A Country Between


Woman, whom destiny has made to be man’s superior, by trying to become his equal, falls beneath his estimation. – Inayat Khan

I have been reading Stephanie Saldaña’s new book, having loved her first, Bread of Angels, and finding this one to be wonderfully meaningful and heartening.  It is the continuation of Bread, her first years of marriage to the French monk she married after she lived in Syria for a year on a Fulbright scholarship to learn Arabic in order to study the teachings of Jesus in Islam, and both books have been lovely and poignant instructions on how to live in a war zone and still find beauty and life.  I was amazed to think that she would, after her first book, return not to Syria–we know what tragedy is transforming that ancient culture beyond belief–but to Jerusalem, with her husband.  When I read that she would, I thought, well, we will hear that she is living in some middle-class suburb and teaching or something, but not so:  she and her husband found an amazing house in the heart of life in that ancient, now-partitioned city, moving daily from one sector through checkpoints to the other,  from that house that was part of a convent and an adjunct to a neighborhood that was still holding on in the midst of of the terror breaking out all around it, and eventually in it.  We Americans would find such a life far too difficult, but she and her husband plunged right into a world where a local man sold sesame bread right on her doorstep and gave it to her family, refusing payment,  where the entire neighborhood became family, Muslims, Sufis, Christians, Jews.  And they did indeed have their first child  there, in the midst of violence and poverty and war and inconveniences that would send most of us fleeing.  And they found and became a part of Life.  This story is largely about the birth of her first child, one of the eventual three, and although they have had to leave their huge house, they still live in Jerusalem in a smaller one.  Perhaps they have chosen Life over Convenience, the great god of this culture.

I wrote a brief review of this book on Amazon, where I purchased my copy, and said that Stephanie (I can’t call her by her last name, it doesn’t seem right) is the girl I always wished lived next door.  By this, I mean that we as women have become so caught up in becoming equal as to often lose the uniqueness of womanhood, which is to be tender and tough at the same time, knowing innately what is most important, in a world of far too many women who have perverted their true natures beyond belief, all in the cause of equality.  [Redaction:  my millennial daughter who often edits for me points out that most of the women she knows are not working for equality, but equity.  A most compelling thought!  And when I wrote that, I have to admit I was thinking of the Kellyanne Conways of this world, not the countless women who struggle in a man’s world just to survive and become themselves.)  Her lyrical and poignant writing bespeaks her values:  she places her children above any other accomplishments she could have, and her love for her husband is perhaps most important of all.  Yet that is always a conundrum when we become mothers, isn’t it?  We thought falling in love with our soulmate was all-important, and then we fall in love with our children and are lost forever.  She writes of making a home and giving birth in the midst of danger and violence and the common family passages that take place in all families, as her father dies of cancer back in the States.  Her story is a common story set in a place we think to be uncommon, but that is an internal space in all of us, one that is becoming projected on our own landscape in the West, more and more.  I love most about her writing that she is a woman who is more soul than body, more being than striving, more watching than doing.  She is, perhaps, what “traditional” women are currently fleeing in the cause of becoming equal to men, in the mistaken belief that becoming like them is then the answer, instead of being what she already is:  better, innately.  It is understandable, I think, because of the world we live in, but here is someone who intuitively found a better way of carrying forward the divine heritage of womankind.

I hope you will read this wonderful book, which has made me think again about the confusion and despair of suddenly living in the age of Trump here in the States.  I think we Americans became complacent:  believing our own rhetoric, we fell asleep at the wheel, thinking we were safe, and all the while the projection of our collective shadow was growing and growing, ready to pounce, all the while complacently dreaming of our first woman president, of the fated progress of humanity, and we became derailed when our shadow overcame us.  Reading Stephanie’s book shook me out of the fog of malaise and despair most of us are experiencing increasingly after his “election,” and I realized–had been trying to articulate inwardly all along–that this is Life.  We Americans know so little of what our neighbors have been enduring for thousands of years, and we are soft and all too trusting.  Our ideals may stab us in the back yet.

Here is what I think:  a while back, I wrote about a piece by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee that is about the cyclical nature of the universe.  He stated that we are nearing the end of one cycle, and the beginning of the next, and that such a time is always a time of darkness, of confusion, of….waiting, as in the Christian concept of the “In-Between Times”, the time between the Resurrection and the Second Coming.  I didn’t want to accept that, I wanted to continue in my New Age-y beliefs of love and light and imminent joy, and I know that there is a place where Joy waits, but for now…he was right.  We wait.  Trump and his ilk, Brexit, the tragedy of the Middle East and all countries where darkness battles with light, seemingly with imminent victory, are all symbols of that change.  Those who think they can make time hold still, who think they can return our country, at least, to the 1950s and its complacency and acquiescence to the Man, may think for a time that they can make that happen, but they are as nothing next to that power that is both might and tenderness that is moving over and closer to the world with every heartbeat.  And Stephanie, I have slept better because you did  your part to show us where and how to go.  We await the Kairos.

Be of good cheer.

“Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.” – Gandhi

Two Dog Nights


I have this cool page I keep bookmarked in my browser bar.  It’s a page that keeps account of whether Mercury is retrograde or not.  Most New-Age-y types such as myself know about the Mercury retrograde thing, but in case you don’t, here is a link to the Wikipedia page on the topic.

If Mercury IS retrograde, the page informs me:  “Yes.  That may account for the weirdness.”

Mercury copy

If it is NOT, then:  “No.  Something else must be bumming you out.”  I love the Sixties language of these two responses.  Not being a scientist OR an astrologer, I am not about to try to explain this idea to you, but what I do understand is that if Mercury IS retrograde, things are likely to not exactly turn out the way you expect them to.  It is not a good time to start new projects, supposedly, or to try to go places or do things.  The results may not exactly be bad, just unexpected.  This is the short version.  Obviously, there is much more to this whole Mercury thing.  I have at least two friends who are Vedic astrologers and would probably scoff at this explanation, but There It Is.

Now, whether or not I believe in astrology kind of depends on which day you ask me about it.  Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t.  My teacher, Hazrat Inayat Khan, says that this kind of belief tends to fall away as the soul evolves, and has less and less influence.  That makes sense to me.  Yet as an Indian, he had great respect for these occult sciences:

The science of astrology was based on the science of cosmic vibration. Everything depends on vibratory conditions, including the position of the stars and planets, individuals, nations, races, and all objects. A great deal of the secret power, which the Hindus have found in the science of music, has been derived from the science of astrology. Every note of Indian music corresponds with a certain planet; every note has a certain color; every note denotes a certain pitch of nature, a certain pitch of the animal world.  — Inayat Khan

It seems that, whether or not the soul grows beyond the science of vibration, life is always governed by it.

I have been struggling with some big issues lately, and I cannot deny that I have been letting them get to me.  So last week I came up with the idea of taking off for the beach for a few days, and my husband liked the idea.  We did not think to consult my Mercury page, and I am wondering if we should have.  I doubt that if I’d known that old Mercury was in retrograde that I would have decided not to go, but maybe.  I guess it would depend on whether it was a day when I believed in such things (skepticism is a convenient thing!).  In any event, we set off for the beach with our little Westie (West Highland White Terrier), and for the most part, all was well.  The weather was good for this time of year, and we had rented a cottage on the beach.  I find Sister Ocean to be very healing.IMG_0039

However, friends, it was a WEIRD week.  The morning after we got there, my husband and I decided to take off for Ocracoke Island, just because we love the drive through the National Seashore.  Prior to that, however, my husband took our little Westie (aka “Spud” aka, formally, Hamish) for a walk on the beach. IMG_0914 Thinking he might be able to let him off the leash for a bit to frolic in the waves, he did so, and immediately Spud took off for the nearest houses, quickly disappearing.  Westies are bred to be vermin-hunters, and they move FAST.  My husband took off to look for him on foot and I took the car, terrified that in the fast-moving traffic on the beach road he might be killed very quickly.  Continuing in the parlance of the 60s, what a rush!  I was terrified.  He is my child-substitute, my own human children  being officially grown-up.

The beach, at this time of year, is mostly deserted.  Most of the vacation houses are closed down, and one would think there was no one around: but not so.  Immediately, a man appeared across the street, saying he’d seen Spud and would go look for him on his way to work.  My husband had disappeared to somewhere he thought he might have scampered off to.  I continued to panic, slowly driving and looking for the little devil between houses and lots and dunes.  Turning onto a side street, I saw my formerly unknown neighbor driving toward me, and he had my little guy in his front seat.  He said he’d seen another neighbor taking him up to his house to try to find his owner, and all was well.  The whole enounter was a friendly and kind one, resulting in our getting to know a few neighbors we hadn’t known were there, when we thanked our other new neighbor and his mother, both local real estate mavens.  I wanted to murder my pup, but that would have been counterproductive.  My husband and I, who had been kind of cranky and strung-out that morning, were in a completely different space.  We were flooded with gratitude and relief, and we put our little man in the car and headed off to look for breakfast and a ride up the beach road.  It is amazing how a simple incident can change everything.

