The Tao of Fibromyalgia

It’s always something!  – Gilda Radner

“The subconscious habit of disease- or health-consciousness exerts a strong influence on the continuity of chronic problems. Chronic mental or physical diseases always have a deep root in the subconscious mind. In a mental or physical disturbance, one ought to be able to pull out the roots from the subconscious mind. That is why all affirmations practiced by the conscious mind ought to be impressive enough to stay as mental habits in the subconscious mind, which in turn automatically influences the conscious mind. Strong conscious affirmation is thus reinforced through the medium of the subconscious.
Still stronger conscious will or devotion affirmations not only reach the subconscious but the superconscious, the magic storehouse of all miraculous mental powers.”
–from the “Overcoming Stress and Fear” course

Had I mentioned that I’m ill? Mind you, I’m not very ill compared to some people, although it feels that way; and with this nasty mind-body ailment that seems to come in waves (waves that do subside between crashes on my shoreline), these last two cold, dark months have been pretty awful. Fibromyalgia has become a rather fashionable illness in recent years, possibly because so many women have it, and possibly because it does seem to strike a certain psychological type, which I will discuss below. But for those of you who don’t know what it is, I will share a description that I sent a good friend who wanted to know about it:

resurrection-church-11-1024x768You’ve probably heard the term fibromyalgia, and perhaps other illnesses like Lyme disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Rheumatoid (and other) Arthritis, etc., etc. . . . These are autoimmune illnesses that seem to be on the increase . . . that I would guess are a result of the increasing toxicity of the planet in general, and of substances like GMOs and other food additives and environmental toxins. For instance, we live in farm country and must deal with crop dusters out here in the summer.  Fibromyalgia was pretty much unkown until about 20-30 years ago, and originally, if one complained of the symptoms, the doctor was likely to say, “oh, you’re just depressed. How about some Prozac?” Or, hopefully privately, to label the person who had it a hychochondriac.

Symptoms:

–Chronic muscle pain that seems to “migrate.” I.e., sometimes my left elbow hurts intensely, sometimes my lower back, sometimes my toes, sometimes my hands throb and I can’t type, etc. I long ago gave up trying to find rhyme or reason for any of these.
—Flu-like symptoms that cause all-over pain and feverishness and what is generally called malaise, which means, as far as I can tell, “It hurts and I’m miserable!”
—“Brain fog,” i.e., confusion, memory problems, inability to think straight, etc. These last two months have made writing hell for me, and it’s usually heaven
—Numbness and tingling in hands and toes
—Sleep problems
—Depression (well, as my doctor says, who wouldn’t be?)
—Chronic exhaustion
—Balance problems; I go crashing into things a lot, and losing my balance
—Blurred vision
—Migraines (I notice these are lessening as I grow older)

Research shows that these illnesses have a strong genetic component. They also seem to be strongly affected by seasons. During the warm weather months, I sometimes will forget that I am sick for several months at a time. This post-holiday season has nearly killed me. There seem to be “flares” and sometimes they last a few hours, or a few days or weeks or months.

No one really seems to know what causes Fibromyalgia, but the current explanation that medical science has given it is that it has to do with the way an individual processes pain, i.e., individuals who have it feel pain more intensely than “normal” people. I am divided about this, because it sounds a little too much like the old “blaming the victim” axiom, and yet it also rings true–for me, at least–on some subterranean level.  (Author, private communication)

So there you have it. I can just see numerous of my readers nodding their heads in heartfelt agreement, and others feeling doubt. It is one of those illnesses that no one can quite discern in the sufferer, although I have found that my husband knows when I am sick, as does my doctor. To others, however, one looks perfectly healthy and even glowing, or at least I do, even when my inner suffering is intense.

Oh, I should mention: the large majority of sufferers of Fibromyalgia are women. And of those, a large proportion are caretakers. People who care for older people, professional helpers of one kind or another, etc. . . . What does this tell us? I think most of us know, but let us not turn this into a psychosomatic illness! Rather, let us say there is a strong “mind-body” correlation. Most of the people who spend time here will be familiar with that idea, but it is important to stress the difference between “hypochondria” and “soul exhaustion.” Or whatever term you use for that feeling of being so sapped of life-energy that you have reached the place of just going on from day to day, having given up the belief that there is anything left for you. That is when such illnesses can happen, and some of them are far worse than Fibromyalgia. I highly recommend an old classic that describes this syndrome: Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, It is a marvelous mytho-poetic explication of the myths and realities that guide women’s lives, for both good and bad. She describes this soul-tiredness I mention as:

. . . feeling extraordinarily dry, fatigued, frail, depressed, confused, gagged, muzzled, unaroused. Feeling frightened, halt or weak, without inspiration, without animation, without soulfulness, without meaning, shame-bearing, chronically fuming, volatile, stuck, uncreative, compressed, crazed. (Pinkola-Estes, 1992)

Elsewhere in this wonderful book, she points out that the body is a sensor for experience, and that our bodies reflect the roads we have been down, whether in terms of our own behaviors or the things that happen to us. These autoimmune-type disorders that are becoming more and more prevalent are very possibly the result of women’s “independence”  in a world that still leaves them  making less money than men and having to do all the housework besides.

In any event I am sick, and I could attribute it to having raised an intensely difficult child or coming through personality-disordered earth-parents, or any number of things. All in all, I’ve made at least as much of a mess of my life as most people, but illness–soul and body–has its benefits, and perhaps it can be useful for redirecting one to one’s true path. Pain is, in short, quite instructive. I can even say I recommend it, although that isn’t necessary: as Lord Buddha said, life is suffering, and there’s plenty to go around.   So what do we do with it?

While recognizing the reality of the dire physical pain endured by many, sometimes beyond the normal limits of human endurance, our recourse is to call upon the influence of mind over body, first by recognizing the impact upon body functions of our attitude towards psychological trauma. Resentment, remorse, self pity, envy, hatred, frustration, anger, addiction and co-dependence alter physiological functions, mediated by the endocrine glands affecting digestion, blood pressure, the lymph glands, the immune system, neurotransmitters, and the replication of the DNA by the RNA. A large body of research is being carried out at present to determine which psychological syndrome affects which hormone secretion, and which hormone affects which body function. But we can explore methods of dealing with the psychological trauma. –Khan, Pir Vilayat Inayat (2011-11-01). Life is a Pilgrimage (p. 24). Omega Publications, Inc.

I myself have done my share of whining, and I am no stranger to self-pity, at least historically. I personally find that, while we are all entitled to a certain amount of both, in the end they are far more weakening than they are strengthening and energizing. So to hell with those!

What happened for me in my life, finally, is that I began to sit. And sit. And sit. And then I sat some more. (We are talking about meditation here, in case that wasn’t apparent.)

I am still sitting as much as I can make myself sit, and I like it more all the time. They say running around is good, and I have no doubt of that, but I recommend sitting in the interest of penetrating the heart of any kind of pain. And where that has gotten me is a lot of places, but just recently, I was given a new grace:

On one of those days when I was feeling the pain quite fiercely and being pretty cranky about it, I sat down to meditate, and the words came to me: “the Kingdom of God is within.” Being prone to fleeing into the cosmos instead of bring it all back in, this was big–for me. I got that. And when I got up and went on to other things, I noticed that the pain was still fierce, but…I wasn’t. I was able to just notice it, to even laugh about it, and remain cheerful:

“Oh, look, I’m really in pain!”

“How about that, it’s really intense!”

That kind of thing.

This stuff works. What else can I say?

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Khalil Gibran

Urs of Inayat Khan 2015

Keep burning the fire I have lighted.
It may seem very small to you, but one tiny flame, if kept burning, can be the means of illuminating a whole city, and someday many lamps that shall be lighted at this small fire will give light to thousands.
This fire of truth is now lighted, and its light will never go out.
Your work is to tend it and keep it burning.
The fuel needed is your every thought, your faith, your prayers, and your sacrifices.
You cannot see the result of this.
Light can never be lost.
I have kindled this small fire from which millions of lamps can be lit.
Their number cannot be reckoned, and millions upon millions of other fires can now be lighted.
When all have been kindled the original fire will die out, and the place thereof be known no more.
Verily the form dieth, and the spirit liveth for ever.
God bless you.

Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan

Love Alone

I don’t know why I am suddenly possessed, as we say in the South, to “reblog” things lately, and it always feels a bit like cheating to do it, but things pop up, and I think, well, someone might find this meaningful, so here you go:

Rays

My twenty-something daughter who is headed for graduate school lives at home currently, and recently talked us into watching a Joss Whedon series we’d refused to take seriously years ago: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a series oddly popular with people in her age group. “I’m just a big old geek,” she says, and I have no idea what this means, but I’m quite fond of her. Anyway, we loved Whedon’s series “Firefly,” but most of what he does kind of gives me the creeps, and in theory this was in the “creeps” category. Nevertheless, we’ve been drawn into “Buffy.”  Many of the episodes are kind of silly, but they all have a mystical, existential twist that is intriguing and occasionally meaningful, and when I least expect it, I find myself considering the series worth watching. Not exactly an extravagant compliment, eh?

Anyway, we reached the point in the series this…

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Whence and Whither

I wrote this quite awhile back, shortly after the death of my father. Looking for something else, it caught my attention, and I thought I might reblog it…..

Rays

cropped-early_winter_snow.jpg

The soul during its journey towards manifestation, and during its stay in any plane, whether in the heaven of the angels, the sphere of the jinn, or the plane of human beings, feels drawn towards its source and goal. Some souls feel more drawn than others; but there is a conscious or unconscious inner attraction felt by every soul. It is the ignorant soul, ignorant of its source and goal, which fears leaving the spheres to which it has become attached. It is the soul that knows not what is beyond which is afraid of being lifted up above the ground its feet are touching. –Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Soul Whence and Whither

My father died recently, and it has been a curious process for me, dealing with it. I often envy those who had loving relationships with their parents, because they are able to experience true grief and…

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Urs

Hazrat Inayat Khan

1882 – 1927

Initiation

Thy light hath illuminated the dark chambers of my mind; Thy love is rooted in the depths of my heart; Thine own eyes are the light of my soul; Thy power worketh behind my action; Thy peace alone is my life’s repose; Thy will is behind my every impulse; Thy voice is audible in the words I speak; Thine own image is my countenance. My body is but a cover over Thy soul; my life is Thy very breath, my Beloved, and my self is Thine own being.

Good Friends

Blessed are the unselfish friends and they whose motto in life is constancy.

–Inayat Khan

IMG_0760

The other day, my husband and I were driving home through farm country.  We noticed three horses in a field, guarding a fourth horse who was “down”, in between them. We couldn’t decide whether the “down” horse was foaling…or dead. And we didn’t want to intrude on anyone’s property (they don’t stop to ask question in these parts!). But those three horses just stood there in a circle, watching over the other one.  Eventually, we  saw her (?) attempt to get up several times, but she just couldn’t do it.

Codependent forever, we  drove around and looked for the owner or the property, to see if they knew what was happening, but people are afraid to answer their doors, so we eventually we gave up.  We pulled into one very Latino-looking property which had a dear and rather large shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the yard, but no one came out.

 I will never forget those horses just clustered around their friend:  guarding, guarding, witnessing, witnessing…

When we pulled over to the side of the road and walked over, the ones who were guarding seemed to take this as a sign that they could take a break and go off to separate corners of the field for just a moment…all three!..  But when we didn’t stay, they went right back.  I was afraid they thought someone knew something wasn’t right and would help . . . and that we had disappointed them in this.

What was emerging:  new life or new death?  Is there a difference?   It was hard to see, but then I suppose it always is, things happen from such a distance. . .

I was recently relieved to read that some panel of great and knowledgeable scientists in Great Britain have proclaimed that animals are conscious beings.

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The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things. 
― Rilke

The Green One

AlKhidr

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. – Christian Scriptures, Hebrews 13:2

Today was a poignant day for my husband and me.  We were driving home from Greensboro to our little wide spot in the road near Hillsborough, and we stopped at the rest stop between the two.  We travel with our new puppy these days, a feisty little Westie, and so we made a pit stop for him.  As soon as we got out of our car, a young man came up to us and asked if he could speak to us.  Like most people, I suppose, we were leery, but we’re pretty sappy about trying to help people, so we listened while he told us how he accidentally got locked out of his car with his two dogs in it, had to call a locksmith, who overcharged him $150, and now, he said, he had no money to get home on and asked if we could we give him some.

May I say, here, that in this country where panhandling has become increasingly common and seems to be a fairly organized enterprise, our first reaction was suspicion.  I tend to be a bit resentful when people with pathetic signs about their misfortunes come up to my car at intersections to ask for money, and my first impulse was to be kind of irritated in this situation.  Increasingly, though, I find myself thinking, in such situations, “well, why not?”  Who am I to say whether a person’s need is legitimate, and what do I care if they want to spend my money on drugs or whatever?  At least they will know someone looked at them kindly and gave them what they wanted.

Now, like most people, we don’t tend to travel with much cash, so we explained to him that we didn’t have any money to give him, quite literally, and I said to him, “If you have a need, it will be taken care of.”

“Oh yes, yes,”  he said, “I’m a Christian, I know that.”  My cynical side was already thinking, “Nice touch:  he gets our sympathy by telling us he was traveling with his dogs who got locked in the car, and then he tells us he’s a Christian.  That always gets ’em.”  Meanwhile, an oriental man in the car next to us was hissing at us to ignore the young man:  “He’s a professional.”

“How do you know?”  I answered.  In any event, we headed for the restrooms prior to taking our pup out, and my husband commented that maybe he had a couple of dollars.  He looked in his wallet and sure enough, he had four whole dollars, so he headed back and gave them to the young man.  Why not?  He could, at best, only buy a bottle of Boone’s Farm with those few bucks.  He said the young man said to him, “At least you didn’t ignore me.  Most people have.”

I waited in the car while my husband took the puppy across the road to walk him, and I watched the young man busily walk up and down the path, steering clear of most people, occasionally entering the building, speaking to a few.  When my husband got back in the car, I had been thinking about it for awhile, and I said to my husband, “So where are these two dogs?  And can’t this guy call the police, or family members or friends and ask for help…or maybe the personnel at the rest stop could help him?”  We decided to play social worker, and my husband got out and asked him about all these things.  He reported that the man answered him in monosyllables, indicating that his dogs were “down there” (where?).  He said he lived alone, indicating that he had no friends or relatives to help him.  He answered all the other questions in monosyllables, and that was that.  My husband said he seemed irritated to be so questioned.

We went on home.

This young man, who said he was from Scranton (and sounded it) could have been an ax murderer, an escaped prisoner, an angel, a drug addict, an ordinary panhandler, or he could even have been completely honest about what was causing him to have this need for people to give him money.  I don’t suppose we’ll ever know which it was, but I keep thinking of something that happened to me many years ago, when I was on a spiritual retreat in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The first few days of a retreat are always excruciating for me:  I have a terrible time turning loose of the world, my body hurts, my mind races, I’m hungry, and all in all, I spend much time wondering why on earth I ever got myself into this mess.  As I persist in my spiritual practice, eventually there will come detachment, and a rising, a disengagement with my body and my environment and my involvement in life.  But it comes when it comes, and it takes brutally hard work, or at least it did in those days, when I was new to this meditative path.

So there I was, sitting on the side of the mountain, and it had rained and it was cold and damp and dreary and I was feeling sorry for myself and in despair of ever reaching the deeper stages of my retreat.  I have found, always, that it is only when I let go, when I “learn to love wandering in the dark,” as is common to that first stage of the inner alchemical process, the stage of nigredo, letting go . . . when I opened my eyes and in the pasture below me, a young boy was walking across the field with a gun over his shoulder, and he saw me up there and turned and gave a casual wave . . . and suddenly, I had liftoff, as the saying goes.  I moved into the higher reaches of the retreat, and I left the earth behind, like a balloon floating upward.

A casual event, one might say, but I eventually concluded that the young man in the pasture had either been an angel, Lord Krishna himself, or perhaps Khidr, the green one of eternal aliveness, angel or beyond the angelic, available to the sincere seeker and present at all initiation.  When one seeks the divine, I was taught, one is always guided by the masters, saints and prophets of all the ages, and one never knows who will come to aid in the sacred quest.  So I never entirely knew who that being was who strode across the pasture and turned to wave his magic wand over me as he passed, but I have my suspicions, and it really didn’t matter, because it worked.  Such experiences can never be understood deeply except by the one who experiences them, but if the story is told, it may aid another.

It is because of such visitations, which have come at various times in my life, that I wondered who was this young man who asked us for money at the rest stop today.  It really doesn’t matter, of course, but I’m rather glad that we gave him what we could.  Who knows?  Allahu A’laam.

If You Meet the Buddha in the Road . . .

A pivotal lesson for me, and a clarification of my impulse:

KrishnamurtiThe Renunciation of Jiddu Krishnamurti

As he began to distance himself from Theosophical teachings, he predicted that, “Everyone will give me up.” He began to call his experiences of the Masters “incidents” and described the rites of initiation as completely irrelevant to the search for Truth. “If you would seek the Truth you must go out, far away from the limitations of the human mind and heart and there discover it — and that Truth is within yourself. Is it not much simpler to make Life itself the goal … than to have mediators, gurus, who must inevitably step down the Truth, and hence betray it?”

In 1929 he dissolved the Order of the Star. At this point it numbered 60,000 members, managed huge sums of money, and owned tracts of land throughout the world, many designated for K’s future work. He was 34 years old.

Excerpts from his final speech follow:

“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect…. I do not want to belong to any organization of a spiritual kind; please understand this … If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth….

“This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth…. For 18 years you have been preparing for this event, for the Coming of the World Teacher. For 18 years you have organized, you have looked for someone who would give a new delight to your hearts and minds … who would set you free — and now look what is happening! Consider, reason with yourselves, and discover in what way that belief has made you different … in what way are you freer, greater, more dangerous to every society which is based on the false and the unessential?…

“You are all depending for your spirituality on someone else, for your happiness on someone else, for your enlightenment on someone else…. You have been accustomed to being told how far you have advanced, what is your spiritual status. How childish! Who but yourself can tell you if you are incorruptible?… I desire those, who seek to understand me, to be free … from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself…. You can form other organizations and expect someone else. With that I am not concerned, nor with creating new cages, new decorations for those cages. My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free.”
Few there were who could grasp this freedom, and, sadly, those who had warned the world for years that the coming of the Christ would challenge all existing systems seemed themselves unable to encompass that challenge when it came. The Theosophical Society was left in total bewilderment.

Krishnamurti never looked back. What he did he did with love and no trace of bitterness. The Truth that was growing in him was his only concern; the Presence that filled his being was his only guide. From that Truth came compassion for every living thing. From that guidance would emerge a teaching that cut to the root of the attachments that have crippled humanity for thousands of years.

K would live another 56 years. During all of these years he would teach — through his lectures, through his books, and through the schools he founded. Surprisingly, though most of his old friends fell away just as he had predicted, attendance at his talks did not diminish. In practically every year of his life, he toured the world. Rather than lecture he would “enter into inquiry” with his audiences, warning them not to blindly accept what he said but to look deep into their own hearts and discover the truth of their own being.  — from The pathless journey of Jiddu Krishnamurti by Bette Stockbauer, Share International Archives, http://www.shareintl.org/archives/Krishnamurti/k_bs-pathlessjourney.htm

Of Oatmeal and Amnion

Why is it that the people I think should live the longest because they are the best and the world needs them so badly….don’t?  Galway Kinnell was the first love of my life, poetically speaking.  When I was an undergrad, I got to meet him once, when he spoke at UNC-A, and he was humble and rough and beautiful and everything his poems said he ought to be….and how often does that happen?  He was a man among men and a poet among poets.

