Sufism & Spirituality


This is a little something I wrote in April of 2009, thought I’d share:

as a result of the trauma this past summer, every day i feel pain, sadness and fear. sometimes it’s overwhelming, making me unable to get out of bed, maintain a regular heartbeat, eat, or sleep. fortunately, those times are rare ov late. most of the time it’s just a feeling that lies mostly dormant under the skin, deep down in my chest. but it’s always there.

i try not to let it affect how i interract with the world. i’m able to find many joys in family and friends. music and books. i sing with my kids, i say my zikr, i dream, i cuddle, i gaze out the window and marvel at the green shoots braving the snow. but it feels as though these are just layers on top of the sadness, and that if you look just a little deeper, scratch away the surface, all the hurt comes up.

for awhile it felt as though my hurt was the canvas, and all of my pleasant experiences were just paint on it, covering it up for awhile, but no matter how thick i threw it on, no matter how many layers were applied, the canvas would still be there, lying underneath, unchanging and full of pain.

but this morning i came to realize that that trauma and all the insecurities and deceptions and abuse and fear and depression and… everything that came with it is also just a layer. it is not the canvas. deeper down underneath there’s a core of me that is the foundation, the base. G*d and i live there. all these experiences and relationships -painful and joyous- add to the work of art that is me. add depth. texture. colour. shadows and light.

i am not my pain. i am not my joy. one aspect may dominate and become a focal point for awhile, but they are just part of the big picture, the ongoing piece of art that is me.

some may some may find it lovely, others hideous. heck, some may not even acknowledge that it’s art, look and think “i could have painted that, and would’ve done it better”. but gosh darnit, i think it’s beautiful. i’d hang me on the wall.

what kind of art are you?

this is a story (paraphrased) told to me by a lovely turkish sufi may 10th, 2009. earlier on i had told him a little bit about how things had been dark with my life, but how i was emerging into the light. he said that he loved hearing stories of suffering, but not why you would think. he shared the following with me:

once outside the palace walls sat two beggars. one had a beautiful voice and was well-spoken and could have been a singer his voice was so lovely. the other croaked and squeaked, his voice unpleasant to hear. one day the gates opened and the king (because there’s always a king in these stories) gave the not-nice voiced beggar bags of coins and valuables. he left, leaving the soft-voiced beggar at the gates.

when questioned as to his motives for rewarding the untalented beggar, the king answered, “i want to hear the beautiful voice longer and keep it closer to me a little longer.”

sometimes we don’t understand why things happen to us, but if we could, it would probably make it a lot more tolerable.

Think of songs that catch your heart, that evoke an emotional response

A song that you love to play when doing housework that makes you kick up your feet and get things done

A song that you wave your arms in the air to, hoping nobody sees you

A song that makes you think of happy times and smile wistfully

A song that makes you think of happy times and smile sadly and shed a quiet tear

A hurting song of loss and longing

A song that makes you want to hit the dance floor and lose yourself in the moment

A song from your childhood that still brings joy to your heart

A song that is so beautiful and pure that you could almost cry as you listen intently, hairs on the back of your neck rising

A song you can’t help but sing along to

A tune with no words that catches in your mind and has you humming it all day

A song with words that speak to you and strike chords

The ending chords of a religious piece that sing out an exultant ”AMEN!”

The cadence of words tumbling out smoothly in a good rap song

A song whose rhythms and base make you feel sexy

A song that riles passion or rage, making you want to stomp around and pump your fists in the air, or bang your head.

A song that comforts and soothes as your head hits the pillow, one that ushers you into the subconsious/unconscious.

That’s what my faith feels like to me.

Last night I spent about an hour and a half on the phone reconnecting with an old friend, Ay.  Ef was in the mood to talk, but I got to chatting with Ay and lost track of the time, and when I called Ef when I was done, he wasn’t available.  I was a bit pouty about missing Ef, but happy talking with Ay about single parenthood, old friends, fave music and bands. He inspired me to throw myself a huge birthday party like I used to do of old, and I’m now looking outward and ahead more than looking inward and behind.

