It is said in India, if you have a shawl, you have shelter. That of course says more about India than it does about shawls. But this is the story of one shawl, mine.
I have, for the past thirty years sat beneath the same shawl. Oh, there have been brief dalliances in sadhana with other shawls, some pure white and light, others lighter than the proverbial feather, but always and often I come back to this one, now faded blue/grey shawl.
Oh, of course, if there is a more formal gurdwara than our post sadhana daily one, all my wife has to do is raise an eyebrow as I pick up my dowdy, faded shawl for me to switch to one more decorative and crisp-- for being out in the sanghat on a Sunday or at a wedding.
But I must easily admit, I like the feel of the faded one, the way its soft often washed material rests upon and warms my neck. The way it’s generous expanse covers my hands held upon my knees (in Gyan Mudra during Morning Call) and slightly the ground or floor around me on my sheepskin (I can’t tell you how MANY sheepskins I have had, lost, worn out, or meditated into tatters!!!)
I almost remember the exact place where we bought this shawl and two others just like it (One for me, one for Sat Inder K and one for the baby (Guru Shabd K) not born until five years later. It was at a rather large shop, hard by a Hindu temple, across a wide river (maybe the Ganges) somewhere in northwest India during our 1980 Yatra to the Golden Temple. Anandpursahib and Hemkunt Sahib.
Then the shawls were a bright, nearly sky blue, a color they no longer are. Now it’s more grey and some of the tassels at each end have come untied. But it has covered my back, to use a modern cliche, during countless solstices and sadhanas and White Tantric Courses. And that was its purpose. Rare is the Solstice Sadhana that I do not come wrapped in this shawl. (A friend once commented that he has found me there a number of times, identifying me by the shawl as non-descript as it is.)
Now, it seems all I have to do is wrap it around my shoulders and I feel as though I could sit for hours in meditation. Don’t get me wrong, I still fidget with my body and fight mightily with my mind; but the reality is that the shawl, this piece of tattered cloth still exacts a strong influence upon me. It truly is a part of my meditation. I have sat under it for countless hours thinking of so many other things. That must surely count for something in the Akashic records. While this one humble object purchased so long ago for very little money (a few hundred rupees for the three of them, I think) serves the absolute purpose of steadying my attention, keeping my spine covered and warm and perhaps a bit straighter, and therefore makes me a bit stiller, quieter, stronger and maybe even a bit holier.
It is not what determines how I do in sadhana. It doesn’t get me down there. It does not propel me into a cold shower or roll me out of a warm bed. It does escort me down the stairs and keeps away the early morning chill as I check the front porch and the parking lot next door. All of these things would be possible without the shawl. Guru Ram Das and Yogi Bhajan, and my wife, Sat Inder Kaur and even a healthy dose of my own determination accomplishes all of the above. But the shawl ... without it I might be a little stiffer, a little colder and perhaps a little more hesitant. With it, I am there. And this I suppose is the reason I am so biased in favor of this humble shawl.