planets. I feel this enormous gulf between us and wonder how to bridge it.

“Yes, it does have a significance,” I say, smiling. As if what I’m about to say next is the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s the dust of the saints. People come into the Gurdwara all week long and meditate and it’s their dust that we’re sweeping up. It has the vibration of their prayers in it. So it’s something blessed, it’s something special.”

I’m not making any sense to her. I can see it in her eyes, and for a moment, I look at that bag the way she is seeing it. There’s some dirt, a staple, a hairball, a little bit of stray plaster from the remodeling we’re doing inside of our Gurdwara offices. Not the most visually appealing gift in the world. It certainly doesn’t look sacred.

But then I look at it with my eyes and wonder how I can possibly explain to her what I see. Because I don’t see the dirt and the staple and the plaster. I see all the people who have woken up at 3:30 am this week and brought themselves to this place, sat on these floors and worked on themselves. Sadhana is not a beautiful thing. It’s the time of day when you take an honest look at yourself, at your negativity, at your bad habits, at your painful past - and your soul decides to transform the negativity into positivity, the bad habits into commitments to do it different next time, the painful past into gratitude for the opportunity to heal from it.

Guru Nanak says it in Japji – that when you meditate on the Naam, all the dirt from the subconscious comes up and the power of sadhana of a daily discipline is the power to clean that dirt once and for all. "Bhareeai mat paapaa kai sang, oh dhopia naavai kai rang."

And yes – it is dirt. It is unpleasant. And isn’t that the irony of it, the joy of it? That somehow, in community, as the bonds of love and respect grow and deepen, that love changes what you see. You stop seeing all the flaws, all the faults in others. And you start to see how hard everyone works on themselves to keep up, to keep going, to connect with Spirit in an age where Spirit can hardly be found at all. So the dirt is no longer something repulsive or ordinary. It is something beloved. Beloved that, no matter how many times we wash these floors, there will always be more dirt tomorrow. And no matter how many times we meditate in the Amrit Veyla, there will be something in our subconscious to clean tomorrow. And in that heaven and earth connection is a profound lesson that what is most valuable in human life is a loving discipline to continually purify yourself, and being with people who practice that discipline, who can support you in practicing it, yourself.

Guru Nanak knew it, ever longing for the blessing of the dust of the saint’s feet.

What can I say to her? How can I show her my world in a grain of sand?

“Take it with you and sprinkle it in your garden,” I tell her. “It will bless your land.”

She smiles then, with warmth and amusement. She’s not sure whether or not to believe me. But I know the secret part of her that longs for genuine ritual and connection to the Divine will go back to her home and one warm spring day, when no one is paying attention, she will take that dust in her fingers and sprinkle it on her land - awkward, feeling a little ridiculous, yet smiling from the memory of where and when she got it. And for a moment, she will do something that the culture I came from and the culture she still lives in would never allow.

She’ll bless herself and bless the earth.

Now, I know that the dust of the saints’ feet is something magic and I know, in that moment, something unexpected and surprising will begin in her life. As it once began in mine.

We’ll see what Guru brings.

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WOWW!!!! :D:D awesome post!!

i esspecially like the

"Beloved that, no matter how many times we wash these floors, there will always be more dirt tomorrow. And no matter how many times we meditate in the Amrit Veyla, there will be something in our subconscious to clean tomorrow"

and the last line



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