Galway Kinnell

OATMEAL

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.

I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.

I eat it alone.

I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.

Its consistency is such that it is better for your mental health if

somebody eats it with you.

That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have

breakfast with.

Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary companion.

Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal–porridge,

as he called it–with John Keats.

Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him in: due to its glutinous

texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, and unusual willingness

to disintegrate, oatmeal must never be eaten alone.

He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat it with

an imaginary companion,

and he himself had enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund

Spenser and John Milton.

Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as

wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something from it.

Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the

“Ode to a Nightingale.”

He had a heck of a time finishing it–those were his words–“Oi’ad

a ‘eck of a toime,” he said, more or less, speaking through his porridge.

He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his

pocket,

but when he got home he couldn’t figure out the order of the stanzas,

and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they made

some sense of them, but he isn’t sure to this day if they got it right.

An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket through

a hole in the pocket.

He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas,

and the way here and there a line will go into the configuration of a

Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up and peer about, and then lay

itself down slightly off the mark, causing the poem to move

forward with God’s reckless wobble.

He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about

the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some stanzas

of his own, but only made matters worse.

I would not have known about any of this but for my reluctance to eat

oatmeal alone.

When breakfast was over, John recited “To Autumn.”

He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words

lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.

He didn’t offer the story of writing “To Autumn,” I doubt if there is

much of one.

But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him started

on it, and two of the lines, “For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy

cells” and “Thou watchedst the last oozings hours by hours,” came to him while eating oatmeal alone.

I can see him–drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the

glimmering furrows, muttering–and it occurs to me:

maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion’s tatters.

For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch.

I am aware that a baked potato is damp, slippery and

simultaneously gummy and crumbly,

and therefore I’m going to invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me (Kinnell, 1995, pp. 37-38).

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

When one has lived a long time alone,
one wants to live again among men and women,
to return to that place where one’s ties with the humangalway-kinnell
broke, where the disquiet of death and now
also of history glimmers its firelight on faces,
where the gaze of the new baby looks past the gaze
of the great-granny, and where lovers speak,
on lips blowsy from kissing, that language
the same in each mouth, and like birds at daybreak
blether the song that is both earth’s and heaven’s,
until the sun has risen, and they stand
in a light of being united: kingdom come,
when one has lived a long time alone.

~Galway Kinnel (The last stanza from “When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone”)

Parkinson’s Disease

Just one more, even more moving as I learn that our beloved Galway died of Leukemia:

PARKINSON’S DISEASE – Galway Kinnell

While spoon-feeding him with one hand
she holds his hand with her other hand,
or rather lets it rest on top of his,
which is permanently clenched shut.
When he turns his head away, she reaches
around and puts in the spoonful blind.
He will not accept the next morsel
until he has completely chewed this one.
His bright squint tells her he finds
the shrimp she has just put in delicious.
Next to the voice and touch of those we love,
food may be our last pleasure on earth—
a man on death row takes his T-bone
in small bites and swishes each sip
of the jug wine around in his mouth,
tomorrow will be too late for them to jolt
this supper out of him. She strokes
his head very slowly, as if to cheer up
each separate discomfited hair sticking up
from its root in his stricken brain.
Standing behind him, she presses
her check to his, kisses his jowl,
and his eyes seem to stop seeing
and do nothing but emit light.
Could heaven be a time, after we are dead,
of remembering the knowledge
flesh had from flesh? The flesh
of his face is hard, perhaps
from years spent facing down others
until they fell back, and harder
from years of being himself faced down
and falling back in his turn, and harder still
from all the while frowning
and beaming and worrying and shouting
and probably letting go in rages.
His face softens into a kind
of quizzical wince, as if one
of the other animals were working at
getting the knack of the human smile.
When picking up a cookie he uses
both thumbtips to grip it
and push it against an index finger
to secure it so that he can lift it.
She takes him then to the bathroom,
where she lowers his pants and removes
the wet diaper and holds the spout of the bottle
to his old penis until he pisses all he can,
then puts on the fresh diaper and pulls up his pants.
When they come out, she is facing him,
walking backwards in front of him
and holding his hands, pulling him
when he stops, reminding him to step
when he forgets and starts to pitch forward.
She is leading her old father into the future
as far as they can go, and she is walking
him back into her childhood, where she stood
in bare feet on the toes of his shoes
and they foxtrotted on this same rug.
I watch them closely: she could be teaching him
the last steps that one day she may teach me.
At this moment, he glints and shines,
as if it will be only a small dislocation
for him to pass from this paradise into the next.

The Silence of the World

I can imagine the silence when the world
will have stilled itself—no more poems tossed
off the tongue, no more screams
of raven lugging entrails of porcupine,
no more tales of the Navajo, or Louisiana black man,
or old-time Vermonter,
no more breathing in the ear of last lover,
no more angelic beings left to be kissed
into the claustrophobia of flesh,
no more temples giving light
from open doors into bitter winter nights, no more
curious weasel who leaves
her black ring frozen in the air,
no more tooth that gnaws through gum and bones into
the cathedral of the mouth.
No more splat when singer spits
mouthwash into the washbasin after the concert,
no more “Quit yer bawlin!”
from punk principal to slob schoolboy
when sore mother hauls
small boy into classroom by sore ear.
No more young woman in large hat in profile
in afternoon light saying, “So what, darling?
I don’t hate you. I love you. So what?”
No more flutesman trudging through snow
on 125th Street on the last Sunday morning of his jeopardy.
No more husband saying, “Snack bar’s the other way.”
No more wife replying, “You aren’t going to eat again, are you?”
No more husband replying, “I don’t want to eat,
I was just telling you where the snack bar is.”
No more wife replying, “For Chrissake! I know where it is.”
No more caesura or else everything one endless caesura,
no more feminine rhyme such as “lattice” and “thereat is,”
no more parallelismus membrorum panting in one ear,
no more Neruda’s slowly deepening voice saying,
“Federico, te acuerdas, debajo de la tierra . . .”
From across the valley the thud of an axe
arrives later than its strike
and the call of goodbye slowly separates itself
little by little from the vocal chords of everything. – Galway Kinnell

Angels Among Us – Revised, and an Addendum

For Peter, who gave me the best piece of writing advice I ever had.  Upon reading one of my first research papers, he said to me, “Amidha, THIS is a period.  Use it.”  I’ve tried ever since….  I love you, honey.  This is for you both.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
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Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message

He Is Dead,

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;


I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.  –W.H. Auden

I remember, when I was a kid,  my parents went through this phase where all of a sudden old friends and relatives were dying.  Being as self-centered as most children, I don’t remember what age they were–or I was–but I bet they were about the age I am now, because here I am in my early sixties, and all of a sudden people who were “mine” are dying, or so it seems in the parlance in which departure from the apparent is commonly understood. In the past few months, I have lost several old and dear friends, including friends I’d never met: Robin Williams, for one, who was “ours” in a way that is at least as profound as if we’d known him.  But this is not about him.  Enough people have written about him. This is about someone no one else may think to write about, and it occurs to me that what one contributes to life has very little to do with how many people knew of them, but of the part they played in the unfoldment of this collective being that we are.  Yet most of us don’t tend to think about that.

When I first started college, I had a math teacher named Peter. I was an older student: I only started college when I was about 31 or so, and thus I was often as old as my teachers, and often they became friends and,  occasionally, lovers.  That, of course, is yet another story.  As for my friendship with Peter, he dragged me, kicking and screaming, through the miseries of Freshman Algebra, and we laughed and giggled and pointed and  puzzled about the world and mused about how math could express the ineffable in ways that language often couldn’t.  It meant a lot to me to learn to think in this way, and we had a great time celebrating the absurdities of the world.  Eventually, I got to know his partner, Rocco, and this story is about him mostly, except that it’s hard to think about Rocky without Peter, or of Peter without Rocky (he was Rocky more than he was Rocco in those days, at least to my knowledge).  But now Peter is without Rocco, some thirty years later: Rocco just died of a particularly rapid and dreadful  cancer process, and I watch from our current distance as Peter dies with him, and contemplates learning to live again, somehow. My heart weeps for them both, even as it celebrates Rocco’s advancement to the next stage of his journey, or the next “trail head,” as I’m told he expressed it once he knew his departure from this plane was inevitable.  Rocco loved to hike in the beautiful Blue Ridge surrounding us in Western North Carolina.

The last time Peter and I engaged in a deeper discussion, we talked about marriage and what it is and isn’t, and his resentment that because he and Rocco are gay, the same “perks” that are available to heterosexual couples are not available to them: nothing is assumed when one doesn’t go along with the “party line:” these two men could not marry, in the eyes of the world, even though they had lived together for a good 38  years, certainly a lot longer than I have been married to my beloved…  But they could not assume the same things that I assume: Peter had a good job at the university, but he could not share his employee benefits with his “spouse,” nor could any of the other practical things that “married” people in this world share–Social Security, for instance–be assumed to be available to them. The world effectively denies the reality of their marriage and, in the great state of North Carolina, even more so.20140827_155345

While I was still in school, Rocky and Peter bought a little house in the mountains outside Asheville, and essentially, over the last 20-plus years, rebuilt it.  We lost touch for a number of years while our family was wandering around other parts of the world, but when we came back together, they were, obligingly, right where I’d left them, and their little house had become a mystical little cottage perched on the side of the mountain, amidst the beautiful things they’d planted and cultivated.  They had acquired a good bit of land around it, and they had spent most of these years caring for it and creating their idyllic little home.  Peter continued to work at the university, and Rocco, for the most part, stayed home and worked on the house.  The two of them never seemed remotely like stereotypical gay people, although Peter often insisted, laughing, that they were, citing such things as his vast collection of show tunes.  I, the idealist, don’t like stereotypes, but they seemed to quite enjoy them, possibly because they understood more about their efficacy than I did.  In my “best of all possible worlds,” we are all just people, and labels are not necessary, but despite my fondness for Peter and Rocco, I am very aware that they lived in a world that I couldn’t really understand, one they needed in a culture that insisted on making something strange and aberrant of their own kind of normalcy.  Perhaps all the sub-groups we insist on creating must survive by creating such stereotypes, images, languages, cultural and artistic tastes, music and behaviors that allow them to feel part of a group, a family, a culture.  It is an essential need, and it often arises out of the need for protection and security and affirmation of being.  One has to find ways to hold on to health, wholeness and sanity in an insane and unhealthy world.

Thus, when I attempt to write about Rocky and therefore Peter, I am aware that I only knew them  in the context of my world, while they lived their larger lives in the gay community:  they lived through the AIDS epidemic, “gay pride,” the battles that all so-called sub-groups have to fight in this world where the norm is defined largely by the White Man.  I am endlessly curious and interested in my fellow human beings, and we had many discussions about their lives compared to ours . . .  and I was always aware that there was territory they could not allow me to approach, nor could they approach mine.  Neither had ever been with a woman, but Rocco, who had been in the military long before “don’t ask, don’t tell,” seemed to me to have a certain tenderness and feeling for what it is to be a woman in this world.  I have noticed this difference in feeling in other gay friends, and it is hard to describe, but it is there.  Yet having given even this much space to the “gay issue” seems false, because that is not what either of them is about, in my opinion, even though the world forced them to live as if it was.  So let me try to describe Rocky:

It is my understanding that souls in this world get here through various means and come from various places.  I do not know this in a factual sense, although it is a theory I’ve often read about and learned at the feet of my Sufi teacher and others.   As for me, I know it in a nostalgic sense: there are worlds I carry memories of:  other lives, other planes of existence.  I miss them and in moments of absorption, I catch the memory of their essence.  I’ve met people on this planet who make me think of these other worlds, who seem to carry the heritage of other existences more strongly than some, and when I think of Rocco, I think of a being who was, really, almost too pure for this world.  He enjoyed his earthly existence, but he wasn’t really “from” here, although I never heard him speak about it.  He was a simple soul, and I suspect he suffered greatly in this world, because he did not have the defenses most of us have to develop to get through it, nor the will to develop them.  In this sense, Peter was, I suspect, his guardian angel, allowing him to be the exemplar of balance.  For someone who celebrated the physical plane, he seemed somehow untouched by it.  Perhaps he celebrated too much, too, but that was his right.  Over these last few years, my husband and I again took up our long-distance relationship with Peter and Rocco, because my daughter went to college at UNC-Asheville, and that gave us the opportunity to visit with them in their dear little house on a fairly regular basis.  Rocco always cooked exquisite dinners for us, and we would sit on their porch looking over the mountains until late into the gloaming.  We always took a loaf of bread home with us, and Rocco’s bread was miraculous:  he grew the wheat, he harvested and ground it, and his dough rose on the woodstove and produced bread that was a blessing to eat.  In those times, sometimes we laughed and sometimes we spoke of deeper things.  The two of them were opposites in an interesting way:  Peter battled with the outer life and created the defenses to do so.  As a result of this, I noticed a certain bitterness and anger as he grew older:  but who among us isn’t familiar with that?  As for Rocco, he had few defenses other than Peter, and he knew that.  Yet perhaps his most powerful defense was his defenselessness.  The two of them were married in the deepest sense of the word, but their marriage wasn’t like that of us “straight” people:  they had no social and/or economic need for the mores we create to keep us safe, and their lives seemed to be freewheeling in ways we “breeders” can’t afford.  I suspect it was in this that arose the inability to fully enter each other’s world views.IMG_1199

What I know about Rocco:  he kept acres and acres of land pristine.  He grew flowers and trees and vegetables.  He worked endlessly, with Peter, to create their world, and he liked to work naked:  Peter laughingly told the story of the day their female neighbor decided to drop by:  that was the last time she came by without calling first, they laughed.  Rocco was sweet and good.  He pulled no punches, but he didn’t have a mean bone in his body.  He smoked and ate meat and played poker with his friends.  He hiked in the mountains, and was loved by all.  And I could not begin to describe his essence, but I thought of that lovely film A River Runs Through It, and the father of the son who died very violently, at a young age:

As time passed, my father struggled for more to hold on to, asking me [the brother of the son who died]  again and again: had I told him everything. And finally I said to him, “maybe all I know about [Paul] is that he was a fine fisherman.”

“You know more than that,” my father said: “he was beautiful.” And that was the last time we spoke of my brother’s death. –Norman Maclean

And that is what I know about Rocco:  he was beautiful.  And he never grew old, nor was he meant to.  And Peter helped him grow younger and younger, until he was young enough.  How beautiful it will be to see what Peter’s next assignment is, and to catch up with Rocco someday:  because we have always known him.

One month after Rocco left this particular world, marriage equality was legalized in North Carolina.

Breaking Open

Why do things happen the way they do, and how do we reconcile with the reality of this terrible world, those of us who want to believe in a loving divine reality?

Recently, someone speaking of a terrible loss to our community said “God knows best.”   We say things like that to each other in this Judeo-Christian culture when the unacceptable must be accepted, the irreconcilable must be reconciled and those who are left must somehow go on.  Yet if we’ve experienced even a taste of God’s love, the degree to which God is in love with God’s creatures, how could we even think such things?  Surely in the face of such terrible events, God’s heart is the most broken and bleeding of all.  Surely such a small event as the one referred to—and after all it is a small event in the history of this dreadful world—could not possibly be intended by the God of our understanding!

“We don’t  know who anyone is” –Pir Inam, Ajmer, India

klenner_rabbula3

Perhaps even less do we know who God is, even as we are God’s expression, the thoughts in God’s mind, the source of God’s being in the form of divine limitation.  And in that we are God’s limitation, the conundrum is that we are also God’s perfection, the vehicle for God’s growth.  I remember my beloved teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan  once saying—I don’t know if he was quoting or not, it sounded like him—that if we knew what love truly was, we would be shattered in our understanding.  Do events such as those that bring us lowest serve to teach us the highest truths?

Perhaps, in these moments, we have the opportunity to come closer to God’s understanding.  On the one hand, there’s no point in trying to pretty it up with little phrases that are designed to make us feel better, yet the enormity of the Divine reality—perhaps—contains even concepts such as these.

What will you do, God, when I die?
I am your pitcher (when I shatter?)
I am your drink (when I go bitter?)
I, your garment; I, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?

Without me what house where intimate words await you?
I, velvet sandal that falls from your foot.
I, cloak dropping from your shoulder.
Your gaze, which I welcome now as it warms my cheek,
will search for me hour after hour
and lie at sunset, spent, on an empty beach among unfamiliar stones.
What will you do, God? It troubles me.  —Rilke, Book of Hours

God bless us one and all.  And bless you too, God.  Whatever is happening in all this, I’m glad to be the expression of it, because how else would I get to know you—and you me?

Standing up, Standing Still

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In these years of silence, there are times when I do find myself in a position of collaboration with others in organizational matters, and I find myself remembering something Murshid Shamcher Bryn Beorse said:  “God wanted to create Hell, so he invented the Committee”  (please read with a Norwegian accent!).   I suppose we all wonder what we, as individuals and as a world entity, are becoming, what is unfolding in our lives.  I suppose that it is inevitable that we would, on all paths and on no path.

The question was asked, recently, what are we Sufis are doing about the Environmental crisis.  For me, the question—and the possible answers—struck at the very heart of the kinds of questions I feel those of us on a spiritual path ask ourselves and feel obligated to answer.  I am a member of the Sufi Order International.  It is an esoteric school, it is a spiritual organization, it is an educational institution, and it carries out its work on various exoteric levels, too, primarily publishing and disseminating the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan and his predecessors and successors on this Sufi path.  It seems to me that as individual members in this particular order, we all choose which part of these various functions we will emphasize, yet I am inclined to feel that the original—and ultimate–focus of our work is the contemplative practice, and through that mode, the dissemination of the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan and those who have come after him (including ourselves as we grow in this work).  In other words, I see this Sufi order of mine primarily as an esoteric school.

A few years back, I heard a recording on YouTube  of a talk given by a well-known Islamic scholar and social activist, speaking to a “Young Muslim Student” organization in California.  He said humorously:

 
One of the problems that we are having is that many people want to have
a revolution.  We want to have an economic revolution.  We want to have
a political revolution.  And we need that, but the system is broke.
It’s not working.  It can’t work.  But we’re trying to have that
revolution without doing the necessary heart revolution, the
transformation that is required of us individually and collectively as a
community.

“You get the flip side of that too.  I’ve got my lovely Sufi friends who
are the sweetest, kindest people in the whole world, and you’re like,
‘Ya know, there’s half-a-million people  starving in East Africa.  It’s
terrible [mutes voice into whimper]. ” I’ll go do a dhikr for them [muted
sob].”  [audience laughter]  Like, ‘Good, good…AND?’ [audience laughter]
‘We’re told there’s been a million Iraqis who have been wiped out. ” I’ll
go to my prayer chamber and put on some candles and incense [pause] and
do a meditation.’ ”  ‘Good…AND?’  In their reflection and outer action,
these two have to be linked up together.

