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

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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

klenner_rabbula3

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?