A Prayer in Spring

I admit it, I’m hooked on Facebook.  Once upon a time, it worried me, that addiction, but now it’s been long enough that it’s not an addiction.  Hey, I could quit anytime!!  Facebook is a way to keep in touch with friends all over the world.  It’s also an excellent venue for reading between the lines and sharpening my perception of what’s really going on with old friends.  But again, I digress.

This morning, I slept in, and my lovely husband brought me a cup of tea when I woke up, and I said “So what’s new?”

“The grass is growing, the birds are chirping, the Westies are rolling around and playing and having a wonderful time.  Let’s not read the news today.  Let’s just enjoy our own reality.”

And it’s true, of course, there is so much more going on that what we read in the media, and none of it is considered newsworthy.  But we can live in a world where the horror of dishonesty and lies mounts daily, and worry about what is going to happen to this country, and we really should, at least sometimes, at least long enough to write our letters and make our donations…but we should also look up into the trees, look down to see the tulips coming up, accept the enthusiastic kisses that come our way (our Westie Ollie is a champion at this), and feel the joy in the Spring Air.  God is right here, as near as our jugular vein.

In the midst of all this, I did habitually tune into Facebook, and one of my personal heros, Dad Rather, was right with us synchronistically:

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil. – Robert Frost

Even as we speak, the bees hum, the flowers bloom, and the birds take flight. Our precious world is fragile, however, and I hope we learn a lesson from this horrific virus that we must take science more seriously.

The same voices that called the coronavirus a hoax and told us we had nothing to worry about say the same thing about our climate crisis. But we know better, and we need to do everything we can to protect our Earth, the only home we have, so that future generations can marvel in the bounty and beauty of spring.

I know these are dark days. I feel the tragedy heavy on the heart. But let us also find the light and peace that can come with hope. Courage. I’ll see you again soon. – Dan Rather

My beloved teacher Pir Vilayat used to say that we ought to work to perceive that which transpires behind that which appears.  That which transpires is all aound us.  Let’s go with that.  I thank God for those who undertake to uplift us, to hold us in hope and reality.  I love you.

How May I Serve?

In a position of utter desolation, when [wo]man cannot express her/himself in positive action, when one’s only achievement may consist in enduring one’s sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position [wo]man can, through loving contemplation of the image s/he carries of the beloved, achieve fulfillment. – Viktor E. Frankl (edited for gender inclusiveness)

Most of us are sitting around at home, trying to figure out how not to kill our partners (and, I’m sure, alternately enjoying them), and I am no different.  In fact, I am going through a major adjustment, because my husband lost his job prior to our own state “lockdown,” and while it’s certainly an adjustment having him home all the time, I am so thankful, ugly as the situation was.  My husband was working as a hospice chaplain and traveling across ten counties, going into homes and nursing homes where people are ill, and he would have had to continue doing that, but now he doesn’t have to.  At his age, we are considering moving toward early retirement, and we think we can pull it off, although that may be wishful thinking.  But I digress.

How may I serve?  Awhile back, I wrote a little piece on the topic of exactly that,  for an Indian e-zine, focusing on the difference between action and contemplation.  It must be around here somewhere, if I find it, I’ll post it on the “Papers” page.  I well remember sitting in front of my dearest father, friend and life’s teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, and hearing him speak of, for instance, rishis in the Himalayas, who spend their lives in solitude and meditation, and who have a huge impact on the affairs of the world, serving as few of us are able to serve in our active lives.  I have found myself in a position to emulate them to some degree, although even when one is ill and living a fairly solitary life, there is always something to draw one into one’s very own self-constructed rat race…and so it goes.

Still.  How I think I can serve is in focusing on my daily meditations, being quiet and praying.  I find that there are many who attend my meditations, and I am well aware of them arriving right on time every day (even when I am not), although I mostly can’t see them.  This is spoken of by the contemplatives of all mystical traditions:  we don’t know how many souls we are upholding by the power of our meditation, and we need to remember that.  Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan says that the reason for trying to meditate at the same time every day is because then the souls who want to be there will know to be there at that time.  I wish I could reference these thoughts, but they are, by now, such a part of me that they are mine, treasures given me long ago.

