Friday, October 29th, 2010
I can remember as a small child thinking that every family was just like my own; I had no base of experience to think otherwise. As I grew I discovered what a rich and diverse world we live in. Every parent must look at their life and choose the experiences that they want to repeat with their children. What kind of home world does one want to create? What traditions and beliefs do they want to share and instill? For some, it will be something very close to their own upbringing, and for others it will be entirely different.
When I was pregnant with my wonderful little daughter, Amrita, now 16 months old, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia for my early years. I grew up in such a wonderful, caring environment and reflected with deep longing to the time when I spent all day just being with my mother. She is an artist and came up with many fun art projects for us to do. My father, a physicist, has the most adventurous and expansive mind I have ever known. We spent hours together, creating fantasy worlds and looking out the window of our New York apartment trying to find unicorns. I began to feel a yearning to recreate those cozy and magical times with my yet unborn child. Then I started to uncover all the ways in which I was different from my parents, but I realized that I was ultimately very similar to them. My parents are both very spiritual people. Learning to see the world through a spiritual eye is one of the major aspects of my childhood that has shaped me into the adult I now am, and something I want to share as a mother.
My husband, Ditta, and I often reflect on what a mish-mash of different cultures and traditions we come from, and how each generation of children are closer to little global citizens.
Ditta was raised as a Sikh. His parents, along with a large number of other westerners, embraced Sikhism and the practice of Kundalini Yoga when he was 3. My stepson, Siri, now 16, has been raised as a Sikh as well. Until recently, Ditta wore a turban every day and did not cut his hair. Since beginning a process of letting go of his outer identity as a Sikh, he is very careful to give Siri the space to find his own path while still giving him a strong base. Siri is currently finishing up his final year of high school in India.
My parents are both disciples of an Indian Guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, who first brought yoga and meditation to the West in the 1920’s. Yogananda’s teachings encourage ‘self realization’ through Kriya yoga and meditation, and I was thus always given the freedom to find my own path. If I showed an interest in exploring another faith, my mother would take me to one of their services. I was also raised very close to the Sikh community in Amsterdam and ended up feeling as though I am half Sikh, and half a disciple of Yogananda. Even though Yogananda is my Guru, I do not feel the need to choose one path. I believe all religions are different faces of the same god.
As I wandered my way through the dating world and began to feel the itch to start a family, I began to realize what kind of man I was looking for as a husband and co-parent. I tried to reconcile having a relationship without sharing a spiritual connection and it just didnâ€™t work. I wanted what I saw my parents shared with one another. Their conversations took on a deeper level through their mutual beliefs, and I wanted to raise my children within such a framework too. I began to realize that the best match for me would be a man who was raised within the Sikh tradition, but no longer lived a strict Sikh lifestyle. Well, I got lucky!
Ditta and I originally met in Amsterdam over 10 years before we got together. After not having seen one another for many years, we reconnected at a mutual friendâ€™s wedding and have been together ever since. At that time my stepson, Siri, was 12. I feel really grateful that the three of us had a very smooth transition in becoming a family. I had known Siri since he was 3 and there was a base of trust there from the beginning.
So now here I am, a happy mother of two. Ditta and I are not raising Amrita as a Sikh in the outward sense, but do share a rich spiritual life with many aspects of Sikh tradition and yogic technology. We gave her a Sikh name but one that had a universal meaning. She is being raised very close to many Sikh children and will have the space to decide for herself. Being such a mutt, I often felt as though I could fit into many different worlds and Amrita is even more a mish mash of many things. It is going to be interesting to see what Amrita gravitates toward.
We now live in Santa Fe, NM and the closest Sikh ashram is about a half hour away. A large number of Sikhs live around that area and there is a wonderful community of mothers and kids that Amrita and I often spend time with. Before moving to Santa Fe, I spent 10 years in New York, working in film, where there were not many western Sikhs. I felt a real sense of loss of that community during that time and am grateful that Amrita and I can now share that together. Itâ€™s interesting, I feel as though we sort of have a tribe or a clan, in a time and place where that is not so common. Many Sikh kids grew up very close together and it is customary for them to go to boarding school in India. Ditta is very appreciative of his time there and feels as though he has a hundred brothers and sisters from the experience. If I ever randomly meet a Sikh around my age, there is a kind of instant connection, you know that you know many of the same people and have a commonality of experience.
Rather than directing Amrita down a particular path, we have chosen to share from our rich backgrounds a set of tools that will enable her to best navigate down whatever path she chooses. In future contributions to this column I will seek to share our experiences in this adventure.
© 2010, Alessandra Dobrin Khalsa. All rights reserved.
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