Torn Between Two Worlds

 

And to God belongs the East and the West. So wherever you turn to, then, again, there is the Countenance of God. Truly, God is One Who is Extensive, Knowing.

al-Baqarah 2:115

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A lot can happen in just one season. The cool April spring breeze tore me away from my beloved France and carried me across the Atlantic to a small corner of Upstate New York to join the American branch of my Sufi family. I feel like a tiny being, dwarfed by the majesty of the nature that surrounds me. The giant maple and cedar trees have shielded me from all the harsh energies that find their way into my daily Newsfeeds. It’s complicated being a spiritual wayfarer in 2017. I have to navigate around tightening border controls and global politics. But I was one of the lucky ones. In a country that has become synonymous with #MuslimBan, my US visa entry stamp happily sits next to my Pakistani tourist stamp from last summer.
For the last three months, I’ve spent my days immersed in study and contemplation, supported by hundreds of acres of undisturbed nature. Red cardinals and bright yellow finches dominate the skylines using the flower patches as their runway. As spring turned to summer, the pink azaleas gave way to orange lilies. Even nature takes it in turn to display its beauty. The evening sunsets are best viewed from the top of the mountain. The half hour trek up a stony trail is worth it for another turn on the ‘Bridge to Everywhere.’ A closed wooden bridge, it stands suspended in mid-air, held only by metal ropes on one end. I often lie flat on my back watching the clouds drift above a canopy of branches. Not for the faint hearted, I love it when the evening breeze rocks the bridge side to side as if I’m being cradled by nature.
I’m glad I made the decision to prioritise my spiritual and emotional fulfilment over material security before Brexit and American politics took centre-stage. But it’s an ongoing process. Faith is not a linear process, every disappointment tests me every day. Having hoped my stay would be more permanent in the US, the Universe decreed otherwise. Like a turtle, I will soon have to gather my belongings back into my shell as I prepare for the next stage of my journey.
It seems that the early summer winds are now blowing me along warm currents to the East. I’m both excited and terrified by the prospect. To date, my religious upbringing was dictated by patriarchal models cultivated in the East. My spiritual teachings, on the other hand, have mostly been taught by teachers in the West free from the restrictions of normative traditions. And therein lies my dilemma. I’m neither of just the East or West, I am both. How do I reclaim my faith and keep the spiritual freedom I’ve experienced?
Early on in my journey, I can see now how I was drawn to a spirituality that largely appealed to my European sensibilities. A child of the eighties, I was the lucky recipient of counter-culture Western seekers who brought back with them the essence of Buddhism without the baggage of cultural forms or prejudices. And so when I freed myself from the pain and exhaustion of upholding my own cultural norms, my Buddhist community provided a neutral zone where my authentic self could emerge. But the world has changed immensely over the last few years. White supremacists and religious extremists have joined forces to push me into reclaiming my faith and culture. And I was plunged into a crisis of identity.
Having never been an issue for me before, I suddenly became aware of being a brown dot in a sea of white spiritual seekers. Well-intending individuals who poured unconditional love into my broken soul found it hard to acknowledge my needs were different to theirs, that my needs were not being met in the confines of their mono-cultural setting. Finding it hard to express my frustrations, my words were clumsy and misunderstood. My struggle was made worse by the different interpretations of ego-identity. It was easy for fellow seekers who belong to majority population groups to dismiss my inner angst. I was told my suffering was self-inflicted by attachments to false concepts of self. And that ethnicity, gender etc are just mere illusions that perpetuate separation from others with layers of false identity. So I suppressed my pain, until it burst out of me, unable to contain feelings of frustration. I felt guilty that the love and acceptance of my friends just wasn’t enough.
Yes, we are equal on an Absolute plane of existence. But on a Relative sense, right here, right now, my challenges are different. I am a woman. I am an ethnic minority. I am a Muslim. My needs are different. Why did it take me so long to say these words? I’m not sure when diversity became akin to division, why is it so hard for the world to see unity in diversity? On the other side of the scale, I struggled to fit in all-Muslim Sufi groups. It felt at odds with my inter-spiritual approach, my love for spirituality extending beyond just one tradition. After years of searching, I have finally found an international community of mystics that encourage me to seek out what I need. In my Sufi community in the West, I am again a minority. But my needs are at least understood by my teachers. Nonetheless, my heart yearns to connect with a spirituality that honours my cultural roots but doesn’t come with conditions. I’ve come to the conclusion that when you live between two worlds, it is unlikely that you will have all your needs met in just one setting. It’s time for me to spread my wings again.