I’ve been kind of brooding about that since I heard him say it, first of all because it was clear from his tone of voice that he was kind of poking fun at what he calls “American Sufis,” and second because, well, I thought that “dhikr thing” he refers to WAS supposed to be important, maybe the most important thing we, as Sufis, offer to the planet, in the spirit of the rishis and contemplatives and adepts of all religions.  Recently, I was looking through Inayat Khan’s teachings for something on another topic, and as often happens, I found a passage that speaks to this.  He is speaking, here, of the universal sound, Hu, the sawt-e-sarmad as it is spelled in the text, and how through long practice, one becomes an instrument of that Sound that evokes the divine Reality:

The sound Hu is most sacred; the mystics of all ages called it Ismi-Azam, the name of the most High, for it is the origin and end of every sound as well as the background of each word. The word Hu is the spirit of all sounds and of all words, and is hidden under them all, as the spirit in the body. It does not belong to any language, but no language can help belonging to it.
This alone is the true name of God, a name that no people and no religion can claim as their own. This word is not only uttered by human beings, but is repeated by animals and birds. All things and beings exclaim this name of the Lord, for every activity of life expresses distinctly or indistinctly this very sound. This is the word mentioned in the Bible as existing before the light came into being: ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God’.

The mystery of Hu is revealed to the Sufi who journeys through the path of initiation.  The more a Sufi listens to sawt-e-sarmad, the sound of the abstract, the more his consciousness becomes free from all the limitations of life [emphasis my own]  The soul floats above the physical and mental plane without any special effort on man’s part, which shows its calm and peaceful state; a dreamy look comes into his eyes and his countenance becomes radiant; he experiences the unearthly joy and rapture of Wajad or ecstasy. When ecstasy overwhelms him he is neither conscious of the physical existence nor of the mental. This is the heavenly wine to which all Sufi poets refer, which is totally unlike the momentary intoxications of this mortal plane.
A heavenly bliss then springs in the heart of a Sufi, his mind is purified from sin, his body from all impurities, and a pathway is opened for him towards the world unseen. He begins to receive inspirations, intuitions, impressions and revelations without the least effort on his part. He is no longer dependent upon a book or a teacher, for divine wisdom – the light of his soul, the Holy Spirit – begins to shine upon him.

‘I, by the light of soul, realize that the beauty of the heavens and the grandeur of the earth are the echo of Thy magic flute’. (Shefir)

It seems to me that sometimes we are in danger of forgetting why we came to the spiritual path in the first place.  On the deepest level, I don’t think this is really a danger, because the contemplative path doesn’t draw people who are ultimately inclined to be distracted, but I do think that in the moment, when we are asking ourselves what we, as member of any spiritual entity, are accomplishing,  whether our growth is sufficient, whether we measure up to the other “New Age” groups which category we are mostly relegated to by the world of organized religion, we may momentarily forget why we really came to these teachings that, for most of us, are so different from what we grew up with, in this culture, at least.  We may form too many committees, and and in our fervent need to disseminate our spiritual understanding, may over-translate, over-disseminate, forget the role that silence plays in every word that wants to be spoken…and in so doing, create more chaos than harmony.  Does the current world crisis hunger more for words and emotions, petitions and political movements, or is Hu  the answer?  Both, no doubt.  All of these things have their place, and all of us have our paths.

Speaking only for myself, it seems important not to forget to be quietly powerful, growing like a blade of grass, as well as smashing through obstacles that appear to hinder the unfoldment of the planet, working through our minds and emotions, and always trying to look “spiritual” in the eyes of the world.    It has been said that the world is upheld by the silence of rishis in caves in the Himalayas, by monks and nuns in solitary cells, by prison ashrams and everyday contemplatives, by those who remain silent and inactive in order to support and feed the world soul.  Perhaps it is the development of the silent heart that leads to that Ultimate Sound that destroys and heals creation in good order.

To all those “who, whether koan or unknown, have held aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”  Inayat Khan

The Slow Work of God

I was reminded, today, by some new good friends, of the work of the Christian mystic and scientist Teilhard de Chardin, a clear embodiment of the Cosmic Christ:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
TreeWe are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

When I was a student, I had a tendency to insert quotes such as the above into my papers with the assumption that something that cracked my universe open would do the same for others, and needed no explanation.  “No, you have to unpack these things if you’re going to include them,” I heard over and over.  But what can you say about something like this without making it smaller?  I’d rather you read it the way it is and get it the way it delivers itself to you.

A June Wedding

1969304_10202882084312174_570770412697019908_nThere is an Arabic term Urs, that is used by the Sufis, to mean the anniversary of the death of a saint.  Literally, it means wedding, as the belief is that when a saint dies, he goes into the arms of God and becomes one with his highest ideal.  Or hers.  (I am of the generation that pretty much accepted sexist gender in grammar, and I’m still prone to step on even my own toes by using the masculine term, so I apologize to all of us for that.)  Putting aside the question of who decides who is a saint, this is the Urs of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, who would have laughed heartily at the idea of being identified as a saint.  But we, of course, his children, love him so much that perhaps we have loved him into being just that.

I should mention, here, that the Urs of a saint is usually celebrated at the tombPir Dargah or burial place of that saint, and so that is where the main celebration of Pir’s Urs will happen today.  But there is more to the Urs than that, which is a good thing for those of us who can’t make it to India, and there will be celebrations all over the world, in geographical locations and in the hearts of his followers.  It is said that on the Urs, one’s connection with the teacher or saint is particularly accessible, and that a boon is granted to the one who requests it.  I think this boon is particularly in the category of a spiritual blessing, i.e., one can’t request a million dollars and hope to get it, but it is my experience that this blessing, when it comes from the saint, is usually well worth asking for.

Blessed be to my own beloved Pir (teacher), who loved me away from self-destruction and brought me to realization.  He was probably not a saint in the accepted sense, although in terms of what he did best, he definitely qualifies in my opinion, for he took me and all of his children where we most wanted to go, and he took us there in style, elegance and and with complete commitment.  Perhaps it is true that this journey we are on is endless, but I myself am endlessly grateful to be on it with such an amazing traveling companion.  He left us a number of years ago (seven?  eight?), but as another Indian “saint” said when his students mourned his imminent death, “Nonesense!  Where would I go?” (Ramana Maharshi)  My beloved Pir may have moved into another office, so to speak, but he continues to be present to all who seek his presence, and to teach his students and guide his work as successor to his father, Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan.  And in the continuation of his earthy work by his son, Pir Zia Inayat Khan, the Silsila (chain of those who pass on the teaching) remains unbroken.

Pir and ZiaWhether these concepts are symbolic or actual, they work.

He worked hard and he played hard.  A good example.  And before he left, he told us that if we wanted to contact him after his death, we would find him working in the planes of Light.heavenly-landscape.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feline Felony

imagebywidth.msI have a wreath I’ve had for years.  It looks like the one I’ve posted here, because I couldn’t take a picture of it to share with you, for reasons you will know forthwith.  It is, as you see, a twig wreath, with sprigs of Forsythia, and I put it up every Spring, although it’s been getting rather shabby, and each season, I say, will be the last one.

We’ve been getting into feeding the birds in the last few years, and we get quite a variety.  I noticed something different about my wreath recently:  it looked as if a pattern in the twigs had formed, and I realized it was a perfectly round hole, which turned out to be a bird’s nest.  How clever of that Wren, we thought, to build such an attractive home for her babies.  Each time we opened the door, Mama Wren would fly away, presumably to return once we were gone, and each time we came back, it would be the same.

Today, I was sitting on the couch in the living room, and I heard thumping and scrabbling outside.  Turned out our cat, Sita, had managed to leap from the red rocking chair next to the milk can, up to the wreath and pull it down.  The eggs were lying broken on the porch boards, and the mother was gone.  It was quite a leap from the rocking chair to the nest, even with the milk can for a waystop, but she did it, by golly.

As might be imagined, we are struggling with feelings of anger toward the cat, sadness for mother and babies, and the need to anthropomorphize the motives of all involved in this event.  But after all, this is the way life is.  Might makes right.  Cats eat birds, if they get half a chanceIMG_3630

This morning, my husband reported, “… Momma Wren was singing myriad calls on the railing across from where the nest had been. Another wren was nearby in a hanging ivy. After a few seconds of song, they both flew away.”

The Creator is hidden in His own Creation.  –Inayat Khan

THE BREATH OF ETERNITY

All will be well and all will be well

and every kind of thing shall be well.

The Face of the Holy One

You have been to the threshold of death and felt the breath of eternity on your eyelids. You don’t need the appointed intermediaries to tell you about the Holy One: you have had a direct encounter, and it has changed you. When they speak about “God’s will” and tell you exactly how to interpret it, you stifle a chuckle and try to look pious. You have gone riding wild horses with the Holy One along a rocky seashore under the full moon. They warn you about impure thoughts, but the God you love is an unconditionally loving mother who squeezes your cheeks, looks into your eyes, and tells you that you are the most adorable creature she ever created.

Ever since that troublemaker Eve handed that gullible Adam the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they say, human beings have been continuously messing up and suffering the consequences. But in the depths of your darkest despair your Beloved calls to you: “Look,” he says, and opens the fathomless beautiful wound of his heart so that you can peer inside. All creation is nestled there, bathed in beauty. “Do you see any sin here?” he asks. “Do you detect a shred of retribution?” You do not. All you perceive, from horizon to endless horizon, is love. As far as your eye can see there stretches a line of joyous children being welcomed home. The God you have met does not want your self-recrimination. You have already paid the price for your stumbling. You have endured the sorrow and weariness ignorance brings. Your God would never punish you for being a human being: this life itself is your penance, she reminds you. But it is also more than that: it is a crucible for transformation. Each trial, every loss, is an opportunity for you to meet suffering with love and make of it an offering, a prayer. The minute you lift your pain like a candle the darkness vanishes, and mercy comes rushing in to heal you.

Starr, Mirabai (2013-10-01). The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation (Kindle Locations 107-119). Hampton Roads Publishing.

Of Gatherings and Gurus

The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so, do that which best stirs you to love.

Saint Teresa of Avila

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  It’s quite chilly this morning, and thunderstorms are predicted.  I’ve lived in many places over the years, and loved many Springtimes, but I think I love these Piedmont Springs best, because after they are over, we have the usual hot, steamy Southern summers I knew as a child in Southern West Virginia and, much later, in Tennessee.  Our Springs, however, last right up to the end of May, and are generally quite temperate.  I remember years back, when I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, we spoke of the long, hot Springs….and they were, cherry blossoms notwithstanding.  Here, the Spring is usually cool, and sometimes even cold, before the relentless heat and humidity of June through August set in.  I am not a hot weather person.  Today, I had to get up and turn on the heat for awhile, at least, in order to stand staying up.   I am thankful for down comforters. Thunderstorms are predicted for today.  I like those, too, and I love to look out my office window and watch my “Ents” swaying shoulder to shoulder in the high winds.

Last night, we went to a “Gathering of the Peacemakers” at the Oasis (http://oasisincarrmill.com), our local “New Age/Metaphysical/Interreligious/All of the Above” cafe, presided over by my new/old dear friend Robert (one of those relationships where, upon meeting, you have the strangest idea that this is someone you’ve always known), a delightful Bob Marley-type mystic, who conceived the idea of his cafe as a place for like-minded people to meet and share wisdom and friendship.  It seems to work quite well, and I always enjoy going there, whether it’s for a film or a talk or just a cup of excellent coffee served with panache and Zen-like ceremony.  The “Gathering,” I think, was meant to be an occasion for the exchange of high-minded ideas and ideals, and many interesting people came, but what they talked about, mostly, was…themselves.  There are a lot of idealistic people out there looking for community and craving support and friendship, and my feeling was that this gathering ended up being more about that than anything else.  I also noticed that although many of them seemed to know each other, there was a minimum of mingling afterwards, although living in the country, we departed fairly promptly.

I “grew up” in this movement during the late sixties and through the 80s, during what I’d call the “Baba Ram Dass Era,” when communities of this kind were more defined and cohesive.  I believe that this was because it was the era of the “guru,” and most of us had them, because that’s the idea we woke up to upon emerging in our spiritual adolescence, and there were Krishna Consiousness communities and Hindu/Yoga communities of various sorts, and Buddhist Communities, Sufi communities, and numerous others.  But now, many people don’t seem very interested in having spiritual teachers.  They don’t want to be initiated or make any kind of commitment that is at all formal, and they are suspicious of people who call themselves teachers, and so they should be.  They have good reason to be, given some of the bad and even scandalous behavior we have heard about among the various “gurus.”  My own teacher–I wouldn’t call him a guru, and I doubt that he wanted to think of himself that way–Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan–always said that the way to know if a teacher was false was if that person tried in any way to impose on your independence and autonomy.  If they did, he said, they weren’t the real thing.  But I believed then in the idea of having someone to show me the ropes on this path, and I believe in it now.  And my initiation was the most precious and important event of my life, because, as Pir Vilayat said, it was the reiteration of the promise we made in pre-eternity, our commitment to the awakening of God in humanity.  Inayat Khan, his father, said that initiations come in many forms, both inner and outer, and that the outer initiation is only the confirmation of what has already happened inside.  Even so, my “outer” initiations were very meaningful and sacred to me, and they always had the effect of galvanizing me and moving me forward in ways that were often painful and confusing, yet ultimately very rewarding.  And my relationship with my teacher(s) was the ultimate in relationship, because here was a person who was saying “I am with you for the duration, and I will not let you down,” and accepting everything that went with that promise, also often painful and confusing… yet leading, finally, to what I longed for most.  The need of the time was such that it wasn’t long  before I too became a teacher of sorts, more of a guide, really, but certainly not a guru, more of a representative of my teacher, an intermediary as it were, in the connection of souls in this particular caravan now called the Sufi Order International.  That was and is hard, because it also entails making a permanent commitment to the person I promise to do my best to help on their way, but without giving advice or impinging on their free will in any way, as mentioned above.

There are different kinds of initiation that souls experience. One is natural initiation, a kind of natural unfoldment for which the soul cannot give any cause or reason. It comes to the soul although no effort or attempt is made by the soul to experience it. Sometimes this initiation comes after great illness, pain or suffering. It comes as an opening up of the horizon, it comes as a flash of light, and in a moment the world seems transformed. It is not that the world has changed; it is that the person has become tuned to a different pitch. He begins to think differently, feel differently, see and act differently; his whole condition begins to change. One might say of him that from that moment on, he begins to live. It may come as a vision, as a dream, as a phenomenon – in any of these forms – one cannot determine the manner in which it will manifest. –Inayat Khan

As for the person who becomes initiated, that is a tall order, and I can see why many in this day sort of dance around the edge of that, attracted by the ideals of these various paths, but not entirely comfortable with making that ultimate commitment.  Initiation, said Inayat Khan, is taking a step forward on a path one does not know, and it is.  And there are many false prophets, and if one hasn’t developed the art of listening to the direction coming from within, it is a rather frightening decision to contemplate.  Many people impulsively take initiation and fall away rather quickly, but the eternal nature of it still plants a seed of realization, and no one remains unchanged by the experience.

Another initiation known to the mystics is the initiation that one receives from a person living on the earth. Every mystical school has its own initiation. In the Orient, where mystical ideas are prevalent and are regarded as most sacred, any person who wishes to tread the spiritual path considers initiation to be the most important thing. If a soul such as Jesus Christ had to be baptized by John the Baptist, then no soul on earth can say, ‘I have risen above initiation.’ Is that then impossible? Nothing is impossible. It may be possible for a person to jump into the water with the intention of swimming to the port of New York, but his life will be more secure if he books his passage with the normal shipping lines. And the difference between these two souls is the same, or even greater – between the one who wishes to journey on the spiritual path by taking initiation, and the other who refuses to do so. –Inayat Khan

Initiation seems to be one of those relationships that are of an ultimate nature.  We have relationships with our parents, with our siblings, with friends, with children . . . and the list goes on.  Each of these relationships changes us, for better or for worse, but none of them are entirely without self-interest.  The relationship we have with our spiritual teacher is supposed to be exactly that, however, on the part of the teacher:  entirely without self-interest of any kind.   We seem to long for such a relationship, which is why people go to church, or take a guru, or attend metaphysical seminars and retreats, in whatever form and on whatever path they  are attracted to.  Or they attend gathering such as the one last night, and speak of the books they have read, and the teachers they are discovering,  But a teacher whose book you read is not the same as a teacher who gives you what they have to offer “chest to chest” as the Sufis say.   This relationship(s) we have with teachers, these books we read and lectures we attend, all remind us of the deepest longing of our souls for the source of our beings, which some of us call God.

Initiation by a spiritual teacher means both a trust given by the teacher to the pupil, and a trust given by the pupil to the teacher. And the progress of the one who is initiated depends upon how much he gives himself to the teacher’s guidance. One might give only a finger, another even a part of a finger, while a third would give his whole hand. That makes a great difference. A pupil says, ‘Well, I will give a certain amount of my time and thought to your guidance, will that be enough?’ Then the teacher says, ‘Yes, if you think it is enough.’ In reality, however, it is never enough. Then one might wonder if one would not be giving up one’s own point of view in order to follow someone else’s point of view; but actually, if one has a point of view, one never loses it. The point of view that one loses is not one’s own. By looking at a thing from another person’s point of view, one only enlarges one’s own. Then, one has two points of view instead of one. If the thought of the pupil happens to be different from that of the teacher, then by taking the teacher’s thought, his own is doubled. The pupil keeps his own point of view just the same, only now he has something for his vision from which to make his choice. The horizon of his thought is expanded. But the pupil who closes himself and says, ‘I will guard my point of view or it will escape me,’ will never derive any benefit from this attitude.  –Inayat Khan

I wonder if this observed tendency to go it alone, while seeking such guidance as won’t break down the barriers of time and distance, is a symptom of the times we live in, when Facebook stands in for friendship and e-books stand in for teachers.  Are we so afraid of true connection that we have seized on these shadows of it in order to meet our deeper needs?

The teacher, therefore, tests his pupil continually. He tells him and he does not tell him, for everything must come in its right time. Divine knowledge has never been taught in words, nor will it ever be so taught. The work of a mystical teacher is not to teach, but to tune, to tune the pupil so that he may become the instrument of God. For the mystical teacher is not the player of the instrument; he is the tuner. When he has tuned it, he gives it into the hands of the Player whose instrument it is to play. The duty of the mystical teacher is his service as a tuner.  –Inayat Khan

Last night, we heard about philosophers, theologians, indigenous tribal elders, teachers, shamans, and gurus… yet it seemed that many people there were struggling with what to do with these ideas, how to put them into practice.  Some seemed lonely. It is true that loneliness is a requisite feature of the path to wholeness, but I wonder if the determined loneliness one gains from this distancing that the age of technology makes possible is necessary or even helpful.  I honestly don’t know, but I think I will be glad and grateful to the end of this life that I took the path of initiation, of relationship and community.  It is, for me, the path to true love.  And because I see that this way is not chosen by everyone–and need not be!–I would like to explore this topic more.  Stay tuned, if this topic interests you.