There’s a lot to be learned from introspection, self-awareness, and the past. And I still have a lot of healing to accomplish based on the past events (not just the acute trauma of the past six weeks, but the subtle abuse that led up to it as well). But for awhile, I’m going to work on a project of hope and beauty.  The great thing is, this project is going to involve some truly beautiful and talented people, and I’m so excited at the prospects I could just burst.

In related news, for the first time in almost six weeks, I didn’t have a nightmare! 

I dreamed that I was in my house with Ay.  We were both getting ready for my big birthday party in the city, and he was putting on some weird makeup- his whole face was covered in white paint except for a few black bits around his eyes and mouth.  Then suddenly he was dressed like a dervish (except I didn’t know what a dervish was), complete with white shirt and billowing skirt, black cloak over top, and crazy tall fez-like hat.  He kissed me gently on my forehead and my lips, not in a sexual way, but in a gentle, loving way.

I woke up with a smile on my face with a pull in my chest as though I might burst from happiness.  I looked out the window at the sun rising outside my window, and suddenly wished I knew how to pray.  My time in the darkness wasn’t over, but suddenly I was feeling hope, and joy, and gratefulness for being alive.

Edited to add…

Later I was to find out that Ay was on the Sufi path, and that the person kissing me in my dream was a dervish.  Ay wasn’t a dervish yet, though I had the honour of witnessing him “take the hand” and begin his dervishood awhile later. 

Three months after that dream at my big party in real life, Ay took the stage with his band.  His face was painted all white except for three black chunks- over his eyes and one over his mouth- making him look like an electrical socket.   I was surrounded by friends, secure in my choice of the Sufi path, and burning with love for G*d and creation, and started to cry with gratefulness and joy.  I credit that dream the night of September 11th, 2008 with getting me started on the Sufi path and to healing with joy.

I recently went to a good friend’s wedding, and I wanted to share a few experiences with you.  She and I used to live together almost twenty years ago.  She’s the godmother of my eldest daughter (which in itself is a funny story).  She and her family have been a source of strength and inspiration for me, especially in the past two years during my time of darkness and emergence into the light.  She and her partner have been through a lot together and come out stronger than ever before, and it’s a joy to visit them.  I was honoured to be invited to their wedding at the Jerrahi Sufi Centre.

Friday night the Micron and I attended my friends Kina Gece- a Turkish bridal henna party- and had a lovely evening amongst girls and women of all ages and backgrounds, united in our celebration of our good friend’s impending nuptials.  Then we slept over at a friend’s place, Em.

Saturday morning my friend Em and the Micron and I went to the local market, picked up some Portugese buns, vegetables to grill, some smoked gruyère and spiced havarti, some spicy mustard and some tzaziki.  We marinated the vegetables, sliced bread, cheese and tomato so that all would be ready once we got downtown. 

The plan was that Em, the Micron, My Fella and I would all go downtown for a friend’s housewarming party BBQ. Em would stay at the BBQ, whilst the rest of us would head back out west to the location of the event. Unfortunately, circumstances intervened.  The major highway leading us into the city was closed, and I wasn’t that familiar with the lay of the land.   We were supposed to be leaving the BBQ around 4:20 in order to get to the wedding on time, and already it was 3:30.  We were in the middle of heavy traffic, and weren’t convinced it would be feasible to make the BBQ on time.

So we made the decision to go to the Sufi Centre.  Em was a bit nervous that her shortish skirt and tights wouldn’t be conservative enough dress, but I offered her a headscarf so at least that aspect was covered!  Tummies grumbling, we made our way tot he Centre which mercifully was nearby.