So at this time, this is how I serve.  I don’t get to see a published survey showing whether it works or not, but I can only assume that, given the condition of my own soul, which is linked inextricably with all souls, that it is a good thing to do.

Join me.  I love you.

Another remembrance

I am a recovering person in two different 12-Step communities, both outgrowths of the original Alcoholics Anonymous.  I have loved that path for many years, worked with it professionally and personally, and considered it an important adjunct to my own Sufi path.  I remember years ago when my life’s teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, was introduced to this work, and said “Why it’s so much like Sufism it might as well be Sufism!”  Indeed, because this healing path is derivative of all the great esoteric systems of the world’s religions and is an inspired gift to those suffering from addictions and the effects of addictions in their families.  It is a simple path, simply followed.  One of its two founders, Bill W., said this is all it takes:

Burn the idea into the consciousness of every [wo]man that s/he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that s/he trust in God and clean house.” (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Perhaps you are old enough to be familiar with my all-time favorite television series, China Beach. It’s about the Vietnam war (during which I grew up), and in our family we pull the discs out and watch them every few years, because we find the series to be profoundly moving, a meditation itself.  One of the main actors in it is Jeff Kober, who played Dodger. He’s a well-known actor and has been in many other things, but he also–interestingly–teaches Vedic meditation. I’m a committed meditator of many years, and I love the daily newsletter I get from his organization. In yesterday’s newsletter, he speaks of the interconnectedness of all being, and points out our constant opportunity to act from the standpoint of who we really are, or from our “mistaken” identities. He cites Alcoholics Anonymous as a good example of this (yes, he is a recovering alcohlic and addict). He says:

“There is a beautiful example of this in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. The power of this twelve-step program is based in the singleness of purpose of the members of the program. All that matters is that everyone is trying to stay sober today. There is an acceptance of anyone and everyone, so long as they are willing at least to lend lip service to this common goal. The result is that a field of unconditional love is formed, in spite of the broken nature of the personalities involved, and all things that may work against this field of unconditional love are at least momentarily set aside. It is this field of unconditional love that lends alcoholics the ability to not drink, something that on their own was not possible. This is the ‘power greater than oneself’ that is necessary to overcome the power of the substance of alcohol.

This singleness of purpose is such a precious (as well as life or death) commodity that discussions of religion and politics, those subjects that can be most fraught with the danger of separation via difference of opinion, are by general consensus commonly avoided. People of wildly disparate political and/or religious views behave as brothers and sisters without ever a thought as to their differences. Of course judgment of others abounds, as it does in any gathering of humans, but it is not lent any credence. It is, in effect and in actuality, trumped every time by the common intention of everyone involved, and so the opportunity to heal remains available to anyone and everyone who chooses to seek it out.” (Jeff Kober, http://jeffkobermeditation.com)

It occurs to me that our common pain and bewilderment at the shock of this horrific earth plane of ours carries the opportunity to reach out to other parts of ourselves, simply because we eventually realize that all people are really just like us, struggling and weeping with the pain and injustice of living, doing their best to grow back into themselves. I have often said to newcomers in the other 12-Step fellowship I belong to “Yes, we’re all crazy here, don’t worry, no one will judge you.” And by and large, it’s true.  Jeff points out that in “the rooms,” as they are often called, judgment is inevitable, but “not lent credence.” (Kober)   In other words, gradually each of us learns to see ourselves in the Other, to mind our own side of the street while sharing compassion and solidarity.  Kober goes on to say,

“We, too, always have this as an option. At any time we have the power to set aside our individuality and embrace our unity. This field of unconditional love and the possibility of miracles always is awaiting us. It is in fact what we are in our deepest self. We simply must be willing to let go of the ideas of separation that stand in the way of our experience of it.” (Jeff Kober)

As someone who grew up with the “all is one” New Age rhetoric of what I sometimes humorously call the “Baba Ram Das Era,” it strikes me that in our common suffering, we are united in doing globally important work.  Just think: this is exactly what our search for wholeness means, because we can only find ourselves in other ourselves.

