Chardi Kala is a concept/phrase in Sikhism that literally translates to “being in a euphoric/optimistic state.” As always, literal translations never quite convey the concept in its entirety. Basically, this phrase means achieving a state of happiness because you acknowledge that a higher power is watching over you. It is based on two concepts: acknowledging there is a plan (that you may not be able to anticipate) and that there is joy in accepting the unknown. Personally, I struggle with both of these concepts from time to time. But, one of the fundamentals of being Sikh is that you are always a work in progress and learn throughout your life (Sikh literally translates to learn). Here’s how I have been trying to apply and think through Chardi Kala during the past month:
- It seems like all I read and talk about these days is COVID. How to protect yourself, how to be responsible, how to bake bread at home, etc. Every headline, every social media post, every news alert relates to this disease or coping strategies. Somehow, even though the world we live in has become seemingly silent and still, we found a way to re-introduce noise and complexity back into our lives. Frankly, some days, I have social media fatigue. Truly unplugging for a couple minutes involves physically distancing from my phone and remembering that there IS a plan. I usually meditate or pray whenever I feel overwhelmed and there is a sense of calm that ends up taking hold. Just remembering that there is a plan helps me immensely.
- No matter how chaotic things appear, I need to do my duty by staying home and supporting my fellow humans however I can.. As many of you can acknowledge, we need energy to be kind. The best way I get energy to be compassionate and caring is by remembering that there is a light in every other human being… Yes, sometimes its harder for particularly difficult humans, but nonetheless I try my best. Whenever I talk with or serve another person, I imagine the light of a higher power within them. And, no matter what they do or say in the moment, I have to remember that light. So whenever I feel cooped up at home and going stir crazy, I think about the light in everyone I talked to that day- on the phone or at home. And even though my interactions look different these days, they retain their meaningfulness. (Also- this is a plug for social distancing- our main responsibility to our fellow humans is to stay home and protect the vulnerable and healthcare workers!)
- Acknowledging that scary events and uncertainty have a place in the human experience. This is probably what I struggle with most. As a medical student, life is very regimented. There are answers to many problems, there are illnesses that we know almost everything about. We are trained to be able to give answers to patients and their families one day. And, for anyone who knows me, I like to know what the plan is- I have never been a “go with the flow” personality. But, I have realized that Chardi Kala is not about “going with the flow,” it is about having faith even when all other tangible things seem to be failing. I recently went through a personal life changing event before COVID started that changed the game plan I had made for life. Personally, I relied on faith exclusively during that time. And now- the bigger problem at hand for everyone is the pandemic. Despite the whole world working on it, there are no real answers about how humans can fix this situation yet. At this point, where I do not have much faith in what I see, I realize that faith in what I do not see is more powerful. I have found myself believing that there will be a solution- that there will be someone who is inspired to try a treatment not thought of yet.
At the end of the day, the beauty of this concept is that it can mean whatever you want to you. But, not forgetting that it is rooted in faith and following the plan, even if you don’t know what’s happening. Although I still have days where I feel pessimistic and sorrowful, I try and get through it the best I can and start the next day anew. A lot of realizations happen during times of sorrow, but I hope I never forget some of the things I have learned even when all of this is over.
Stay well, stay home, and stay spicy.