Session 2 - Feb 21, 2021 -Wonder
Session 3 - Mar 21, 2021 - Sacred Story
Stories of all kinds abound in Sufism. Perhaps the most imaginative is Conference of the Birds by Farid-Ud-Din Attar. The C.S. Nott translation is available for Kindle on under $2.
While Rumi is perhaps best known for his poetry, for many Sufis it is his Mathnavi which exposes the path and practice of Sufism most clearly. It consists of hundreds of stories.
Here are some additional resources:
Ganesha Goes To Lunch: Classics from Mystic India
Author: Kamla K. Kapur, Mandala Publishers
Earth Angels: Engaging the Sacred in Everyday Things
Author: Shaun McNiff. Shambhala Publishers
There is no central document or body of writing which purports to be the authoritative expression of Sufi teachings. Because Sufism is a living tradition, existing only in the real-time transmission between and among “friends”, it has relied on spoken means for passing the teachings down through the ages. Thus, stories, jokes and poetic narratives continue to play a central role in the “education” of a Sufi. The story below that Isha shared in our session is a case in point. On one level it’s just a silly joke. On another it offers and a poignant probe into the nature of self, one which could be contemplated for a lifetime.
Nobody Really Knows
Realizing that he did not know who he was, Mulla Nasrudin rushed into the street, desperately looking for someone who might recognize him. The crowds were thick, but he was in a strange town, and he found no familiar face.
Suddenly he found himself in a carpenter’s shop.
“What can I do for you?”, asked the craftsman, stepping forward.
Nasrudin said nothing.
“Perhaps you would like something made of wood?”
“First things first,” said the Mulla.
“Now, did you see me come into your shop?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Good. Now, have you ever seen me in your life before?”
“Never in my life.”
“Then how do you know it is me?”
Suzanne's HAMD Exercise
Hi everyone. I’m going to begin by sharing a story that I find sacred in the telling. It’s a story about an Arabic word, Hamd. h-a-m-d, hamd: the word hamd is usually translated into English simply as gratitude, or praise. But like all words which begin their story in ancient Aramaic, it means so much more as well.
Hamd also carries a meaning that it is a gift from the Only Being, which every life form, including you and I, are born with. It is our life’s purpose to share this gift as we live our life. As we offer our hamd to the world, we are offering our gift back to the One. And in doing that, our life becomes praise.
Everything, every single living thing, has its own hamd. It is said that ‘every bird, every fish, every tree, has a hamd’. Every person has a hamd, you have a hamd, this gift from the divine. It’s not something you have look for or find, it’s that which you are. You being who you are. Original You. That’s Hamd.
Now I need to explain a little about how Aramaic languages work. Written words are created from consonants, which when placed together, make syllables. Each consonant has an essential meaning and when placed next to another, this expands to include the other, so that syllables can have a number of meanings and as a word is created, a weaving of meanings become possible. Vowels happen when the language is spoken. Vowels are not written. Vowels connect the consonants naturally as we vocalise.
Our word, hamd, is a great example: It begins with the consonant H. Wherever the letter H appears in Arabic, it always indicates the veiling of a secret, a mystery, something sacred has been hidden here, because, it’s an abbreviation of the word Hu which is the breath of the Creator. Hu is a holy sound, too precious for human words and so it is always hidden behind the veil of H.
Placing M after H, creating HM the meaning develops into ‘The warmth and damp in a seed, which offers germination.’ You can’t say HM without sounding a vowel, so we add the letter A, but it’s a soft a, like in aaaah. Ham. And finally we add the D which completes the word. The D brings it into being, gives it form. Makes it manifest. Offers it for fulfilment. Hamd. (praise, gratitude and gift - and yet so much more than any these translations)
So that’s something of the story I tell of Hamd. Now I would like us to take a few minutes exploring the sounds of hamd, together, so we can each experience in our own bodies, the flow from h to ham, to hamd. That will present me with a challenge that I need your help with. Because once all our microphones are unmuted, all of our voices and any other background sounds will be shared and it might become more difficult for you to hear me. The way that I hope this will work is that once our mics are unmuted, we will share a few seconds of silence together. I will then remind us of the meaning of the letter or syllable, I’ll demonstrate it once and then I will invite us all to repeat that sound together 5 times. At the same time I ask each of us to vocalise according to the rhythm and pace of our own breath. Every person has a different breath pattern and we don’t all need to be the same to be together. Once we have explored h 5 times we fall again into silence and I will introduce ham, and then for hamd. Follow each syllable through slowly, and notice what is happening in your body and where; what arises for you, in you.
So please now open your mics, stay in speaker view, and we will have a short silence.
First, we will sound h on the out breath, taking our time, and as we do, we consider the meaning that the mystery of divine creation is hidden in our breath.
I will demonstrate the sound: H….
Let’s sound h together 5 times: H….. x5
And now, HAM; Stretch the syllable into the out breath, As your mouth closes to make the m, notice that you are now a container, a seed; contemplate this.