In this sense, our work affects all beings. Who knew?

With Us in Love

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My joy —
My Hunger —
My Shelter —
My Friend —
My Food for the journey —
My journey’s End —
You are my breath,
My hope,
My companion,
My craving,
My abundant wealth.
Without You — my Life, my Love —
I would never have wandered across these endless countries.
You have poured out so much grace for me,
Done me so many favors, given me so many gifts —
I look everywhere for Your love —
Then suddenly I am filled with it.
O Captain of my Heart
Radiant Eye of Yearning in my breast,
I will never be free from You
As long as I live.
Be satisfied with me, Love,
And I am satisfied.

–Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya, 7th Century Sufi Saint

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“With you in love,” that’s how she always signed her letters, to me, at least.  And every year, she would send out a group Valentine’s Day letter, because she couldn’t seem to get around to doing Christmas cards.  She even had a little “heart” stamp, the heart being her favorite symbol, and Valentine’s Day being her favorite holiday.

“She” was Rabia.  Several great souls have left these environs lately, and all of them have been dear to some, many to all.  Now one of my oldest and dearest friends, Rabia, has departed, yet the legacy she left behind her is one of such breadth of feeling and love that it is self-evident that she is one of the great ones who made so much love while she was here that she will never truly leave.  She was a person and she was a saint, and the reason I know she was a saint is because if she knew she had been called that, she would have gotten a good laugh out of it and said something to the effect of “let’s get on with it; what do we need to do next?”

Rabia and I were brought together because of the Sufi order we both gave our lives to, a phrase that sounds too dramatic, but is in fact true.  She was, in fact, my very first Sufi friend.  I met her when I was about 20 years old, because I had been searching for Sufism since I was about 16 and first saw my teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, on a televised interview.  At that time, I had not the slightest idea what a “guru” was, what meditation was, or not much at all about Sufism, although I had read Gibran and done such research as I was able to in rural West Virginia.  But I Early Pirsaw this man dressed in these terribly impressive wool robes, youngish then, and with short hair, clean-shaven (that changed shortly), and I thought “I belong to that man.”  I didn’t know what that meant, either, but that is what I thought.  I think the word “disciple” flashed through my mind…that did mean something to me, so I must have had some innate idea.  However, it was not until I left home and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, that I began to search earnestly for the Sufis, with this man’s image in the back of my mind.  One day, it happened:  I saw a newspaper article about a seminar at the local Unity church that this man was giving, and I saw that I could at least attend a public lecture at the end of it.  So I went to that, and was blown away, still not quite understanding what was happening to me.

Months later, Pir Vilayat came through again for a seminar, and I attempted to register for it, but for some reason, there was “no room” for me on one of the days, but there was on the first.  So I went, and I started asking people about the Sufis, because it was the Theosophical Society that was sponsoring the seminar.  People kept telling me “Talk to Mary Jeanne!”  And someone pointed her out.  She was still pretty young then, and she was a “looker.”  Fashionable, beautiful, rather intimidating to this then-hippie of limited wardrobe.  I approached her, though, and got my first explosion of the light she radiated:

We were both headed toward the ladies’ room at that time, and I told her what I was looking for.  She wasn’t quite sure where to point me, and we went into our respective stalls and while we peed, she told me about both the Sufis and the local Theosophical Society.  She said “you’ll have to decide which you want,” and I immediately said, heart in mouth, “Oh, I want to be a Sufi!”  We were emerging from our stalls by then, and I will never forget her swooping down on me like some splendid archangel, because she HEARD me.  From that time, she took me under her wing, and from that time, we were into and out of each other’s lives with fair regularity.  She took me to my first Universal Worship and it was there that I met my first initiator, Ann Nicholas, one of the other great souls who came into my life before I was old enough to appreciate them.  Rabia also made sure I met Shamcher Bryn Beorse, one of my two life’s teachers.  I met him in Rabia’s backyard, where Shamcher–possibly to teach me a good lesson–gave me a mind-blowing initiation that put me through astonishing “trips” for years.  But that’s a story for another time.  The point is that Rabia was my fairy godmother, always, although she would have snorted at that idea.

