Tend To the Soil
By Gurudarshan "Gingko Ma" Khalsa
I knew when I was 14 or 15 I was going to be a photographer.
After visiting New Mexico and seeing the vast landscapes, I sought to capture the beauty and awe-inspiring force of nature. My career consisted of being a commercial photographer, doing books and magazines and events, you name it. I wore many hats as I searched for my authentic creative voice.
In 2013, I worked for the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, basically as an apprentice to all of the masters for about a year — but that came to a swift end when a wall fell on me at work and I suffered a concussion. That whole experience put me out for around six months, but I wasn't really back to myself for about a year.
In that time I felt so disjointed in myself, and I found that making artwork that was symmetrical in nature was soothing to my being. I would take old photos from my archives and create symmetry with them. There is this whole bilateral/binary effect that happens when we look at things that are symmetrical, and so I felt like it helped heal, balance, and center me. I had always wanted to be a full-time artist, and with the new awareness that I could die at any moment, I decided to let go of my fear and launched my art career. This was my first body of work.
I committed fully to my art career by selling at pop-up outdoor markets and showing in galleries, hotels, yoga centers, doctor's offices, and hospitals. Although I was dedicated to being an entrepreneur, I began to find myself in a cycle of burnout. I had gained weight from hormone issues and thyroid issues, and that year I went through a challenging relationship. I got to see some really core patterns in myself that I was really ready to just drop. I realized that I was unearthing the patterns that we all have in our collective consciousness of self-sabotaging, self-hate, belittlement, lack of self-esteem, lack of self-worth. There are all of these patterns that run in our minds that keep us from living to our fullest potential.
On August 15, 2017, some friends and I were all in an RV together on the way to a festival to see the eclipse, and my friend said, "You have taken so many pictures of everybody else, let's take a picture of you." And, of course, being the digital photographer that I am, I skimmed through the pictures and immediately thought, "I am too fat; I am unlovable." That was when I started to spiral down the rabbit hole of my mind. At the time my friend was having back pain, so I pulled her to the back of the RV so I could massage her. As I was massaging her lower back I said, "I have to tell you about the thought form that I am in right now. I can't get out of it, and I don't know what to do to get out of it, but the belief system is 'I am too fat; I am unlovable.' I just don't know how to get out of this right now."
She said, "I was going to tell you that I can see how much work you have been doing." I had been doing crossfit for about seven months — but in my mind I still just didn't believe it.
And right then, the next thing I heard was noises coming from the RV going off the road, and then everything went pitch black.
I have no idea what happened. When I came to, I started chanting a mantra that I learned from my upbringing. I was raised as a 3HO Sikh and am a Kundalini Yoga teacher, trainer, and practitioner, so I have a lot of roots based in mantra and yogic experience. The mantra is Wahe Guru, which means "ecstasy of consciousness." I think I just chanted it out loud to see if I was still alive. That was the first thing on my lips. Then I called to my friend, she called back to me, and we tried to get up. And that's when I couldn't get up.
The first thought I had was, "I'm paralyzed." But it's like you're in a dream. You think there's no way that that just happened to me ... that my whole life just all changed in that half a second? No Way!
Then out of nowhere this Australia woman came over to me. She looked at me and said, "You are such a strong woman. You are such a strong woman." I'm pretty sure I have spent the last 30 years not in my body as a survival technique. Immediately it got me into my body.
Here I was getting into my body for the first time, experiencing more pain than I had ever experienced in my entire life. It was so humbling but also so empowering. The minute she said that, I got the thought, "I can handle this. I can handle whatever comes to me. I got this." I didn't cry. I didn't freak out. I just sat there. I had no idea where we were or how long it would take for an ambulance to get there. As far as I knew we were going to be there forever. I ended up screaming once, very loud, just to let the whole village or tribe know that this was serious. Next, I remember being airlifted to the hospital, where I spent the next 12 days. I needed to get a hip replacement, I fractured two vertebrae in my spine, and my hand got degloved and fractured. In the drug-filled confusion, I had convinced myself that I would never walk again.
Growing up as a photographer, I got exposed to a Cindy Sherman exhibition in New York. Her self-portraits were so stunning. And since this whole accident, all I have been doing now is self-portraiture. I always thought before, "Why would anyone ever want to look at me?" I really realized while I was in the hospital that if this is the body that houses my spirit, then this is the most beautiful body in the world, because this is all I have — especially after having it shatter and break.
Our body is always working to heal more and help us become whole. I now have such deep respect for my body because it has an intelligence all on its own. It's not like a mental capacity in our day-to-day lives. The body is so much more wise than that.
