Inside: Right here.

Blessed is he who sees the star of his soul as the light that is seen in the port from the sea.

Inayat Khan

netsuite-shining

In a dark night
With longings kindled in love
Oh blessed chance
I went forth without being observed
My house already being at rest
Through darkness and secure
By the secret ladder disguised
Oh blessed chance
Through darkness and in concealment
My house already being at rest
In the blessed night
In secret that none saw me
Nor I beheld aught
Without any other light or guide
Save that which was burning in the heart
That which guided me
More sure than the light of noonday
Where he was awaiting me
Him whom I knew well
In a place where no one appeared
Oh thou night that guided
Oh lovely night moreso than the dawn
Oh thou night that joined
Lover with beloved
Beloved in the lover transformed
Upon my flowery breast
Which I kept whole for himself alone
There he stayed sleeping
And I was caressing him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze
The breeze from the turret
While I was parting his locks
With his gentle hand
He was wounding my neck
And causing all my senses to be suspended
I remained myself and forgot myself
My face reclined on the lover
All ceased and I abandoned myself
Leaving my concern
Forgotten among the lilies.

Ascent of Mt. Carmel,

St. John of the Cross

Yesterday I wrote, in part, to my guide:

It seems to me that my practice goes in different directions. . .  For quite awhile it was all out, out, out…into the cosmos, the vastness, into oneness….and now, it seems to have reversed, and it’s all right here, inside. . .  Presence. Right here. Love, Presence, yet still cosmic . . . God right here.

[Perhaps] the stages of the dhikr enact themselves not just in one’s practice, but over time. Up, down, out, in…. [Not to mention forwards and backwards!]

I have written about the practice of dhikr before, and even what I called an “existential” dhikr, as it comes to this one . . .  It is the central practice of the Sufis, yes, but it is a practice that is found in the esoteric traditions of all the world’s religions, whether it is the Kyrie Eleison of the Christian mystics, or Om Mane Padme Hum of the Buddhists, the Samadhi practices of the Yogis . . . or whatever form it may take when the Totality becomes Sublimity and becomes greater thereby.

The classical alchemical stages depict the journey, as do various esoteric systems (the Tarot, for instance, and Numerology), and it seems that there is this journey that could be seen as a Star or a Cross or even a crescent moon that takes the seeker first in, when one must face one’s own darkness and find, there, the quietness of the Divine Perfection in its self-imposed limitation.  It is torture at first, as so many of us have found:  darkness, torment, memories, flashbacks, guilt, remorse, remembered fear, rage, desires, desires and more desires:  it is like wandering down a long corridor and not allowing oneself to turn back:  and finally, when the ghosts and demons that assail one from every direction have ceased their wailing and gnashing of teeth, one sees that it is only in the courage to keep moving backwards that one discovers the peace to be found in darkness.  Then:  a separation.

Perhaps at this point a shift may occur:  or perhaps not, as well.  It depends.  Yet it doesn’t matter, because even in the early stages of practice, one begins to sense the meaning of incarnation, even as the ego still clamors for recognition.  It is then that the Cross begins to reveal itself, or the bow shoots an arrow straight into the heart of soul or,  perhaps first, the gut.  One’s sense of self becomes decimated, one becomes shattered in one’s understanding.  Oh, it doesn’t happen all at once, and it takes a great deal of longing for it to happen at all.  It is often called the stage of the Broken Heart, but in the early stages, it is enough to allow the ego to be shattered, and God knows, that is hard enough.  It may take a lifetime, in fact, which is one argument for the desirability of reincarnation:  but that is another debate.  Even one repetition of whatever form of this process one chooses is enough to make all the difference.

I remember many times sitting with my teacher, a group of us somewhere in the world under a huge, circus-like tent, saying La illa ha illa ‘la Hu over and over as the day wore on, feeling more and more exhausted, thinking of nothing so much as dinner, of lying down, getting up, reading a good book, talking to someone . . .  Longing for home, longing for Home.  Eventually the longing seems to disappear into the exhaustion and perhaps then, after many, many repetitions, the longing is answered, but I suspect it is only for the few that the promised benefits begin to manifest themselves in the early stages, and often in the form of increased desires, increased howling of the hungry ghosts, an increased hurling of the animal trapped within against the walls of its cage.