I stayed at her house when I later left that area but would come back to visit, we wrote letters, we often met up at what we euphemestically called “Sufi Camps” in those days, retreats in nature that took place all over the world.  I have done retreats in the French Alps, in New Mexico, in California in the desert, in the upper loft of an abandoned carriage house in Boston . . .  But most of the ones I (and she) attended were at the Abode of the Message, in its old Shaker Village setting in upper New York state.

What I remember about Rabia (the “Sufi” name she eventually received, I assume from Pir Vilayat, who gave me my name, Amidha) is that she was always busy.  She never had time for gossip or backbiting or politics (at least in my experience), and she never had time to criticize anyone.  At the same time, she wanted to know everything about everyone, and when we met, we would exchange everything we knew about everyone we knew.  Marriages, divorces, births, all were fair game, and more, but I never once heard her to be unkind about anyone.  Once, when we had known each other for well over ten years by then, we both showed up at a Sufi leader’s retreat in Ocate, New Mexico.  Rabia had married a wonderful man named Nick Longworth, and I think he was rather puzzled by these peculiar Sufis, because it was not his thing.  But Rabia WAS his thing, and if she wanted to take their RV to the mountains and park it and go on retreat, then that was what they were going to do.

12540545_1200536086641019_7286459845844297892_nNow, an alchemical retreat, the way most of us do it in this order, is generally taken in silence, in the wilderness.  This was quite a historic retreat, for many reasons, and ordinarily I would have observed silence, but Rabia and Nick were parked on the outside of the camp area (most people brought tents), and I’m not entirely sure what they did during the days of the retreat, but I imagine she tried to divide her time between him and his reasonable desire for sightseeing, and the retreat.  I just knew that Rabia, extrovert that she was, would want to talk, and so I observed silence during the hours of the retreat, and in the evenings, I would walk over to where they were camping and talk to Rabia.  I remember her expressing guilt that I was breaking silence for her, but I said that it was a privilege, so she let it go, and we chatted happily.  I remember that, toward the time of my departure back to Tennessee, where I lived then, I realized that I was running out of money.  I was a single mother, and I lived pretty close to the bone.  I went to Rabia and guiltily asked her if I could borrow $100 from her, and she gave it to me, and I paid it back eventually.  I remember another time, during those lean years, when I was flat broke, and out of the blue, she sent me some cash, saying “I just have a feeling I owe you some money, let me know if this isn’t enough.”  I doubt that she owed me one thin dime, but golly!  I needed those few bucks, and they came exactly when I needed them.

Rabia and I often lost touch with each other, because we were both gypsies, but we 10685617_729721503744266_3962312442042615671_n
always found each other again:  “Darn it, where are you?” a letter to some address would be forwarded, asking.  Then came my “lost years,” at least lost to the Sufi Order, because it was at that Ocate camp that I began to realize that I had climbed the mountain of God leaving all my baggage at its foot, and was going to have to go back and fetch it and decide what to do with it.  I withdrew from the Sufi Order International for a good ten or so years, during which I went to college and grad school and went to live in Alaska.  During that time, Nick having died, Rabia went to live at the Abode of the Message, which I suspect she had always wanted to do.  She never could get enough of those Sufis, our Rabia!  She and one of our other “elders” (or fairy godmothers), Aftab, lived at the top of one of those Shaker buildings, four 472035_3266045508930_1494514472_ostories up, as I recall, and neither of them was a spring chicken at that time, but they were the dames de grandes of the Abode.  I sometimes felt anger that the Abode couldn’t get her down to a ground floor (and Aftab, as well), but I also heard that she wouldn’t stand for it.  It was in the days of the Abode when no one had their own bathroom, although Rabia managed one; I never saw it, because the one time I had arranged to go and stay with her, physical problems intervened, and it didn’t happen.

