Goddesses Unaware

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

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

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

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

The Beautiful Names


At the end of a crazy-moon night
the love of God rose.
I said, “It’s me, Lalla.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

     Bringing the head down to the chest,


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


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


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

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

But is there an end?



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