Yet if one continues for much time, eventually that crucifixion becomes not just the cross on which the starving nafs willingly hangs itself, but one begins to realize that it is the God of one’s understanding that, out of love, chooses to hurl Itself into the abyss of the desire for its unfoldment.  What then?  What begins the descent, what motivates It?

It is at this stage, then and now, that I picture a terrified, shivering child crouching at the bottom of a dark, empty well, waiting to be picked up.  Yet:  who does the picking up?  Why?  And who is the Child?

And so there is no way of lifting our consciousness into the higher spheres unless we are able to bring about a change in ourselves. It’s not like a journey, that you can just a take a teleferique, as one says, a cable car, and reach the top of a mountain. No, you have to yourself undergo a whole process of catharsis and discover the child in you that is beautiful.  –Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

And the hungry ghosts continue to howl and rattle their chains.  Two directions thus far:  In.  Down.  And waiting in the dark, patiently and unknowingly.

One must keep moving, of course.  Even in the stillness and peace, there is no turning back.  Unless one wants to.  I do not recommend this, even when one begins to realize the price to be paid for that Good Night.

What is it in that shaking, terrified child that finds the determination to get up and go up?  Who is it that rises?  What?  Perhaps that question doesn’t answer itself at first, but at the bottom of the abyss with its damp, slick walls that have no handholds, that space where there is no place to go but up, one somehow finds the strength–or grace–to rise.  Each of these directions can last many years…or an instant.  They can all take place in the course of a day or a lifetime.   As far as I can tell, there is no rhyme nor reason to this.  But there is another level of this experience of descent:  at a later point, it may be that one is able to partake of the Fall, the descent of God into God’s creatures out of love:  the divine fiat that brought Creation into Being. So there might be that moment when God falls, instead of the limited being.  A sort of cosmic swan dive.  Perhaps the next direction, rising, comes from that:

 The alchemical concept for rising is distillation, the conversion of matter into spirit.  What this person knows is that in the frightened child, a seed is planted that eventually starts to grow, and that is the ressurection of Divinity in humanity.

The alchemical darkness awakens the nostalgia for one’s true home, and in the inevitable rising out of darkness, the demons cease their howling and one rises into a recollected knowledge of oneself as a being of light, of one’s origins in landscapes of light, of splendor, worlds of forgiveness and love . . . One can remember dreams one has had, paintings one has seen, music that evokes those memories, and the nostalgia itself is proof of the reality.  Originally, I called this blog “Footprints,” because I found the Zen Oxherding poems evocative of the path to finding one’s true home (you can find these by clicking on the link at the top of this page, by the way).  There is a silence and a whiteness that grows, like the silence and whiteness of a fresh snowfall, and the soul wanders out into its universe and discovers a history that includes lives and relationships and connections that stretch into the four directions and past them, into the dynamic silence that is the unity at the heart of Being.  What is the efficacy of discovering oneself as the soul of the Universe?  What does the soul trudging through an earthly existence do with the recollection of itself as a being of light, and beyond light?  Go there and see.

It seems, again, to this soul that all this is happening in life and beyond life.  We travel the journey of the soul in the course of a day, of a lifetime, in an hour’s meditation, in listening to a beautiful piece of music or regarding an amazing painting or a drop of water or a newborn child . . .  Whatever moves the soul into its knowledge of itself and its journey.

 There are beings that choose to stay “out there” (which is really “in here”) for their whole lives, and perhaps they are meant to do so:  the nun in her monastery, a rishi high in the Himalayas, a dervish sitting by the roadside lost in contemplation, those who have chosen to, by the focus of their spiritual power, keep the world from tumbling into nothingness . . .  And the rest of us have chosen to be in life and experience the dhikr–in whatever form–as the expression of the Divine Being in humanity, singing itself through our days and night, and so the soul, eventually, returns from its knowledge of its real self, promising itself to retain that knowledge, and sometimes it works for awhile, but eventually there is a stage of forgetting, past the alchemical stage of return, the marriage of spirit and matter.  One opens one’s eyes and gazes, for a time, at a transfigured world.  One gets up and walks and understands what was said of the Buddha:  that where he walked, dead trees came alive.  Up and down are relative terms.  We fall, we rise, we fall . . . and we get up and walk into the forest again, and now we see that it is beautiful beyond compare.