Rabia and I, during that time, shared a similar “knee debacle;”  both of us, as it happened, had knee surgery at the same time, but mine was bilateral, hers just one, and it went well for her.  But that is another sweet memory, because elsewhere here are several accounts of the rather disastrous time I went through severe infection and ultimately multiple surgeries.  What I remember most about that time is that at least once a week, Rabia would call to chat, and always had some beautiful and inspiring passage from some book ready to read to me to encourage and strengthen me.

12512566_10153416172506297_7970818309131271412_nAll these memories span some 40 years of friendship, and they are not necessarily in order, but come as they come.  I cannot say exactly when they took place, but this is what I remember.  And our Rabia was quite the extrovert, and I suspect that these memories of mine will not at all rival the memories of any of her ten thousand friends, because I don’t believe she ever met anyone in her life who was not a friend.

IMG_0350 (1)In her last years at the Abode, tragedy struck:  walking down the road one d
ay, Rabia turned a corner and was hit by a large truck.  I was in North Carolina by that time, so all I know is that she sustained a head injury and nearly died… but didn’t.  Not ready yet, our Rabia.  But from that time on, she had increasingly bad memory problems, and what I remember so poignantly is that she didn’t waste her time on self-pity, but she was terribly embarrassed by her inability to remember simple things:  faces, names, events… yet other things were never forgotten.  After a time, her daughter Julie and family came to the Abode and brought her back to Kentucky, where Julie lived.

Rabia’s family placed her in an assisted-living facility initially, and I think it was hard for her.  Even though she was in her late 80s by then, she was used to freedom and independence, and she really needed to have Sufis around.  There didn’t seem to be too many of those in the city where she was, and even though her family supported her tenderly, it was not her world.  During those early months, I wrote to her, making sure to put lots of pictures and names on my letters, so that she could see who was who.  We would talk on the phone at least twice a week, and on some days, she would feel so lonely that she would call over and over, because my name–Amidha–was at the top of her phone list.  We always answered, and she was always embarrassed, because she thought she was calling her daughter.  I tried to tell her how grateful we were to be able to be there for her, but she didn’t quite “get” that.  Other old friends offered support and visits, but it seemed that things went from bad to worse.  Eventually, it became possible to move Rabia into a house across the street from her family, and round-the-clock care was arranged, including the care of her Sufi friend Mirabai, which was incredibly fortunate for her, and an amazingly  loving thing for Mirabai to do.  Toward the end (or beginning), Rabia was moved across the street into her family’s home, and that is where she ended her days.

The last real time I had with Rabia was when her daughter attended an event near our area, and she brought Rabia to spend the weekend with us.  She was initially a trifle alarmed, I think,  because she couldn’t remember who I was, but I smiled and said “but I know who you are, so who cares?” and she began to relax.  But it was a telling moment, because she was, always, so completely herself that she knew painfully when she could not do “her” work.  I think she didn’t realize that she was still doing it, and that was hard for her.

We had a simply wonderful weekend.  Rabia loved our big barn of a log home, and my daughter told me that at night, when she was supposed to be sleeping under the wonderful duvet she said she loved (I passed her doorway in late afternoon to find her luxuriating in it, saying it was too good to leave), she wandered around, looking at the pictures on our walls, enjoying the space.  She was difficult, in some ways, to entertain, because she was always so “on,” but when I asked her if she was enjoying herself, she said “Oh, I think this is just the highlight of my life!”  And given the life she had lived, I’m sure that was not true, but it was such a typical remark for her to make.  In the mornings, we sat on the porch and read Thomas IMG_3998Merton, and as we read, nodded sagely and exchanged looks of understanding.  It was a communion of heart and soul.  The first afternoon,  we took her to the Nasher Art Museum, and had lunch and saw the exhibits.  She was appalled at the price of her lunch, and grumbled about it for the rest of the afternoon, but she also enjoyed herself thoroughly (as I recall, we spent about $10 on her; we tried to hide the check–really!–but she managed to find out).  Rabia loved to eat, but there were limits!

