by Ning Siy
Ever since the pandemic began, the various permutations of community quarantine have limited our ability to do the activities we used to be able to do. Saturdays were my “Me Day”. That’s when I get to do anything that I want to do for myself. The lockdown has meant that now, most of my weekends are spent at home, and I only go out only to get the “essentials”.
When Sankalpa studio posted an ad about Sankalpa Talks: Exploring Spirituality and Our Search for Meaning, I was intrigued. I was not going anywhere anyway, so I didn’t mind signing up for eight Saturdays. We were given a variety of texts exploring different ideas and practices across several of the world’s religions and belief systems. These texts were attempts to answer age-old questions that many of us may have asked ourselves but never seriously considered because we were too caught up in the business of daily life.
Given the uncertainty of our current situation, I thought that now would be a good time to think about more philosophical matters—our purpose in life, why we suffer, what it means to be good, etc. The pandemic brought these into sharp focus, and here was my chance to reflect.
Our first assignment was on the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is not new to me. My yoga teacher always made sure we were not only doing asanas, and in order for us to appreciate yoga on a deeper level, she also fed our minds with lectures on the Gita. What was different in the Sankalpa session was that we had a chance to discuss our viewpoints with the other participants. Many of them were not necessarily my yoga classmates. We all had different backgrounds, and it was very interesting for me to listen to all that they had to say.
The succeeding assignments introduced me to new “teachers”. It was the first time I’d heard of Matthieu Ricard, Wade Davis, and Bob Randall. I learned to read poems, prayers, and blessings. This was a big step for me since I’d only ever been interested in pop culture. I had to keep re-reading the assignments because I wanted to make sure I understood and I was able to process them. I was always excited to attend the sessions because of what my classmates and Mariles, our facilitator, shared. How wonderful it was to discover that although the different religious traditions expressed their beliefs through different modes of worship and perspectives, in essence, they all upheld the same values. Values that are universal and perpetual.
What worked for me during these sessions was the “no judgement” principle. We were encouraged to speak and share freely. We agreed on many things, and while sometimes there were varying degrees of opinion, there were no arguments. Everyone had the openness to listen to what each one had to say.
We ended the course with one final sharing: a reflection on what our key takeaways were from all the texts and discussions that we had. Here are three words and ideas that are most memorable to me:
1. Duty. We all have a purpose to fulfill. The path by which we discover this purpose is different for everyone. It is in fulfilling our duty that we accomplish our purpose in life.
2. Shoulders. Our shoulders literally and figuratively are instruments that help us fulfill our duties to one another.
3. Oursness. This is a term coined by an Aboriginal Elder to describe their belief and commitment to the importance of community and of being responsible not only for their clans but for the land and everything in it. For the Aborigines, everything that we need in order to live has already been given to us—the land and all its resources is ours to share as well as care for. What a contrast to our desire for accumulating personal possessions, especially things that we want and do not necessarily need: the so-called “non-essentials”.
I am still in the midst of self-discovery, and the pandemic has served to highlight the relevance of this journey. All was not lost during the lockdown. I was still able to have my “Me Days”. In the comfort of home and in the company of old and newfound friends, I was able to find some “pieces of me”.