Go and read those Oxherding poems, they’re right here, but here’s the last one:

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees become alive. –from Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, Doubleday Anchor

 There is a phrase that keeps sounding itself in here:  “The Kingdom of God is Within.”

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.

The Beautiful Names

 

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


They say there are as many different kinds of Sufis as there are Sufis, and I’m sure that’s true, given the nature of Sufism, which is such that it isn’t really a religion at all, but focuses its work on the inner meaning of all religion.  Yet there do seem to be a few central contemplative practices that are common to most if not all Sufis (and Buddhists and Hindus and well, the contemplatives of all the esoteric schools!).  The one I want to try to do justice to here today is the practice of wazifa, which most Westerners know as the term mantra, the repetition of a sacred name or phrase in order to develop the inner life and unfold particular sacred qualities inherent to the soul.  The wazifa works on many levels, not the least of which is its particular psychology, a psychology that strikes me more deeply as I research the Beautiful Names in Arabic, a language so beautiful that it is said to be the language that will be spoken in Heaven when and if we get there.  It does indeed have an extremely high vibratory quality to it, as does Sanskrit; and although I had originally been taught the Sanskrit mantras, when I became initiated as a Sufi and began to work with the Arabic wazaif (plural), I was hooked for eternity.  I’m not enough of a scholar to know which other languages have this vibratory quality, although I’ve seen hints of it in many languages, including Hebrew;  but these two seem to be the ones that work best for me.

The Sufi Order in which I am an initiate, and the various Inayati orders that are descendents of the ancient Chishtia school of Sufism, is both an interreligious organization and an esoteric school.  It is non-hierarchical in theory, but in actuality those who know more on various topics try to help those who know less, often changing places as necessary.  Many of us have a guide who works directly with the initiate on behalf of the teacher who is our link in the Silsila, the chain of illuminated beings who link with us and draw us back into pre-eternity, at the same time propelling us into post-eternity, whatever that is–through the promise we make to ourselves when we decide to come home to who we actually are.  But what does that mean in terms of the work we are doing in the world?  That looks like a very nitty-gritty process at the outset, but the more I hang out with this process, the more I see that it is all about the unfoldment of that promise, and what looks like a smelly, messy, cacophonous and chaotic world soul is also an exquisite symphony, a divine flower unfolding in the sun.  And it is the Beautiful Names that allow me to dwell in this understanding, to the extent that I Remember.  For a basic list of them, go here, to Wahiduddin’s wonderful site:  http://wahiduddin.net/words/99_pages/wazifa_practice.htm  There, you can find a list, and the basic meanings, as well as a great deal more information about Sufism, if you are interested.  Yet what I find is that these basic meanings are but springboards.  Pir Vilayat used to give these practices and teach his students how to make use of the sounds they invoke in the various spiritual centers that rise up the spine and connect the body with the higher realms of the psyche:  the solar plexus, the heart center, the crown center, etc.  He also used to suggest archetypes that embodied various of the Names:  Maryam, peace be upon her, for the divine purity (Subhan Allah), for instance, or the archangel Ophiel for Noor, the uncreated Light.  But those examples are kind of “out there,” and the wazaif can address very practical issues, too, such as the need for more power (Ya Malik,  Allahu Akbar) or the evocation of Beauty, Ya Jamil.  Of course, it must be said that to experience a quality such as beauty or power in its highest form is just that:  one must go beyond preconceptions into the true meaning of the quality, and thus the wazifa works in the psyche–soul–to reveal what is latent, and further, allows one to apply that quality to real life situations.  Magic!  If repeated with sincerity and diligence and openness.  Openness to the mystery, as Heidegger said. . .