The best part of that halcyon weekend was when we went to a dramatic recitation of Rumi’s poetry, held in a big, historic church in Greensboro.  That was when the true Rabia, the one I’d always known, came out:  We sat in the pews and she held my hand–if Rabia sat next to you, she was going to hold your hand–and recited the poems by heart, this woman with such memory problems.  She didn’t miss a line.  Perhaps the reality was that Rabia managed to remember the important stuff.  After the performance, we watched Rabia “work the room,” becoming friends with everyone there, affirming her world of friendship.  I remember ecstatic greetings between her and another woman I knew slightly, who remembered her from the Abode.  Afterwards, I asked her, “Did you know who that was?”  She answered, “I never saw her in my life.”  That was our Rabia:  never met anyone who wasn’t a friend.

I have had a recurring dream throughout my life, of a valley where I live with many of the souls I’ve met here, souls I have somehow always known.  On that last morning on our back porch I remembered that Rabia and I came from the same “soul village”… we hadn’t just shared our residency on earth, but in the heavens, in that green, green valley somewhere in the planes.

“I’ll always remember our mornings on the back porch,” and on that particular morning, we went into the early afternoon together, enjoying the sharing of wisdom, while my patient husband waited for us.

When Rabia returned to that village in her version of that valley this past week, Facebook, mailing lists, social media in general exploded with stories of those who adored her.  Everyone had a memory to share, and everyone mourned.  Yet we all knew that our lives had been better for her presence, and were grateful for that.

To my knowledge, she never wrote a book.  She never presented herself as a teacher:  “They know I’m not too good at this; that’s why they give me the beginners.” “Ha!” I thought.  “They give you the beginners because they know that once they’ve hung out with you, they’re hooked for life!”

She once told me that when Pir Vilayat asked her what her last initiation had been, she said “Oh, I don’t know; just being with you is an initiation.”  Stories about Rabia abound.  She was a true Sufi.  She worked hard and she never made any claims for herself.  She never worried about achieving perfection, she just did the best she could.

I feel her radiance so clearly now.  It was in the planes of light that our beloved Pir Vilayat told us he could be found after his passing, and so it has been.  I feel that this is the case with Rabia, too:  she was all light.

You are love.

You come from love.

You are made of love.

You cannot cease to love. – Inayat Khan

This story has no ending, and I may well be remembering little vignettes for some time and adding them in here, because from the time I started my blog, I saw it as a place to put things I didn’t want to lose.

Immortality is to be found in the love with which we create each other.  She would have scoffed at being anyone’s teacher, but she taught a lot of lessons in love.

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

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Human Rights Day

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In 1948, under the leadership of the United States and the prodding of Eleanor Roosevelt, the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 10 to be Human Rights Day, to bring to the attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. Today, 66 years later, America faces the reality of police brutality, CIA torture, and the imprisonment of a larger portion of our population than any other modern nation. What happened?  –Robert Reich

In the early ’80s, Amnesty International began to celebrate Human Rights Day with the Sufi Order International’s Universal Worship Service.  The Universal Worship, instituted in the early 1900s,  is the “Church of All and of all Churches.”  The service involves an altar set with a semi-circle of candles representing the major religions of the world, with a larger candle in the back, in the middle of the altar, and one in the front.  The Cherag(a) or Priest(ess) goes from candle to candle, lighting each one from the large candle in the back:

“To the glory of the Omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing the Hindu religion… the Buddhist religion…   the Zoroastrian religion…  the Hebrew religion, the Christian religion… the religion of Islam…” and finally, lighting the candle in the front,