Also, there are no fixed rules to follow on this path. For every person there is a special rule. But there is one law which applies to everything in life: sincerity, which is the only thing that is asked by a teacher of a pupil, for truth is not the portion of the insincere.  –Inayat Khan

 

Mary Poppins Opened the Door

As truths are the fictions of the rational, so fictions are the truths of the imaginal.  –James Hillman

Recently, we went to see the Disney film “Saving Mr. Banks,” not because it was a Disney film, but because when I was a child, I simply loved Mary Poppins.  For a wonderful interview with her real author, P.L. Travers, go here:

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3099/the-art-of-fiction-no-63-p-l-travers

As to the film, it is somewhat corrective as to what these books and their author were really about, but only somewhat.  It is important to realize that the real Mary Poppins is NOTHING like the sugar-coated Disney film.  The real Mary Poppins was somewhere between a Sufi mystic (in fact, I think she may have been the first Sufi I ever met) and a gypsy shaman.  It had never occurred to me to research P.L. Travers until this film came out–I’ve got to give Disney that!–and when I finally did, I realized fully why I had considered her an early teacher.Mary Poppins

I have always said that I was raised by books.  Coming from the archetypal Family from Hell (as did Travers, evidently), I had no one to teach me about morality, about honor, about beauty, true love and the other essential lessons that a child ought to learn at its parents’ feet.  But what I did have, early on, was a love of reading, and it was books that saved my life, quite literally, because when the hellish atmosphere of the alcoholic and personality-disordered home I grew up in boiled up and over, I could sneak off to my room or, if it wasn’t too bad, I could curl up in a corner of the couch and read, read, read.  I read at the table at meals, I tried to get away with reading in school, no doubt teaching myself far better than the teachers tried to; I read under the covers at night with a flashlight, far into the night.  To this day, I have several books going at a time, and while I spent a number of years in Academia, to this day, what I most love and value is, simply, stories.  And it seems that what I valued most was what the stories I read became inside that appealed most to me, because to this day I can’t even watch a television show without a book in my hand.  I prefer the written word to someone’s idea of what I ought to make of it hands-down.  The Wind in the Willows, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Louisa May Alcott’s books, and so many others taught me how to live, comforted me and showed me what it truly meant to be human.

I remember that I continued to read children’s and young adult fiction–not exclusively, but often–into my twenties, when The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery wandered into my psyche and did a little more healing work and validated my inner world.  The best thing about having children and–almost–grandchildren–was discovering the old favorites and some new ones.  In fact, if I see something that looks appealing, I continue to insist that well-written children’s literature is every bit as valuable as that written for adults, and a great deal more valuable than much of the garbage that is supposed to appeal to so-called grown-ups in this day and age.  The vast popularity of the Harry Potter books, of the Lord of the Rings books during the past and again recent dark ages, as well as the whole fantasy genre that has mushroomed while my children were growing up must be proof of this.  I was fortunate to work in a large urban public library at my very first job in life, so books of all kinds passed under my nose daily, and I read more than ever.  My daughter, who is in graduate school for library science, tells me that the popular genre for young adults these days is what is called “dystopian” literature, focusing on the dark side of the fantasy worlds it creates.  She reads things like The Hunger Games, but admits that she continues to maintain the much sunnier view of life that the children’s fantasies she loved engendered in her as a child.marypoppins

Inayat Khan–among others, no doubt–remarked that the parents are the first God in a child’s life:  the God ideal, after all, arises out of what seems greater and better than ourselves, and we look to our parents to model for us, to mirror in our own souls, that which wants to develop.  If that ideal is not before us when we are small, or is a stunted and malformed one, we have to find some version of it, if we want to grow up whole.  And even then, if we have to create that ideal for ourselves, it isn’t easy to get past not being adequately parented and taught what love is.  Perhaps, in a way, Mary Poppins was my first Roshi (and P.L. Travers did study Zen, as I found out recently), teaching me that life is suffering and that nothing lasts.  Other books taught me more sentimental and romantic concepts about love, but Mary Poppins is about the love that shatters and heals, the love that goes on forever, but is completely transient in its myriad temporal forms.

People often comment, about these posts, that I am extremely self-disclosing.  This is the most self-disclosing post I’ve written yet.  And it has constantly fascinated me that these wonderful writers who have meant so much to me often came from families not unlike my own.

Taking Our Armor Off – Pema Chodron

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Taking refuge in the Buddha means that we are willing to spend our life reconnecting with the quality of being continually awake. Every time we feel like taking refuge in a habitual means of escape, we take off more armor, undoing all the stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness and our awake quality. We’re not trying to be something we aren’t; rather, we’re reconnecting with who we are. So when we say, “I take refuge in the Buddha,” that means I take refuge in the courage and the potential of fearlessness, of removing all the armor that covers this awakeness of mine. I am awake; I will spend my life taking this armor off. Nobody else can take it off because nobody else knows where all the little locks are, nobody else knows where it’s sewed up tight, where it’s going to take a lot of work to get that particular iron thread untied. You have to do it alone.  –Pema Chodron

Around and Around

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My husband is a hospice chaplain in the small, rural area where we live.  He is someone who ought to be in the position he’s in, because he somehow manages to come home every day with a smile on his face, as if he is a soul of such age that he understands what is “transpiring beyond that which is occurring,” as my beloved Pir Vilayat would have said.  He told me the following story today:

Today, while I was driving our Hospice Medical Director around for the clinical “face-to-face” evaluations required by Medicare to recertify patients for Hospice care, one of the husbands of an Alzheimer’s patient, who is himself age 94 and still active, said to the doctor, “You don’t remember World War II, because you’re too young, but after we liberated the death camps, I operated a bulldozer at one of them to knock things down and move some earth around.  There were people who looked like that,” pointing to his wife’s naturally emaciated and gaunt form, “because the Nazis starved them.  I was told to dig a big hole for a grave, and they brought those bodies there.  They had somebody pray over them and I’d cover them up.  I never thought I’d have that in my family.”

Love and Freedom

Death takes away the weariness of life and the soul begins anew. — Inayat Khan

My husband just found out that his only remaining brother was killed in a car accident last week.  His family was not a very close one, for various reasons, and all of them have died now.  This particular brother could have been described as rather a “lost soul,” because David suspects that he had numerous mental and physical problems, although his family was very careful to veil these.  I think it was a generational thing:  when I was a child, parents did not rush to take their children to a therapist or try to get them into special programs in school if they were dyslexic or hyperactive or had any of the many issues that are currently fashionable for explaining children’s behavior.  In those days, if your child had problems, they were either punished to “make” them behave (thus, no doubt, exacerbating their problems), or their problems were denied and attempts were made to veil them.  In this case, the statement I often heard was “poor little Leon was anemic.”  Evidently, this explained his scholastic failures and what my husband is fairly sure–as a mental health professional–was schizoaffective disorder, or what I would call a unique way of being in the world.  A “lost soul,” as I’ve already said…but was he?  He did serve in the military, in Germany, and that seemed to work for him, or at least we never knew otherwise; perhaps the clear discipline and routines of military life were helpful, although he never rose in the ranks, and was given an honorable discharge when his time there was finished.  After that, he had a series of jobs, and lived at home with his parents for many years, until both parents, successively, died.  His older brother and sister-in-law took over the family home, which they had evidently inherited, and adopted  children; while Leon lived in the attic until the older brother died and the sister-in-law left.  The house, by then in a state of complete disrepair and filth, was sold.   He then moved on to a series of jobs and residences, may well have been a “street person,” and was, finally, killed going to work at his “graveyard shift” Walmart job.  It was dark and rainy, and he didn’t cross the street at the crosswalk and so died . . . violently and alone.  My husband didn’t hear about any of this until a week later, when a cousin saw the news on the television and when he didn’t hear from him contacted another cousin who contacted him on Facebook.

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You might ask, where was my husband while all this was happening?  One relative criticized him for not moving his family back “home” and becoming Leon’s “custodian.”  Leon, when presented with this idea, was not happy, and my husband chose to live his own life with his own family, which means me and our daughters.  These were rough years, because one of my daughters had myriad problems, as has been mentioned elsewhere here, and he had his work cut out for him, professionally as well as at home.  He wrote to his brother often, sent Christmas presents, and at least tried to call him at a succession of phone numbers his brother gave him, none of which he answered.  I know for a fact that he worried about his brother, yet didn’t feel inclined to try to somehow “take charge” of him.  He did contact his doctor at the VA hospital, but that didn’t make any real difference.  In any event, his brother seemed able to hold a job, although he was occasionally known to lose his temper, jeopardizing at least one job.

And now he’s gone.  My darling husband and I have been processing it for the past couple of days, and I know he has been grieving, while trying to get information through friends and relatives, some of whom were attempting to claim his “assets,” such as they may have been.  But I think my husband’s chief feelings have been ones of guilt:  should he have “taken better care” of him, should he have tried to have him institutionalized, should he have stayed nearer, etc.?

It is easier to do one’s duty to others than to one’s self. If you do your duty to others, you are considered reliable. If you do your duty to yourself, you are considered selfish. — Thomas Szasz, MD

I pointed out that it seemed to me that the conundrum was whether he had “not taken responsibility” or chosen to encourage his brother to be free to live in his own way, as he himself did,  in his.  Life, to quote my beloved teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, is about “reconciling the irreconciliables.”  Or, in my own terms, accepting the unacceptable.  How many situations are presented to us, in this planetary life, that have no ready solutions, and are truly unjustifiable in terms of the values we are shaped with as we grow into earthlings.  We like to think that love is the greatest law we live by, but in fact power and control are the watchwords of those who have the means to shape the world according to their desires.  The archetypal “street person” is called “mentally ill,” said to be “milking the system” for a living, yet when questioned often presents with a desire for freedom, even at the cost of hunger and lack of resources of all kinds.  Perhaps they are the strong ones, those who refuse to surrender to those in power and their invented realities.

He who does not accept and respect those who want to reject life does not truly accept and respect life itself.  –Thomas Szasz, MD

Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.  –R.D. Laing

I think most of us wonder, from time to time, whether these lives we are living in the world have any meaning, whether what we have lived through and said and done have been of use to anyone.  I certainly do.  Yet here we are in the presence–or recent absence–of someone who probably never once thought that he had any importance to anyone other than his mother….and look what he is teaching us.

The Hunger for Light

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I suppose most families in this culture make a habit of looking for Christmas lights on houses and in villages as they travel about at this season:  we do.  And I have noticed that there are a lot more lighted-up houses and decorations this year than last, at least in our part of the world.  This would seem to indicate that the economy has improved, and people are feeling better and more able to afford the expenses of lighting up their homes.

Some of the lit-up homes we see are tasteful and lovely, and others are garish.  When we see these latter, we laugh and groan simultaneously, but I am rather admiring of people who just pull out all the stops and put just about anything in their yards that says “It’s Christmas!”  Why not?  More power to them.

What is it all about?  Many years ago, I realized that humans have a tremendous need for light, to recall the worlds they come through on their way to this one, and take hope from these vague memories of worlds long ago.  I first realized this when I was a teenager and attended a Catholic mass with a high-school friend, a somewhat new experience for someone from the largely conservative community I then lived in.  By that time, I had taken initiation in the Sufi Order, and had embarked on this path of light that I follow, so I was ready for what I saw there, in the multitudes of candles and the chanting and the beautiful liturgy. russian-orthodox-candles-burning As a Sufi, I had quickly become able to agree with just about anything I heard as an expression of divine perception, and it was all beautiful to me, and meaningful.  I do regret that by that time, Vatican II had ushered in an English liturgy and the priest was obligated to preach a sermon, which he botched completely with his conservative views on many things, and his need to make them a part of his ministry, causing me to sneak out while the mass was still meaningful to me . . . and I was uplifted by the entire experience which echoed, as Pir Vilayat often pointed out to his students, the High Mass in the heavens, the one that constantly expresses the devotion of the angelic hosts to the supreme divinity, and its prayers for the welfare of humankind.  I tend to think there is some depiction of this in every religion, whether Diwali,Diwali...Festival-of-Lights Channukah,1-7-branch-menorah-meaning-i8 ‘Eids, the Winter Solstice….oak-king-winter-solstice  And in this culture, which has become more and more of a ‘melting pot,’ I imagine it is pretty difficult for families not to make their children happy by celebrating some form of Christmas.  I think it’s okay, but I imagine it’s an individual decision, whether to give into a cultural and, on the surface, greedy and shallow celebration of bourgeois materialism.  But somewhere in our memories is the recollection of a world of light, of plenty, of celebratory joy that comes naturally to the spirit, and I think what we do arises from this memory.

Regardless of our surface interpretations of these traditions,  it isn’t really about the toys and the presents and the tinsel and glitter, it is about what these evoke:  a beautiful world of beautiful people, to again quote Pir Vilayat.  It is about the hunger for light, particularly during this time when our part of the world tends towards darkness and we wait for the return of the sunlight that illuminates our beings and gives up hope.  In my own worldview, we are, after all, beings of light, carrying memories of light on our heroic journey into darkness for the sake of the furtherance of God’s understanding and unfoldment.  We need God as much as God needs us.

Mirror Images

I try to practice what I preach; I’m not always that good at it but I really do try. The other night, I was getting hard-hearted, closed-minded, and fundamentalist about somebody else, and I remembered this expression that you can never hate somebody if you stand in their shoes. I was angry at him because he was holding such a rigid view. In that instant I was able to put myself in his shoes and I realized, “I’m just as riled up, and self-righteous and closed-minded about this as he is. We’re in exactly the same place!” And I saw that the more I held on to my view, the more polarized we would become, and the more we’d be just mirror images of one another—two people with closed minds and hard hearts who both think they’re right, screaming at each other. It changed for me when I saw it from his side, and I was able to see my own aggression and ridiculousness.  –Pema Chodron

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Years ago, I had a client who had just gotten out of prison.  He was gay and he was  from the Deep South and he seemed to be extremely racist.  It was “nigger” this and “nigger” that spoken in his thick Louisiana accent….and after awhile it got to me.  I could see that this man was in pain, but finally I told him that his racism was bothering me and keeping me from seeing him as he really was.  How could we deal with this, I asked.  I was a young therapist at that time, very idealistic, and I might not handle a situation like that now, but I handled it that way then, and it was pretty self-centered of me.

I honestly didn’t expect to see him again, and when he appeared at our meeting the next week, he admitted he didn’t want to come.  But he told me something I needed to know.  He told me that when he was in prison, he was raped by two black men.  He hadn’t been so racist before that, he said.  He cried, and I felt grateful he’d given me a second chance.  It was an excellent lesson for me, and I’d like to think I’ve been less stupid since.

One could remark that “just” having had a bad experience didn’t vindicate a racist attitude,but we are all on different levels of both spirituality and intelligence, and for me, acting in the capacity of healer, his pain had to be addressed first.

Existential Dhikr

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A person can call themselves a Sufi and live their lives in the context of the essential message of Sufism, that of love, harmony and beauty in the unity of all religions.  No requirements at all save living as well as one can.

Or one can become a Sufi in the interest of becoming self-realized,  thus taking initiation in what is called the “esoteric school” of this particular Sufi Order (there are numerous others).  If one chooses this latter option, then this process of self-realization becomes one of not just learning to see God, but realizing oneself to be the divine glance, the very expression of Divinity, as the Sufis say.  The practice that is most basic to this process, after exploring the attributes of divinity, is that of dhikr (a phonetic spelling).  There are many forms of the dhikr, slow and fast, inner and outer, moving and still, silent and vocal, group and individual….and all take the form of the phrase “La illaha il’llah Hu.”

“There is no God but God” is an exoteric definition of this phrase.

“There are no beings, just the one Being” is an esoteric understanding of what dhikr means.

I have been working recently with that is called the “Slow Dhikr,” sometimes the “Positive Dhikr,” or even “The Dhikr of the Broken Heart.”  You see, there is a negative dhikr and a positive dhikr:  a negative dhikr negates all that one thought oneself to be and affirms what Is.  A positive dhikr begins and ends from the standpoint of what Is.  Does this make sense?  Perhaps not, because dhikr can’t be understood intellectually, it has to make itself known emerging from within and back into itself.

Here is what is coming through in my “Existential Dhikr:”

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“La illa ha” . . . There is a Unity with no end and no beginning, self-observing and ever-becoming, and its reality can be known not by contemplation, but by becoming that Unity. The stars and planets of all the universes circle around their evolving understanding of themselves, musing about this experiment they are becoming.  There is no self, there is only Self.  Lord Buddha wanders into the Wilderness and discovers….vastness.  Thought becomes Mind.

“Il” . . . A Great Decision becomes made and  Unity falls into Being, into Multiplicity, out of the great cry of love that its evolution perpetuates.  It is a terrible and a magnificent moment, as whatever God is takes on a limited form in order to become Itself.  To a Christian, this stage of God’s becoming might be seen as the birth of the Christ.

“‘la (Allah:  yes and no, being and nonbeing, Crazy Love)” . . .  A great Individuality arises, like a tree rising from its roots or a flower blooming . . . a mountain grows toward the Sun, taking its roots with it.  All waters flow toward the Sea.  The human Being grows upward into its potential.  The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) says, in a Hadith, that to become human is to surpass in realization even the angels, for the angels are lost in contemplation of God, while the human has the potential to realize God, or primal Being.

“Hu.”  Often the culminating moment of “Hu” is said into the vastness, but here it is being said into the heart, the sacred, ultimate syllable that evokes what is left after all that becomes, a moment of divine resignation, an acceptance of the agony of limitation when limitation sees what it really is.  As Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan remarked, “transciency is eternalized through resurrection.”

Hu.  It transforms thinking, genetic expression, physical and mental processes, perspective and will.

Hu.  The war is won and begun again and again everlasting.

At the End of a Crazy Moon Night by Lalla

Lalleshwari

 

At the end of a crazy-moon night

the love of God rose.
I said, “It’s me, Lalla.”

The Beloved woke. We became That,
and the lake is crystal-clear.

–Lalla, Kashmir (India/Pakistan) (14th Century)

 


 

(This one’s by me, Lalla’s up there)

First I was little and faith wavered.  I looked around wide-eyed, 

shocked. . .

Then I got angry.  That lasted a long time.

Then I found an ideal.  I shattered it over and over like a piece of pottery that insisted

on wobbling.

I fell in love with my ideal, and kept shattering it.

Then I just fell in love.

After awhile, I noticed that love was in love with me.

Then came the silence.

No me, no You.

Right in the center.

The hoax was unmasked,

And no one was left to love.

But love loved on.

It’s true, you know.

Being Good vs Being Great

Thor

We Sufis tend to be such gypsies… Of course, many of us are aging hippies who believed in the “geographical cure” prevalent in the late 60s through the 80s, so a good many of us have run around the world for many years looking for our hearts’ desires, while continuing to be and build a loosely structured community, at least on paper and in our hearts. Thus, I have friends all over the world, and now that we can keep in touch via email, we tend to carry on conversations about our organization and the beliefs and ethics that underlie it, as we watch them grow and unfold. I believe this is true of most so-called religious bodies, and it is certainly true of the “New Age” communities that have grown up during these years, Buddhists, Sufis, Yogis, and all such Eastern ideologies. Exposes of scandalous behavior have historically taken awhile to reach the public, but it is not so easy as it once was to keep unethical behavior secret, and some of us marvel at the extremely bad behavior of those of us who are supposed to cherish and live by high ideals. A Canadian Sufi friend of mine and I have often spoken of this, and one of the themes that predominates our conversations is the behavior of those of us who are supposed to be among the greatest of our leaders. In other words, so often it seems to be the leaders, rather than the followers who allow the power they hold to encourage them to behave badly. Many of us have heard the stories of sexual abuse of children in “spiritual” schools, for instance, or the mismanagement of finances for personal gain. Worst of all, I often note that the followers themselves are willing to turn a blind eye to this kind of behavior, rather than calling for their leaders to take responsibility for the trust that has been given them.