I have been focusing on my inner work very intensely in recent months, and the more I “research” these Beautiful Names, the more I realize what a profound psychology they are for the unfolding personality and the progressing soul.  One might, through the advice and help of one’s guide, choose to work with not just one, but two wazaif, providing a point and counterpoint for the focus of what wants to unfold.  An example might be Ya (the “ya” simply means “O”) Muh’yi and Ya Mu’id, briefly defined as the divine Quickener and the divine Restorer.  The words are the springboards:  to evoke Muh’yi,  the Quickener, that aspect of God that brings things into being, makes things happen, is to go to the Source of the Water of Life.  To evoke Mu’id, the Restorer, is to return to one’s original condition, that of the divine Child, prior to the desecration the soul undergoes living on the earth plane.  Ya Rahman and Ya Rahim, the Compassionate One and the Merciful One, evoke both the divine kindness as well as the suffering God undergoes in taking on limitation in His creatures in order that the universe might unfold as it wants to.  These are but a few of what seem to be the true psychology of the soul.

Ultimately, the practice of wazifa ought to lead beyond the intent to find the quality in the personality to finding out how that quality as a condition of God manifests through the personality.  In other words, it is God–the central Self–that seeks to utilize the soul of humankind as a manifestation of divinity.  I wrote, awhile back, on another central practice of the Sufis, the dhikr.   The difference between the repetition of wazifa is that wazifa is how God is, while dhikr is the very being of God, beyond qualities.  Inayat Khan pointed out in his writings that the soul can be seen as the breath of God exhaled and inhaled, and I suppose the divine qualities–the Beautiful Names–are that exhalation, in the condition of Being.

We are not just a discreet entity but we carry the whole, the totality of the universe in us potentially.  –Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

To truly experience the divine qualities, one seems to need to undergo a sort of death, or so it seems at the time. . . yet like the Fool in the Tarot, we fix our eyes on the beyond and leap into the chasm and find. . . Life.

Recent Times

 

Extinguish my eyes, I’ll go on seeing you.

Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you.

And without feet I can make my way to you,

without a mouth, I can swear your name.

Break off my arms, I’ll take hold of you

with my heart as with a hand.

Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.

And if you consume my brain with fire,

I’ll feel you burn in every drop of my blood. –Rilke, Book of Hours

 

I remember stories of the ancient mystics, the ones who sought a direct experience of the Divine by practicing, working, meditating, praying….endlessly, hour after hour, day after day, hanging upside down in a well reciting the dhikr for forty days, wandering in the wilderness with no direction, starving, thirsty, determined that nothing should keep them from the realization of that ideal that is said to be the same ideal in all hearts, whether or not that is known or unknown….

And then there’s me:  in recent months, coming back from my Year In Hell, God pulled me into my own version of the above, and my practice has been done sitting in my old wicker rocking chair in front of a sunny window, or on my front porch…  I have recited the dhikr with my i-Pod earphones in my ears, or in silence, or listening to the sounds of the birds, or the cars going by on the road…  I have listened to the music that takes me where I want to go, I have read the words of those who have blazed a trail ahead of me, I have talked to friends occasionally–when I could talk at all–I have made Black Bean Brownies, I have written, and I have sat and sat and sat…

Whatever works.  Thanks be to God in the form of my beloved Rilke, Apple Computer, Tallis, the Benedictine Monks, WordPress, good coffee, beautiful colors, the sound of birds, the Internet,  the chirping of the cicadas, the sacred in all its forms:  a special thanks for the music of Deuter, who with a chord or a sound clarified what lay just ahead when I wanted to get there quickly, and my old friend Suhrawardhi, who never doubted and always stayed.  Thanks be to my dear and constant husband, who cleaned up the kitchen so I could go meditate, and never once grumbled at my preoccupation(s).  Special thanks be to the ones who wounded me and tugged at my sleeve and told me lies (and listened to mine)  for as many years as it took… how else would I have been able to see the truth when it hit me between the eyes if I hadn’t learned to recognize the lies?

Thanks be to the right time and the right place and the right not to refuse.