I’ll demonstrate the sound: Ham
And now we sound Ham 5 times together, Ham… x5
And finally, we add d. Notice the moment of change right at the beginning of sounding the d; and then as the mouth opens we offer our breath to the world. You might want to take a little gap before repeating, to allow the 2 modes of d to realise themselves.
Hamd – again, let’s sound it 5 times:
No one else can do and be this you or me. As we live our hamd, we offer ourselves to the Only Being. And in doing so our purpose in life is honoured, is expressed, is active and shining.
I invite us now to deepen our experience with the word Hamd. First we will repeat it aloud, which is called a wazifa in Sufi terms. Similar to mantra, the sound has a vibrational effect on both mind and body. Gradually and naturally we allow our voice to become softer until it becomes a whisper on the breath, Other voices soften too, and then softer still, and closing our mouths, we repeat hamd silently within, which is called fikr, the silent prayer, each in-breath deepening the heart with hamd; each out-breath offering gratitude to the One
Session 2 - Feb 21, 2021 -Wonder
Notes on Wonder
Centered in the chest, as if the seat of knowing has dropped from the head to the heart, this usually triggers an expansion of breathing and the onset of emotions and physical sensations which may be experienced as profound well-being. Suddenly all's right with the world. We see how simple and small our daily concerns actually are; not because they have diminished but because we have enlarged.
If we see the experience of wonder as a dilation of the self then we might consider that this sudden expansion is not without purpose. It may be that the spontaneously open state aroused by wonder enables us to receive intuitions and insights for which the intellect lacks receptors. Poetic expression is one of the ways through which we can decode and assimilate these, often wordless, “messages”.
click to play
Opening to Wonder
Tip. Unless you’re sitting down to absorb, say, a book, develop the habit of scanning all information you come across through the filter of “In what way could this support my goals in life?” it. But always listen attentively, without filters, to whatever someone, anyone is saying to you.
Tip. Every day pick up a different object in your house and wonder about how it is made; what it can do besides its obvious use; what the lineage of its invention might have been.
The Ways of Wonder. While we may not be able to provoke wonder (just as we cannot, for example, easily make ourselves sneeze) it may be helpful to identify some of the ways the arousal of wonder can be inhibited or even prevented. We could say that the four major sources of dis-wonderment are: lethargy, arrogance, jadedness, and cynicism. Techniques and practices for countering this mental plaque could help us be more available to moments of wonder.
Lethargy. Especially as we age, our brains get tired, our outlooks begin to calcify, our “old dogs” lose interest in “new tricks”. Without realizing it, we can become less interested (and interesting!). This mental sluggishness can be countered by curiosity. Murshid Fazal taught that the zest of life is maintained by having interest in everything, that there is no greater tonic for mental aliveness than curiosity .
Arrogance. We may not actually be arrogant, but it might be helpful to examine the blithe certainty we have about what we “know”? Judgements about others, stating opinions as if they were facts, never examining our underlying assumptions could all be seen as a kind of arrogance. An antidote to this is the redistribution of knowing from the head to the body and the heart; working towards a state in which we only believe we know something which is validated by our intuition and instinct as well as our intelligence.
Jadedness. Swamped by new information every day, it’s easy to develop a “been there, done that, know this already” attitude as a sort of defense mechanism. But this inhibits opening to wonder, as little by little our worlds become narrower and more mundane. An effective counterbalance to this is cultivating a higher level of discernment, exercising more choice about what information we admit to consciousness. When we feel that we are more fully in charge of our mental traffic, we can look more carefully and listen more attentively for what is truly important.
Cynicism. More pernicious than all of the above is the toxicity of distrust, disillusionment and pessimism. These deeply undermine wonder—insidiously convincing us that things, at heart, are rotten and getting worse by the day. In ot smore extreme forms it may require counselling or guidance from someone you trust to heal this malady. However, it all begins with awareness of your outlook.
Tip. Develop objectivity about your subjectivity*. This means being able to observe your own thought processes; and without undermining yoursef, continually ask, "How do I know this to be so"? Consitent meditation practice helps in the natural development of this ability.
Tip. Prayer and the nuturing of faith are age old, proven antidotes to cynicism.
Have You Looked At the Sky Yet Today?
(With thanks for the idea from Krista Tippet and Ariel Burger at the On Being podcast)
She is always an early riser. But today she was late. Nothing quite seemed to be in the right place; everything was just a bit out of sorts.
The vegetables had to be gathered from the garden in haste as the bread was baking in her homemade oven. The vegetables cleaned and put in the saddlebag draped over the back of her donkey, the bread cooled enough to carry gently over her shoulder, for the bouncing and bumping of the donkey would not do for the fresh loaves.
Off to the village. Some days too many vegetables and not enough fresh bread; some days too much fresh bread and not enough vegetables; some days too much or not enough of both. You never knew until you arrived in the midst of the early morning village marketplace; you never knew if what you have brought would be what was needed.
Ah well, she thought; we will see what we will see, Ah well.
Entering the noise and clamor of the village, seeking out a place to lay out her products, the anxiety of awakening late and perhaps losing an advantage nags at her.
It is then, as she begins to pull the vegetables from the bag on the back of her donkey, that she hears that familiar voice. She can’t quite place where she is, and she feels her as much as hears her.