 

 

I had to fly three thousand miles to the West in order to find the courage to explore the East. As the doors close on me in the USA and mainland Europe, I take it as a sign to finally explore a spirituality closer to my roots. But it’s not without its consequences. As I contemplate which Muslim countries to visit, I have to take into consideration their strict narrow interpretation of religion, not to mention their volatile politics. My hyphenated spiritual-but-not-sure-if-I’m-religious status is unlikely to be understood. Even less likely to be understood is my Universalist approach to Islam. Sufi mystics with their message of love, harmony and tolerance are at the top of the list of wanted infidels targeted by ISIS. Am I ready to relinquish my freedom in order to seek out the treasures I desperately yearn for hidden in the East?
Despite my challenges with my parents, I feel blessed to have grown up in a family where I was given no less freedom than my brothers. France for me was the epitome of freedom, especially when married to beauty. I still mourn the end of my love affair with France. I was like Attar’s nightingale, who refused to part from the rose, not wanting to relinquish a lesser love for a deeper connection with Simorgh, the Divine King. As the Hoopoe says,

Dear nightingale, this superficial love which makes you quail is only for the outward show of things. Renounce delusion and prepare your wings for our great quest; sharp thorns defend the rose”

It was no contest, my love for God won. Towards the end of my time in France, I struggled to speak French. My lips refused to part, preferring to spill out songs of praise in Urdu and Arabic that had lain dormant in my heart for so long. Even during my estrangement I never lost my love for Islamic calligraphy, art and music. But they were always a painful reminder of a world that I had left behind. I have always secretly dreamed about living in cities resplendent with Islamic architecture and art born out of interfaith tolerant dynasties. Maybe the seeds of Sufism were planted in my heart in Istanbul, back when I was on the cusp of my crisis of faith. Then again, maybe the blessings of Ibn Arabi were bestowed upon me during my childhood years when visiting his final resting place in Damascus. But at eight years old, I was too young to realise the significance of this wandering Andalucian Sufi mystic, during an unplanned family trip to the Syrian capital. My heart constricts when I wonder if these ancient holy sites have been left unscathed under international missiles hijacking the Syrian skies.
Bibi Zaynab’s mausoleum, however, I do remember. I wonder if she, as the direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed blessed me with his love, when I rubbed my tiny hands on the gilded cage that carries her remains. I wonder if the spirit of her grandmother Khadijah rubbed off onto my childish heart and made me into the woman I am now. When I’ve been forced into situations that required assertiveness I have always looked to Khadijah, a widowed businesswoman who proposed marriage to her employee, the Prophet Mohammed. Considered by some as the first female Muslim mystic, she spearheaded a long line of ancient female saints silenced and sidelined by history. But their memories live on nonetheless. I live by Rabia’s rule of loving God for the Beauty of God alone, neither tempted by the rivers of heaven nor frightened by the fires of hell. The only fire that rages inside a mystic is in their heart.
It’s a far cry from the position of many women today. As a young single female accustomed to living in cosmopolitan cities, it has always pained me to see the restrictions placed on women when visiting majority Muslim countries. To this day, some Sufi Orders shun female members. Western females, however, are sometimes treated as honorary males but the language barriers remain. My desire to know the inner secrets of Islam is so strong that it’s a barrier I’m willing to overcome. Love, ishq, is the greatest driving force there is. It’s not Truth that I’m searching for, but Beauty. Maybe one day I’ll realise they were always the same thing.
My love and passion is understood well by those who equally love their own traditions. My greatest source of strength in recent months has been the love and support of my Christian and Jewish Sufi friends. Free from the baggage that I hold, they have renewed my love for Islam. They have provided a safe sanctuary for me to explore the inner dimensions of a faith that they see as a continuation of a Prophetic line. They have given me the key to a secret garden that I was denied access to by the custodians of my religion. It humbles me that they have taken the teachings of tasawwuf and sealed them onto their hearts without renouncing their own faiths.
With my fellow American Muslim friends, I have found kindred spirits. Our religion is a far cry from that of our parents. We’ve all had our struggles in reclaiming our birthright and forgiving our parents for misusing religion as a tool to control. I recently spent one of the holiest nights of Ramadan in a three storey townhouse in the fashionable district of TriBeCa, New York. Joined by an international crowd of fellow mystics, we allowed ourselves to be consumed by ancient devotional practices cultivated over the centuries. From dusk until dawn we used our voices as instruments as we sang to the heavens and connected to the angelic spheres, our hearts beating in rhythm with the musicians beating their drums. For the first time in five years, I prayed in the traditional Muslim way in a not so traditional setting. Standing shoulder to shoulder, men and women side by side, I allowed my head to bow down as a symbolic gesture of submission to a benevolent force greater than my own.
Inevitably, I have first had to process the lingering memories of the old Saiqa. The old me that was trying so hard to be devout that I became overly invested in the outer forms with no inner reflection. And sometimes I hurt others with my narrow-minded, judgemental views. The old me inherited a patriarchal version of religion, one that was created by men, for men. But my old personality was so disconnected from my feminine aspects that for a short while it worked. I can see now that my dominant masculine personality could never have understood, let alone appreciated the path of the mystics.
As my own evolution evolves my capacity to understand increases accordingly. I question translations and misinterpretations over the centuries. Now when I read passages from the Quran I do so with the eyes of my heart, chasing subtle clues hidden in the poetic verses of Maulana Rumi. Each person comprehends religious scripture according to their evolution and experiences. Even if I was to speak my truth it would make little impact on those deafened by calcified beliefs. So if I cannot speak my truth, I will embody it instead. As the rust in my heart slowly gets polished, I hope it can act as a mirror to reflect the light I receive and join other illuminated souls. The fact that I’ve managed to cultivate this spirit under the chaotic conditions imposed by the current US government gives me hope for the rest of the world. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I’m sad to leave the US but it’s time for this spiritual wayfarer to step down from the mountain and re-enter the world. As it happens I did see hummingbirds courting the rose bushes in the early morning light in the Herb garden. How befitting for a Sufi centre. It was a timely reminder that I am just a passing visitor and that my soul will continue to push me to ‘go as far as China to seek knowledge.