Last night, our family went to see the latest “Thor” movie (this is what happens when you raise a child late in life: I am an expert in all things Harry Potter and the various superhero films that seem to shape the current worldview of our youth). Sometimes, I actually find these films worthwhile (well, I usually like the books better), and last night, I was moved by something Thor said to his father Odin at the end of the story, when he was telling him that he didn’t want to take his place as King of Asgard and protector of the Nine Realms. He said that he was willing to be a protector of their worlds, but that he had realized that there was something about being a great leader that tended to twist and profane the ideals of said leader. “I would rather be a good man than a great king,” he said. This struck me as a profound statement, as I have often noticed that it is the followers of great teachers who tend to move through life doing their best and sort of keeping their heads down, while the great leaders so often are guilty of, sometimes–often–scandalous behavior. What does this say about those of us who are unwilling to hold the leaders we put into power responsible for the trust we invest in them? Are we lazy, cowardly…or idealistic, holding firm to our ideals against often blatant evidence to the contrary?

The fall of Napoleon may be dated from the day that he abandoned Josephine. With the breaking of the ideal, the whole life cracks and dissolves. As soon as a man begins to think, ‘I have done wrong by such and such a person, or such and such a principle’, he ceases to be a king within, and cannot be a king without. This does not mean to say that the good succeed in life and that the evil fail, but rather that man only progresses through sincerity in his ideals. For the good of each man is indeed peculiar to himself. –Inayat Khan

Dhikr

Rays

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“Die before death and live forever.”  Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

         Dhikr is possibly the central practice of most Sufi Orders, and of course there are many ways of doing it and saying it and chanting it and singing it.  It is the core of the Dervish ceremony, of course, there is a great deal of lore out there about its practice and the miracles it brings.  Some form of it appears in all the esoteric schools:  the Kyrie Eleison (God have mercy of the Desert Fathers, the Hesychasts), the Ein Keloheinu of the Chassids (There is no God but God) and, I think, Om (relating to Brahman, the Absolute) and Om Mane Padme Hum.  All I can do is tell you about it from the perspective of what it has given to me over nearly 40 years of practice.

         My teacher…

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What does it mean . . .

I just had a wonderful conversation with a divinity school student who wanted to know about Sufism in the United States.  He was taking a course on Islam at Duke, and he was meant to learn about this topic and report back to his class.  We talked for quite awhile, and I don’t know whether I told him anything that was of use to him, but he asked me one question that I thought about afterwards, mostly because I didn’t know how to answer it.  If I understood him correctly, he was asking me what does it mean to become God-realized.  My first response was a flip one, that old “he who knows cannot say” thing, and then I tried to find some way to put into words something that would be useful to him, but I think I escaped answering the question because another topic came up while I was stil stumbling around, trying to find an answer, so I am left with another question:  does my inability to answer this question indicate that I am or am not God-realized?  Oh my, so many ways one could respond.  As a Sufi, it is my understanding that we are all innately God-realized, whether we are in a state of remembrance or not, and I was also aware that there is a dichotomy between a Westerner’s understanding of God-realization and that of someone of a more traditionally Eastern, contemplative orientation, although it is a gap that is narrowing all the time.  Anyway, I struggled to speak of these things, and afterwards, I remember a Ramakrishna story about God-realization, one which might be particularly appropriate, since Sri Ramakrishna had a profound attunement to the Christ spirit.

Because I invariably end up lending my books out and seldom getting them back, I can’t promise my re-telling of this story is accurate, but this is it as best as I recall;

. . . Ramakrishna, told his disciples, one day, about a time when Christ was walking with his disciples by the sea, and one of them asked him, “Master, how shall we attain the kingdom of heaven?” Immediately, the teacher grabbed the disciple and forced his head under water. The student fought and gasped for breath, and eventually was allowed to emerge. He was asked, “How did you feel just then?” He answered, “The condition was desperate! I felt as though my last breath had come!” And the Master told him, “When your spiritual condition becomes that desperate, then you will attain the Kingdom.”

Well, that doesn’t describe being God-realized, it describes the condition one needs to reach in order to become God-realized.  Yet I’m not sure one can really, verbally, go further than that story, assuming I am God-realized, which is a HUGE assumption, of course.  Yet I think what I want to say, here, is that the desires of ones heart are not fulfilled until the moment comes when one would be willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill those desires.

Perhaps it is the facing of utter annihilation willingly in order to find what one wants most that is what God-realization is about.  I’m fairly certain that none of us, in our conscious condition, understands exactly what this means–and doesn’t mean–but I don’t think that matters.  It is the willingness, and perhaps we only find that much willingness when we have reached our last breath, because we have fallen in love so hard that there is nowhere else to go.

Mother’s Day

. . . Forgiveness, where there is love, is not a very difficult thing. A child comes before his mother, having offended her a thousand times, and asks her forgiveness. There is no other to go to. It does not take a moment for the heart of the mother to forgive. Forgiveness was waiting there to be manifested. One cannot help being kind when there is feeling. A person whose feeling goes out to another strikes a note of sympathy in every person; the person finds the point of contact in every soul they meet, because they have love. There are people who say, “But is it not unwise to give oneself in outgoing tenderness to everyone, because people are not trustworthy ?” I should say, “If a person is good and kind, this goodness ought to be manifested to everyone, the doors of the heart should not be closed.” 

–Hazrat Inayat Khan

Sulamith Wulfing

I was just looking into my bathroom mirror while blowing my hair dry after a shower, and it occurred to me that even though I never wanted it to, it has, especially in recent years, come to look very much like my mother’s hair, with which she struggled endlessly, trying to get it to do what she wanted it to.  She visited the hairdresser at least once a week, as reasonably affluent ladies did in those days, but she basically had the same hairstyle throughout my life, no matter what she did, and I’m fairly sure she wasn’t all that thrilled with it.  And this has become true of me, when I reached the age where I left behind my hippie persona and stopped having waist-long hair that I usually bent over from the waist and wound into a knot on the top of my head, at least on humid days.  Finally, in my late thirties, I went along with that Southern mandate that says women of a certain age should not have long hair; and now it is short and perky, except that….it is a hell of a lot of trouble to keep it that way (at least on humid days).  Did I mention that I live in Piedmont NC?

Anyway, as I stood there trying to get my hair to go in the direction I wanted it to, I thought of all this, and was reminded of a story told by the folksinger Greg Brown.  He said that at a certain point in his life, he found a hat he really, really liked, and although he wasn’t a “hat person,” he just liked that hat.  He then spoke of his father, who had been quite a conservative fellow when he was young, and then embraced Bahai in his later years, and his life kind of began to open out.  One day, he went to meet his father at the airport wearing his cool new hat, and lo and behold! his father had a hat on too, and “It was the same damned hat!”  The moral of the story was, of course, you can spend your whole life trying not to be like your parents, but “it’s gonna happen eventually.”  And, of course, it has.  In more ways than I care to name, I have become my mother.  Damn.

Now, this reminds me of another story, one from that wonderful old sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.”  Remember Venus Flytrap?  One day, he met the station owner, the mother of the station manager, one of those controlling sorts of mothers, who browbeat her son endlessly.  Venus, upon meeting her, remarked, “That was a mean little mama.”  Well, I’m afraid that was true of my mother, too.  I happen to be a mental health professional, and I can say with some authority that she probably had what is called Narcississtic Personality Disorder, and she was, indeed, mean-spirited and self-centered.  She was also a severe alcoholic.  When I was younger, I was vaguely aware that all this probably had to do with what I was sure had been both sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her father, a “mean little man” if there ever was one, and now that she’s moved on, I can feel more empathy for her, but while she was alive, I was never quite able to forgive her for values I considered to be basically lacking in humanity and her emotional and physical neglect of her children when they were too young to know that “mother’s moods” meant Mother had probably been consuming that bottle of Jim Beam I had recently found hidden in a shoebox in the basement.  I grew up to become an addictions therapist (what a surprise!), and I heard many stories from children of alcoholics about coming home and finding their parent passed out somewhere (usually on the couch in her case, where she spent most of her time) and cleaned up the vomit and tried to help their parent…endlessly.  Not me, folks.  I left her there when I came home from school and found her passed out in the side yard.  Truth to tell, I hated her, because when she was trying to be sober, she was mean, and when she was drunk, she was a complete, ineffectual fool.  In between times, she wore designer clothes and craved whatever Vogue told her she should crave, but complained about every penny spent on her children, except the expense of making us look like the upscale Presbyterian Republicans we were supposed to style ourselves as.  No wonder I grew up to become a hard-line Liberal who leans toward Eastern religions!  In fact, I suppose I should thank her for that.  What doesn’t kill us will cure us, as the saying goes . . .

Of course, what goes around, comes around.  I actively pursued the “geographical cure” for most of my adult life, running around the world and going in and out of relationships, and my first husband was eventually diagnosed with the features that have plagued the child we had, and my first marriage was a disaster.  But I learned from that, and there are numerous posts here about these topics (“Always Endings,” “Living Forgiveness,” etc.), and the painful relationship I had with that first child, a relationship which has culminated in the loss of two grandchildren so far, to say nothing of the necessity I finally accepted, that of unconditionally loving my daughter from afar, a stage it took me nearly 40 years to reach.  I’m a slow learner, but eventually I get it.  I did a few things right, though:  after one disastrous marriage and a string of semi-disastrous relationships, I met the wonderful soul I’ve been married to for 25+ years now, and we had a second daughter, one who seems to inherited sufficient of her father’s genes to be a sweet, clear, bright and calm soul who goes from success to success.  We packed her off to grad school a week or two ago, and my husband I are going back and forth between “empty-nest syndrome” and “oh, how good it is to be on our own for the first time.”  Life is, overall, good, and I may be a slow learner, but I’m starting to get at least a few things.

But about this business of inheriting more of our parents than we’d really like to.  I’d like to think that although I’m more like my mother than I ever wanted to be, perhaps the ways I’m like her are not so important as the ways I’m not like her.  One can only hope.  As to my daughters, I notice that the daughter I’ve found myself unable to be with personally inherited her own interpretations of many of the painful wounds I carried during her early childhood.  I’m sorry for that, and I did my best to keep it from happening.  It would be tempting to think that there is some element of decision in what we choose to carry throughout life as the burdens that bring both growth and pain, but I don’t know that for sure.  And I do think that not all of us have the same degree of decision-making ability as others.  Thus, I don’t know what to do except try my best to keep a physical distance but a heart-closeness in prayerful well-wishing for that daughter and her little family.

Two different fathers.  Two different daughters.  My younger daughter is whole.  She can give and receive love.  She is kind to a fault and smart and funny and is, generally, an “old soul.”  When she was small, I often called her my “Baby Buddha.”  She had a lot to deal with, but instead of letting it break her, she is letting it make her great.  She is my dearest friend and will always be my divine child.

It occurs to me that where I am going with this is into the “nature vs. nurture” realm.  I was the “real” child of two parents who supposedly could not have a baby for nine years, adopted one and then had me.  Like my own daughter’s big sister, that adopted big sister never let me forget it, and had severe antisocial mental health issues throughout her life, although she died a number of years ago.

What goes around . . . well, you know the rest.

Life, as I’ve said here before, is about accepting the unacceptable.  I’ve learned that while I can’t “fix’ everything I’d like to fix, I can learn to stop doing the things that perpetuate my problems.  If there is anything I will have to regret when this particular phase is over, it will be that I was not able to be kind enough to my own mother.  At the time, I thought it was because if I gave her a single inch of compassion, she would swallow me whole, and with her problems, there was probably some truth in that.  But I can’t help wishing I had had more generosity toward both my parents.

Shortly after my mother died, we were driving to the beach she loved one day, and I “saw” her, somehow, coming through a flowery, arched gate.  She was “dressed to the nines,” of course, and she looked terrified.  I had the sense that she was in good hands and heavily supervised, whatever that might mean.

All blessings to you, Mom.  I’m sorry I wasn’t great enough to help you.

The Soul Speaks (from Hymn on the Fate of the Soul)

Japanese Garden

From the very beginning,
          before times long past,
          I was stored among His hidden treasures.
He had brought me forth from Nothing, but at the end of time
I shall be summoned back before the King.

My life flowed 
          out of the depth of the spheres
          which gave me form and order.
Divine forces shaped me
to be treasured in the chambers of the King.

Then He shined his light
          to bring me forth
          in hidden well-springs, on the left and on the right.
He made me descend the steps leading down from
the Pool of Shelah to the garden of the King.  

— Nachmanides (Moses ben Nachman), 1194 – 1270

 

Love Alone

My twenty-something daughter who is headed for graduate school lives at home currently, and recently talked us into watching a Joss Whedon series we’d refused to take seriously years ago: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a series oddly popular with people in her age group. “I’m just a big old geek,” she says, and I have no idea what this means, but I’m quite fond of her. Anyway, we loved Whedon’s series “Firefly,” but most of what he does kind of gives me the creeps, and in theory this was in the “creeps” category. Nevertheless, we’ve been drawn into “Buffy.”  Many of the episodes are kind of silly, but they all have a mystical, existential twist that is intriguing and occasionally meaningful, and when I least expect it, I find myself considering the series worth watching. Not exactly an extravagant compliment, eh?

Anyway, we reached the point in the series this week where Buffy finally actually dies and is dead and buried for a number of months, after which her best friend–a practicing witch–finds a way to bring her back via the casting of dark magic, and Buffy claws her way out of the grave.  She has a terribly difficult time adjusting to being in life again, and her friends are rather hurt that she is not more grateful to be back in the world.  She doesn’t feel that she can be honest with them about her feelings, but she finally tells Spike how she feels.  Spike is a vampire with a somewhat different nature than most vampires, and he is in love with Buffy. At this point in the series, the two have a growing friendship, and she feels able to be honest with him about her reaction to being brought back from the dead:  she says something to the effect that “Everyone thinks I was in Hell and so I’m lucky they brought me back, but I wasn’t.  I don’t know where I was, and I don’t know who I was, but I was myself, and I was in a place that was warm and happy. I knew that everyone I loved was taken care of, and I didn’t have to worry. I was done.  And  I wanted to be there.  And then they brought me back to the world.  And the world is sharp and bright and harsh and violent, and I don’t want to be here.”

Engel_by_ReverseIncisionI’m paraphrasing here, but that is essentially what Buffy said, and it stayed with me, making me feel very sad, for a good 24 hours.  This is my own condition:  I have reached a place in my inner process now such that when God has time for me, I disappear and only love exists.  It is not that I experience love, or that I know love, it is as I said:  there is no “me,” there is only love.  I know that love can exist in many forms and shapes, and I would imagine that I have a long way to go to knowing true love fully, and yet….there is love, and I don’t have to exist.  Love does.  I wish I could say this in a way that encompasses the reality of my experience, but all I can do is say the words, thus diminishing the reality.   And until recently–and still a lot of the time–life has seemed exactly as Buffy describes it:  loud and harsh and sharp and shallow, sometimes almost intolerable, compared to where she’d been.  I would imagine that this all plays out differently for different kinds of souls, and for some it is easier–or harder–than others. My husband, for instance, is a genuinely happy man. He gets up every morning and is happy to face his day. He is undaunted by life events, even as a hospice chaplain, and I believe he is far more evolved than I am. I am not like this. I seem to bear an angelic attunement, and the sense of harshness of life on the planet is akin to that of an angel who must tolerate the earth plane, as I understand some do, out of choice.  Yet the reward for it all is in those moments when I cease to exist and only Love does.

Recently, I was in a rather miserable place–well, I had been for some months, really, when I wasn’t gone and in Love–and it occurred to me to attempt to see myself through God’s eyes. For a moment, I think I was able to do that, although only for a moment:  there was a flickering little figure, half light and half shadow, slipping through a veil that seemed half light and half shadow. It was not quite on one side, and not quite on the other, but….definitely darting through.  I realized that this was my condition, but I also realized how the divine Being must see its creatures, and how small and vague one must look to the the One sees with that glance…. yet there is always a welcome embrace waiting for that shadowy-light little soul that is clawing its way back Home.  In a way, that experience made me feel that I am dying, and of course there is a metaphorical death and an actual one, and I would guess that sometimes the death of the self seems like an actual death, whether or not it is.

Please understand: when I speak of having an “angelic attunement,” I do not mean that this makes me or anyone else who resonates to such an attunement somehow better or “higher” than others. Angels, as I understand them, have their own limitations. They can be quite stern and judgmental, and they tend to see things in terms of black and white, rather than in shades of gray. Unless they choose to incarnate as human beings, they miss out on a full realization of divinity, because they remain lost in contemplation of God, rather than coming to realize their God-natures. This is why the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, described humans as having greater potential than angels.

Anyway, that was it.  I don’t have much insight into any of it, except that this experience was very real, taking place in a realm I have always known, one far more real than “here.”

On the other side of that good night is a land where only Love beyond its manifestation resides.

THE SILENT ARTICULATION OF A FACE – Rumi

Love comes with a knife, not some shy question,

and not with fears for its reputation.

I say these things disinterestedly.

Accept them in kind.

Love is a madman, working his wild schemes,

tearing off his clothes, running through the mountains,

drinking poison, and now quietly choosing annihilation.

A tiny spider tries to wrap an enormous wasp.

Think of the spiderweb

woven across the cave where Muhammad slept.

There are love stories,

and there is obliteration into love.

Sulamith Wulfing
Sulamith Wulfing

You have been walking the ocean’s edge,

holding up your robes to keep them dry.

You must dive naked under and deeper under,

a thousand times deeper. Love flows down.

The ground submits to the sky and suffers what comes.

Tell me, is the earth worse for giving in like that?

Do not put blankets over the drum.

Open completely.

Let your spirit listen

to the green dome’s passionate murmur.

Let the cords of your robe be untied.

Shiver in this new love beyond all above and below.

The sun rises, but which way does the night go?

I have no more words.

Let the soul speak with the silent articulation of a face.

Barks, Coleman (2010-10-12). Rumi: The Big Red Book: The Great Masterpiece Celebrating Mystical Love and Friendship.  HarperCollins. 

 

Invincible Spirit, 1969 – 2004 by Shams Kairys

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Invincible Spirit
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (1916-2004)

Shams Kairys

Pir Vilayat loved to fly. Often his guided meditations would transport one to resplendent vistas at rarefied altitudes dazzling the mind into a state of cosmic wonderment. It is no surprise that the camp he convened high in the French Alps for many summers, where sudden storms shook the crags upon which our tents were perched, was called Camp des Aigles. In fact, he kept eagles and falcons throughout his life, some of which he rescued from mistreatment, enjoying their flight as if it were his own. He did fly himself, first training as a pilot with the Royal Air Force during the Nazi advance, later just for delight, even hang-gliding in his seventies. And seeing him conduct a choir, one of his utmost joys, with his eyes flashing and his robes flapping, one could imagine he might soar aloft on the strains of Bach like a great bird in the brilliant sky.