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“To the glory of the Omnipresent God, we kindle the light symbolically representing all those who, whether known or unknown, have held aloft the light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”

WeddingIn 1981, I was living in Nashville, Tennessee, where I’d come to start a Sufi center, and we held a Universal Worship for Universal Declaration of Human Rights Day at Peabody College, inviting religious leaders from all over the city to take part in the service, lighting the candles for their own religions, and reading scriptures from them.  In the congregation was a young Vanderbilt Divinity School student who had been attracted to the service, which I happened to conduct, so he saw me first, at the altar, in the light of the candles, wearing my white robe.  After the service, he came up to me and said, “I was watching you all during the service, and you look like a truly religious person.”  Inwardly, I chuckled.  “It’s you!” I thought, and so it was.  It seemed to me that God had a good sense of humor, because here was this buttoned-up Div School student, and there I was, a flighty hippie with hair down to my waist, wearing Indian clothes.  He said that as he tried to sleep that night, he heard an orchestra playing in his head, “heavy on the brass.”  If you know me, you will enjoy that.  He later told me he thought as he saw me in the blinding white flood lights, “My God!  Who is that woman?”

The rest is history.

It took us awhile to figure out what to do with each other; six years, in fact, because he was a United Methodist minister, and I was a flaming Sufi, and I knew I couldn’t be a minister’s wife, and he knew he could never fit the likes of me into his congregation.  Eventually, all those considerations fell away, and it was time for us to be together, and 33 years later, we’re still going strong.

So yes, the world is still going to Hell, and the earth plane is a terrible and dark place to live.  And somehow, sometimes, we still kindle the light of love, of freedom, and most of all, the “light of truth amidst the darkness of human ignorance.”

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.

2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.…  –Revelations 21:1-2

Let freedom ring.

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Inside: Right here.

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

Inayat Khan

netsuite-shining

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

Ascent of Mt. Carmel,

St. John of the Cross

Yesterday I wrote, in part, to my guide:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tao of Fibromyalgia

It’s always something!  – Gilda Radner

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

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

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

Symptoms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, look, I’m really in pain!”

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

That kind of thing.

This stuff works. What else can I say?

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

Khalil Gibran

Breaking Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A June Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Love and Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Existential Dhikr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invincible Spirit, 1969 – 2004 by Shams Kairys

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Invincible Spirit
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (1916-2004)

Shams Kairys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Battle of Life

BG Krishna instructs Arjuna 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arjuna speaks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krishna speaks:

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

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

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

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

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

There is always more work to do.

Krishna_Splits_the_Double_Arjuna_Tree

About Solitude

Recently, a male friend of mine told me how he had created the money for a trip to India so he could do a 40-day retreat with a prominent Sufi Pir.  I thought about it, off and on, for several days afterward, wondering why the whole idea kind of….puzzled me.  I felt a slight annoyance, too, probably because I have yet to make it to India, and wouldn’t mind going at all, although I doubt that I’d spend my time there doing forty days on retreat.  I believe in retreats, don’t get me wrong.  In fact, I too have been on retreat for about a year and a half now, a fact which surprises me.  It surprised me when I first felt drawn into my retreat, and it surprises me now.  I am a “certified retreat guide” in the Sufi Order International.  That means I am supposed to be capable of guiding people on silent retreats, intuitively.  It’s been awhile since I did so, but I felt reasonably prepared for my own long retreat, and I have had a wonderful long-distance guide to see me through it, largely via email.  I must insert a disclaimer here:  don’t try this at home, folks.  Well, unless you do.  Generally speaking, the retreat process is an extremely difficult one, and the retreatant ought to be ready for it.  It’s possible I may have been more prepared than some, having done many group and individual retreats, and guided some, as well.   There are “retreats” and retreats, of course.  I am not speaking of the “retreat” you take if you are an executive for a huge corporation and your “team” retires to the beach for a weekend of mind-games and rest, led by a psychologist.  I am speaking of the kinds of retreats taken by the dervishes, the yogis, the desert fathers, the monastics of the various esoteric schools.  I am speaking of drawing away from everything, becoming silent, and sitting for long hours every day, practicing intense and difficult meditation practices, eating little, speaking not at all, and working very, very hard.  In the Sufi Order, it is called an “alchemical” retreat, the concept based on the work of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, who staged the process around the phases of the classical medieval alchemical process.  The Sufis I know go on retreat as often as they’re able, and they do retreats of three, six, ten and sometimes even 40 days.  And I’m sure that a chance to go and be guided by someone who is steeped in the teachings of one of the traditional Sufi Orders in the East is particularly attractive.  The retreat process is a difficult, intensive, and even dangerous one, if the retreatant is not ready for it, and if there is not a guide.  Esoteric practice can strengthen the ego, not subjugate it, unless one knows what one is doing.  But back to my friend and his retreat in India.  Why, I wondered, does one have to go somewhere spiritually impressive (which India obviously is) and be guided by someone who is well-known?  Is the retreat better?  Are they more enlightened afterward?  Why would someone need this?