 

 

For the last few days, I’ve been on silent retreat. Alone in a cabin in the woods, my meals delivered by dear friends. I’m full of gratitude for all the generosity and kindness I’ve received from my teachers, guides and friends. But my heart tells me it’s time to let go of the safety net of large spiritual communities and venture forth alone. I’ve received enough love now to sustain me as I go further. It’s time to try the Eastern model of a more intimate setting and dedicate all my time to learning. Who knows where it may lead me. I just pray that I continue to walk my spiritual path with confidence and trust.

A Precious Jewel Mounted in Gold

“On truths path, wise is mad, insane is wise. In love’s way, self and other are the same. Having drunk the wine, my love, of being one with you, I find the way to Mecca and Bodhgaya are the same.”

Maulana Rumi

Inayati mon amour

There was a time once when the Garden of Truth in the inner depths of my mind was a haphazard mess overrun with weeds of shame and guilt deeply rooted in unfertile earth soiled with fear and doubt. Inherited falsities dressed as truths and limiting beliefs meant that the damage was extensive, leaving me frustrated in knowing how to move forward. I couldn’t ask for help from those closest to me because their gardens were in an even worse state than mine and worst still, they were blind to the chaos. I could only see thorns, where they could only see roses. So for two years, I persevered in quiet solitude to bring order to this botanical chaos, with limited success. Admitting defeat, I summoned the help of those who had walked the same path before me. To my delight, I struck gold at my first attempt. My heart rejoiced in finding a community of fellow Truthseekers, complete strangers who happily borrowed me their tools and shared their expertise.

And so within a short space of time, over two decades of damage was gladly reversed with amazing results. With a healthy foundation of fresh fertile soil, seeds of love and wisdom brought back much-needed vitality and beauty. The warmth of the Sun helped to illuminate the dark shadows. As rows of roses bloomed, soft feathered nightingales arrived singing their songs of love summoning winds carrying spores from unfamiliar lands. And thus my love affair with Tibetan Buddhism began. For four years, I enjoyed the fruits of my labour, happily basking in an illuminated mind as spacious as the blue sky, surrounded by the beauty of other loving souls. Occasionally there were storms but I always had the support of my friends to repair the damage caused by stray thoughts and old patterns.

But then eighteen months ago, a storm that had been brewing from the beginning unleashed its full force. This time the old tools didn’t have the expertise required to repair the repercussions of old wounds that had reopened. And so the garden so lovingly cultivated grew wild again, as I let old weeds resurface. But this time, forgotten longings of my heart also resurfaced, desperately wanting to connect with a mind in panic.  And so in my weariness,  I let my mind accept this olive branch offered by my lonely heart. It longed to connect to other hearts closer to my roots, and to one beating heart in particular, the path of tasawwuf,  otherwise known as Sufism.

After a long fruitless search to find a Sufi teacher and community I connected to, I despairingly conceded that it was unlikely that I would find a community which allowed me the freedom of expression to be my authentic self.