Rising up to her full height, she finds her, across the far side of the market, sitting on the top of the steps leading to the only pub in the center of the village.
And now she hears somehow across the tumult of the growing market. As clear as the call in the deepest silence of the night, she hears her as she says,
“Have you looked at the sky yet today?”
And so she does. She stops, right where she is, and looks up into that clear somehow blue sky, that clear, endless consciousness awakening sky, and time stops with her, as she remembers that she is made for something more than trading in the marketplace.
She remembers that all is well; all is wondrously well.
A Brief Exercise in the Surrender of Knowing
An experience arises, and to the extent that it is arising with our awareness of previous understandings and experiences, thus conforming to our prior knowledge - to that extent we are not open and available for what is actually arising right here, right now.
The exercise below is an invitation to explore creating a fresh experience, an enlivened personal relationship, when reading a poem.
As I begin to read, I want to release my initial sense of why I want to read;
I want to release my expectations of what I will read;
I want to surrender my knowing.
And so we begin…
Read silently in its entirety
Read aloud in its entirety
Allow your eyes to slowly scan over the writing,
noticing which words or phrases enter your awareness
Now just sit quietly with what you have done; if you think about what you have read or how it feels or what it means, that’s fine;
let it happen. Just sit with it.
Read aloud again, this time allowing the discovery
of natural stopping points.
First ask why here?
Then ask what is said here? What does it mean?
Again, ask how do you feel?
Stop again. Put aside what you are reading.
Sit quietly in the moment. Allow and observe the passage of thoughts, feelings, impressions…
Again, return to your text.
Now you are strolling in a garden. Your eye moving from image to image, flower to flower, bee to bee.
Where is the eye most comfortable? Why?
Where is your mind most comfortable? Why?
Where do you feel most comfortable? Why?
What are you not seeing when you allow this
freeform flitting from one thing to another?
Stop. Sit silently. See what you are missing.
And again, return to your text.
You are in the river reading, flowing; and as you flow,
read it in its entirety, first silently then aloud.
No thought, no interpretation, no intention;
Just read. Allow the words, the sounds, the silences to wash over and through you as you just read. No assumptions,
nothing taken for granted. Just read……...
It is always personal, reading a poem. What I read, what I focus on is not the same as you. Simple really.
My experience, while it may be similar, is not yours.
Session 1 - Jan 17, 2021
Imagine your beginning. Imagine your ending. Sit with no time or space. Keep it simple. Don’t look back. Let it go. See what is here. Feel what is here. One breath at a time. Do not fear the next step. Be at ease. Identity is transformation that leaves an object unchanged. Think about that for a minute.
"Vanity is the fear of appearing original."
The Enrichment Track can be seen as the inner dimension of our journey towards the realization of Beloved Community. If it is not an inner reality how can we hope to love it into being externally? And if there is no palpable evidence of it in our daily lives, how will it ever be realized spiritually? In this session we explored several approaches to this work.
The Hands — Embodied awareness is indispensable. The hands are not just symbolic of agency in the world they (along with other physical faculties) are literally instrumental in shaping the reality we inhabit. It is these “hands” which, in countless ways, will build the Beloved Community.
Let This One Be Known — The more that Beloved Community is an inner reality the more naturally it will be witnessed and encouraged in all our relationships. Pure presence, openness, sincerity, trust, warmth are ways to “let this ONE be known” interpersonally. The “original you”, in action?
Inner Pilgrimage — When we look back we can glimpse the trail we’ve been following through our lives and recognize in that a sense of a subtle ever present guidance. When we look forward towards Beloved Community we can see what is asked of us along this route.
Contemplation on One's Hands
Let This One Be Known
Exercise/ Contemplation/ Experiential prayer:
Developed from Isha’s ‘To consider the conditions of the moment’
Let us begin with a beginning as you might know it:
you are born
You have parents..
They have parents..
And they have parents
Bring them to mind..
And now go back, through time, seeing parents of parents of parents, until the names are unknown, though you know they were there, your ancestors, looking back, further back, until the images fade into grey.
Returning to now, to you and your wider family, add them into the pitcure: perhaps you have siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and in laws – remember them all.
Glancing through this family portrait… Oh, we are way beyond counting now
How wide and how deep the faces go, some clearer than others…
And what of our children and grandchildren
And the seeds they might sow
And the seeds of seeds…
Where might this intimacy end?
Include now the truth tellers and those that have shown you your wounds and softened your heart with their tears – and yours.
Include your lovers, teachers, friends, healers, all those dear to you, all those who hold you safe.
Include all the artists and writers, musicians and dancers, priests and mentors - all those who inspire and encourage and offer you light and laughter.
And then the One to whom you pray.
Oh, Is there no end to your communion?
Where is all this love held, how can it be contained in your one body, your grains of sand in this whole universe?
This being that you are that is, for this moment now, the one arising:
The original you.
The only one, the only you, ever to have been
The only one, the only you that will ever be
Let this one be known.
Please, open your eyes.
Let This one be known
Let this one be known.