My joy was making a half loop, then turning off the engine and drifting in the wind amongst the clouds upside down, hanging on my straps in an open cockpit. Here I was at home, set free in the vastness. My dearest wish would have been to live up there permanently. I would exult in the many splendoured array of colors in the clouds, and their evanescent formations, and I would turn my plane into the sun, drinking in its sheer effulgence as I glided upon thin air.

~~~~~~~

I first saw Pir Vilayat in 1969 giving a talk in a little chapel on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The princely man standing on the dais seemed dropped into place from a faraway realm, wearing distinctive garb from the East, speaking in a melodious voice with an Oxford accent and an astounding vocabulary. He was aristocratic yet engaging, erudite yet ardent, earnest yet not dogmatic. I don’t remember the subject of the discourse, but my response is indelible. At that time, my training in literary criticism was at such a pitch that everything I heard and read was subject to critical analysis. Yet that evening I found myself simply listening to what was said on its own terms, even when those terms would ordinarily have roused skepticism, disarmed by the authenticity of the speaker.

The measure of your greatness is the measure of your magnanimity, your willingness to carry people in your heart. If we are encapsulated in our self-image, we are puny. A great being has stature, something cosmic comes through. Think of people who have really dedicated themselves to service. If we’re great enough, then we have room in our heart even for a person who has hurt us. So we can counter resentment, which can degenerate into hate, then to cruelty and even to war. As a dervish would say: “Shake yourself awake! You have been invited to the divine banquet! Don’t you realize that the divine being is present in you?” In fact, the whole of creation is an act of magnanimity, talking in Sufi language now.
God descended from the solitude of unknowing so that a further knowledge could be acquired by experience in the world. But more so, God descended from the solitude of unknowing out of love for the possibility of you. So it was love rather than understanding. Rumi certainly put it right when he said, “Would the gardener have planted the seed if it were not for the love of the flower?” The whole of Sufism turns round this very powerful force of love.

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Pir Vilayat gave abiding devotion to his own teacher, his father, the renowned Indian musician and sage Hazrat Inayat Khan, who died when Vilayat was just ten years old, leaving him with a treasury of teaching, a mandate to succeed him and the independence to fulfill it in his own manner. While raised a Muslim, Hazrat Inayat Khan embraced early in life the mystics and prophets of all traditions, and was encouraged by his teacher in the Chisti Sufi lineage to bring a message of universal wisdom to the West. He embarked for America in 1910, stepping into the unknown with mighty conviction. In the following sixteen years he traveled throughout Europe and the United States, speaking to the hearts and souls of those he met, while tirelessly developing an international school and movement to awaken humanity to the divinity within the human heart, and to inspire lives of fruitfulness, kindness and service. As Pir Vilayat noted, “Hazrat Inayat Khan announces the spirituality of the future— making God a reality, rather than a belief, by incorporating more and more of the bounty of the universe in that wonderful work of art that is the personality.”

Many children used to play in the field opposite Fazal Manzil, our home in Suresnes, near Paris, when their parents would come for the summer school—Dutch, French, English, German, Swedish, Italian. We would lie down and peer through the high grass waiting for the moment when the front door opened and we could see that kingly figure emerge, descend the front steps and wend his way slowly along the path to the lecture hall. Such great majesty came through as he walked, and he seemed to be carrying the whole world on his back. One could feel love and reverence emanating from those assembled as he entered the hall and, speaking from the depths, greeted them with, “Beloved ones of God…” There was a pervasive air of sacredness, yet his discourse was often punctuated with hearty joviality. He could not possibly be my daddy or that of my brother or sisters! No, he was the father of us all, young or old, the grand patriarch around whom our lives revolved. He made a little spot on Earth a paradise by his presence.

Years later, introducing a recording of a “mantrum chanted by the Tibetans” to a retreat group, Pir Vilayat provides a glimpse of his own sense of mission, and his utter dedication to it: “You’ll observe the tremendous power that comes through, incredible power. It takes that degree of commitment to unleash the divine power. It’s not something that can be done half-heartedly. It means a total commitment.”

As a young man, my mother tried to save me from all the hardships that my father underwent, and so encouraged me to be a musician as my brother and sisters. Then one day Murshida Fazl Mai, the lovely old lady who lived with us and was like my grandmother, said, “Vilayat, if you become a musician, that will not prepare you for the task that your father cast upon you to be his successor.” So all that came back. I must have been about 15 or 16. Then I knelt down like a knight and made a pledge: “I dedicate my life totally to my father’s wish, and to do whatever it takes to prepare myself for it.”

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Pir Vilayat did not choose a soft path. Where he might have acceded to circumstances as presented, or preferred to go off and meditate in a remote cave, he willingly entered the fray of life in accord with his acute sense of commitment and justice. While an essential thrust of his teaching was to experience transcendent states and apply the spiritual insight so gleaned in everyday life, his forceful call for the awakening not only of consciousness, but of conscience—matching one’s actions to one’s ideals—is perhaps the most challenging and invigorating aspect of his teaching. Opening this dimension required that Pir Vilayat address the real ills of people, and the real horror in the world, a sobering task for one focused on building “a beautiful world of beautiful people.”

He did not shrink from evil, but faced it fiercely. He decided to volunteer to combat the Nazi onslaught defensively as an officer on a British Royal Navy minesweeper, an extremely dangerous mission. As a young journalist, his intrepid reports of French atrocities in North Africa resulted in United Nations and international pressure on the French government to stop these actions. There are stories of him rushing from the back of a bus in India that had been stopped by a band of dacoits, commanding that they remove the log they had placed across the road and let the bus pass—and they did. Another time he made a taxi driver who had swerved at a dog pull to the side of the road so that he could disembark. He was wary of personal anger, but he was a great exponent of righteous indignation in defense of others, and led an Amnesty International letter-writing campaign for many years on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the world. Perhaps his signature legacy is the Hope Project, a model program he founded that provides food, education, and medical and social services for the destitute shanty dwellers of the neighborhood surrounding the tomb of his father in Delhi. Year after year he would modestly proffer his beggar’s bowl after his seminars to collect crumpled bills for the dark-eyed children of poverty whom he carried in his heart.

Yes, the heart is broken, but it is alive! We need a conspiracy of conscience, a collective chivalry where everybody is committed to working together on behalf of the whole. In our dismay at a disturbed world teetering at the edge of disaster (or is it being afflicted by exceedingly hazardous birth pangs?), as we quiver at the threat of wreaking further unimaginable escalating havoc upon our erstwhile beautiful planet and killing or causing excruciating pain for millions, perhaps billions, of innocent people, we are shaken out of complacency and challenged into exploring the core issues at the social scale and in ourselves. Discovering the degree to which the emotions of hate and disregard of suffering erupt mercilessly when people are threatened or frightened is so distressing! War, violence, cruelty, with all its trail of misery, starts in each one of us. Our spiritual values are at stake. Never has the message of the awakening of conscience been so urgently relevant! What if we emboldened ourselves to turn the tables on violence by bestowing pardon and forgiveness? What if we gave love a chance?

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For all his extraordinary qualities, Pir Vilayat was very human. He had loves and losses, lapses and surges, regrets and forgivings—and profound sorrows. His revered father returned to India and died when only 44 years old, leaving the whole family bereft. Later, the looming menace of the Third Reich darkened his youthful prospect, and soon he experienced war close at hand, including the loss of comrades, and narrow rescue from freezing waters, when his minesweeper was sunk. Then, within a few years, he suffered the death of his sister in the war, the death of his fiancée in a motorcycle accident, and the death of his mother. Shaken and shattered, he listened to Bach’s B minor Mass every night for months to heal his spirit.

Of these losses, most stinging was the demise of his beloved sister Noor after her heroic work as an undercover agent in occupied France. Imagine him frantically searching for news of her day after day at the end of the war, his heart wrenched when he finally learned that she had been betrayed and captured, tortured, and then executed at the concentration camp at Dachau, uttering “Liberté!” with her last breath. The ache of this devastating loss stayed with him his whole life—he said he could not enjoy wonderful food without thinking of the acrid potato-peel soup Noor was forced to eat—impelling him to personally grapple with resentment and forgiveness. Over fifty years later, Pir Vilayat conducted a performance of the B minor Mass at the Dachau memorial to commemorate Noor, and all victims of oppression. The day was overcast, darkening as the Mass moved through the Crucifixus section, when suddenly, as the Resurrexit was sung, a great shaft of light broke through the clouds and shone upon the place.

After this sorrowful series of events, another crushing blow fell when Pir Vilayat was denied his position in the Sufi Movement founded by his father. Bracing himself, he faced life anew, and, renewing his resolve to carry on his father’s work, he painstakingly began forging his own legacy. This struggle is echoed in a saying from Goethe that he often cited: “That which you inherit from your forefathers, you must conquer in order to possess.” Reclaiming his lost inheritance became a lifelong quest that led him to sit with ascetics in the Himalayas; take rigorous Sufi retreats in Ajmer, Hyderabad and at the Mount of Olives; search the world’s treasury of spiritual revelation; and ultimately develop a counterpart organization, Sufi Order International, that would provide the scope for him to bring a new dispensation to the heritage of the past and rally a new generation to the message of love, harmony and beauty brought by Hazrat Inayat Khan.

My father once told me to find the great rishis at the source of the Ganges and the Jumna. Then I had an opportunity to go to India at last. In fact I hitchhiked to India several times because I didn’t have much money. It was a wonderful way of visiting the world. I was still quite young when I had my first encounter with a rishi sitting in a cave. I had come a long way. I had walked three days and three nights in the snow, and had caught pneumonia. I was also rather scared because there were tracks in the snow that I thought might be the tracks of a bear. But they turned out to be the footsteps of a rishi. The first thing he said to me was, “Why have you come so far to see what you should be?” I was rather inexperienced, so I just said, “It is so wonderful to see this.” Today, I suppose I would have said, “To become what I might be, I have to see myself in another myself who shows me who I truly am.”

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Considering his solar nature and his tendency to dispel darkness, it’s no wonder that Pir Vilayat grappled with Jung’s warning, “If you do not face your shadow, it will appear in the form of your fate.” In response, he confronted the pitfall of using spiritual practice as a means of “getting high” without attendant self-assessment, and advocated scrupulously shining the light of awareness into the recesses of one’s mind and heart. Opening to his own struggles and failings, and deconstructing the role cast for him by his followers, brought him to a new level of candor with those he taught.

It has become clear to me that, because I have been emphasizing the idyllic dimension of people while underplaying the “shadow,” some have been lulled into a highfalutin image of themselves and of myself which matches neither the reality of their being nor of mine, and brooks contradictions in how they handle situations. Anyone volunteering to embody the archetype representing people’s higher self will have to choose between artfully concealing one’s shadow and, when discovered, justifying it hypocritically, or alternatively, exposing oneself to scrutiny and criticism by all. Should one have the honesty and courage to confront one’s shortcomings, one will better understand people’s problems through seeing oneself in others and others in oneself, thus affording real help to those who also need to transmute their shadow elements.

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Pir Vilayat’s passion for freedom led him to challenge constraints of convention, conditioning, and “sclerosed” ways of thinking. His was a quest to fashion himself afresh, to garner the prerogative to participate in the unfurling of creation.

Once while on retreat in the Alps, after a stormy night in the mountains precariously sheltered beneath the roof of a shepherd’s shed, I observed the dark clouds and heard the thunderclaps gradually receding into the distance, swept away by a raging wind. As if in sympathetic resonance, my consciousness began to melt away, scattering into an infinite, edgeless universe. Vanishing along with the storm were my concepts about the world, the cosmos, my personal circumstances, unresolved problems, values, actions, even all my teachings—suddenly all these thoughts seemed so futile, worthless, and misleading! Rather than flounder in a “dark night” of negativity brought on by the collapse of these mental structures, I clung to the very meaningfulness that had just shattered my commonplace thinking. It was the consummate quantum leap, bringing vividly alive the last words spoken by my father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, on his deathbed: “When the unreality of life pushes against my heart, its door opens to the reality.” All my life I had prided myself on what I thought were valid theories about unmasking the hoax of habituated responses to life. But instead of dismissing all these constructs, I realized that they had acted as stepping-stones that led me to this ultimate breakthrough, while “I” became immersed in the sublime, wordless state of unity beyond life —existence unveiled into eternity.

Brandishing the mantra “What if . . .?” he explored the advancing verge of evolution and pioneered a forward-looking spirituality that would transcend the limited and limiting thinking of the past. Indeed, for him, as epitomized in one of his favorite sayings, “The pull of the future is stronger than the push of the past.”

Since the challenges of our times are, in some ways, more demanding than those faced by our predecessors, our free-wheeling into the future must integrate a greater complexity. Meditation needs to give us the means to reduce stress, improve decision-making, and overcome resentment and poor self-image. We need in meditation to honor our concerns about the environment, the population explosion, political oppression and social justice. We need to take into consideration futuristic views in physics and in psychology, and join the nascent trend to explore new expressions of our need for the sacred, emancipated from hackneyed forms of sanctimoniousness, superstitions, prescriptions, and dogmatism.

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Pir Vilayat delivered a resounding message of meaningfulness that offers a healing prospect for beleaguered souls. For him, the perceptible realm is a revealing veil behind and through which a sublime resplendence transpires. Our life is an extraordinary opportunity to fulfill the “divine intention”—to bring to light the treasure hidden in our being that is wanting to manifest, thus conferring a unique bequest upon the whole of creation. So he affirms a momentous potentiality for human being as a consecrated laboratory for the evolution of the universe. Our lives are a dynamic process in which potentialities unfurl as we interact with the world. Thus even our problems can be regarded as a way we are drawn out and shaped so that, ultimately, we conspire with the universe to bring forth something of eternal value through our temporal lives. This approach establishes experientially the possibility of a co- extensive moiety for our participation in the universe, wherein remembrance of the sacred can be renewed at a moment’s notice. “Training oneself to see things from the divine point of view is key to understanding the essence of Sufism: it is the ‘global compass’ that offsets the personal vantage point, the ‘true north’ orienting one’s direction in life. There can be progress only by shattering your understanding to allow a greater understanding to come through.” Thus spirituality is about reaching beyond limited notions of ourselves to discover and embody the wonder and mystery of a vaster reality.

The more one penetrates the mystery of life, the more one is bemused, and amazed. It starts by being overwhelmed by the meaningfulness of life, with all its drama and the tremendous achievements of our great civilizations. There is a kind of enthusiasm that goes with this realization—that we are able to be part of all this is the greatest privilege that one could ever imagine! Physicists say they never cease to be amazed not only by the meaningfulness, but by the elegance of the universe. So it goes beyond understanding— your admiration is superceded by ecstasy, by your state of be- wondering, and it reaches beyond that into glorification.

The cells have the faculty of absorbing light, not only from the sun, but also from the stars and from cosmic rays, because the whole of space is not just studded with lights—it is an ocean of light. Dynamized by this light, the electrons within the atoms within molecules within the cells start using that energy to free themselves from the constraint of their routine orbital, and they begin to dance. The freedom that they enjoy because they are feeding on light is something that one has to experience. The dance of the atoms! As matter of fact, they exult in joy. If we become conscious of what’s happening in our body, then our souls exult in joy and participate in the choreography of the heavens.

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If human life is an expression of the divine impetus bursting into existence through the material of the cosmos, then awe-inspired response is natural. Religion no longer needs to be about binding people to creeds and admonitions, but may become primarily a message of spiritual liberty that celebrates our ineluctable life in God.

You could say that divine freedom is delegated to each one of us, so instead of thinking that our free will violates or even contrasts with the divine will, consider that it customizes and thereby enriches it. The beauty here is that there is order and there is freedom within the order, and there are degrees in which that freedom can manifest itself. A very wonderful example is St. John’s Passion where you have “It has been fulfilled,” the words of Christ have been fulfilled. There is this voice, along with the viola da gamba playing a bit different line, and they never dovetail but are just listening to each other. It is like two eagles in a sky that are free and at the same time they are watching each other and maintaining some kind of contact. I am thinking of the words of Bach when he says [apocryphal quotation]: “In the science of my art and the art of my science I am trying to create a model for the human commonwealth. Not a melody with subsidiary accompaniments, but for each theme an instrument and for each instrument a theme. Not the imposition of one theme upon another, but rather, each enjoying a degree of freedom yet each trimming its initiative in the interest of the whole. Such is the symphony of the stars.”

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Spiritual awakening was not an abstract goal for Pir Vilayat, but an experiential cauldron of intensive investigation and experiment. He conjoined Yogic, Buddhist and Sufi teachings to elucidate ascent through the stages of awakening, and drew on contemplations from the mystical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to inform his own course of transformational meditation. He elaborated traditional Sufi practices of zikr and wazifa in an endless stream of new variants and formulations, and sounded the call of the dervish to “Die before death and resurrect now!” He expounded “stereoscopic consciousness,” toggling between cosmic and personal points of view to extrapolate a perspective which encompasses both, what he called “awakening in life rather than beyond life,” or “samadhi with open eyes.” Declaring “the map is not the terrain,” and exploring the holographic paradigm of a dynamically interwoven universe, he acclaimed the magnificent reality unfolding “within us, through us, as us.” He strove to “reconcile the irreconciliables,” and extended our comprehension of the divine by describing realms often considered beyond depiction, employing “creative imagination” to exult in pristine vistas and plumb archetypal landscapes of the soul. And he worked throughout his life with breath, thought and light to fashion a subtle technology for igniting realization and illumination.

Imagine that you are infusing your aura with a flood of light. Now what does that mean in practice? It could be illustrated by a mother showing her child a picture with a pixie hidden in the tree. The mother asks the child, “Can you see the pixie?” “No Mummy, I can’t see it.” “Look again.” “No, l don’t see it.” “Okay, now look again, look closely . . .” “Yes!” All of a sudden the child sees the pixie, and her face, her whole being, light up! That is what is meant in the Qur’an by “a light upon a light,” when the light of intelligence strikes and your whole aura bursts into brightness more intensely than ever before.

In one distinctive practice, Pir Vilayat drew upon his lifetime apprenticeship with the wise and holy guides of humanity—from Plotinus to Buddha to Christ to Ibn ‘Arabi to Bach to Einstein— convening an inner interchange with them across time and space, then opening the dialogue outward for us all to hear, as he did in his final opus, In Search of the Hidden Treasure.

Among the many things I am looking for, perhaps paramount is awakening. If I feel that I am caught in a perspective, I’d like to know how to awaken from it. Hazrat Inayat Khan offers an all- encompassing embrace that integrates the sometimes antinomous points of view of the great beings of the past in a cosmic symposium. They are there, but I’m like the bee that makes honey out of the pollen. By contemplating them we build a bridge with our thoughts and our hearts through which they can inspire, and thereby guide us. I’m looking to the know-how that has dawned upon us from these holy beings, to explore what light their views, realizations, and attunements project upon our human problems, and to keep abreast with the forward thinking of humanity as it advances towards a unified world-view.