Mercury retrograde.

IMG_0042When we reached the Hatteras ferry,  we were feeling adventurous and positive, and as it happened, a young man wearing a big backpack and carrying a camera spoke to us, and we ended up having a pleasant conversation with him.  His name, he said, was Juan Pablo Cardoña (great name!) and he is from Colombia.  He is creating a blog for the folks back home, in order to show them how to travel with very little money.  He had started his trip, as I recall, in New York City, and had traveled through Philly, DC, down the East coast, and was now headed–on foot–for Ocracoke and then to Cedar Island, and on.  He planned to return to his parents’ home in Orlando to sort out his photos and write his blog.  A nice kid (well, anyone under 30 is a kid to me; he is 26).  We gave him a ride into Ocracoke Village,ocracoke-silver-lake-harbor and he had to decide where to spend the night.  He had so far slept in at least one church, camped out, been offered accommodations by people he met, and he was kind of up against it on Ocracoke, as the campgrounds are closed at this time of year.  But we gave him a small tour of the village and parted with him since we were going in the opposite direction, and the next day, he contacted us on Facebook to let us know he was okay.  I hope he still is.  Again with the 60s theme:  I was reminded of those days when people like me took off for parts unknown whether or not we had money, quite often barefoot.

And given the number Mercury was doing on our lives, I hope he’s okay!

IMG_0133My daughter brought our other two dogs down to spend a couple of weekend days with us:  we had (notice the past tense) two aging Shelties (Shetland Sheep dogs, aka “miniature collies”), both fairly elderly.  The older one had a rough time climbing the steps to our cottage, and we had to haul him up.  On Saturday morning, as we were about to head out for further adventures, I was sitting on the back porch meditating.  I was listening to the waves, and as well, I had the earphones to my iPod in my ears.  I was aware of a distant whining, but I thought it was our young Westie, who gets kind of excited about things.  When I got up, I saw that our oldest Sheltie was in obvious distress, heaving and whining, unable to respond to anything.  It was clear to me that he was very likely dying, and while I was essentially okay with that (he was, after all, quite old), obviously I was distressed.  My husband and my daughter carried him to the car to find a vet, and I stayed with the other dogs.  Of course, he was dying, and the nice young vet they found put him out of his misery and soothed their feelings of guilt and didn’t charge a penny for doing that.  In these days when medical care for one’s animals costs as much as it does for human, that was really quite decent.

And that was that.


Do animals project their thought and feeling upon the human being? Can man reflect the feeling of an animal? Yes, sometimes human beings who are in sympathy with a pet animal feel its pain, without any other reason. The animal cannot explain its pain, but they feel how the animal is suffering. Besides, the most curious thing is that on farms one sees shepherds, reflecting the feelings of the animals; they make noises, sing, or dance in a way that resembles animals’ sounds and movements, and show in many ways the traits of animals. – Inayat Khan

What is it, though, about having a well-loved animal die?  One feels so responsible for its welfare!  And I am reminded of something the psychic Edgar Cayce was said to have given in a “reading:”  animals, he said, don’t have individual souls, but rather a group soul.  I don’t know whether that is true or not, but I have noticed that at the moment of death, the animal’s presence leaves quickly, and there is no fight, no resistance to the moment of death.  Just as our animals love and serve us in life, they are willing to die without resistance.  We were and are heartbroken, but he died a good death, our Wellington the Sheltie, no doubt returning to the Great White Sheltie in the sky.  Why not?  He is with Maggie now, although of course we are anthropomorphizing (to say nothing of philosophizing).

What can we say about Wellie?  Another saintly dog.  This makes sense, as he was raised by Maggie, who taught him how to be a loving and kind-hearted dog.  I never saw him growl or bite in a mean way, only a warning one.  He barked far too much, but he was, after all, a sheepdog.  He did nip at the mailman’s heels once, but after all, he was herding him!  Our nice mailman understood.  Wellie loved his family most of all, not having much use for anyone else, as is typical of the breed.  It is fascinating to me how different breeds of dogs have such completely different personalities:  Shelties are incredibly intelligent and well-behaved dogs.  “Just give me a copy of the job description, and I’m on it,” they seem to say, and so it is.  Spud, on the other hand, is a feisty little so-and-so, empathetic and loving, but far more independent.  He loves everyone.  An opportunist most of all, his predominant answer to any request is “What’s in it for me?”  Not so with a sheepdog.  They are on the job at all times.  We have one cat, Sita, and her general attitude is “leave me alone,” unless, of course, she doesn’t want to be left alone, in which case we’d better comply.  I am quite fond of Sita, but ultimately, I am a dog person. IMG_2041_2.JPG

If we can distinguish ourselves from other beings, it is only in the things that animals do not do that man can be different from them. When it comes to eating, do not both eat? Both sleep; both seek comfort. Man does all the things that animals do; man can only be greater than animals in things that they do not do. And what are those things? Building houses? Birds can do this. Ability to fight? Animals and birds fight. The showing of art and skill? Animals can show these things; think of the spider and how it weaves its web; it is wonderful.

Man was created in order that he might overcome that which animals have not overcome. – Inayat Khan

Our surviving dogs, now that we are home, are wandering around looking as if they don’t quite know what has happened.  It is particularly hard for our second Sheltie, as Pippin is only a couple of years younger than Wellington.DSCF0051  Spud is our “gap dog,” because we knew this day was coming, and figured Pip would want a pal to get him through, and it seems to have been a good idea.  I suppose in a year or two, we will need another “gap dog.”  Everyone should have someone to hang out with.IMG_0607

Some of our friends do not want to have animals.  Animals tie them down, they say. They are a lot of trouble.  To my way of thinking, animals are the real teachers of humanity:

Nature does not teach the glory of God; it need not teach this as nature itself is the glory of God. People wish to study astrology and other subjects in order to understand better, but if we study astrology then we are sure to arrive at an interpretation which is given by a man, whereas what we should read from nature is what nature gives us and not what any book teaches us. There comes a time with the maturity of the soul when every thing and every being begins to reveal its nature to us. We do not need to read their lives, we do not need to read their theories. We know then that this wide nature in its four aspects is ever-revealing and that one can always communicate with it, but that in spite of this it is not the privilege of every soul to read it. Many souls remain blind with open eyes. They are in heaven, but not allowed to look at heaven; they are in paradise, but not allowed to enjoy the beauties of paradise. It is just like a person sleeping on a pile of gems and jewels. From the moment man’s eyes open and he begins to read the book of nature he begins to live; and he continues to live for ever.  — Inayat Khan

We are home now, and our dogs are with us.  For the forseeable future, we will be having Two Dog Nights.  Yet best friends never entirely leave.



Raw for Beauty copyI saw this on my Facebook page this morning, and it took me awhile to figure out why I wasn’t happy with it.  It seems to me that all these “symptoms,” while no doubt true of the early stages of awakening, mostly bespeak spiritual narcissism. In Zen parlance, a clinging to these states denotes the “stink of enlightenment,” as a very real experience–awakening– eventually becomes an ego trip, if one does not continue to go forward and clings to the original experience. In reality, life is very hard, and as one climbs the ladder, one increasingly partakes of the broken heart of humanity as God weeps for its creation. Those who knew the Inayat Khan family, for instance, spoke of the deep feeling of sadness that often emanated from Murshid, and the feelings of grief and depression in his and his wife’s quarters. The Begum often suffered from depression and grief, and Murshid was often made sad by the behavior of his students and the misery of the world.

” In our everyday life there are times when a sadness comes, and it seems as if everything in the world, even the voices of beasts and birds, cause sadness. Then again comes the hour of profound joy. At that time the sun helps to give joy, and the clouds covering the sun also give joy. The cold, the heat, the friend, the enemy, all help to give joy.” — Inayat Khan.

Then again:

“The attitude of looking at everything with a smile is the sign of the saintly soul. A smile given to a friend, a smile given even to an enemy will win him over in the end; for this is the key to the heart of man. As the sunshine from without lights the whole world, so the sunshine from within, if it were raised up, would illuminate the whole life, in spite of all the seeming wrongs and in spite of all limitations. God is happiness, the soul is happiness, the spirit is happiness. There is no place for sadness in the kingdom of God. That which deprives man of happiness deprives him of God and of truth.” — Inayat Khan.