If one has lost something, it is because one has risen above it or fallen beneath it.  —  Inayat Khan

Thanks be to the masters, saint and prophets who form the spiritual hierarchy that is the embodiment of the Master, the Spirit of Guidance… they are the fulfillment of the purpose of God.  Thanks most of all to my teachers, who gave themselves to the furtherance of that unfoldment and showed me the way… and never gave up.

And finally, thanks be to Jack Sparrow, who said it all:  “Funny old life, isn’t it?”

What’s next?

Dhikr

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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, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, pointed out early on that the most apparent difference between dhikr and wazifa—or mantra—is that the practice of a mantra is about experiencing and enjoying the divine qualities of whatever it is we call God. Dhikr, on the other hand, is beyond that:  it is about remembrance, coming home to the reality of God, beyond the qualities, beyond worlds and universes and beings…  Dhikr is the way God really is.  And if one is going to come home to That,  one must go beyond temporal  things and into the Absolute…where one finds oneself coming and going.  I suppose it just depends on one’s intention and one’s  travel plans when one embarks on this journey.  If done properly, it is not child’s play.  It is an advanced practice, and should be undertaken only with the help of a trusted guide.  Of course, having said that,  we must then give thanks for “all those, whether known or unknown” who have bravely, and with sincerity and commitment,  taken the journey when it was there to be taken.  However, I suspect there is always a guide where the intent is true, whether seen or unseen.  I have found this to be true in my own practice, again and again.  The Sufis say there is really only one Teacher, the Spirit of Guidance, and that This permeates all seeking.  Perhaps key to a safe and successful journey—or rather, this particular leg of the journey—is sincerity.

         I experience dhikr in approximately four stages, each of which is its own world of understanding.  First is what some would call the abasement, or the dark night of the soul, in the alchemical terms my teacher loved and taught:

“La illa ha…”  There is no God, there are no beings…

             In that dark night of unknowing, as St. John of the Cross called it, one turns away from and relinquishes all one’s concepts about reality.  Classically, this is done sweeping the head in a sort of clockwise circle, a gesture of negation:  “all that I thought to be true about the world and God and reality…was a lie.”  One is annihilating one’s concepts (not oneself).  That comes next.

     Bringing the head down to the chest,

“Ill’a”

 One stabs one’s own heart with a lance of light from the third eye.  It is a symbolic crucifixion, wherein one annihilates—again, not oneself—but one’s concept of oneself.  “All that I thought I was and am, none of it exists, and none of it matters.”  There is a sense of having destroyed all one’s concepts about oneself and the world and God, and what is left?  The Alchemists call it “dissolution,” in the classic formula, where what is gold is separated from what is lead.  Out of this, a sun rises, a flower blooms, the resurrection takes place:

 “Allah”

      Having realized what one is not, there is a new birth, because in the annihilation, a new seed is planted, the seed of a new soul.  The crucifixion of Christ beautifully represents this, and there are numerous similar stories about Sufis and other mystics who undergo this process.  Al Hallaj, for instance, who was dismembered because, while in the state of God consciousness, he said, “I am the truth.”  Finally,

“Hu.”

      And that is the fragrance that persists after the flower has long gone to other seed.  It is what our lives are about:  the dhikr sings itself through our days and nights, and it is the meaning within it all.  I find that it is both the symbol and the reality of this journey I’ve undertaken, and it weaves itself through all adventure.  It evokes the words and pictures for a new kind of story, and helps me to forget the stories I have fabricated to make my life bearable, so that there is now the possibility for a new song, a new story, a clear playing field.

     The outer forms of religion are just that:  outer forms.  The words that reveal our travael plans are only words.  I have had, in the second stage of dhikr, when my third eye meets my heart, perceived an enchanting desert scene that seems planted right there:  it is twilight, and the colors of the landscape are all pinks and mauves and fawns.  Stars twinkle overhead.  I stand on a soft, dusty road, walking into that twilight, and somehow I know that I am waiting at the other end of it…

But is there an end?

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The Message is a call to awakening for those who are meant to awaken, and a lullabye for those who are still meant to sleep.  –Hazrat Inayat Khan