As we arrived, we had to wind our way past a gazebo tent to park in the back of the building.  The tent was up because that day they were celebrating a “Community Day”, and were BBQing lots of meat to give away to local residents as a thank you for welcoming the Centre (which had only opened up in late 2008) into the neighbourhood.  They gladly cleared off the grill of the charred meat and cooked up a bunch of our vegetables for us.  We donated our tomato, cheese, mustard, tzaziki and buns to the cause.  Em and the Micron both enjoyed some meat, My Fella and I savoured roast portabellos and zucchini and red peppers.   Talk about one door closing and another one opening!

As usual, the Sufi community was warm and welcoming.  The ceremony was casual and funny at times, the Sheikh disagreeing with Hawking’s (“Einstein’s grandson, my crippled friend”) assessement that meeting aliens would be bad for humanity.  Aliens would would be welcome at the dergah/mosque, just so long as they parked their UFOs properly. 

The bride was absolutely lovely in a custom-made dress brought over from Turkey.  I had tears in my eyes for the vision of her.  I’ve always known her as a goth or punk, so to see her so radiant in some traditional garb was a shock and a pleasure.  Her mother, father and sister were glowing with pride and joy, and I know I wasn’t the only one swept along in the the overall aura of love.

Two dervishes whirled as musicians played and other dervishes performed what I would deem a mini-zikr.  The percussive sound of the men’s voices created a beat that resonated in my chest.  It’s said that G*d lives in everyone’s heart, and as the dervishes repeated their ilahis, my little piece of G*d responded and throbbed.  Then the ney played reinforcing a sung prayer, and it was divine breath on earth, making the hair on the back of my neck rise, and bringing more tears to my eyes and a rapturous moment of forgetting all worries, leaving behind my “monkey mind” and being caught up in the beauty.

We said our prayers, and the sound of dozens of pairs of lips quietly mouthing the silent words struck me.  Although no-one was speaking, you could still hear the whisper sounds of S, like a worshipful chorus of crickets, or a sudden gust of wind through tall grass in the summer.

When we pray, angels gather around to pray also and to record our deeds. As a seal to our devotions, we turn our head to the right and left to greet the congregation of these creatures of light.  As-salamu alaikum wa rahmatulah.  That evening, I was surrounded by family and friends- old and new- and was truly grateful to be able to greet and thank the angels and all those around for being there, and wish them peace and love.

Mashallah, S & J.  And thank you.

“One single minute.   Every day. 

Just one minute of contemplation every day is the start towards the killing of the nafs.* 

You don’t need a book- no Qu’ran, no Bible, you need to study the book of yourself.

Who you are.  What you do.  Why you are here.

Dervishood has been around since before Adam, and it goes on today, and has evolved.  I used to say that you needed to study yourself for five minutes a day**, but now I say one minute.  Who here can say they take one minute  a day for themselves?

A single minute.  Every day.  This will kill your nafs.  This will answer all your questions.”

-Sheikh Cemil Baba repeated as faithfully possible from memory from a discussion Saturday, April 17th, 2010, please forive any transcription error. 

*I was once told that the challenge of the individual on the Sufi path was “De s’en débarasser en lui de ce qui n’est pas de Lui.”  Some refer to it as polishing the mirror so as better to reflect God’s light.  I like to think of it more as polishing a gem so as better to refract His light and share the colours of the lovely rainbow thereby created with those around me.  It’s very similar to Buddhist teachings and efforts, especially when you get talking about the illusory nature of the world.  But I digress…

**This reminds me of how in the story of Muhammed (pbuh) being lifter to heaven on the “buraq”, he was instructed by God to pray 50 times a day, but then how Moses (pbuh) told Muhammed to plead for a reduction, and it was haggled down to only 5 times… Although technically in the Qu’ran the commandment is only for three times- near-dawn, afternoon and evening.  But that’s another story.

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After spending so much time seated on a cushion on the floor, we creaked and cracked and stretched, saying we had “zikr-knees”.  This reminds me of  “prayer bump”.