Yet again:

“If sorrow and sadness have no reality, why then did Christ say, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful?’ We must distinguish between the human side of the Master’s life and the divine side. If the human side were not human, then what would be human? Why does God send His message to humanity by. a man and not by angels? Because only a human being knows human beings. He knows them from having experienced human limitation.
That he felt sadness is the most beautiful side of the Master’s life. If he had not, how could he have sympathized with those who are sorrowful? If we were all born perfect there would be no purpose in human life. The purpose of life is that we grow towards perfection; from the greatest limitation we grow towards perfection. Its beauty is in acquiring wisdom, in living at the cost of all our failures, our mistakes. It is all worth while, and it all accomplishes the purpose of our coming to the earth. –Inayat Khan.

There is a hidden quality, and there is a quality which is manifest. What is manifest we recognize; what is hidden we do not see. There is going forward and there is going backward, there is success and there is failure, there is light and there is darkness, there is joy and there is sadness, there is birth and there is death. All things that we can know, feel, and perceive have their opposites. It is the opposite quality which brings about balance. The world would not exist if there were not both water and earth. Every thing and every being needs these two opposite qualities in order to exist, to act, and to fulfill the purpose of life; for each quality is incomplete without the other.  — Inayat Khan

We don’t want to be sad. We want to believe that spiritual awakening will relieve us of the pain of our lives. Yet eventually we come to see that we are here to struggle and win, to struggle and lose, to be angry and to weep, to laugh, to dance. The ego, like the poor, in the words of Christ, will always be with us, and sadness is as inevitable as joy.  As C.G. Jung says in speaking of the Shadow archetype, it is the source of our growth and creativity, and the creator of our sadness, and ultimately, our joy.  Yet the soul’s birthright is joy.

Good Friends

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

–Inayat Khan


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.


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

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

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


  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:


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.

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.


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.

Being Good vs Being Great


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

Life Being Lived

CLF - Olmstead Parks

And yet, though we strain

against the deadening grip

of daily necessity, I sense there is this mystery:

All life is being lived.

Who is living it, then?

Is it the things themselves,

or something waiting inside them,

like an unplanned melody in a flute?

Is it the winds blowing over the waters?

Is it the branches that signal to each other?

Is it flowers

interweaving their fragrances,

or streets, as they wind through time?  — Rilke

Recently I received, from a well-known academic and Muslim here in Chapel Hill, a blanket criticism of American Sufis, pointing out that “we” do not understand the true meaning of Sufism, but veil our understanding within the bias of  “our” Western capitalistic world view.  He gave, as an example, Deepak Chopra who, he says, charges $5,000 for a weekend seminar.  The implication is that real Sufis are not materialistic, and do not practice the kind of engaged spirituality he believes is the correct way of life for a true Sufi.

Well.  Where do I start?

First of all, I wasn’t aware that Deepak Chopra bills himself as a Sufi.  Second, I was not aware that he is an American, but I will admit I do not know, because his words do not attract me, nor does his being.  Third, I object to blanket statements about any group, particularly from a noted academic who ought to be capable of more critical thinking.  Finally, I am not aware that the practice of Sufism means that one is “this” or “that” or holds a particular world view . . . and I find it astonishing that someone who is supposed to be an “expert” on such matters would make such an irresponsible statement.

As for me, I just sit on my porch and watch the birds and listen to the trees.  It seems to me that the trees know where they stand, and the birds refuse to favor one position over another, and thus they demonstrate, for me, the meaning of the word Allah.  I will say one thing about “we” American Sufis:  sometimes we can be rather naive and uninformed about the Islamic framework in which Sufism has become known to the Western world, but it seems to me that such constructs are really only the “basket that carries the flowers,” and I think the essence is available to us all, regardless of our station in life or our political views or our geographic location in space and time.  I was reminded, recently, by my new favorite book, Physicians of the Heart (see below) that the word Allah is derived from the Arabic verb waliha, which means to love passionately, intensely, totally:   “crazy love.”

That’s it.

The teacher who brought me up told stories about the rishis in the Himalayas, the Desert Fathers, the Yogis and the Madzubs, the Chassids, the contemplatives of all the varied ways to illumination  who refuse to “join the club (or the “old boys’ network”),” those ones who refuse to believe the lies, those ones who hold the world up in space, who keep it spinning, wobbling, staggering along because they say Allah . . . and leave “them” to their devices.  And Allah is a name that can be called in many, many ways . . .

Let us not forget:  in the Al and La of Allah are the words yes and no.  The rest is just excuses.

The highest good is like water.

Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In daily life, be competent.
In action, be aware of the time and the season.

No fight: No blame.  

Tao te Ching

Once I was a Grandmother


WordPress provides me with these “stats,” daily, weekly and monthly, that give me some idea of how many people are reading this blog, who they might possibly be, how they get here, etc., etc. . . . It also tells me what I write that people tend to read most, and although I suppose this is a “Sufi blog,” I post some personal observations here as well, and the most popular one is the one I wrote when I became a grandmother.  Clearly there are lots of people out there who have become grandmothers and want to hear how it is for other grandmothers.  I remember it well, although currently, I suppose I’m not a grandmother.

I wrote two posts here called “Always Endings” (https://eklutna.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/always-endings/) and “Living Forgiveness” (https://eklutna.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/living-forgiveness/) and I imagine it was fairly obvious that the persons they were about were my oldest daughter and my first grandchild.  Recently someone read them and commented to me that they had the tones of a “Greek tragedy,” and I suppose that could be a valid statement, but to me they were terribly important, because they were about the most profound and painful spiritual lesson I’ve ever had to learn, the one called “accepting the unacceptable.”  It happens to most of us sooner or later:  someone dies unexpectedly and possibly violently, someone terribly important to us leaves us, we are traumatized in some way…any or all of the above.  And there is nothing we can do about it.  Nothing.  If you read the definition of “posttraumatic stress disorder” in the DSM-IV-TR of the American Psychiatric Association, you will note that the most prominent features of such an event are their unexpectedness and the fact they are completely uncontrollable.  We like to believe, in this world, that we have control over what happens to us:  if I get enough exercise, eat enough flaxseed, meditate daily, save enough money, etc., etc., etc. . . . all will be well.  But it isn’t always, is it?  Sometimes things happen that are so unexpected, so uncontrollable, so utterly unacceptable. . . and they just are.  We are backed into the corner.  Don’t have a leg to stand on.  Can’t do nuthin’ about it.  All we can do is to try to make something of the pain.  To make friends with it.  To let it stand for something.  Hopefully, to let it make us great.

Well, that’s what happened when I “broke up” with my oldest daughter and my first grandchild.  After 33 years of trying to rain on the desert . . . I stopped.  I truly believed it was my only choice, and I still believe that.  When I made the decision, I’m sure my daughter will never understand this, but I made it because I felt that she would never be able to become the person she really wants to become as long as she continued to hold me in a death grip, alternately tearing away piece by piece of my heart and clutching me to her in overwhelming waves of rage and love-hatred.  The first book I read about what have been called borderline personalities was that classic “I Hate You:  Don’t Leave me!” by Kreisman.  The first time I saw it, I sensed that the title said it all, and after those years with my daughter, I still think so.  I was a sitting duck for the experience I had:  I was raised by two personality-disordered parents, and my first husband–the father of this girl–had the same diagnosis she eventually did, so I was probably the worst possible parent she could have had.  I was the classic codependent.  And she never forgave me for it, nor let me forget it for a moment.  I’m sure she feels the same about me.  And I’m sure that, on some deep level, because we bonded like a real mother and child when she was young, neither of us will ever get over it.  Yet finally, it was time to leave, and so I did.  I had this granddaughter by then, too, and our whole family loved her dearly, for which her mother could not forgive us, because she continued all the years I knew her to believe that none of us loved her, because none of us could ever give her what she thought she wanted, something that I’m not sure she ever figured out.

Breaking up didn’t solve much, of course, although I continue to hope and pray that it will help her draw herself together and love her child well.  As for us, her “family of origin,” I don’t think any of us expects ever to truly resolve this, although I am grateful for the first time I’ve ever had to myself to live and grow and heal:  the first time in my life, really.  I had, during the “terrible years,” married a wonderful man, and we had a second lovely, wonderful daughter who was kind enough to show me that I could love and be loved normally and wholey, and who, to this day, is my best friend.  The break-up affected my husband and that daughter profoundly too, of course:  my second daughter has had time to find herself as a person without the constant message of “Mom loves you best, you’re the one who caused all these problems by being born, etc., etc., etc.,” the messages she needed to send her little sister’s way in order to bear herself during those years.  None of it was my daughter’s fault, truly:  she simply isn’t “wired” in what is considered to be a normal fashion, and her pain is much worse than any of ours; I truly believe that.  This is what I mean by “accepting the unacceptable.”  It is what it is, and it was what it was.  My good husband ran interference, and my second daughter and I did our best to survive.  I’m pretty sure that daughter will survive:  she has largely recovered, although it took her some time to learn to trust others; and she goes from strength to strength.  As for me, well, I too will and have survived, in the way that I can:  I have used these lessons I have learned, and my body bears the marks of the ongoing stress and trauma of raining 24 hours a day on the desert:  my immune system is compromised, and I have rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.  Nothing new there.