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In light of his solemn undertaking, Pir Vilayat could be surprisingly funny. His impish humor, outbursts of laughter (sometimes at his own jokes), or animation at a serendipitous thought—eyebrows rising, eyes wide, mouth open round—could kindle sudden delight, even hilarity, amongst those gathered. This merriment was the leading edge of a deeper ecstasy, where pain and joy converge. His soulful and spirited singing of verses from his father, such as “Why O my feeling heart?” or playing Kol Nidre on his cello, poignantly blended power and tenderness. When he entered a room the atmosphere became charged with the force of his magnetism. He was the life of any party, full of fascinating stories, witty comments and penetrating questions. And he could just as quickly be moved to tears when recounting stories of great spiritual courage, remembering his sister Noor, or feeling the suffering of others.

His tremendous personal warmth touched even those unknown to him whom he met in his travels, and his unmistakable spark of brilliance drew many to him. He spoke at a continuous succession of seminars, conferences and retreats, always pressing the threshold of the ineffable, perhaps mindful of the fierce dervish he had met in Pakistan who exclaimed, “Wrap yourself in my beard, lose yourself in my glance, and never say anything you think can be said!”

I remember my father saying, “You think that my purpose is to give talks?” He said, “No, I am working on the higher planes with people.” So I hope that we have been working on several levels at the same time, because ultimately it can’t be said in words.

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Pir Vilayat’s life was kaleidoscopic, if not gyroscopic. He swept into town like a whirlwind (stories of storms accompanying his arrival are legion), and left in a flurry, stirring new life in his wake. His penchant for change, visionary flights and new projects could be maddening to those attempting to organize things, yet he said he preferred honesty to efficiency, and dauntlessly eschewed the mediocre. Sure-footed guide and steadfast friend, he often drew us to powerful places in nature, heightening our soul’s “nostalgia” to become what we might be. The multi-cultural, multi-lingual influence of his Indian father, American mother and European education expanded ultimately into a multi-dimensional perspective that was expressed in many facets: creative social inventions like the

Cosmic Mass, the Abode of the Message, Omega and Zenith Institutes, the Universel, and interfaith symposia and cutting-edge conferences; his love of science, about which he read avidly; the astonishing cornucopia of names and ideas that he drew upon; the seven books and numerous articles he wrote; his deep listening to the world’s classical music for renderings of the compass of emotion, human and divine; his advocacy for the kinship of all life. And he inspired a motley group of good-hearted rebels and seekers with a new sense of purpose and possibility, unleashing individual creativity in building spiritual community, forming widespread centers and contributing to the larger world.

Pir Vilayat chose to not insulate himself from others. During his incessant travels he met with a continuous stream of people, at airports, during car rides, at the homes of those who hosted him in each city, before and after meetings, at breaks and at meals. Everywhere he went, people sought to have some moments with him, for inspiration and insight, for counsel, consolation or blessing, or simply to enjoy his presence. All the while he dealt with organizational demands, revised plans, seminar preparation, music selection, rehearsals, interviews, equipment failures, lost items, book deadlines, long-distance phone calls, express mail packets, e-mail, special requests and needs of friends and family. His spaciousness and good cheer in the face of this deluge, his little gestures of kindness and gratitude, never failed to touch those around him, making parting from him all the more poignant.

I feel that we’ve been sharing something very beautiful together and that will always remain even if I don’t see you again or you don’t see me. I hope that we’ll always be in touch on a deeper plane. We shall carry each other in our hearts.

One evening, arriving home to his family in California from a trip of many weeks, with piles of business to attend to, Pir Vilayat was surprised to find me waiting in the pod—a snub-nosed conical spaceship of a structure outfitted as his office—in preparation for an individual retreat that had been scheduled months before. He graciously gave me an orientation, then I went down into the back garden to set up my tent. As night fell the temperature dropped, and I soon put on all the clothing I had brought and wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, while trying to focus on the prescribed practices. It grew quite dark, when suddenly I heard a sound of rustling in the bushes, then a little “knock” at my door as my name was spoken, and I unzipped the tent flap. There stood Pir Vilayat, with a folded blanket in his hands, looking at me with a warm gaze. He passed it to me, saying only, “I thought you might be cold.”

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As Pir Vilayat’s health failed over many months in a cascade of painful ailments, lightened by the loving care of his younger son Mirza, I received this message from Sharif Graham in Suresnes: “I hope Pir Vilayat lasts until your visit; he seems very weak. This morning when we visited, he asked me, ‘Are you going to the galaxies?’ I said, ‘I hope so. Are you going there?’ He answered with an enthusiastic ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Well, then, I’ll see you there.’ Then he smiled, the first smile I have seen in some time.”

When I did arrive I found my beloved Pir looking less wizened than I had expected, his skin smooth, his breathing steady, “asleep” on his side. With his great hands, silvery mane, white beard tinged with gold, high brow and deep set eyes, he reminded me of an aged lion curled in the grasses, recapitulating scenes from his life as his body closed out its mission. In an atmosphere of prayer, remembrance, and rapt quietude, he passed away gently the next day, surrounded by beloved family—Mary, his wife of 52 years, Clare, his sister, his sons Zia and Mirza, and their mother, Taj—and a handful of friends, on June 17, 2004, two days before his 88th birthday.

Before Pir Vilayat’s body was taken to Delhi to be interred near the tomb of his father, it was placed in a simple coffin in the temple in the garden, draped with Indian silk, an embroidered winged-heart emblem just above his heart, surrounded by an arc of tall candles. Soon an aura of many-colored rose petals grew on the floor around the coffin as pilgrims arrived from near and far, sitting in the peaceful atmosphere, and sharing moments of reminiscence and

tender feeling. On the third day, a grand Cosmic Celebration was conducted, including music, song and chant from many traditions, as well as quotations from scripture and sayings from Pir Vilayat, commencing a series of such memorial services held around the world. I opened by playing Pir Vilayat’s violin. Meditative melodies mixed with cosmic sounds as the music welled from the depths, then through my heart, ending with a chord on the higher strings evoking a light-like brightness, repeating, intensifying, then slowly softening into silence.

Shortly after, Pir Vilayat’s son and successor, Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, wrote: One of his favorite practices is to meditate looking up into the stars at night. I think if you do so you’ll find the imprint of his spirit, as he always reminded us that the physical body is only the hard core of a larger identity, of which one of the dimensions is the aura, which pervades space at the astounding speed of 186,000 miles per second and is the means whereby the personality, the sum of one’s experience, is sublimated, subtilized and radiated into the heavens to become a ripple within the great wave interference pattern of the galaxies. We can discover Pir Vilayat truly in that great moiré of the heavens. The signature of our beloved Pir’s inimitable spirit is inscribed in the starry sky.

Angels Aware

We have been inviting Hummingbirds into our garden since last summer.  I don’t know why we never thought of it before, possibly because we were too busy doing things we thought were more important than to entertain these dear little creatures . . .  Well, enough of that.  Ruby-throatedHummingbird_BariDuBois copy

Last summer we had, maybe, half a dozen.  This Spring, we eagerly awaited their return and when we hung out the nectar feeder, exactly one little hummer showed up and hung around for a week or so before his friends arrived.  He seemed lonely, but we didn’t know what to do about it.  Perhaps he flew even faster than his friends.

SitaI noticed, last summer, that the hummers seemed to enjoy it when I would meditate on the back porch, where the feeder was hanging:  occasionally I would open my eyes to find one of them right in my face, curiously checking out my mantra.   They don’t seem to be a bit afraid of humans or other birds.  Our cat does not seem to intimidate them, but then Sita is old, and probably doesn’t intimidate many other creatures.

Today, when I sat to meditate, I had a hard time staying focused, because we had 4-6 of the little creatures (they move so fast it’s hard to tell how many there actually are).  I have alw

ays had a feeling that they fly back and forth between the worlds,  that they are really half-angelic.  I know they enjoy the sound of ‘Hu’ most of all, which indicates that they are the Messengers of the Divine Presence.  It would seem that I am not alone in this perception:

There is a belief that Hummingbirds,  in some way, are messengers between worlds.  As such, they help shamans keep nature and spirit in balance.  The Cochti have a story about ancient people who lost faith in the Great Mother.  In anger,  she deprived them of rain for four years.  The people noticed that the only creature who thrived during this drought was the Hummingbird.   When they studied his habits, the shamans learned that the Hummingbird had a secret passageway to the underworld.   Periodically,  he went there to gather honey.   Further study revealed that this doorway was open to the Hummingbird alone because s/he had never lost faith in the Great Mother.   This information inspired the people to regain faith.  After that the Great Mother took care of them.  

(http://hummingbirdworld.com/h/native_american.htm)

 

Maggie, the Dog Saint

Scan 16

For Salima and Chloe

I have been hearing, recently, from a friend who went through a cancer scare about her beloved dog, although happily, the cyst her dog had developed turned out to be benign.  It really brought back memories of Maggie, our Golden Retriever, who died of Osteosarcoma, although she lived a good, long life before that.  I wonder if there is always one animal in a family’s life who is the one most remembered . . .  If so, the one we remember is Maggie, truly a saint among dogs.  We got her in Minnesota, during the one winter we lived on the Upper Peninsula of Wisconsin, in Bayfield.  We lived, that winter, in a lovely house on Lake Superior, and it was truly a beautiful time, for many reasons.  The night we drove down to get Maggie, outside Minneapolis, although I don’t remember just where, it was mid-winter, that cold Northern winter that we later found was even colder and snowier than Alaska, where we went next.  Maggie was about six weeks old, and she looked a lot like another Golden we’d had:  she was bigger than all the other pups in the litter, and very shy, retreating under a chair to hide from these strangers who seemed interested in her.  We bought her anyway, and I remember holding her on my shoulder most of the way home.  She remained shy for about an hour, and I remember the moment when she suddenly bonded:  all of a sudden, she started licking me under my chin, and her tail wagged, indicating that she had accepted the situation and us.  Snow started to fall heavily, and we ended up sneaking her into a motel for the night, where she behaved perfectly.  Maggie never seemed to need “training.”  She just needed to know what the rules were, and then she followed them:  she was that eager to please.  We had another dog at that time, a collie, Merlin, and I remember watching them racing across the ice of the Lake, rolling and romping happily that winter.

Maggie would come in, shaking herself happily, and trot up beside me at my desk, where she would immediately roll over on her back in the “submissive” position she seemed to love, waiting to have her belly rubbed.  We eventually came to refer to her as the “love bandit.”

During that snowy, beautiful winter on the Lake, we got job offers in Alaska, and began excitedly to prepare for the drive across country.  It was a huge preparation, because we had to make decisions such as what to do with our furniture (store it?  take it with us?) and our car (ship it on the barge?) . . .  And we ended up towing the car with a moving van all across the country to Seattle, with the dogs riding in the car, and us in the van.  Both coped well with the drive, although the Collie occupied himself with chewing up the gear shift, while Maggie coped with her usual aplomb.  The Collie, Merlin, also loved to sit in the driver’s seat, and would astound other customers when they would see the car pull up to a gas pump, seemingly being driven by a very dignified Collie who appeared to be completely in control of the situation.  We never followed the rules about crates and the like, except during housebreaking, my one unshakeable rule, and we couldn’t bear not to occasionally let them off the leash for a few minutes, especially when we were driving for such long hours.  Merlin was Maggie’s big brother, and where he went, she went, as in the moment when, in Montana, we let them free for a few moments, and they disappeared over the rise and galloped into the desert.  That was a bad moment, during which we promised ourselves “Never again.”  They reappeared within minutes, on the other side of the exit, and our hearts nearly stopped before we could get them back to the car, across what was thankfully a rather small amount of traffic that day.

Maggie and Merlin loved Alaska.  For those first years, we lived in an Aleut village at the end of the Alaskan Peninsula, with some 15 miles of roads going nowhere, and everyone seemed to let their dogs wander.  Within the first few weeks we were there, Maggie went into heat for the first time.  Every masculine canine in the village camped at our front door, and my husband would try to take her out on the leash during “low traffic” times.  She enjoyed mincing around the guy dogs with a “come and get me” attitude, while he hauled on the leash.  We learned then how you cope with situations such as this when you live 650 miles by air or water from the nearest vet:  we put her on the plane for Anchorage, where the vet’s office came and picked her up in her kennel, took her to the office to be neutered, and put her back on the plane.  In Alaska villages, there is usually an itinerant vet, an itinerant psychiatrist, and an itinerant dentist, but if your dog goes into heat when it’s not the vet’s time to visit the village, that is what you do, and so we did.  I don’t even remember it being terribly expensive, oddly enough.  But Alaska is prepared for such emergencies.

I just asked my daughter what she particularly remembers about Maggie, and what she remembered is that, despite her saintly demeanor, she had a “dirty bark,” even though she remained puppy-like longer than most dogs.  She was built low to the ground, too, but that didn’t stop her from happily exploring the Alaskan landscape we lived in.  Once, she came home with a bad cut over her eye, and we thought she had most likely visited the village dump which was near us and where bears loved to visit.  Maggie pretty much refused to discuss the matter, so we never knew, but despite all efforts to get the cut to heal up, it continued to weep.  Finally, under cover of darkness, our local clinic personnel broke a cardinal rule, the rule of “no animals in the clinic,” and hauled her up on an exam table and cleaned and sewed it up.  She was fine after that, although she was never known to complain about anything.Our First Bear

When the salmon came up the streams and rivers to spawn, the dogs were in a permanent state of bliss:  when let out, they galloped down to the streams where for weeks dead salmon washed up on the shores, and made what were no doubt delicious meals of them.  Then, they returned dutifully to the deck and puked them up.  Good times, good times . . .

When we left the village for good, our Collie, Merlin, went to live with a coworker, because he was prone to wander a little too much and it was decided that he needed to be where he had lots of open space to do it in.  Maggie went with us, though, to Valdez for a couple of years, and then on to Wasilla, our last Alaska home.  Once we were back on the road system, Maggie discovered moose, and when they wandered into our yard in Wasilla, she would bark her “dirty bark” for hours, letting those moose know, in no uncertain terms, what she intended to do with them if she could get ahold of them.  She never did, of course, and mostly, they ignored her.  Moose are far from stupid, although you’d never know it to see them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was in Wasilla that Mag began to get a lesion on her leg.  It was toward the end of our time there, having made the decision to return to the “Lower Forty-Eight,” and we took her to the vet, who immediately diagnosed Osteosarcoma.  He said he was sure she had it, and we avoided expensive testing, although she was x-rayed.  The vet didn’t seem to want to come right out and say it, but he hinted that we might consider having her “put down” before returning to the States, but intuition told us not to, and we took her back with us on the plane, although she could barely walk at that point.  I remember my husband hauling her out of the crate in Seattle and taking her out to pee in her terrible condition.  We flew on across the country to a week’s respite on Jekyll Island before going on to the family home in Florida, my mother having died some time before that, and being concerned about my father.  It was sometime during that time, always hoping to opt for “alternative” or “natural” cures for what ailed us and our animals, that we discovered Essiac tea, and herbal concoction with a Native American origin, which had been used by a Canadian nurse to heal cancer in thousands of people before the Canadian phamaceutical giants managed to shut down her operation.  We ordered some and began to dose Maggie with it, although the lesion on her leg was enormous by now, and we were gravely worried.  She remained good-tempered and in love with life through it all, but we had to shoot it down her throat with a turkey baster, because she did not care for the tea, unless she was very thirsty.

The lesion began to shrink.  Mag began to feel better.  Within months, she was chasing squirrels (no moose in Florida that I know of!), and there was no evidence of a lesion.  Mag lived for two more good years.  By now, she was about ten years old, maybe twelve…  and we decided, with no available guidance, that she was cured.  We stopped giving her the tea, and after a time, the lesion returned.  Rapidly.  By now, we were here in North Carolina, and we did take her to the vet, but there wasn’t much to do except monitor Mag’s “quality of life.”

I remember the morning we decided that Maggie should be allowed to move on.  My husband and I took her to the vet’s office, and we were treated compassionately and kindly.  We were given a moment to tell her how we felt about her, and then she was given the lethal injection, while we held her and stroked her.

I have been at a number of home and hospital births, having been a midwife trainee at one time.  What I noted most poignantly about the moment of Maggie’s death is that it was curiously like the birthing of the babies I had witnessed.  One door closes and another opens.

Some people don’t choose to live with animals.  They don’t want the inconvenience of having to pay vet bills, of having to deal with them when they travel, of housebreaking and the like.  But I am not one of them.  All my animals, particularly my dogs, have taught me much about love.  They have been my friends when it seemed that no one else was.  The popular belief is that animals are not capable of the same emotions people feel, but I have seen that my animals are capable of guilt, fear, anger, love and joy.  And loving seems to give them the most joy of all, which is saying quite a lot.  Maggie remains my “most unforgettable character” in the “loving joy” category.  If I were Hindu, I would be convinced that she will be a person next time around, but I don’t know about things like that.  Because Mag and Alaska will always be together in my heart, let me end this in the style of a traditional Alaskan storyteller:

This is a story about Maggie.

It is a story about Alaska.

It is a story about Salmon.

It is a story about Essiac tea.  Draw your own conclusions.

It is a story about love and life and death and birth.

That’s all.

The Battle of Life

BG Krishna instructs Arjuna 2

I have been thinking, lately, about how despite all the inner work one does, the battle with the limited self must continue throughout life.  Presumably, this is because what we call the “ego” or the “nafs” (in Sufi terminology) is necessary to our experience on the earth plane.  As I understand it, it works as a sort of anchor to hold us to this plane of materiality, and the overcoming of its limitations seems to be the primary vehicle for learning what we come here to learn.  The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, said in a Hadith that the human being is actually higher than the angels, because in coming here for the earth experience, the soul has the opportunity to actualize the God-self, while the angels remain caught in contemplation of God.  The descent of the soul out of the unity of divine Being into humanity is the ultimate descent, its limitation being symbolized by the crucifixion of Christ.

Inayat Khan, in The Unity of Religious Ideals, illuminates the battle with the limited self by telling the story of Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, which metaphorically describes the inner battle with the limited self in the war that Arjuna must fight.  In his fear and anguish, caught between two sides, he consults his charioteer, Krishna, and gradually Krishna helps him to see what the battle really means, and how to win it.  It is a good way to describe the battle of the soul with the ego, because in reality, the inner battle can only be fought through outer circumstances.   Inayat Khan writes:

 . . . the latter part of Krishna’s life has two very important aspects. One aspect teaches us that life is a continual battle and the earth is the battlefield where every soul has to struggle, and the one who wants to own the kingdom of the earth must be well acquainted with the law of warfare. S/He must learn the secret of an offensive, the mystery of defense, how to hold her or his position, how to retreat, how to advance, and how to change position; how to protect and control all that has been won, how to abandon that which must be given up, the manner of sending an ultimatum, the way of making an armistice, and the method by which peace is made. In the battle of life man’s position is most difficult. S/He has to fight on two fronts at the same time: one enemy is himself, and the other is before him. If s/he is successful on one front and fails on the other front, then his or her success is not complete.  (Inayat Khan, Volume IX, The Unity of Religious Ideals)

A well-known aphorism comes to mind here:  Choose your battles, as the saying goes.  Recently, I found myself in conflict with some colleagues, and this whole idea was brought home to me quite thoroughly:  those colleagues got the jump on me in a situation where they ought to have shown more ethical and professional discretion, and I found myself powerless to do much of anything about it when I realized what had happened.  How to deal with this, I wondered, and as someone with a strong inner life, I was frustrated to find myself ready to “spit nails.”  On an outer level, I did what I could do:  there were three people with whom I found myself in this situation, and one of them was fairly innocent, because he was on the outside and was used to accomplish the ends of the other two.  Another of these colleagues was someone I had long ago realized was going to do what she would do without any thought for ethical protocol or what the Sufis call adab, or fineness of manner.  Such a person cannot be fought, except within.  More on that later.   The third of these people was someone who is mostly just a bit inexperienced, and was probably just thoughtless in this situation.  In pain and suffering, I confronted her, as wisely and compassionately as I could, and endured her rage, remembering that I was once exactly where she was, and knowing that she would eventually grow through her hypersensitivity.