But as I let go and let God, I finally found a community that answered my call. As Murshid Inayat Khan once said, “When the cry of the disciple has reached a certain pitch, the teacher comes to answer it.” Making my way to the Swiss Alps last year to attend a summer retreat, I finally found what I was looking for. For the first time in my life, I felt my inner oriental and occidental divide blissfully melt into wholeness.

Moving back to my old meditation centre last autumn, I felt lonely amongst my Buddhist community who I had considered as my spiritual family. Having tasted the rare wine of spiritual diversity of a more Universal path closer to my heritage, my heart was drunk with a joy that could not be repeated elsewhere. And so the seeds of discontent initiated my next rebirth, as I continue to traverse the path of dying a thousand deaths in this lifetime.

But no rebirth is complete without a dark night of the soul. Each transition in my spiritual change has involved a painfully deep inner cleansing of old beliefs which no longer serve me, to allow space for my inner dimensions to expand and grow. Each challenge has served to stretch my capacity to receive new blessings on the way.

“Destruction, annilation or death might seem a very different change; yet there are a thousand deaths we die in life. A great disappointment, the moment our heart breaks, is worse than death. Often our experiences in life are worse than death, yet we go through them. At the time they seem unbearable, we think we cannot stand it, but yet we live. If after dying a thousand deaths we still live, then there is nothing in the world to be afraid of. ” Hazrat Inayat Khan

And so, stuck in the dark corridor between one door closing and a new one opening, my descent into a prolonged dark night of the soul began. Sitting in the darkness, like a butterfly driven into reverse metamorphosis and forced back into her cocoon, I grieved the loss of an illusory firm ground, as I was plagued with more questions than answers. In the words of the Spanish mystic, St John of The Cross, If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”

As the darkness intensified in the last few weeks, I stopped searching for light. Instead, I resigned myself to sitting (impatiently) as my shadow-self grew darker. My higher self, desperate for change, fought tooth and nail with my lower self, who refused to let parts of my old-self dissolve. I was stuck in that in-between phase of Bardo, vacillating between hope and fear. But amidst the confusion, windows of clarity would sometimes open.

I reasoned with myself that the deep longing that precedes the inner journey towards God and my own inner Divine Essence, is infamous for its difficulties, and a necessary spiritual station to visit. It’s from the thick impenetrable walls of separation from the Divine, that scores of music, art and poetry were born out of frustration and anguish. The words of Attar come to mind, as the Hoopoe warns his fellow birds of the hardships involved in making the way to the Kingdom of the Majestic Simorgh,

Do not imagine that the Way is short; Vast seas and deserts lie before His court. Consider carefully before you start; The journey asks of you a lion’s heart. The road is long, the sea is deep- one flies first buffeted by joy and then by sigh’s; If you desire this quest, give up your soul and make our sovereigns court your only goal. ‘I am a pilgrim of our sovereigns Way’; Renounce your soul for love; He that you pursue will sacrifice His innermost soul for you.”

Conference of The Birds.

It took years of overhauling my subconscious mind with Tibetan practices of deep meditation, self-compassion, and loving kindness to others, in my attempt to attain bodhicitta, an awakened heart, to fully grasp the beauty of Attar’s words. This is the distinction between the Islam I grew up with and the Sufism I fell in love with. The path of the mystics involves intense bouts of inner purification to open up a sincere heart that is powered by patience and perseverance in the face of setbacks.

And so, step by step, my higher-self claimed victory and contracted itself enough to pass through the narrow gate. But would my Buddhist path continue to lead me past the narrow gate or would I have to leave it behind?

I was left alone to contemplate the difficulties of blending two paths. On the days I succeeded, I felt peaceful and secure, but it was always short-lived.  I reflected on the famous story of Maulana Rumi taking his students to a field to watch a farmer digging holes. Searching for water, he had nearly destroyed a field by digging many incomplete holes. Digging only superficially for a few feet, he would abandon the hole when he found no water. And so time and time again, he self-sabotaged an opportunity to access a wellspring of abundance. Instead, he remained stuck, blocked by his frustration and confusion.

Was I like the insane farmer? In the end, I have reasoned that I’m not. As a child, I had a well dug for me, but the water was murky and lacked the vitality of the Divine. And so without even realising it, I had begun to divert sideways from the path dug for me. And in doing so, I dug deeper until I finally hit bedrock, where all the blessings of the Divine had been flowing all along.

 

And so through all my difficulties I have came to the conclusion that following two spiritual paths has given me a multitude of tools to navigate difficult terrains. In the words of Trungpa Rinpoche, both can be brought together to make something beautiful like a jewel mounted in gold. Which in my case, brought me back to the Throne of God, like Ayat-ul Kursi, my most beloved passage of the Qur’an.