And. . . I’ve used this tragedy.  I won’t say what I said above, that I’ve “let it make me great.”  The results aren’t in on that one.  But there is much to be said for having one’s heart broken repeatedly and thoroughly.  There is much to be said for having no choice but to accept the unacceptable.  In this case, what that means is not only walking away from an adult daughter, but walking away from an innocent child who loved me and her aunt and her grandpa.  I didn’t know whether her mother would be able to care for her adequately.  Her marriage had already broken up, and I didn’t have much respect for the father, either.  And they, in turn, had demonized me quite thoroughly.  It is all my fault.

Accepting the unacceptable.  Accepting being misunderstood, over and over again.  Accepting being hated by someone who was my first experience of the Divine Child, when I held her in my arms at birth and got up with her at night and walked her to school and mothered her endlessly, to no avail.  Living with having to walk away from a child I adored, not knowing whether she would survive her upbringing at the hands of someone with such profound problems.

Saying goodbye.

It’s been over a year now, and yesterday I was in her old neighborhood for the first time in those months.  We had avoided all the places that bore such poignant memories for us, but yesterday we drove by the house.  We didn’t know if she still lived there.  The father had sent us a blank email with the subject line “she’s moved,” because for awhile we tried to send cards and little gifts to our grandchild, and I guess they couldn’t allow us even that small pleasure.  I knew that there would come a time when we would run into them, and I knew it would be unbearable, but I hoped it wouldn’t happen before I could bear it.

But yesterday, when we drove by, the yard was neat.  Everything looked pleasant and lived-in, instead of that certain disarray that always illustrated the only atmosphere this young woman could seem to live in.

Except for one thing:  in the backyard, I could see my grandchild’s little “turtle sandbox.”  You’ve seen them.  In fact, I had bought one just like it for her mother when her mother was little.

So I have been suffering quietly since then, and suffering is good.  It is possible that good may eventually come from this tragedy.  It is possible that this little girl will grow up happy and whole.  It is possible that some day her mother will find herself.  And I can use this experience:

Out of the shell of the broken heart emerges the new-born soul.  –Inayat Khan

Once I was a grandmother.

Returning into God

Paradiso: Canto 31
from Gustave Doré's illustrations to Dante's Divine Comedy

Nirvana is as a star in our hearts which we develop; and as we develop it, it becomes brilliant.

Its brilliance consumes all the wrong of life until nothing is left but that purity which is the divine light.  — Inayat Khan

Here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, I am beginning to wonder if winter is ever going to begin.  Just a few days until Christmas, and the temperatures are still sometimes in the seventies every day.  This afternoon a heavy, chill rain began, and I sat on the porch in my rocking chair to practice.  No need for music today!  The rain pounding on the roof, clattering in the gutters and dripping endlessly into the dirt under the bushes says all that needs to be said.

I suppose some would call it magical thinking, but I see that the Spirit of Guidance finds all kinds of ways to answer my questions and concerns.  Last weekend, we were in a bookshop in Chapel Hill, a used bookshop, and I found one of Ram Dass’s books, STILL HERE.  I remember when he was the rock star of the New Age movement, back in the 60s and 70s, and I consider him to be one of my best friends, even though we’ve only met a few times, and then wordlessly.  He always seemed to play the role of, as he himself said, “the one who goes before.”  In recent years, he is evidently going before us into the aging process, and he kicked that off with a severe stroke that hastened things quite a bit.  It is heartening to see him still doing his work, making use of the Internet now that he can no longer travel (www.ramdass.org).  The crowds are definitely smaller these days, even online, and I feel rather sad about that, but he has done good work, and perhaps, as he says in his book, an increasing withdrawal and loneliness is part of the process of returning the soul to God.  As to the book, it is very wonderful, just what I needed, for since my health issues began a few years ago, I have been rather lost, still determined to do things as I once did, constantly asking “What’s next?  What should I do?” and beating myself up for my increasing need for solitude and quiet, instead of relaxing into them as a natural part of the growth process.  In this last year, when I have surrendered to my need for retreat, I have continued to ask myself “When will this be over?  When will I return?” and now I’m thinking. . .  “What if I don’t?”  “Do I have to?”  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  But I think what life is calling for me and other elders to do, is to live into a new mode of being, one that is actually intrinsic to the balance this old world so badly needs, with the so-often ego-based rush-rush of the younger generations, the constant need to do, to acquire, to accomplish, to kill, to have, to. . . well, to not get caught in the solitude of reality.  I suppose it is all about fear, really.  We are all deers afraid to get caught in the headlights of what is, afraid to relinquish control, afraid of annihilation.  That last, I find (annihilation), is increasingly the only thing that makes sense to me.  One comes to feel (if one is fortunate, I think) that death is the goal and the healing, that death not of the body–although obviously that will come–but of one’s concepts, one’s ambitions, one’s ideas about reality, ultimately one’s sense of oneself as a separate entity. . .  Really, that’s what all this mystical stuff is about, but the ego–the temporal self–screams in fear at the very idea.  It has taken me many years and much desperation to subdue the screaming of my own nafs, the Arabic word for the ego, the self we all think we are, the dimensions of which we try to keep hidden, even as it runs the show with an iron hand, until. . .we decide to stop it (mine is still subject to frequent yelps, by the way).  I find that this process has taken more than a decision, and God knows it took me long enough to even get to the decision, but once made, one can begin the best journey of all in life.  My road looks like a lonely one at first glance, but I find that increasingly I am joined by all the holy women and men I called to my journey, and the scenery is increasingly beautiful.  Ah, but that nafs!  Oh well, I suppose we need the nafs as long as we need it.

As some ancient Sufi said, the journey to God is a finite one.  The journey in God is never ends.


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

I grew up in a small coal-mining town in West Virginia.  Despite the overall vision many people seem to hold of that state (“You mean people there can actually read?” a woman in a Massachusetts shop once said to me), it was a kind of “Wonder Years” experience I had as a child, despite the most common–and numerous–of the usual family and community dysfunctions.  I had a lot of friends, too, and in my junior high and high school years, I made one I chose to call my “best friend,” and we had many good, good times together.  We raised each other really, I think, as adolescents do when they turn away from their parents and toward each other, giggling, squabbling, dreaming, romping…  She and I, and two other girls with whom we formed a little clique, went through all the usual joys and trials of the teen years, and when I got married–for the first time–at age 18, and she went off to college, and we gradually lost touch with each other.  Even by then, I think, we had decided to head down very different roads.  She became a scientist, and quite the achiever:  went to work for a large corporation that paid her very well, married the boy I’d grown up next door to, and by all accounts, her life was very successful.  I became a somewhat half-hearted hippie (never could get into the drug thing), learned to meditate, ran around the world, and didn’t even start college until I was 31.  By the time we came back together, I was close to my Ph.D., but I was to learn that psychologists are very different people from scientists.

Many years later, she found me on the Internet.  It had been some 30 years, and we tried to stage a comeback, but…it just plain didn’t work.  We loved each other, yes we did and we do, but we didn’t much like each other.  I was into God.  I lived simply, had children and had become the introvert I suppose I’d always been, innately.  She, meanwhile, had achieved great things, never had children, and was quite gregarious and extroverted.  She talked a lot and then wondered why I didn’t.  I tried to tell her it was because she didn’t give me a chance, but I never could find the way to say that in a way that was acceptable to her.  She didn’t understand my spiritual leanings, and was both fascinated and repelled by them.  She seemed, really, to resent me for them.  I don’t generally speak of these topics with anyone who doesn’t ask about them, nor do I believe in the least that because I’m into God you have to be.  All in good time.  Inayat Khan said that everything and every being is in the place it needs to be in and all things will awaken in their own time, and in their own way.  He remarks elsewhere that it doesn’t really matter what a person believes or doesn’t believe, what is important is that they live according to their values.  I resonate to both these ideas.  So what she believed or didn’t believe wasn’t a problem for me; but somehow, it was for her.  We went on trying to be friends for several years, but somehow we just couldn’t get comfortable with each other, although we continued to feel a great bond.  In a sense, I think she was my other half, the half that went outwards while this part of me turned within.  In retrospect, it seems to me that her biggest problem with me was that I just could no longer be the person she remembered me as.  And she didn’t want to hear about God, yet she kept asking.  <sigh>  And our efforts to communicate failed time and again:  I would say something that seemed pretty clear to me, and later it would come back to me as something I was pretty sure I’d neither said nor thought.  I’m sure she felt the same, although I pride myself, as a retired therapist, on my careful listening and reflection.  But somehow, with her, it didn’t work.