I went through the physical healing phase for three or four months and then came to the realization that I have a concussion, effecting my emotional and mental stability. It created a tremendous amount of anxiety and confusion, depression, lack of ability to focus, and anger, but now I don't even really have room to judge myself. I do, but not as much. And I have since met other people that have had accidents who have helped me realize this is all part of the healing process. Now, it's given me even greater compassion for and greater acceptance of myself.
I think that's the funny thing about life: We grow up and there is this societal expectation that once you are an adult you should have it all figured out. There is this pressure that if you don't have it figured out or are not good at something there is something wrong. But there are multiple, multiple paths you can potentially go in, and there's no guidebook for life. Even if you do go to school, that doesn't mean that school will prepare you for work. But there is such a pressure to perform, and, as Brene Brown says, "We're a society that rewards exhaustion." We're constantly pushing ourselves so far. Really, if you look at the cycle of nature, we recede and then we advance, but in our male-dominated, "make all the shareholders happy" world, there is a constant pressure to always perform.
We need to give ourselves the time to rest and rejuvenate, which is the feminine. I have been such a doer my whole life, so in my healing experience I feel like I'm unwinding these aspects of myself that were built at a very early age, these parts of my personality that have existed because they were survival mechanisms.
I was sent away to India when I five years old, so it created a belief system in me that I need to figure life out on my own. I was an island person before: "I can't rely on anyone to take care of me." My "independent personality" has been running the show, but this accident has caused me to move into the total yin-receiving place in a way that I have never been before. To have people come and show up and give to you is so different than anything that I have experienced. I literally sit and watch the architecture of my reality completely transform while I can't "do" anything. I have had to literally be in my feminine and allow myself to receive. I'm in myself now in a whole different way.
Man is always searching for meaning. We're always trying to turn whatever experience we go through into something with purpose or significance. We wouldn't be experiencing anything if there wasn't something to learn there. My process with the work that I have been putting out, it's more trying to mine the jewels of wisdom instead of feeling like a victim or totally out of control. At least I can look deeply and think, "This is what I am getting out of this," or, "This is where I am." That’s why the last two months have been even harder than the physical pain, because the last two months have been mentally not connecting for me. And that brings up frustration within me. I don’t know how to control it. So the way I do it is I go within and I still try to find the meaning or the gifts in the chaos.
What do you do when you lose your mind? I don't think anyone has really ever asked that question. We're too afraid to know the answer. I think, "What if I don't ever come back like I used to?" or "What if I can't work like I used to? How do I then adapt to the now?"
Really what I do, and what I found, is if I can rotate my mind around acts of self-love and dedication to healing, even if I am losing my mind I can at least trust that I am nourishing myself in the process. What I realize is that, in order for me to walk — it's not like I can just start walking. I have to do all of these other exercises that are just micromovements and practice over and over again, and then one day that will result in me walking. However, how I've lived before, I always thought that if the goal is walking, then the goal is walking: I've got to just keep focusing on the goal, instead of breaking it down into the bite-size steps to the goal. That's meditation; that's practice; that's the tending to the soil. And if you're not, and you're getting pissed off, you're not getting the results you want, you have to look back and think, "How do I manage this experience?" If you want to become a baker, you need to learn how to work with dough. You need to know how it feels in your hand, and what the combinations are to make it taste a certain way. It's not just the final product that makes you a baker.
When everything fails, you have to build your foundation again.
I try to now only align myself with positivity. If I start to freak out, I remind myself to go in, to speak to my soul. WE have to speak to it. The soul is beyond judgement. The soul is beyond the negative self-talk. So it's really looking into the root of your self. And that can take on so many forms. I had a friend who I reached out to when I started feeling like I got put back in the victim mode again, telling him, "I'm so fucking mad; I can’t believe this," and he said to me, "Great work. Good job. I'm pretty sure you didn't die for a reason. Get to work." That's what we need, just to move that energy forward.
One of the things that came out of this accident was that I really got to see that I am a very strong woman. We are.
Gurudarshan is an artist, teacher, photographer, coach, and publisher. She is an entrepreneur, a member of the Santa Fe Society of Artists, teaches workshops, and has published the oracle meditation cards called Kundalini Blessings. She is also a KRI Teacher Trainer and Kundalini Yoga teacher currently living in Santa Fe. Her artwork infuses the upbringing in the Kundalini Yoga tradition in combination with the love of sacred geometry. She is dedicating her life to sharing her creative talents and spiritual awareness to uplift the consciousness of humanity. Follow @gurudarshan. You can see her artwork at www.gdkartist.com
Words: Gurudarshan "Gingko Ma" Khalsa