It took a long time from me to bridge the proclamation of faith from ‘La ilaha there is no God, to ‘ illa ‘llah‘, but God. God is not an external being out there, God is within me, closer to me than my jugular vein. Having stopped looking outside of myself, I looked within, like the famous saying, ‘I went looking for God and only found myself, I went looking for myself and found God‘. A non-theistic tradition gave me an unadulterated perspective to crack the outer shell of Islam to access the hidden pearl of the Divine. I have finally understood why primordial purity is hidden behind emptiness. We have to empty ourselves of our preconceptions and walk the path of doubt and confusion and embrace the Al-ghayb, the Unseen Power to discover Al-Fitra, our Divine basic goodness.

And now that my feet are firmly rooted on the path towards the Divine centre, I understand, we’re not so different. We all just want to be happy. We’re all like different caravans that are going in the same direction. May we be happy, may we be healthy, may we be loved (for who we are).

 

 

 

 

 

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A Garden Amidst the Flames

O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

Ibn ‘Arabi

There seems to be a giant fire raging across the world, currently spreading its flames in the Western hemisphere brought over from easterly winds. Which seems to tie in with 2017 as the year of the Fire Rooster in the Tibetan and Chinese calendars. The loud rooster is here to wake up humanity from its slumber charging ahead with its fiery energy. Fire can cause destruction and burn everything in its vicinity but it can also illuminate dark shadows and bring warmth. Our early ancestors depended on fire for providing sustenance and protection against the elements. New communities can be created by the warmth generated when wood and stone come together to create sparks and new life.

My heavy heart was lightened last weekend by the warmth and love demonstrated by the ordinary masses who took to the streets, defying the orders of their leaders. The fight for justice started long ago in the Middle East, and now as we in the West begin our own battle, a new level of empathy has been reached for those fighting unjust laws. Until we experience something for ourselves, we can never truly understand. It’s a sign that the old age tactic of divide and rule no longer works in a world that has become a global village. While our rulers and politicians re-enact old animosities, I have faith that the collective consciousness of humanity has risen high enough to prevent this re-enactment from fully taking form. Laws and decrees cannot force hatred into loving hearts. And the law of karma is more powerful than any world power. The Universe will keep giving us the same lessons until the lesson is learnt. Maybe the chaos we see around us gives us an opportunity to put right the wrongs of the past.

Whether it’s in the guise of religious fundamentalism or secular extreme right-wing politics, a similar vein of patriarchal bias runs through both. While the upheaval and suffering is incredibly difficult to witness, it’s a necessary phase before seeds of change can take root. All negative emotions take root from fear. Taking a leaf out of Jonathan Haidt’s book, the world as it stands can be essentially be divided into two classes of people. The first seek comfort in that which is familiar and are afraid of all that which is different. Such closed individuals are terrified of change while the other category thrive on change. They embrace diversity and actively seek out new experiences. I started life as the former and am currently in the latter category. Life has truly humbled me with all the curve balls it has thrown me, taking me to places I could never have imagined. I feel ashamed when I think of my former self, with my narrow-minded point of view, happy to play the role of victim, always blaming another. I judged others from the standpoint of my own capabilities, strengths and my own personal definition of morality which was fuelled by a fear based and misguided interpretation of my faith.

Fundamentalist Muslims preach that in order to be a good Muslim, I must reject my Western values and outlook to life. Western right-wing politicians find it incomprehensible that my Muslim faith could be compatible with my Western identity. And both are following their Truths, according to their conditioning. Everybody thinks they are right. After a decade of unintended exploration of other faiths and cultures, I am now equally at ease in the immigrant communities I grew up in, and the majority white communities I have lived in, I have learnt to assimilate into both lifestyles. It hasn’t been without its challenges but my life is richer for it. And now I have reached the middle ground where I need both. Neither of the East nor the West, I am an inseparable fusion of the two. Like migrating birds who travel back to warmer climes as the seasons change, I need both to survive. If you clip my wings, I will become half a person. The world needs me just as much as I need it.

In fact, I believe Western Muslims from Eastern heritages hold the key to unifying a divided world. We tread both worlds, it is only natural that we become the bridge between East and West. But in order to act as a bridge, one must have both feet firmly grounded to create a stable foundation in order to sustain the weight it must carry. Walking through the streets of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, I spent most of my time in Pakistan last summer in bookshops, leafing through books filled with Sufi poetry and Urdu ghazals, trying my best to revive my rusty knowledge of the official language of my parents country of origin. Nestling into a corner, I was given milky elachi chai from the chaiwalla ouside together with almond biscuits, as I took my time in choosing as many books as my luggage allowance permitted. Whether it’s in Pakistan’s capital or the streets of Paris and London, bookshops have always been my salvation, whichever country I am in.