She did one great favor for me, though:  she kept my memories.  The woman never forgot anything.  I learned a lot about extroverts through her, because most of the people I tend to hang out with are like me, turned within, although certainly capable of deep friendship and listening.  Extroverts, though, I was to learn, do all their work “on stage.”  In order to think about anything, she said, she had to talk about it.  I am the opposite:  I need to reflect, to go within and work things through, and then either write or speak of them.  But there was never time for me, it seemed.  I missed my chance with her again and again.  And I’m sure she felt offended that I became exhausted by marathon conversations during which I said little, to her puzzlement, and she didn’t seem to realize that she talked so constantly that I truly couldn’t fight my way into the conversation without interrupting, as I suppose I must have when we were teenagers.  I got more and more frustrated, and she grew more and more impatient.

But about those memories she kept for me:  perhaps what I learned about the precious nature of early, deep friendships, is that by their nature they provide a witness–or mirror–for each person in the relationship.  There were many things that happened to me in my very dysfunctional family situation, for instance, that I “forgot,” read:  repressed.  But she didn’t forget.  She was there.  And by the time we got back together, she was just about the only person left in my life who had been.  And when I needed her to, she reminded me of what I knew but didn’t want to think of, yet….needed desperately to recall.  She loved me.  I loved her, too, but in her case, that fact wasn’t quite so amazing, because she grew up with parents who loved her and people who were in her corner.  I grew up in a sad, sick family of people who didn’t know how to love themselves, each other, or their children.  My best friend, early on, loved me and gave me her family, who also seemed fond of me, and let me spend quite a bit of time at her house.  They were all extroverts, it seemed:  loud, boisterous, humorous, competitive….  and they fed me, something that didn’t happen often at home.  I loved them.  They were the complete antithesis of my family.

My best friend loved me.  She wanted to fix me.  She wanted to heal me.  She wanted to take care of me.  She wanted to rescue me.  In many ways, she did, too, and despite the fact, in these last years, that we could barely stand each other, that never changed.  I’m grateful.  It was healing to be caretaken graciously and with love.  We didn’t much like each other, but either of us would have taken a bullet for the other.

My best friend, while all this was going on, neglected to mention just how sick she was.  She talked about her doctors and her treatment a lot, but I had the impression that these were the most interesting things in her life, although perhaps I should have realized.  She had so much more conversational energy than I did, I suppose I just didn’t realize.  And then…she died. While I didn’t realize just how bad things were,  I was aware, in her last months, that she had decided that she didn’t want to live any more.  Because we only talked on the phone, I didn’t see her physical deterioration, so perhaps that was part of it.   I think she must have had a lot of fear about dying, because she grew angrier and angrier with me, and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing that made her so angry.  I realized, eventually, that it was my fairly adbvanced spiritual commitment that bugged her, because she didn’t want to think about dying.  I said as much to her one day, and she admitted this to be true, and yet…she clearly had decided to die.  This person who seemed–to me at least–to have it all, obviously didn’t find what she wanted here, and she moved on.  I could almost see–dare I say it–an intentionality in her actions toward herself during the entire process.  Who knows how much control we have over our living and dying?  Not me.

But I do know one thing:  the morning my best friend officially passed on, she came to see me.  I have had this experience numerous times before when people I’ve loved have died.  Not always, but often.  One has to be paying attention, or it’s easy to miss the visit.   I was just waking up on that particular morning, and  she sort of “swam” into my consciousness, and surfaced in my mind.  Like a friend you’re swimming with, and they surface beside you, laughing, dashing the water out of their eyes.  She was overjoyed.  It was as if she was dog-paddling in the ocean of Spirit  and saying, “Look at me!  I’m free!”  A silver, swimming fish or a whirling dervish; something like that.  Awake and free in the ocean of consciousness.  I felt very happy for her.

My best friend was free.  I don’t suppose I know anything more about the afterlife then any of us earthlings do:  it seems we’re programmed to forget where we came from when we pick up our lives here, and perhaps that is necessary.  We remember, sometimes, however briefly, when something triggers our nostalgia for a more perfect freedom and beauty than we know here.  Perhaps it happens when we hear an exquisite piece of music, or see a profound work of art.  Poetry does it for me, and images of angels or a fresh snowfall.   Gregorian chant or a Tallis mass, Buddhist chanting.  Whatever evokes the purity and perfection of the planes of consciousness through which our beings unfolded on our way to earth will cause us to recall our origins, and awaken our longing for our real home.  My friend went to her real home a bit early, but I really don’t blame her a bit.  May peace be upon her, and upon all those who loved her.  If I know her, she went to prepare a place for us all.

On the Occasion of the Urs of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself flows in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because [wo]men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you.  — Thomas Traherne


Inspirer of my mind, consoler of my heart, healer of my spirit, Thy presence lifteth me from earth to heaven, Thy words flow as the sacred river, Thy thought riseth as a divine spring, Thy tender feelings waken sympathy in my heart. Beloved Teacher, Thy very being is forgiveness. The clouds of doubt and fear are scattered by Thy piercing glance. All ignorance vanishes in Thy illuminating presence. A new hope is born in my heart by breathing Thy peaceful atmosphere. O inspiring Guide through life´s puzzling ways, In Thee I feel abundance of blessing. Amen.  — inspired by Inayat Khan


In memory of my spiritual father, teacher and best friend, who now works from the planes of light and is always available.

Living Forgiveness


Love manifests towards those whom we like as love; towards those whom we do not like as forgiveness. –Bowl of Saki, by Hazrat Inayat Khan

Recently, I have been working with feelings of resentment and anger, arising from the situation I write about below (“Always Endings”).  I am steeped in modern psychologies, and it has been tempting to “allow” myself to feel and express the natural anger and pain I am experiencing after giving the major part of my adult life to a young woman who could not receive my love, and finally deciding (in great agony) to walk away from the relationship, which by now included her child, a little person I have grown to love greatly.  I find myself going through the classic stages of grief, yet my tendency has always been to mask my grief with anger, which to me seems more manageable.  And after all, I deserve to be angry, right?!  This person has jerked me around and abused me for most of her (and my) life!

But then last night, I thought of the child, the child I can no longer see, the child I pray for and send love, light and protection to daily.  I thought of a story told about Inayat Khan:  in the middle of the night, one night, he was called out to see a sick child, and he went.  When he got there, however, he did not go to the child, he simply gave a blessing to the mother.  To me, the meaning of this story is what I feel to be true:  the mother is the first God in the life of a soul on this earth, and she is the channel of all guidance, protection and healing for her child.  How could I try to be a channel of blessing for this child, while resenting the mother?  It seems that every thought, feeling and action of ours impacts deeply on its object, more deeply than we could imagine.  Clearly, my obligation, here, is to bless and love the mother, even if I cannot understand and cannot be with her.  My responsibility is to do everything I can to help her to be a good mother.

In the East, when we speak of saints or sages, it is not because of their miracles, it is because of their presence and their countenance which radiate vibrations of love. How does this love express itself? In tolerance, in forgiveness, in respect, in overlooking the faults of others. Their sympathy covers the defects of others as if they were their own; they forget their own interest in the interest of others. They do not mind what conditions they are in; be they high or humble, their foreheads are smiling. To their eyes everyone is the expression of the Beloved, whose name they repeat. They see the divine in all forms and in all beings. –Inayat Khan

Elsewhere, Inayat Khan says this even more succinctly:  “Blessed are they who cover the scars of others even from their own sight.”  This is the ultimate psychology!  Think of the power we have over others, both for good and evil.

Many years ago, when I was ending my first marriage, I was having similar problems with resentment, and a teacher of mine pointed out something else Inayat Khan said in a poem:  “Before you judge my actions, Lord, I pray you will forgive.”  That is where I am at:  I have made a cataclysmic decision about a relationship, one that goes against all my moral and spiritual ethics:  I have decided to end a relationship, for excellent reasons:  Yes!   Yet ought we not always to try to maintain that ariadnean thread of connection that exists between us and souls who come within our unfoldment?  Perhaps so, but here I am:  not only cutting the cord, but in doing so, of necessity making a judgment.  Before all this, however, I owe this person forgiveness, and I owe both her and her child the power of my kind and hopeful thoughts.  Perhaps, in this sense, the relationship is not being ended, only changed.  Perhaps, in this radical action, the cord will hold.

