‘When there is peace among religions, there will be peace in the world’

Last modified: 2/4/2016 1:30:50 PM
Ever since I moved to this country from where I grew up in Australia, I’ve looked forward to the winter solstice on Dec. 21 to 22, as it signifies the days will begin to lengthen again, slowly providing more light each day.

Even though the temperature may still drop further in the months ahead, the solstice provides some comfort as we know the hours of sunshine will continue to increase each day until June.

For this reason, in December 2015 I was happy to read an advertisement for a winter solstice celebration at Soul Yoga in Peterborough: “Winter solstice is a time of deep reflection, contemplation and healing. The darkness and quiet of this auspicious day has been celebrated throughout time as an opening for healing and the journey inward. Join Hari Kirin and Ajeet for a special Winter Solstice class here at SOUL and embrace what many consider the deepest moment to meditate and heal for the whole year. Yoga, music, healing and community will support you to journey to the depth of your soul, planting seeds of healing for yourself and your world.”

My husband and I have shopped and dined at Nature’s Green Grocer Market and Cafe in Peterborough since we first discovered it when we moved to Temple in 2011. One of our favorite aspects of the store is its location in a renovated mill sitting up next to a river. Soul Yoga is located in this same mill.

A friend and I agreed to meet at Nature’s Green Grocer for a bite to eat before we went to the 6:30 p.m. solstice celebration. Having enjoyed our food, we walked over to Soul Yoga. I was surprised to see how packed the room was, and also that a large number of people in the room were dressed in white with white turbans on their heads.

I’d written a paper about the Sikh faith as part of the Tree of Life Temple’s interfaith seminary class and was fascinated to learn that Sikhism was born out of a conflict between Hinduism and Islam, and that Guru Nanak, the founder and prophet of Sikhism, said, “God is neither Hindu nor Muslim, and the path I follow is God’s.” (“The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith)

It is in this way that I feel Sikhism resonates with interfaith ideas. The fact that Guru Nanak believed religion was a way to unite people, but in practice he found that it set people against one another, is so relevant to how we practice religions today, and is one of the reasons why interfaith also appeals. As the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, “When there is peace among religions, there will be peace in the world.”

I also love the notion that: “Sikhism doesn’t ask people to turn away from ordinary life to get closer to God. In fact, it demands that they use ordinary life as a way to get closer to God.” (See www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/beliefs/beliefs.shtml.) This is akin to the saying, “Before enlightenment the monk chopped wood and carried water. And after enlightenment, the monk chopped wood and carried water.” It is through experiencing the Divine in every moment of my ordinary life that I feel most connected with God/the Beloved/the Divine.

This is also similar to the spiritual concept explored in the ancient sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita: how to observe our humanity — our common human experience — from our Divinity — a kind of benevolent, compassionate and empathetic observing awareness that exists within each one of us.

And so it was in this context among the Sikhs that I participated in my first Kundalini yoga practice. We paid attention to Hari Kirin as she gave instructions for holding certain postures, or kriyas, for several minutes at a time while we also listened to soulful live music played upon a bass, a harmonium, and a guitar, which all intertwined with Ajeet’s angelic singing. My friend and I left feeling uplifted and renewed, and with light hearts.

How fortunate are we that the offering of spiritual nourishment in the Monadnock region is so rich and diverse? Going forward, I hope Soul Yoga in Peterborough will continue their annual celebration of the winter solstice so that it may become a tradition to welcome the return of the light.

The Rev. Camilla Sanderson lives in Temple. She is presently practicing creative nonfiction writing in a low-residency program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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