But the one in the middle, the one who had proven herself unbeatable without resorting to her own machinations in order to “win.”  What about her?  Vanquishing an enemy such as this is fairly impossible in outer circumstances, because one demeans oneself if one resorts to the tactics the other person is willing to use in order to attain her ends.  Thus, it occurred to me that first, I needed to look inside to find out why this person had such power over me.  The answer came immediately, in identifying the bodily sensations that arose at the thought of this person’s treachery:  I realized that she invoked the fear and powerlessness that came over me as a small child with an older sibling who later was revealed to have clear antisocial tendencies, and who tormented me, as the “baby of the family,” throughout my childhood.  This kind of family dynamic is fairly common in dysfunctional, alcoholic families, as mine was; and while I would like to say I overcame my fear and frustration, I think that in the continued appearance of similar people in my life, I still have a ways to go.  So there I am:  Arjuna on the battlefield of the soul.

What is to be done when one cannot fight outwardly without making a fool of oneself, to say nothing of making public one’s fear and frustration?  How do we deal with behavior it would demean us to even recognize, let alone fight?

The battle of each individual has a different character; it depends upon a man’s particular grade of evolution. Therefore every person’s battle in life is different, and of a peculiar character. No one in the world is exempt from that battle; only, one is more prepared for it while the other is perhaps ignorant of the law of warfare. And in the success of this battle lies the fulfillment of life. The Bhagavad-Gita, the Song Celestial, from the beginning to end is a teaching on the law of life’s warfare. (Inayat Khan)

When Inayat Khan came to the West, an Indian in what was then a very strange and alien culture, he came with a purpose:  to spread the Message of the unity of all religions, to teach his own understanding of Sufism, a philosophy that superceded differences and distinctions, one that went beyond dogmas, theologies and philosophies:  simply, love, harmony and beauty.  To those who met him, he seemed to be a simply astounding presence, the true embodiment of spiritual realization.  Yet in a sense, he was somewhat of an innocent in the culture of a war-torn Europe.  It didn’t take long for a sizeable group of students to be attracted to him and his Message, but they were very human beings, and the constant battle of politics and personalities became more and more discouraging to him.  One of my life’s teachers, Shamcher (one of his early students) said to me that “the Sufi has two points of view:  his own and that of the other.”  Murshid (the name his students called Inayat Khan, meaning “teacher”) was beset on either side with students complaining about other students, power battles, battles with the outer world, constant poverty while he tried to do his spiritual work and still support his family; at one point, when a student kept coming to complain about another, he simply said, “Well, that’s what he did today.  Let us see what he will do tomorrow.”  How does such a being–or any being–maintain equanimity in the face of this kind of constant negativity?   And the battles continue today, as they seem to in every church, spiritual and secular organization, all of which seem to exist in order to facilitate opportunities for the soul to fight its battle with its ego.  Shamcher humorously said, “God wanted to create Hell, so he created the committee.”

Arjuna speaks:

 Drive my chariot, Krishna immortal, and place it between the two armies.

That I may see those warriors who stand there eager for battle, with whom I must now fight at the beginning of this war.

That I may see those who have come here eager and ready to fight, in their desire to do the will of the evil son of Dhrita-Rashtra.  (From the Bhagavad Gita)

If you are reading this and it evokes similar situations you have had to fight, and you are hoping I am going to offer you some solution, I hate to disappoint you, because I don’t have any easy solutions for you.  I fight this battle every day of my life, and I have come to realize that I am not alone in this battle.  

Krishna, of course, represents the God-ideal, and it is God who is both sides of the battle, the war, and Arjuna.  It strikes me, here, that the important idea in this brief verse is in seeing:  put me in the middle, the passage says.  Let me see both sides equally, both good and bad.  Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, the son and successor of Inayat Khan, often told his students, of which I am one, that we ought not just learn to see with the eyes of God, but to BECOME the divine glance.  How else do we learn to fight if we cannot not only see, but become that Glance?  While I–or you–may need to become aware of my personal issues, the impressions I have retained in the battle of life, the wounds that have not yet completely healed, the “ego-trips” I put myself through, it seems to me that I cannot win my battles–or my ultimate Battle–until I learn to see the entire battlefield with the eyes of God.

When Krishna heard the words of Arjuna he drove their glorious chariot and placed it between the two armies.

And facing Bhishma and Drona and other royal rulers he said:  ‘See, Arjuna, the armies of the Kurus, gathered here on this field of battle.’

Then Arjuna saw in both armies fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons; fathers of wives, uncles, masters; brothers, companions and friends.

When Arjuna thus saw his kinsmen face to face in both lines of battle, he was overcome by grief and despair, and thus he spoke with a sinking heart.  (Bhagavad Gita)

Arjuna is overcome with despair:  Lord Krishna has enabled him to see through His eyes, and he now sees both sides.  How can he fight?  How can he take sides?  He weeps at the idea of killing anyone, because no one is an enemy, they are all parts of himself.  Lord Krishna,however, lets him see that on this occasion, the fight must be fought, and that on another level, it makes sense to fight it, and it is okay to fight.  There is a reality beyond the apparent battle:

Krishna speaks:

Thy tears are for those beyond tears; and are they words words of wisdom?  The wise grieve not for those who live; and they grieve not for those who die; for life and death shall pass away.

Because we all have been for all time:  I, and thou, and these kings of men.  And we all shall be for all time, we all for ever and ever.  (Bhagavad Gita)

Arjuna is catapulted beyond the apparent and into the real.  He sees that, whatever this battle is about, there is a greater reality that is beyond it that must be kept in mind if he is to win.  He sees beyond the veil, from the apparent to the real.  Then why is the battle taking place?  And why must it be won?  Must it even be fought?

Many people today ask why, if there is a God, should wars and disasters take place. And many give up their belief when they think more about it. The image of Krishna with a sword, going to war, shows that God who is in heaven, and who is most kind, is yet the same God who stands with a sword in his hand; that there is no name, no form, no place, no occupation, which is devoid of God. It is a lesson that we should recognize God in all, instead of limiting Him only to the good and keeping Him away from what we call evil; for this contradicts the saying: ‘In God we live and move and have our being.’  (Inayat Khan)

Rumi said,”If I told what I knew, the world would be in flames.”  How do we know what is transpiring beyond that which occurs?  How do we get beyond the petty grievances and frustrations, the battles of everyday living?  By learning to see.  It seems to this person that no matter what we call our ideal, whether to us it is a God ideal or an idea or a concept or a theology or philosophy, it is is truly our own, it will lead us to reality.  In time, we learn to see which battles must be fought and which must be given up.  We see who the enemy really is, and we learn to see ourselves in that enemy.  Gandhi said that we can only win over our enemy if we love her or him more than ourselves.

There is always more work to do.

Krishna_Splits_the_Double_Arjuna_Tree

Illuminations

20-499I never really intended to write book reviews when I started this blog…  In fact, I wasn’t sure what I intended to do, and so it has turned out to contain a bit of everything.  And I wouldn’t be very good at writing just book reviews, because my reading tastes are so broad, and I am prone to read what falls off a shelf in a bookstore and bonks me on the head, or a good novel I’ve read numerous times before… or just about anything.  I was a grad student for so long that I’ve avoided anything too scholarly for quite some years, although I suppose that could change eventually.  Yet there are some books that I read specifically for inspiration, and Illuminations by Mary Sharratt comes under that heading.

Many years ago, my dear friend and university professor, Allan Combs,  gave me a book of Hildegard von Bingen’s writings and illuminations, and it could have been a comic book for all the notice I gave it:  do you find, as I do, that it has to be the right time to read a book, otherwise it’s a waste?  Evidently I simply was not ready for Hildegard to come into my life at that point.  But I thought of the book–and my old friend Allan–when I read Illuminations, because now it is the right time, and I was deeply inspired by Hildegard’s life and words on so many levels.  One could find use in her work for so many reasons:  she was a feminist–for her time–and a scholar, a composer  and an artist.  She was, of course, first and foremost, a mystic–and this book, while clearly a novelized version of her life, purports to have stayed as close to what is actually known about her as possible, and the writer subtly explores her tendency toward visions and mystical prophecy, although I was unable to avoid the impression that she did not take them seriously.

I, the fiery life of divine wisdom,

I ignite the beauty of the plains,

I sparkle the waters,

I burn in the sun, and the moon, and the stars.

The book is a love story, too, perhaps first and foremost:  but having said that, I suppose what it is about most of all is the life of a woman.  Just that.  A woman in a time when women were little more than property in a man’s world, yet a Catholic woman who was not only in a man’s world, but a world that worshipped the Christian image of the mother of its Christ, Mary.  I suppose it is for this reason that her mystical visions of God, depicting God in the image of a woman, were tolerated…and if the author’s research is accurate, she knew her place in the world in which she lived, which was that of the lowest of the low, inherently unclean from the flow of menstrual blood, inferior, and incapable of competing with any man, at any level.  How interesting that most of the male figures around her are long forgotten by the centuries, while she herself has continued to shine the light of her realization on the past, the present and, no doubt, the future.

O Holy Wisdom, Soaring Power,

encompass us with wings unfurled, and carry us,

encircling all,

above, below, and through the world.–O Holy Spirit, Root of Life

The book begins with some description of life in the 12th century in Germany, a time when women were first the property of their families and then of whatever man they were given to (or in her case, of the Church to which she was given, as was common in that time).  Hers was a family of some status, and it was typical to “tithe” at least one child to the Church, if not more.  Her father and older brothers, at the time she entered postulancy, were off fighting the Crusades, so for her mother, it was probably a time of some personal power.  However, the family was all, and if it was impossible to make a suitable marriage for her daughter, then the Church was the next choice, and so Hildegard was given as handmaiden to the daughter of the family to which Hildegard’s family gave fealty:  Jutta von Sponheim, either a saint or a madwoman, depending on perspective.  Both were then given as postulants to the monastery at Disibodenberg, a monastery that had no nuns, only monks.  Therefore, Hildegard and Jutta were given as Anchorites so that, in theory, their prayers and meditations would support the monks in their work.  Hildegard only realized what this actually meant when her own mother pushed her face-down into the dirt of the two tiny rooms into which they were to be walled off from the world permanently–that to be an Anchorite meant just that:  she was to spend her life with Jutta and no other person, in that space where there was only one small room and a tiny courtyard to which no other human being had access, and which neither she nor Jutta could ever leave.  She was eight years old at the time, and she would only be allowed to leave her living tomb when Jutta died from her saintly ambitions, having fasted, prayed and physically tormented herself into an early death years later.

Underneath all the texts,

all the sacred psalms and canticles,

these watery varieties of sounds and silences,

terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb, and flow of the music that sings in me.

My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.

It was at this time of utter loneliness and deprivation that Hildegard’s visions began in earnest, and during the time in which she was incarcerated, she became a scholar, an artist and a healer, raising the herb cuttings provided by the kindly young monk, Brother Volmar, who became her lifelong champion.  He intervened in the sparse diet and the wearing of a hairshirt upon which Jutta insisted, providing the child with a habit and increased rations, as well as education and emotional support, all through the small turnstyle allowed the nuns for food and provisions.  Jutta, determined to achieve sainthood and the worship of the monks, tormented herself increasingly, fasting and praying and flagellating herself… but Hildegard, somehow, managed to keep her personhood and grew into a relatively healthy woman until, when Jutta finally died, the wall quite literally came down out of necessity.  Hildegard was able to negotiate the freedom not just of herself but of the other two postulants Hildegard had been raising in that tiny space, Jutta having taken in and subsequently rejected them.

God has arranged all things in the world in consideration of everything else.

The story after that is about Hildegard’s rise to the position of much famed and well-loved abbess, despite the constant opposition of the largely male Church, and about her development as an artist, writer, composer and mystic.  It also outlines her very human struggles with herself, particularly her desperate need for human love in the relationships around her.  One wonders how much of it is true to her actual life and personhood, but perhaps, given the words and music she left behind, the essence of the life of this remarkable woman that persists to this day continues and even grows as an inspiration to those who come across her in their inner searches.  It is interesting, too, that while the ambitious male figures of the Church who surrounded her are largely forgotten, she not only continues to be a beacon of guidance and inspiration, but one that grows brighter as the years pass.

O Eternal God, now may it please you

to burn in love

so that we become the limbs

fashioned in the love you felt

when you begot your Son

at the first dawn

before all creation.

And consider this need which falls upon us,

take it from us for the sake of your Son,and lead us to the joy of your salvation.

DOWA

boston-marathon-lives-saved.jpeg-1280x960

Save me, my Lord, from the earthly passions and the attachments which blind mankind. Save me, my Lord, from the temptations of power, fame, and wealth, which keep man away from Thy Glorious Vision. Save me, my Lord, from the souls who are constantly

occupied in hurting and harming their fellow-man, and

who take pleasure in the pain of another. Save me, my Lord, from the evil eye of envy and jealousy,

which falleth upon Thy bountiful Gifts.

Save me, my Lord, from falling into the hands of the playful children of earth, lest they might use me in their games; they might play with me and then break me in the end, as children destroy their toys.

Save me, my Lord, from all manner of injury that cometh from the bitterness of my adversaries and from the ignorance of my loving friends.

 Amen.  –Hazrat Inayat Khan

The Wisdom of Cypresses

stock-footage-sun-shines-through-red-tulips

Spring.

The wind blows, sweeping across the grass that is greening up, producing multitudinous dandelions at an alarming rate .

The tulips and paper-whites sway in the breeze, standing up to reason.

Big, fat, velvet bumblebees buzz up and down and around, chasing each other up and down the length of the porch, seeming to play some unknown game that makes the dogs snap at them and try to catch them until, for their own safety and this one’s sanity, they are escorted inside, where they stand at the screen, wistful, panting.

christmas_trees_9-2-7_015_op_599x397The row of Ent-friend Cypresses on the edge of the yard stands shoulder to shoulder, holding hands, swaying in the breeze.

They know where they stand, and are thus a fine example of unconditional friendship.

This silver-haired crone sits in the white-painted rocking chair that has held her for several years now, containing her practice, embracing arthritic bones…

iPod earbud cords trailing.

“The Zen Master’s Diary” is the music of the day that is apparent, but the breeze and the bees and the dogs and the creaking of the shed door are accompaniment,

and thus complete the symphony of the apparent, leading into the concert of the music beyond music.

Suddenly, this one opens her eyes for no good reason:  Look!  The first hummingbird, slugging down the carefully concocted nectar made ready, content in its entitlement.  What a metabolism!  These friends seem drawn to meditation, flying close for a look into the face of this one, lost in absorption.

It is all You, my love.

Oh, my love.

It is all love.

That’s all.

That is enough.

Goddesses Unaware

IMG_4105We succeeded in getting away to the beach for a few days this week, something that doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like, given our different schedules.  Here where we live in the Piedmont of  North Carolina, we are not actually very far from the ocean: three to five hours at most, depending on where one goes on this Graveyard of the Atlantic shoreline.  This time, given our lack of time, we went to Topsail Island, which bills itself, these days, as being on the Outer Banks, an inclusion I do not recall from the days when my family-of-origin went yearly to the “real” Outer Banks, where we had a cottage, one of those funky little flat-roofed-cinder-block-post-modern affairs that had no modern conveniences whatsoever, even for those times.  I loved it.  My family-of-origin was a perpetually stressed and miserable group of people, and those summers at the beach were my healing from each winter of cold rage and cabin fever in the mountain town where we lived.  My kinship with the ocean remains to this day, although it has become an internalized seascape that makes theses trips less necessary than before, a seascape that is far more perfect and creatively changeable than those landscapes I was exposed to throughout my life, the ones that began that internalization process.  I have tried to live on or near the sea most of my life:  our family has lived in such places as Cape Cod, Chesapeake Bay, and even on Lake Superior, which was a great lesson to me in terms of the archetypal “inland sea.”  We lived, for two years, in an Aleut fishing village on the Alaskan Peninsula, too, in a cove off the Pacific Ocean, and that, of course, was the most amazingly beautiful and stark landscape I have ever loved and been daily overwhelmed by.  Topsail Beach, with it’s overbuilt series of coastal towns and ticky-tacky houses built within such proximity to each other that residents could have little real privacy, with its mom-and-pop restauratns and dives, and its overall honky-tonk atmosphere, is a poor comparison; but my beloved ocean continues to resist all attempts to turn her into an offshoot of such desecrations of her shores, although those are sorrowful enough…  Yet even then, the winds and the sand, the weather that brooks no denial, and the constant change wrought by all these continues to hold a mystical pull on those who walk her beaches, whether they do so with a beer can in their hands, a surfboard or a pail and shovel, running shoes on their feet. . . or whether, as I did, they huddle in a beach chair wrapped up against the cold and intone sacred sounds that weave their way in and out of the howling winds and the constant pounding of the surf.  There is something about proximity to the sea that is an ongoing mystic pull toward the absolute loneliness of God.  Perhaps there is no difference.

One never knows which individual or what group will be drawn to the sea outside the usual vacationers, surfers, artists, fisher people and others.  This time, the day we arrived, we were charmed to see a group of what appeared to be conservative Mennonites, IMG_4091the little girls and boys and their mothers playing joyfully in the surf, while the men of the group stood around on the beach with their shoes still on, seeming to show little interest in that seascape of seascapes, perhaps discussing the manly things men usually discuss.  We lived in Amish and Mennonite environs at several points in our lives, and we were aware that these are a very private people who do not like to have their pictures taken and would be highly unlikely to put on bathing suits and actually get into the water, even if it were not still too cold to.  But the women and children, wearing their lovely, long cotten dresses with Peter Pan collars, their bonnet strings dangling, made a lovely work of art there in the  surf, leaning into the wind and the the inexorable crashing waves.  We couldn’t resist a few surreptitious pictures, and hope that we have not intruded too much on their privacy by putting them up here.  IMG_4087What an endless variety of life lives itself in the least expected places!  God is constantly writing in one book or another, and we were delighted with this particular one.

When it was time to find some lunch, we ended up at “Buddy’s, one of the most traditional of the aforementioned “mom-and-pops,” a beach bar on the dune, which affords the opportunity to eat in view of the roaring surf, and we were amused to be able to order Alaskan Pollack there on the Atlantic; nothing unusual, of course, and no doubt a lot cleaner than what I grew up on, on this side of the country.  Just below us on the dune, there was a memorial to a surfer who had lost his life in those treacherous waves.  The young woman who served us told us he had been well-known there for years.  The cross, IMG_4116draped with various memorabilia, reminded me of those leaning at intervals on the dunes of the Bering Sea where I used to go to work monthly up in Alaska: cross after cross in memory of those who had lost their life at sea.  We come and we go.

For most of my life, I have had a longing to be near the sea, and in these last years, I have taken it inside me and made it–her–live within.  I know her sounds, I know her rhythms, I no longer need to see her or hear her outwardly.  She is mine and I am hers.  Perhaps the end of all love-longing is this:  the beloved becomes too real to live outside the lover, and there is nothing the beloved can do that will cause the lover to flee…ever again.

Kissing the Toad by Galway Kinnell

Somewhere this duskwww.richard-seaman.com

a girl puckers her mouth

and considers kissing the toad a boy has plucked

from the cornfield and hands

her with both hands;

rough and lichenous but for the immense ivory belly,

like those old entrepreneurs

sprawling on Mediterranean beaches,

with popped eyes,

it watches the girl who might kiss it,

pisses, quakes, tries

to make its smile wider:

to love on, oh yes, to love on.  –Galway Kinnell