Think of the life of the great Master Jesus… one sees that from beginning to end there was nothing but love and forgiveness. The best expression of love is that love which is expressed in forgiveness. Those who came with their wrongs, errors, imperfections, before the love, that was all forgiven; there was always a stream of love which always purified. ~~~ “Religious Gatheka #44”, by Hazrat Inayat Khan (unpublished)

We may make an ideal in our imagination, and, whenever we see that goodness is lacking, we may add to it from our own heart and so complete the nobility of human nature. This is done by patience, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness. The lover of goodness loves every little sign of goodness. He overlooks the faults and fills up the gaps by pouring out love and supplying that which is lacking. This is real nobility of soul. Religion, prayer, and worship, are all intended to ennoble the soul, not to make it narrow, sectarian or bigoted. One cannot arrive at true nobility of spirit if one is not prepared to forgive the imperfections of human nature. For all men, whether worthy or unworthy, require forgiveness, and only in this way can one rise above the lack of harmony and beauty.   From  http://wahiduddin.net/mv2/IX/IX_9.htm


I have spent my adult life attempting to live by these ideals, particularly where this young woman is concerned.  The ultimate test of this has been trying to pour my understanding of them upon not just the “just,” but the “unjust.”  It is all but impossible to think kindly, lovingly, positively about someone who returns one’s thoughts and intentions with verbal and even physical abuse.  It is even more difficult leaving a child in the tender care of that person, whom I have already seen to put aside her regard for her child in the interest of self-indulgence.

Perhaps I ought to be grateful for this ultimate test of my spiritual idealism.  Certainly, the best thing I can do for the child I love is to love her mother, even if I cannot do so in close proximity.  And after all, where there is resentment, there must be love.

Shatter your ideals upon the rock of truth. —  Inayat Khan


The quotes in this little essay are all from the writings of Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, both published and unpublished.  I want to thank Wahiduddin for his WONDERFUL page (http://wahiduddin.net) which makes them easily accessible for this particular purpose.  I highly recommend his page, which is bursting with all sorts of Sufi “lore,” from many different sources.  He has a mailing list you can sign up for, which will deliver each day’s reading from the Bowl of Saki to your very own mailbox daily.  Most of the quotes above are from today’s reading, which was extremelly helpful to me at this time.  YA FATTAH!!!  WAHIDUDDIN!

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?


“We need to do practices with knowledge and awareness.” Amma also explained how
the Ma-Om meditation was discovered. When she was small, she used to walk on
the beach. The ebb and tide of the waves sounded like Ma and Om to Amma. Ma-Om
became like the breath, continuous and automatic. Thus, every step on the beach
was meditation.

Indicating that there is no point in changing the type of practices, Amma
pointed out how impatient we are. “People are so impatient. They jump into
sudden conclusions. A bird was sitting in a harbor and wanted to go to the other
side. It saw a ship and thinking that the ship will take it to the other side of
the harbor, flew to the mast and perched on it. The ship started on its course
and in some time was far out in the sea. As time passed, the bird got impatient
and started flying in the north hoping to reach land. After a time it got tired
and flew back. Later it tried flying south. It had to come back, it was getting
exhausted. The bird then tried east and west and seeing no land had to return
back to the ship each time. Only when the ship neared the other harbor, could
the bird see land, and shortly thereafter they reached the shore. If the bird
had been patient, it would have anyways reached the land with the ship without
flying hither and thither.

Amma concluded by explaining, “Likewise, true happiness is already within us. Be
steadfast in your practice. Practice regularly. When the awareness grows, we
will merge into that reality, that happiness within us.”

from http://www.amritapuri.org/8287/mantra-maom.aum

Recently, I was talking with a friend who, like me, has practiced meditation for many years.  We agreed that there is a point at which one begins to feel rather as if one has “gotten it,” and feels less of an imperative to practice “religiously,” keeping to a rigorous schedule and lengthy practices.  It is also true that, over time, we tend to find, more and more, the “guru within,” and we become gradually competent to fly “solo.”  In other words, we become our own teachers, and we feel–just a little–as if we are starting to know what we’re doing.  Let me hasten to add, here, that if the above isn’t really true, if one is being beguiled by the ego and not anywhere near this point, these feelings can be a trap.  This is but one of many reasons I continue to believe it is necessary to have an earthly teacher or guide, someone to hold up the mirror of truth that the sincere seeker needs to consult regularly.  And it can be a trap anyway, as my friend pointed out.  He said that if left to his own devices, he does indeed continue to practice, but that he gradually lets other things get in the way, and eventually finds himself getting in a good meditation session maybe twice a week.  He pointed out that it’s like living on interest, rather than increasing one’s capital.  Something like that.  I think he is quite right, and have found this for myself, because rebel that I am, I actually took a “sabbatical” of some ten years, from my spiritual community and my roles as both student and guide.  In theory, I didn’t include practice in my “sabbatical,” but I did indeed begin to slack off, and eventually found myself in pretty bad shape, because life will teach us when we don’t avail ourselves of an easier, gentler way, which to me is contemplative practice.  As Matthew 11 in the Holy Bible says,

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

My old friend Himayat Inayati used to say that Jesus meant that his “burden” is, literally, LIGHT.  Yes, indeed.  But I have had problems with faith throughout my life, which is common to children of hurt parents, and I tried to go it alone.  I was fortunate in that I had already been taken pretty far up the ladder, but there was still that hurt inner child that was afraid of the surrender necessary to go all the way.  And I suffered for it.  My life’s teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, said that there is a fundamental choice that must be made by people like me:  I can either be pushed by the past or pulled by the future.  Ah, but how to get away from that eternal SHOVE and live into the lovely, thrilling, gentle tug that takes us on into the eternal?  It wasn’t easy for me, even though I already did have some capital in the bank.

Becoming very ill and disabled was a result, for me, of that ongoing push from the past, and it pushed me right up against….me.  There was nowhere else to go.

For several months now, I have been studying the teachings of Inayat Khan weekly with a good friend, via Skype, and that has been a new beginning for me.  It is really the Sufi practice of losing the false self first in the teacher, then in the Master, and eventually in God.  Through these progressive attunements, one makes oneself open to the teaching and then, to the very being of the One it all comes from.  A Light burden indeed!  And doing this led me to a re-commitment to practice, and I began giving myself over to practice at least twice a day, going right back to the beginning when it was like doing calisthenics for the beginner:  at first, you have to do them “just right,” and if you eventually trip up by not doing so, you have to go back and pick up where you left off.

It worked.  The Sufis have a profound psychological and spiritual practice as outlined in the 99  Beautiful Names of God, in the Dhikr that is the remembrance of the way God (we) really is/are.  There are various other practices with breath and light and sound, but these are the two central practices, and they work.

No, I have not levitated–yet.

Yet there are glimmers, in my own personal process of alchemy, that as I gradually give up my attachment to my temporal self, the one that jumpa up and down and clamors for this and that and feels oh, so hurt over this, and Grrrr!  So Angry!!! over that, that this push from behind that I spoke of lessens, and I can slide gently onward into the pull that awaits.

The spiritual path is easiest if there is not something pulling one from behind; and that force is the life in the world, one’s friends, surroundings, acquaintances, and one’s foes. Remain, therefore, in the world as a traveler making a station on his way. Do all the good you can to serve and succor humanity, but escape attachment. By this in no way will you prove to be loveless. On the contrary, it is attachment which divides love, and love raised above attachment is like a rain from above nourishing all the plants upon the earth.  ~~Inayat Khan

I sustained a great blow recently.  I realized that I had to end my relationship with someone I love very much (and her child, therefore), but who has problems with living and had long been in the habit of targeting me with her pain and sorrow over herself.  In a mistaken belief that I was somehow responsible for allowing this kind of treatment from this person, I had allowed myself to become so debilitated by her rage and misery that I was becoming more and more ill.  I had tried, for many years, to realize this–had known it all along:  that I was not helping her, nor was I helping myself in allowing myself to be scapegoated in this way, and I resolved–for about the 100th time–to end the relationship, at least in terms of our physical association.  It seems to me that there are times when this is necessary in the closest of relationships, for both parties, but it was extremely painful for me.  I thought I would die from the pain, in fact.

Pir Vilayat once said to a group of his students that if we really knew what love is–truly is–we would be annihilated in our understanding.  I think life offers us the opportunity to learn about love, even to these heights, if we desire to.  As my Murshid says above, “love raised above attachment is like a rain from above nourishing all the plants upon the earth.”  It seems that there are times when to love in this way means giving up one’s personal needs for affiliation, for closeness, for friendship…and the result is that at least one more roadblock in the path of love is removed.

So:  practice.  Practice deeply, ceaselessly, with devotion and without ambition.  It doesn’t matter what the practice is, what matters is to develop the soul-power, to grow the soul along with the body and the mind.  The rest follows.