My own retreat has been quite a humble one:  having gone through six surgeries that left me debilitated and depressed, I was looking around, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next, when I felt myself drawn, inexorably, into an intense meditative process.  I will admit, my back was to the wall at that time, I had come to the end of all my devices, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself next.  Everything had changed.  I had changed.  I didn’t know who I was or why I was here.  I didn’t know why I was alive, and in all honesty, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be alive.  And I was pretty sure that none of my other remedies for this kind of state were going to work.  And this time, I wasn’t going to try to make myself feel better.  I was going to go for broke.  I suppose I decided to put this Sufi path of mine to the test.  If I could be healed and made whole, I knew of no other way that I wanted to do it.

I didn’t go to India.

I didn’t pay a lot of money to some notable spiritual teacher to guide me.

I didn’t go away to a well-known monastery or ashram.

I sat down in my rocking chair on my porch.  And I practiced.  And I practiced.  And I practiced.  For long hours every day.  I read holy books.  I corresponded with my guide via email.  I listened to incredible music.  I listened to the birds chirp and the trees rustle.  When my husband came home in the evening, we were together as usual, and when my daughter came home from college for the weekend, we were a family.

I ate carefully, but well.  I slept at night.  When I could.  I did not wear a robe or sleep on a cement floor, as I once did when I went on retreat in the French Alps and made a retreat in a shepherd’s hut.

It worked.  The Divine Being blessed me endlessly.  I am convinced that I could not possibly be any happier with the results than I would have been if I had traveled to India.  I cannot speak of these results here, but if someone reads this who knows…they WILL know, and that’s all I can say.  But perhaps I can say that the sky and the earth are meeting right inside here.

I really hope I get to India sooner or later.  I hope I get to a lot of places.  But God is right HERE. and given that this is the case, I am carrying all the rest anyway.

If you are a male, you may not like what I’m going to speak of now.  Unless, of course, you are a male who is in touch with his animus and has the ability to laugh at the absurdity of being human.  Just be warned . . . and “don’t shoot the messenger.”

I was speaking of my friend’s trip to India with a woman friend, and I asked her, “what is it that makes someone think they MUST go and seek God under the auspices of some famous and well-known person in a spiritually impressive place?”  She chuckled.  “Well,” she said mischievously, “he’s a man.”  And yes, we laughed….wickedly.  So sue me.  Yet I do believe there is a bit of truth in the idea that it is the more asssertive, outward part of a person’s nature that causes them to need something outside to bring them to the place of finding that their heart’s desire was available right inside all along.

It’s very convenient.

<Gasho>

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 Ded, c. 14th century

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.

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

Pir

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.

Practicing

“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.

Dhikr

IMG_4116

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Bringing the head down to the chest,

“Ill’a”

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

 “Allah”

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

“Hu.”

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

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

But is there an end?

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