A Simple Way to Shatter Stereotypes

Interview with OnBeing Podcast, Creating Our Own Lives

DowntownGroup

In the Sikh tradition there is a duty to “hone the spiritual body in the same way that we hone our spiritual selves.” Simran Jeet Singh holds that in his practice as a runner.

My name is Simran Jeet Singh. I’m 31 years old and I’m from New York, New York.

I grew up running, actually. I was a soccer player growing up and so — a lot of distance running. I didn’t enjoy running without a ball. It was an obligation for the privilege of being able to play soccer.

It changed for me when I moved to Boston. I had just finished college, I was starting my graduate school at Harvard, and I didn’t have a community with whom I could play soccer, or basketball, or any other sports that I loved. And so I just found myself on the Charles River. And I just started to enjoy having that time to myself to think about anything that was on my mind, whether it was something related to my studies, introspection having to do with my own spirituality, thinking about my family and friends. It was just a really nice way to reflect.

The Sikh tradition teaches us that religion is not limited to cultivating one’s spirituality. It also involves social and political engagement. Sikhism sees the world as truth, and that truth permeates the entirety of the world.

So “the Creator is in the creation, and the creation is in the Creator,” is a phrase we often pull from our scripture [khaalak khalak khalak mein khaalak]. And God is absolutely embedded in everything. And so service becomes a very important aspect of spirituality, or religious living. And there’s a concept in our tradition where people are expected to be saint soldiers, [sant-sipahi]. And it’s not, you know, you’re one or the other. It’s not that one is to be a saint and someone else is to be a soldier. Every individual is to be a saint and a soldier. And so, that tells me that, in addition to serving the world around me, there’s also a duty to stand up for justice. And there’s also a duty to hone the physical body in the same way that we hone our spiritual selves. These are all hand-in-hand. So this is important groundwork for me in understanding why running has become a religious practice for me as a Sikh. Because it allows me to connect with myself spiritually, to connect with the world around me, and to serve the communities to which I belong.

And so one of the ways in which I find running to be incredibly powerful as a community service — I know most people don’t think of running as service — but one of the things for me is, when people see me on the street with my turban and beard they have a number of preconceptions about the type of person I am. And most of these assumptions are deeply negative, at worst they associate me with terrorism, which has happened to me on a number of my runs. In most cases, people at least see me as someone who is foreign or strange.

So running is for me a simple way to shatter these stereotypes. It challenges people to see me from a different perspective than they would otherwise. And so, I think, probably the most unexpected way in which running has formed me has been its shaping of my discipline. I think, the very practice of engaging in something every single day is — in and of itself — sort of a ritual that shapes somebody, much in the way that religious ritual would. And so, in that sense, I think, running has really contributed to my ethical formation, in that, it has helped to create a sense of accountability and of mental fortitude so that when I am faced with situations that are difficult, I am more likely to say and do the right thing, because of this daily practice of running.

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