Contemplating my forthcoming visit to the US I have had to confront the ever increasing derisiveness of the term ‘Muslim‘. I struggle to fit into any of the stereotypes that the media brandishes. Everybody has their own definition of the term. I take Ibn ‘Arabi’s definition of Muslim as the one best suited to me, as ‘one who submits their will to the will of God’. The 13th century Andalusian mystic, now buried in Damascus, travelled the world in search of knowledge and held the messages of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed in equal reverence. I take comfort from the ancient mystics who unified nations made up of different faiths and cultures. I take the time to remember that Rumi is the most famous Muslim literary figure in the US by virtue of being their most read poet. 

Deep in the Kashmiri hills, near my parents’ ancestral villages, I paid homage to the shrine of a famous Sufi saint and poet Mian Mohammed Baksh, regarded by some as the Rumi of the Indian subcontinent. Equally revered by Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians, his shrine was a salvation and a beacon of hope for everybody before the region was carved into separate nations, dividing them by the very thing that unified them before. Visiting the shrine one afternoon, as the late August heat gave way to a balmy cool breeze, I felt immense love and peace as I walked the white marbled floor reflecting the mid-afternoon sun.

The Sufi mystics with their ageless words of beauty have offered me some motes of their eternal wisdom from beyond the grave, during these dark times. I read the words of Attar, the Persian poet, and reflected on the timelessness of his message 800 years later,

A king is not one of these common fools
Who snatches at a crown and thinks he rules. The true king reigns in mild humility, Unrivalled in his firm fidelity.
An earthly king acts righteously at times”

Immediately the Dalai Lama comes to mind. The embodiment of Avalokitesvara, he exemplifies all that is missing in much of our global leadership, namely compassion, wisdom and love in the face of injustice and ignorance. His diverse following includes Tibetan Muslims who still consider him as their spiritual leader.

In the samsaric wheel that we call life, it seems impossible sometimes to stay centred as the wheel turns up and down. To keep faith and determination in the face of adverse conditions is all in the daily work of a Boddhisattva. The time has come for the monk to step down from his mountain and join the world where he is needed. Sometimes we even need to swallow poison. But if handled correctly, even poison can be transformed into medicine. Like peacocks and their innate ability to eat poisonous plants, insects and animals. In Tibetan culture, the peacock not only survives but thrives on this poisonous diet. It is said that it owes its beauty to eating a particular plant that creates its beautiful plumage, which could prove fatal for other species.

Equally revered in the Islamic world, my favourite story about the peacock hails from Indonesia. As gatekeepers of heaven, the peacock was tricked by the devil into eating him and that is how he entered paradise, thus creating the duality of good and evil.

Maybe the chaos in the world is making room for a different world, a better one in which the duality we see is melted into one. I long to see esoteric interpretations of the worlds major religions becoming the rule and not the exception. Where barriers of exclusivity, homophobia and the curtailing of women’s right are removed and replaced by a perennial world view led by the compassion of Christ consciousness. Where the choice to believe in God is freely given in order to allow a more authentic relationship to the Divine. A world in which my mother doesn’t flinch at the thought of our relatives finding out that I am on the Sufi path. And that the Buddhist teachings have opened the pathways of my mind in order for my heart to open. The greatest journey one undertakes is that from the mind to the heart . When I practice sa’ma, whirling in an anti-clockwise motion with my right hand in the air, I feel the love from the Divine pulsate through me as it filters through my heart before offering it to the world with my left hand . It’s painful to see such a divided world, but like the words from my favourite song, ‘koyla seh heera bahnta hai‘ from a piece of coal a diamond is created.

I leave you with the words of my favourite rebel mystic Shams-i Tabrizi,

If one of the mature ones makes sa’ma in the East, another one begins moving in the West. They are aware of each other’s states.”

Boddhichitta

“My heart is awakened. I am the one who turns to the face of the Friend.

I am the one that becomes a river in order to join the sea.

I have overcome the troops of my ego; I have destroyed its towers and fortresses.

I have cleaned the inside; I am the one who has cleaned the country.

I have faced His excellency, that Man of Love has opened my eyes.

He has shown me my own essence; I am the one called ayet-i kull.”

Yunus Emre, 13C Sufi poet. 

