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:  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.


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

No one attains peace by fighting.  — Inayat Khan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanging in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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