The heart which is not struck by the sweet smiles of an infant is still asleep.  –Inayat Khan

There must be a lot of new grandmothers out there, because when I first wrote a post called “Becoming a Grandmother,” it quickly became the most popular post I’ve written here.  It makes sense, because other than pretty little photo albums and “grandmother’s brag books,” I don’t suppose there are many people out there exploring what it means to be a grandma.  Yet, it really is a whole new category of mothering, spiritually speaking.

The little darling whose picture is here as an infant is now nearly three years old, and I find my relationship with her to become deeper and yet lighter every day.  I worry about her almost as much as I did my own daughters, I find, yet the “Mommy dynamics,” so omnipresent in the mother-daughter relationship, seem to be missing.  She’s a toddler, of course, and as much a pain in the ass as other toddlers, yet I have a sense of friendship with her, which I imagine is different than the feelings her mother has; she must worry and fret and discipline and clean up vomit and pick up toys and do all the things mothers do ad nauseum.  I remember all that with her and her sister, and I remember that some days it was hard to find the sense of wonder that Grandma can access rather easily these days.

Such a little person!  I often wonder whence the soul comes who comes to earth with the unique purpose that all of us do.  In the case of this one, she already shows evidence of being a healer:  a few weeks ago, she discovered my knees.  If you have waded through all my posts here, you know that I had both knees replaced in the last year, and suffered from repeated infections that necessitated repeated surgeries and even the removal of one knee for some weeks.  When Lily saw my rather horrible-looking healing knees, she was shocked.  She quickly collected several pieces of equipment to assist her, and she set about healing my knees:  she shined a flashlight on them, she made “drilling” sounds with something else, and all in all, seemed to be intent on making Grandma’s knees better.  My daughter tells me that at the playground last week, Lily met a little boy who had some mnor health problem, and became very concerned.  She offered to kiss his wound, and told him he must go to the doctor.  Little episodes such as these are occurring with increasing frequency.

My daughter has some problems with living, as most of us do;  and she told me that one morning, Lily took her face in her little hands and asked her, very concernedly, “Mom, are you happy?”  When she was answered, “Yes, I am happy,” the baby cheered, very excited for Mom.  Toddlehood is the age of healthy narcissism, and it seems rather extraordinary to me that this little girl is so capable of being concerned for others.

Who knows where such behaviors come from?  Whatever one’s conception of the soul’s journey to and from incarnation, we are all different, and seem to arrive with different talents and gifts and, sometimes, deficits.  It is so easy for us, as parents, to both congratulate and blame ourselves for what our children become, yet my impression is that they bring most of who they are with them.  That lets us, as parents, off the hook, but it also means we have the responsibility to see our children as unique human beings, not carbon copies of ourselves.

It is such a blessing to be part of this little soul’s blossoming.  It is a privilege that we, as her family, are her tribe, the ones who have her back.  She is her very own miracle, and we love sharing the unfoldment of that with her.


As for people, it seems that even the birds and beasts have times when they concentrate. They meditate, in their own way, and they offer their prayer to God. There is no being on earth, however small, who does not contemplate for a moment. If one’s sight were keen, one would also see, by sitting in the solitary woods or by sitting in caves in the mountains, that they all have their prayer and their at-one-ment with God. Why do the great ones, the souls who do not find rest and peace in the midst of the world, go to the wilderness? It is in order to breathe the breath of peace and calm that comes to them in the heart of the wilderness.  –Inayat Khan

No one attains peace by fighting.  — Inayat Khan

Possibly the greatest gift that has come to me in this past year of pain and boredom is peace.  I need a great deal of it.  I revel in it, I absorb it, I try to radiate it:  it is more necessary to me than the food I eat or the air I breathe.  C.G. Jung wrote extensively about his own perception of  psychological types, differentiating people between introverted and extroverted, first, and then into variations of these.  From those early writings, all sorts of systems of classification have arisen, culminating in the famed Myers-Briggs test that theoretically enables one to decide which category one falls into, and then compare themselves with famous people who also fall into that category.  As to whether such scales are accurate probably lies in whether they are useful to the individual, and I’m not particularly interested in them, although I do find it interesting that I appear to fall into the same categories as Jung himself:  I am an introvert who is good at appearing to be extroverted; I am intuitive, and I am feeling; I can be extremely mental, and certainly analytical, yet base my final conclusions on my perceptions, which come to me intuitively.  It is the first of these that I find the most interesting:  that when in a crowd, I seem to do just fine at holding my own; I am a teacher by nature, and I am a person with a mission in life.  Interestingly, however, all this must live side-by-side with what I consider to be the “real” me, who is quiet and rather shy, needs a great deal of “down” time, is a fantasizer and a visionary, and a natural contemplative.  I have often said that if life did not present me with a marriage and family, I would be in a monastery somewhere, living a deeply satisfying inner life.  A friend told me that I am a “sensitive,” one of those who lives an inner life and contributes to the world from that standpoint, rather than wading into the fray and fighting their way through life.  I haven’t always allowed myself to be who I am:  like most Americans, my belief tends to be that I ought to be out there, slugging away and doing, doing, doing.  Having come to the culmination of some clearly stress-related physical problems, I now question this belief, and am working to find a way to be both sides of myself.

It is interesting to observe people and watch how they accomplish their ends in life.  I have someone in my family who says he believes in fighting about everything, and if the other person refuses to fight with him, he does not respect them.  That is an interesting (and to me, exhausting) example of the extroverted type, eh?  I suppose he would be termed a warrior type.  In a sense, of course, we must all be warriors, although some of us fight the battle within, rather than trying to gain our ends through warring with others.

The Tarot provides one of the best systems of illustration of psychological types I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure Dr. Jung must have agreed, for here, in this deck which has survived for centuries, popping up in various cultures and times, we have, in the Major Arcana, beautiful descriptions and representations of some 22 types of humans:  for the extroverts, we have the Emperor and Empress, for the Introverts, the High Priestess, the Hierophant, the Hermit. . .   And then there are all the variations of personalities that arises from these:  the Fool, the Hanged Man, the Judge, etc.  There is another way to look at these that makes sense in a broader fashion, as well:

As I understand it, the soul manifests out of the Divine Unity, God undifferentiated, and on its way toward incarnation, it passes through all the realms of being, from the realm of Splendor, through the various angelic realms, then to the Jinn and Astral planes, and finally, before the culmination of its journey, literally through the realms of animal, vegetable and mineral existence.  Thus, the soul comes to earth, its ultimate test, with all these influences, more or less impressed with each according to the interests and attunements it develops on its journey.  Accordingly, it makes its return journey with the influences it is impressed by here on earth.  Jung said that the archetypes, these illuminations of the impressions we gather in the creation of personality, are actually eternal and unchanging, even though our perceptions of them change, thus rendering them dynamic as well as fixed in eternity.  Thus, I am thinking of how these types I mentioned above apply to our identifications with these archetypes, and how our consideration of them may be useful to us at the various crossroads that we come to.  They are useful in contemplative practice, as well.  For instance, I suppose my identification has been with the Hermit increasingly, in the past year, and now I feel as if I am coming into the Fool, stepping off my self-created precipice into sheer, empty space, my eyes fixed on my ideal, my arms outspread and my heart wide open.  The Fool represents the original being of God emerging into human form, prior to cause and effect, to karma or memories, no past, only openness stretching ahead.  The Fool is a being of faith, first and foremost, because he knows no other than the Friend, peace, that presence that is always within, at hand, the ethereal air we breath and the dirt beneath our feet on the road of life.

As I was writing all this, my dogs made it known to me that they wished to go out, and it wasn’t their “time,” but I got up and let them out and was drawn out to sit on my deck, where the Friend pulled me quickly into that embrace wherein all is the song of the birds, the sound within sound, the peace within peace.  I am grateful.