 

 

Divine Will

It’s been a while. Nine months in fact since I posted my last blogpost. As this monumental year draws to an end, only now do I feel ready to share. The numerological significance of 9 is not lost on me. In that time, from a clot of blood, a seed can grow into a an entirely new being. And I’m sure, just like my journey over the last three seasons, it is not without it’s challenges and difficulties. But like a mother meeting her newborn baby quickly forgets her pains of pregnancy and childbirth, I too can now finally look back on my journey with a smile.

Having navigated the tightrope of transition, I have safely made my way back to dryer land. In the process I had to let go of dead weight holding me back, and as a result, I feel happier and the most at peace I have ever felt in my life. This, despite the global catastrophe’s we face, has rekindled the fire of hope in my heart that great changes are on their way. Life is a constant balance between the Absolute and the relative.To be awake in a world that is sleeping is sometimes painful. But I sense that the veil of separation that has divided humanity based on their colour, creed or conviction is about to fall. And while the body of Islam has been beaten to a pulp by extremism and left for dead, her heart remains beating. In fact it has never been stronger. She will have to rely on other beating hearts to revive her tired and abused body.

The illusion of separation is what has kept me in my own personal nightmare. And now that I have woken up I sense that the world is waking up with me. But what sustained me during my journey has been the words of great teachers to support my every step. “Every moment is another footstep on the path. Not clinging to the past, but knowing that we are all restless hearts continuously moving to a future we cannot yet perceive.”

With each difficult transition, I kept these words from my teacher Pir Zia Inayat Khan close to my heart. My biggest transformation during this journey has been from that of exchanging the perilous path of free will for the more harmonious path of Divine will. I know which path I am treading by the sense of harmony in my physical body, which is only a reflection of my inner being. My ego-centric focus has shifted from ‘what can I get out of this?’ to a more collective approach of ‘how can I be of service to others?’

But we cannot give from an empty well. And somehow all the tears I have shed in 2016 have filled my well. As my eyes have dried up, I feel ready to be of service to the world again. And to follow my true purpose as a writer. For a year now, I have hidden behind a computer screen, anonymously venting my anguish and frustration at not being able to leave an old identity. I was happy in the knowledge that nobody knew this site existed let alone read it. But you are not a true writer until somebody reads your work. Please excuse me now, as I put my head underneath my duvet and allow my ego to have a rant for having exposed myself so nakedly.

Spiritual Awakenings Fuck Up You Life

Its never easy to say goodbye. Especially for somebody like me who gets easily attached to people places and situations. But I cannot lie to myself anymore. Years of meditation have primed my intuition to shout louder and louder until I am deafened by my weary soul crying out to me to take the right action. For the sake of my sanity I have to give up my role as a health care provider. As a recovering codependent I can safely say my current friendships are my biggest achievement in life. No longer subconsciously attracted to toxic, unhealthy relationships, my healthy reciprocated friendships are my pride and joy.

But my current career carries the remnants of my former identity. For fifteen years I’ve worked hard in carving my identity as a dentist. Crippled by low self esteem and the shame of rejection from a community who never failed to remind me of my wayward father’s latest scandals or my brother’s untimely death, I decided to become an over achiever who invested her entire self worth in chasing the ellusive ´Dr’ title.

Having navigated two healthcare systems and a foreign language, I put my hands up. I can’t do this anymore. Everyday I put on a mask and become an actress, as each day a dozen or so frightened, traumatised souls look to me to help fix their pain.

And with each patient, a part of me dies. My soul is drained and I carry the heavy weight of this burden in my chest long after I leave my surgery. And the loneliness in not being able to share this with my family only makes it worse. I feel ashamed to admit I want to leave a secure stable career, especially as my siblings walk a financial tightrope everyday supporting our mother who survives on state benefits.

I feel ashamed to admit to my hard working minority family whose forefathers came to Europe in the 1960´s humiliated into doing the jobs Western Europeans refused to do, that my professional Dr title does not make me immune to prejudices and stereotypes.

I feel ashamed to admit my finances are a mess because I struggle to work more than a few days a week without depression wearing me down. Coupled with my inability to cheat a rotten healthcare system that cheats both the patients and practitioners combined, my earnings do not match the dollar signs that light up in people’s eyes when I tell them of my chosen profession.

In the two years I gave up my profession, I was the happiest I had ever been. My frozen inner child thawed and came out to play. I got in touch with my creative side and allowed myself to dream. And then I got scared and fear kicked in and I went back to a  personality archetype that no longer fits me. Sometimes we create our own prisons from our limited beliefs and self judgements fuelled by insecurity and the constant need for parental approval.

