A Country Between

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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

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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.”

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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.

Mercury?

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.

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Symptoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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