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.
Rumi, Kulliyat-i-Shams 2667

Indifference and Detachment

Indifference and independence are the two wings which enable the soul to fly.  —  Inayat Khan

Indifference and independence are two words that those of us imprinted by the Judeo-Christina culture  put a spin on that causes them to sound rather uncaring or, in the case of independence, unconnected.  I think women, in particular, live their lives in ‘connection mode,’ the perspective that everything originates and culminates in relationship, and I think that is true, although not in the way it might seem, at first, to be. But one at a time:

I told, in an earlier entry here, about a dream I had (one of those dreams that is not a dream) about my Murshid, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, who came to me and explained the true meaning of indifference to me:  indifference, he said, can only come from being completely and utterly in love.  This was a revelation to me, as I would have thought that indifference meant not caring.  But it’s true:  if one loves utterly, then one is indifferent to the other, because no matter what happens, no matter what the other person does, one sees only love.  My younger daughter demonstrated this to me recently, when in one of those “do I look ugly in this dress” trips women put themselves through, I said to her “I know why your father thinks I’m wonderful no matter how I look, but you say the same, and I’m sure you must notice my imperfections…”  And she just shrugged and said, “You’re just my mother, and I love you.”  And there we have it:  those who truly love us see only love.  This is why, I learned in a psychology class, children forget what their parents look like very quickly if they happen to die:  they didn’t see what the world saw, they saw only the face of love.  Perhaps our children teach us our first and last lessons in love, because one learns, as a parent, that there is no love so glorious, so horrible, powerful, and obsessive as the love one has for one’s child.  When our children are young, we are imprisoned in a love and protectiveness that are powerfully intense.   Yet if we use those feelings to learn to  love well, that love become transmuted into the deepest love that could exist on this earth, and complete indifference to what the child does, because whatever they do must be what they need to do.  I have been discussing recently, with some friends, the generation of parents that came before us, the one that learned “spare the rod and spoil the child” from their parents, and believed that giving their children whole approval and whole love would somehow “spoil” them.  With my children, I have found it to be completely the opposite, and although it was hard to grow up with such unforgiving and sometimes cruel parents, I feel more sorry for them that they missed the joy of true love with their children.

So, indifference:  to be able to love so completely as to be uncaring, detached from the actions of the object of one’s love.  Wherever it starts, whatever or whoever one loves completely, it seems that the next step would be to spread this love out to encompass all one’s relationships and finally, the world.  How could we have a problem with anyone if we love this much?  It sounds a bit daunting, though, to learn to love so much, because that degree of love might be seen as annihilating in its totality:  if I love that much, will there be anything left of me?  That is the pivotal stop on the road to true love.

In order to arrive at spiritual attainment two gulfs must be crossed: the sea of attachment and the ocean of detachment.  –Inayat Khan

I remember when I was young, spiritual attainment meant developing the ability to reach “high” states of consciousness, to be someone with an atmosphere that said to people “this is a holy woman.”  It didn’t take long, however, to learn that on this plane of existence, attainment means falling on love so completely that there is nothing but the beloved.  When I was that young, I saw the beloved in my children, my friends, my husband, my teacher….yet I learned, finally, that to do justice to that love so terrible in its intensity and its promise, I had to learn to love the whole world that reflected itself in my beloveds.  I thought that indifference and detachment meant a withdrawal from the world, and learned that it meant the complete opposite.

...Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. –Pema Chodron

Indifference and detachment are the end of love-longing  They are the mountain paths we follow to get there.

Hanging in


Recently, a friend mentioned that he’d been checking frequently here to find out how I was since I last posted, because he was concerned about my condition and thought that if I had stopped addressing my fans (both of you!), things must be really rough.  It occurred to me, then, that it really had been a long time since I’d written anything, and somehow this seems significant, as nearly everything does these days… and so here I am.

Well, it has been rough, and although the worst is over (I hope), the climb back up is taking quite a long time and is fairly hard.  Not knowing exactly what I’m climbing back up to is also rough, but rather interesting.  As to the details of this particular adventure, I had mentioned in my last post that, having had successful surgery to replace one knee, I had the other one replaced, only to incur an infection that kept returning and kept taking me back to the operating room, the last time to remove the “new” knee and replace it with an antibiotic “spacer” which would allow for healing, so that the knee could be replaced again.  This meant that I had to spent approximately two months in bed, as I was not supposed to bend my leg or put any weight on it, and I have never had an experience quite like that before.  It was quite painful to accomplish the little movement I was allowed (trips to the bathroom and such), and even more painful was the boredom of immobility.  I spent the time writing, reading, working on my computer, communicating with friends and doing my best to make the time count for something.  In the end, I think it did count for something, but not exactly what I’d first thought, and I am still sorting it out.  In mid-December, the new knee was put in, and hopefully that will be my last surgery.   Now I get to assess it all, while I try to put back together a life that was put on hold nearly a year ago, although at the time I told myself it would be six months at the most.  These experiences are accompanied by some trauma, as might be expected, although I am one of those people who tends to just grit my teeth and tell myself I’ll be fine while the process is taking place, and it is only afterward that I realize I am left with numerous unresolved feelings about the whole thing.  These come under several categories:  first, there is the mainstream medical profession, and the “helpers” that accompany its work.  I have been inclined, as an adult, to steer clear of allopathic doctors, and this major surgery was my first brush with them since my first child was born some 30 years ago.  I do not recommend it, overall, although if one truly needs them it’s good that they are there.  And surgery seems a more appropriate recourse–if necessary–than much of what counts for healing these days.  I needed to have surgery, and I’m glad I did it, but I wish all my holistic and alternative measures had prevented it.  Still, having done all I could on my own, it’s good that I was able to feel that I had no other choice.  Before it was over, I went through three doctors before finding one that I felt actually cared about me as a person and truly wanted to heal me rather than just collect my medicare dollars, and it was instructive to find the courage to take care of myself by doing so.  It paid off, finally, but I wish I’d found that courage earlier.  Then there were the “helpers,” the “little people,” the “mid-level professionals” who took care of the details the doctors left to them, and I learned much about healing and human nature from them.  Some of them became real friends, some of them just didn’t care, and some of them seemed to need my help more than I needed theirs, which is always interesting.  While in the hospital, I noticed myself doing more therapy than was done for me, and I was glad if I could help, but I did wonder about it.

Second, there was the effect of all this on the instrument of my embodiment–my body–and that is both interesting and depleting.  In one of my favorite books, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Pinkola-Estes speaks of the body as the sensor and recorder of all our experience.  My body went through quite an invasion, and it held up admirably, but I am tired, and I often wonder if I’ll ever get back my former energy.  On the other hand, such an experience leaves one realizing that one only gets so many chances on this plane, and I’d better get the lead out–literally and figuratively–if I want to wind things up in any organized and complete fashion before this phase is over.  So I tell myself that this is an admirable priority to hold just now, and I do my exercises faithfully and wait for the return of chi, libido, energy, moxie, all of the above.

Going deeper:  I have the strange sense that this entire experience somehow marks a transition in my modus operandi, which to this point has been largely characterized by shoulds. I should do this, I should do that, I should do it this way, it is my responsibility to do a,b, and c.  Such attitudes are characteristic of adults who grew up in chaotic homes of one kind and another, people who had to do their own parenting, and thus became perfectionists in the attempt to merely keep themselves alive as children.  I notice that this time of life seems to mark a change from that sort of attitude and one that says “how do I want to do it from now on?”  After all, I am a white-haired old lady now, and it seems that this is my time to begin to kick up my heels and thumb my nose at all the nay-sayers who want me to affirm their own positions about life, the universe and…whatever.  And why not?  I tried doing it “their” way, and that only got me so far.

I find that I have begun a process of reflective living, a kind of contemplative style of being that has few shoulds other than the internal ones, one that is actually the one I would have chosen in the first place had I felt I had the choice.  It seems to me that there is a need to find a way to live this, so that my direction in the future will be clearer.  One thing that I am able to acknowledge for myself now is my need for quiet, for loneliness, for silence.  It seems absolutely necessary that I allow myself these in the course of my day.  For someone who has followed  a contemplative path, this ought to be self-evident, but perhaps there are levels, or rings as one goes down into the silence and spins soul.  So whatever I do in the future, I think it will be done largely from my home, my own “dervish well,” where I can hear the truth in silence:

Greatness is in humility; wisdom is in modesty; success is in sacrifice; truth is in silence. Therefore the best way of doing the work is to do all we can, do it thoroughly, do it wholeheartedly, and do it quietly.  –Inayat Khan

In the Hindu religion, traditionally one passes through the numerous stages of life very consciously:  the life of a child, of a student, a householder, retirement and finally, taking up the mantle of an ascetic.  Each of these is preceded by a samskara, a ritual to mark the passing from one stage into another.  In my case, I suspect my samskara was the health crisis I have just passed through, which is ushering me into a deeper quiet, a deeper work.  “Do what you love, the money will follow,” the saying goes, and we will see, because in the world I live in, material needs and obligations must still be met.  Yet,

. . .  what is most necessary is to connect the outward action with the inward journey, the harmony of which certainly will prove to be a cause of ease and comfort. This is meant in saying that one must have harmony within oneself. And once this harmony is established, one begins to see the cause of all things more than one sees it in its absence.  –Inayat Khan

This need for even more silence heals and inspires me, ushering me into the next reality.  It takes me beyond the reach of all the voices that clamor for my attention, urging me to accept their realities, while allowing me to love those voices:

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things. –Tao te Ching

I can be content with not knowing and healing, healing and not knowing.  I am the Hanged [Wo]Man, “being still in order to learn the secret to freeing myself.” (See above)