Watching the news headlines of each new boatload of Syrian refugees washing up on Greek shores always provokes another shame attack. With a safe home and a stable job surely I should feel grateful? But then I ask myself how does not following my true purpose in life contribute to society?

Having been part of spiritual circles for years, I’ve been surrounded by people on the constant search for enligtenment. I was happy just to settle for peace. And yet, having had two spiritual awakenings that struck me unaware, I can assure you that they are not for the faint hearted. Quite frankly spiritual awakenings fuck up your life. Everything you thought was true is no longer the truth. The ability to lie to yourself becomes obsolete and you are forced to say goodbye to situations, places and people. If you don’t do it first, the Universe will find a way to do it for you. I learnt that from the first time. But the good news is that after the storm ends and the dust settles, you realise that even if someone offered you a million dollars you wouldn’t go back to your previous existence. Sometimes you feel like a fool for not having acted earlier. That like Dorothy, all you had to do was click your feet and the nightmare would have been over. Instead we dig in our heels, holding onto dear life to unhappy situations. The ego will go to great lengths to avoid diversions from the safety of familiarity.

A true commitment to spirituality requires the ability to embrace the messiness invoqued by continual expansion and growth. Yes it’s tiring constantly saying goodbye but true friendships stemming from love never die.

Saying yes to life takes courage and strength to let go of what no longer serves us. And heapfuls of self forgiveness for the guilt that comes from the feeling of constantly letting people down. I never imagined a nomadic life for myself. Each time I have had to extricate myself from the last seven cities I have lived in has been painful and drenched in sadness from feeling like a failure that yet again I was unable to stick to a geographical location long enough to place roots.

And lesson learnt, this time I have promised myself to take action before the Universe intervenes. Traumatic events are usually subterfuge for aligning us to events and situtions better suited and aligned with our higher self. So I’ll save myself the drama and get in there first.

I feel it in my bones the end is coming before a new chapter in my life begins. It’s taken me four years to muster the courage after a plethora of traumatic incidents to finally let go of a decision I made in a Birmingham coffee shop aged 17. Lost and confused, I chose the option which offered me the greatest financial freedom to escape my unhappy home. Now I’m 32 sitting in a Parisien brasserie with my single shot expresso wondering where the universe will lead me. I let go and let God. Goodbye dentistry, hello (fill in the blank).

Standing Still at the CrossRoads of Life

If I were to liken my spirituality to a tree, Islam is my roots, Buddhism is the trunk, and various esoteric practises and philosophies make up the branches.

My first spiritual awakening was intellectual. Bouyed by Epicurus theories and modern psychology I relinquished my fear based faith.

My second is heart based. Its deeper. If the first one was about letting go of fear, the second is about allowing love in. Deep love, that I have never experienced. A love for the Divine, whose prescence I can feel but not touch. Something understood by those who have experienced the same. Its complete trust and surrender, truly in a way I never thought was possible.

It’s a lightness in your tread, knowing you are guided in your path to a greater good. There are no coincidences and no mistakes. Only lessons to be learnt to allow us to recieve the gifts we are so worthy of recieving.

Drunk with love of the Divine, I’m like a lover obssessed. But I cannot touch the object of my love, and I cannot prove His existance. And neither is He out there. He’s in me, running in my veins. It makes up part of my cellular biology vibrating in every molecule of my being. I feel light like air as the heaviness of the last few months lifts its burden from my chest.

The air tastes sweet in my lungs, as I take deep gulpfuls to make up for the restricted sips of anxiety and despair polluting my lungs as I navigated from challenge to challenge not knowing where this journey of the unknown was leading me to. I’m still on that journey only now there are less potholes and jumps in the road. The Road is paved and smooth, there is less noise in my ears as I hear the whispers of the Divine. I just have to close my eyes, connect with my Source and let go for the answer’s to come. And come they do. But I must be patient. Sometimes on the journey of ´no end’ I become impatient. I feel stranded on the crossroads in the cold. I become wrapped in my suffering and forget the answer’s I’m waiting for. And so my delay continues.

Then eventually I remember why I’m here. I settle into the cold. I watch the branches shiver with snow falling like frosting onto the frozen ground by the soft tread of a red bellied Robin, more beautiful in real life than its pictures in seasonal greetings cards. It is in THOSE moments caught unaware, my answer comes. Ironically, I have become attached to my fairytale scene and struggle to move forward on my path. What strange beings we are, us human beings. But I know which direction to take. I sit with this glad tiding, but I am human afterall. Knowing which direction to take is not enough. I wait for Divine timing to tell me when its time to let my anchor go and scurry forward onto the Path of the Unknown. Until then, I will keep warm and enjoy the view from my window.